Psalm 2 – Why Do The Heathen Rage? (Sermon Notes)


Text: Psalm 2
Title: Why Do The Heathen Rage?
Date: August 28th, 2022
Location: Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, Washington

Introduction – An Invitation to Christendom

The year is 392 AD, the Roman Empire is still dominant and extends across the Mediterranean. The emperor is Theodosius I, and he has made it his task to unite and establish Christianity as the religion of the empire. Pagan temples are torn down, it becomes illegal to offer pagan sacrifices, and new laws are enacted to suppress heresy and idolatry.

  • Just a fear years prior, the Nicene Creed (325/381 AD), which our churches still confess, was written and affirmed in Constantinople. The Arian heresy (which denied the eternality of the Son, and full deity of Jesus Christ) was to be snuffed out, and Nicene-Orthodox Christianity was to become the public religion of the empire. This was the goal of Theodosius I. This was the age of the first Christendom.
  • Fast forward to our day and this idea that an empire could become Christian, or that a nation or a state could become Christian has fallen on hard times, even especially amongst Christians.
    • The modern view is that separation of church and state, means a separation of religion from politics, as if the government could be neutral and simply tolerate all religions equally.
      • “You want to worship Allah, okay.”
      • “You want to worship the Pantheon, okay.”
      • “You want to seek enlightenment and transcendence, worship however you want, do Yoga in the park.”
    • This is the great myth of secularism, the great myth of neutrality, and the great misunderstanding of the 1st Amendment.
    • We are a couple hundred years into this American experiment, and more and more we are seeing that the center cannot hold. In fact, there isn’t really a center anymore. We are not all agreed as to Who or What should be the supreme principle (that is to say god) by which our nation and polity is ordered.
    • Even amongst Christians who confess the Nicene Creed, we are not agreed as to what role (if any) Christianity should play in the public realm.
  • Well this is an issue that Psalm 2 is going to address. And it is my contention in this sermon, that Psalm 2 is an Invitation to Christendom. Psalm 2 is an invitation to all nations, governments, and rulers to confess that Jesus Christ is LORD. And as we will see, this is a far more public and explicit confession than most Americans are comfortable with. So let us walk through this text together and see what the Lord will show us.

Division of the Text

Let’s begin with an outline of the text, the literary structure of the Psalm.
There are four basic sections to Psalm 2: 12 verses, 4 sections, 3 verses long.

  • In this first section (vs. 1-3), the psalmist (David) asks “Why do the heathen rage…” and then he goes on to describe a conspiracy to rebel against the LORD.
    • We could call this first section: “The Nations Conspire.”
  • In section two (vs. 4-6), God responds. “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision…”
    • We could call this second section: “The LORD Responds.”
  • In section three (vs. 7-9), we get a proclamation or decree from the king.
    • We’ll call this section: “The King Proclaims.”
  • Finally, in section four (vs. 10-12), we have what I will call “An Invitation to Christendom.”

So there’s our outline for the sermon:

  1. The Nations Conspire (vs. 1-3)
  2. The LORD Responds (vs. 4-6)
  3. The King Proclaims (vs. 7-9)
  4. An Invitation to Christendom (vs. 10-12)

#1 – The Nations Conspire (vs. 1-3)

Why do the heathen rage,
And the people imagine a vain thing?

  • In this opening verse we are given a contrast to something that we read about in Psalm 1, and there are a bunch of connections between these two psalms.
  • What is Psalm 1 about?
    • The blessed man.
  • What is the blessed man like?
    • He is, “like a tree planted by the rivers of water, That bringeth forth his fruit in his season; His leaf also shall not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper…the ungodly are not so…”
  • So in Psalm 1 there is a contrast between the righteous and the wicked. The blessed man is like a fruitful tree, the ungodly are like chaff.
    • Now what makes this man blessed? We are told Ps. 1:2, he “delights in the law of the LORD, and meditates on it day and night (Ps. 1:2).
    • Now in Hebrew, this word for meditate in Psalm 1:2, is actually the same word that appears in Psalm 2:1 and gets translated as imagine. We could translate Ps. 2:1 as saying, “why do the nations meditate vanity?”
    • So in Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 we have two subjects of meditation. Two things that a man or a nation could meditate upon.
      • You can mediate upon the law of God, or you can meditate upon vanity.
  • Moving outward we could say that the nation that meditates on God’s law will be a blessed nation (they’ll bear fruit in every season). Whereas the nation that meditates on vanity, and imagines vain things, will like vanity, be blown away as chaff before the wind.
  • Q. What kind of nation do we live in today? What do we meditate on day and night? Is it the law of God? Is it Genesis-Deuteronomy? Or is it vanity?
    • Are we obeying Deut. 6 which says, “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.”
  • Do we as parents immerse ourselves and our children in Scripture?
  • When they go to school are they being of taught of God? Or are they being taught to meditate on vanity?
  • There will be no blessed nation, or blessed Centralia, if there are not first blessed households of faith, who give themselves to holy meditation, rather than trifling upon the borders of eternity. What kind of person are you? What kind of nation are we? What do we imagine and meditate upon?
  • We see in the next two verses what accompanies those who meditate on vain things: namely rebellion against God. Vain meditation leads to rebellion.

 The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying,
Let us break their bands asunder,
And cast away their cords from us.

  • Notice that the target of this rebellion is YHWH, and his Messiah (anointed). Or in Trinitarian terms, this is rebellion against the Father and the Son.
  • In Acts 4:25-26 we are given an inspired commentary on these verses. So How do the apostles handle Psalm 2?
    • The context of Acts 4 is that apostles Peter and John have just been commanded by the authorities to stop preaching Jesus and the resurrection. They do not comply. And when they are reunited with their company it says this:

And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: 25 Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? 26 The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. 27 For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, 28 For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. 29 And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, 30 By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. 31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.

  • This is what the fulfillment of Psalm 2 looks like.
    • The apostles identify the kings of the earth in Ps. 2:2 as referring to Herod and Pontius Pilate.
      • Herod the Great tried to kill Jesus as a baby.
      • Herod Antipas mocked Jesus before his crucifixion.
      • Pontius Pilate represented the Roman authority (who possessed the death penalty), and Herod represented the Jews.
    • The apostles also identify “the heathen who rage” in vs. 1 as the Gentiles, and “the people who imagine a vain thing” as the people of Israel (Acts 4:27).
    • So this is the historical instance and characters that Psalm 2 is describing.
  • Now notice what the Apostles say in Acts 4:28. They say that this international conspiracy to crucify Christ, was according to God’s sovereign and predestinating counsel: “For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.”
  • There is nothing that is outside the sovereign counsel of God.
    • Whatever the United Nations, or NATO, or Bill Gates, or the World Economic Forum is planning, whatever covert or overt organization appears to be plotting and pulling the strings, none of them can thwart the sovereign counsel of Almighty God.
    • So think about this: If God could turn death inside out by the resurrection of His Son, if He could turn the most grievous conspiracy in human history into the salvation of the world, then you can be sure that this same God will make all other lesser evils to serve your everlasting good.
    • God subordinates all things to Himself and He makes the serpent to devour his own tail. He makes death its own executioner. He turns the crucifixion of Christ into the suicide of Satan. This is the infinite wisdom of God.
    • So Yes, there are conspiracies, No they cannot thwart God’s plans. Yes, we should be alert, but the lions share of our time should be spent in prayer and good works, loving one another, raising our children, and not fretting about the future. Why?
  • Because while the nations and rulers plot their One-World Utopia. And billionaires and Big Tech and Big Pharma and Big Government do what they do? What is the LORD doing? How does the LORD respond?

#2 – The LORD Responds (vs. 4-6)

He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh:
The Lord shall have them in derision.

  • How does God respond to conspiracies? He laughs.
    • Is this how we respond?
  • Our LORD mocks and taunts his enemies, because there is an infinite distance between Him and them.
    • As it says in Psalm 39:5, “man at his best state is altogether vanity.”
    • And Psalm 62:9, “men of high degree are a lie: to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity.”
    • Man is more vain than vanity itself, and so what are the plans of evil men, who are as little ants beneath the boot of Christ.
    • They can try to build Babel, they can try to ascend the heavens and take the Lord’s throne, but they will not get far. He who sits in the heavens shall laugh…
  • So God laughs, He holds these conspirators in derision, and then in verses 5-6 it says…

Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath,
And vex them in his sore displeasure.
Yet have I set my king
Upon my holy hill of Zion.

  • One of the questions we might ask here is: How does God speak to His enemies? What does speaking to them in His wrath look like?
    • Well if we read through the book of Acts, we will see that God speaks in at least two ways to His enemies:
      • 1. He Speaks By Providence
      • 2. He Speaks By Preaching
    • By Providence looks like:
      • Signs and wonders, miracles, healing of the sick and blind.
      • It looks like demons being cast out.
      • It looks like Herod being eaten by worms and dying.
      • It looks like the destruction of Jerusalem and the Roman civil war.
      • If you were to read the Roman historians on this time period (Tacitus, Suetonius, Cassius Dio), even they acknowledge many signs and wonders in the heavens of Divine Wrath.
      • And this was because they crucified the Messiah and persecuted the church.
    • God also speaks to His enemies by preaching. And this looks like:
      • The Apostle Peter saying, “You killed the messiah!  You killed the author of life! You conspired to murder an innocent man, the blood of the son of God is on your hands…Nevertheless, He died for the ungodly. He died for murderers, and so repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
      • When Jesus was on the cross and said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” The Father said, Okay, I’ll send apostles to preach forgiveness unto them.
      • God speaks the gospel to His enemies.
        • It says in 1 Tim 2:3, that God desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, and this includes the very people that crucified Christ.
  • So no matter what you have done, whatever sins you have committed, if God can forgive those who murdered His beloved Son, He can forgive and wipe away all of your transgressions as well.
  • God has set his king, upon the holy hill of Zion. Christ reigns to give us life.
  • Moving to our third section, “The King Proclaims,” we have this shift in who is speaking in the Psalm, vs. 7-9 are placed upon the lips of Christ.

#3 – The King Proclaims (vs. 7-9)

I will declare the decree:
The Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son;
This day have I begotten thee.
Ask of me,
And I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance,
And the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron;
Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

  • In verse 7 we have a description of the Messiah and his origin. He is going to be eternally begotten from the Father and vindicated as such at His resurrection (Acts 13:33, Romans 1:4).
  • In verse 8, he is told to ask for the nations, a request the Father grants.
  • And in verse 9 he rules them with a rod of iron, dashing them into pieces.
    • Now let’s unpack these two images: 1) The rod of iron, and 2) the potter’s vessel.
    • Both of these things are mentioned elsewhere of Scripture. For example:
      • Isaiah 11:4 says, “But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, And reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: And he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, And with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.”
  • Revelation 19 gives us a striking image of Christ’s dominion. There He is portrayed as riding upon a white horse, robe dipped in blood, “And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev. 19:15).
  • So this rod of iron is the rod of Christ’s mouth. It is the Word and breath by which Christ both slays the wicked and saves His people.
  • As to the potter’s vessel, Romans 9 says that there are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, and vessels of mercy prepared for glory.
  • Summary: The rod of the Word can either break you to pieces, utterly shatter you and cast you into Hell, Or it can subdue you unto salvation. You can submit to the inflexible rod of God’s righteousness, confess that the LORD is your Shepherd king, and say with Psalm 23, “thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
    • Christ rules by His Word, and this means destruction for the rebellious, and mercy for the righteous.

We come now to our fourth and final section of this Psalm, which is “An Invitation to Christendom.”
Here the speaker shifts back to David and He gives an inspired warning to those in positions of authority and government on earth.

#4 – An Invitation to Christendom (vs. 10-12)

10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings:
Be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry,
And ye perish from the way,
When his wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

There are 5 commands that God gives to civil magistrates, and these apply at every time and every place, because all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Jesus. So if we desire a blessed nation, or blessed state, or county. Here are the 5 things that Christ commands magistrates to do:

  1. Kings are told to “Be wise.”
    • Where does wisdom come from?
      • Proverb 1:7 says it begins with the fear of the LORD.
      • Paul says in 2 Tim. 3:15, that the Scriptures “are able to make thee wise unto salvation.”
    • So magistrates must fear God and study the Scriptures if they would “Be Wise.”
  2. Judges are told to “Be instructed.”
    • No man can judge justly, unless He has first internalized the law of the LORD.
    • So judges must be instructed in biblical law and in its modern application.
      • Paul chastises the Corinthian church for their lack of wisdom in these matters: “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?” (1 Cor. 6:2-3).
    • The elders of the church should be leading the way in judging righteously. If we are not instructed in God’s law, how can we expect secular judges to heed our advice when we say, “here’s a better solution for dealing with student debt crisis.” Or “here’s a better way to solve the drug and homeless problem in our state.”
      • If God commands judges to be instructed, how much more the officers of the church?
  3. Serve the LORD with fear.
    • Here is perhaps the most explicit invitation to Christendom. Magistrates are told to serve (that is worship) the one true God.
    • This Hebrew verb עבד (avad) is what the priests are commanded to do at the tabernacle, (Num. 3:7-8, Num. 18:7), “ye shall serve.”
    • In Kings and Chronicles, men and nations are said to either “serve the LORD” or “serve idols.”
    • Who you serve is who you worship. And God commands all men to bow the knee and enter the Lord’s service, because with this service comes true joy!
  4. Rejoice with Trembling.
    • Our God commands magistrates to be joyful.
    • Joy and trembling is when you behold something so beautiful that it terrifies you. When you see the beauty of God and His radiance, and then realize that God loves you. And died for you. And chose you before the foundations of the earth. That is terrifying, and full of joy.
    • Lastly, magistrates are told to…
  5. Kiss the Son.
    • This is another way of saying: humble yourself, and be reconciled to your King.
      • Perhaps the best image of this is Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 45.
      • Joseph’s brothers had betrayed him, they conspired to kill him, and sold him into slavery. And yet Joseph is resurrected, he rises to power, He becomes king, second in power only to Pharaoh, and although he could take vengeance upon his brothers for their crimes, what does he do?
      • He feeds them. He tests them. He saves them, and the whole world from famine.
      • And upon their repentance, they embrace and kiss.
      • Kiss the son…lest ye perish from the way.


  • Psalm 2 is not just an invitation to Christendom, it is a command.
  • A command for kings and nations and all men everywhere to be reconciled to God. May the LORD cause our nation to heed this Word. Let us pray.