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Psalms 2:1 [study!]

American Standard Version (ASV 1901) [2]
— Why do the nations rage, And the peoples meditate a vain thing?
King James Version (KJV 1769)
— Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
New American Standard Bible (NASB ©1995)
— Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing?
Webster's Revision of the KJB (WEB 1833)
— Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
Darby's Translation (DBY 1890)
— Why are the nations in tumultuous agitation, and [why] do the peoples meditate a vain thing?
Rotherham's Emphasized Bible (EBR 1902)
— Wherefore have nations assembled in tumult? Or should, peoples, mutter an empty thing?
Young's Literal Translation (YLT 1898)
— Why have nations tumultuously assembled? And do peoples meditate vanity?
Douay-Rheims Challoner Revision (DR 1750)
— Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things?
Original King James Bible (AV 1611) [2]
— Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vaine thing?
Brenton Greek Septuagint (LXX, Restored Names)
— Wherefore did the heathen rage, and the nations imagine vain things?
Full Hebrew Names / Holy Name KJV (2008) [2] [3]
— Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?

Strong's Numbers & Hebrew NamesHebrew Old TestamentColor-Code/Key Word Studies
Why x4100
(4100) Complement
A primitive particle; properly interrogitive what? (including how?, why? and when?); but also exclamations like what! (including how!), or indefinitely what (including whatever, and even relatively that which); often used with prefixes in various adverbial or conjugational senses.
do the heathen 1471
{1471} Prime
Apparently from the same root as H1465 (in the sense of massing); a foreign nation; hence a Gentile; also (figuratively) a troop of animals, or a flight of locusts.
rage, 7283
{7283} Prime
A primitive root; to be tumultuous.
<8804> Grammar
Stem - Qal (See H8851)
Mood - Perfect (See H8816)
Count - 12562
and the people 3816
{3816} Prime
From an unused root meaning to gather; a community.
imagine 1897
{1897} Prime
A primitive root (compare H1901); to murmur (in pleasure or anger); by implication to ponder.
<8799> Grammar
Stem - Qal (See H8851)
Mood - Imperfect (See H8811)
Count - 19885
a vain thing? 7385
{7385} Prime
From H7324; emptiness; figuratively a worthless thing; adverbially in vain.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary

Psalms 2:1

_ _ Psalms 2:1-12. The number and authorship of this Psalm are stated (Acts 4:25; Acts 13:33). Though the warlike events of David’s reign may have suggested its imagery, the scenes depicted and the subjects presented can only find a fulfillment in the history and character of Jesus Christ, to which, as above cited and in Hebrews 1:5; Hebrews 5:5, the New Testament writers most distinctly testify. In a most animated and highly poetical style, the writer, in “four stanzas of three verses each,” sets forth the inveterate and furious, though futile, hostility of men to God and His anointed, God’s determination to carry out His purpose, that purpose as stated more fully by His Son, the establishment of the Mediatorial kingdom, and the imminent danger of all who resist, as well as the blessing of all who welcome this mighty and triumphant king.

_ _ Why do the heathen, etc. — Beholding, in prophetic vision, the peoples and nations, as if in a tumultuous assembly, raging with a fury like the raging of the sea, designing to resist God’s government, the writer breaks forth into an exclamation in which are mingled surprise at their folly, and indignation at their rebellion.

_ _ heathen — nations generally, not as opposed to Jews.

_ _ the people — or, literally, “peoples,” or races of men.

Matthew Henry's Commentary

Psalms 2:1-6

_ _ We have here a very great struggle about the kingdom of Christ, hell and heaven contesting it; the seat of the war is this earth, where Satan has long had a usurped kingdom and exercised dominion to such a degree that he has been called the prince of the power of the very air we breathe in and the god of the world we live in. He knows very well that, as the Messiah's kingdom rises and gets ground, his falls and loses ground; and therefore, though it will be set up certainly, it shall not be set up tamely. Observe here,

_ _ I. The mighty opposition that would be given to the Messiah and his kingdom, to his holy religion and all the interests of it, Psalms 2:1-3. One would have expected that so great a blessing to this world would be universally welcomed and embraced, and that every sheaf would immediately bow to that of the Messiah and all the crowns and sceptres on earth would be laid at his feet; but it proves quite contrary. Never were the notions of any sect of philosophers, though ever so absurd, nor the powers of any prince or state, though ever so tyrannical, opposed with so much violence as the doctrine and government of Christ — a sign that it was from heaven, for the opposition was plainly from hell originally.

_ _ 1. We are here told who would appear as adversaries to Christ and the devil's instruments in this opposition to his kingdom. Princes and people, court and country, have sometimes separate interests, but here they are united against Christ; not the mighty only, but the mob, the heathen, the people, numbers of them, communities of them; though usually fond of liberty, yet they were averse to the liberty Christ came to procure and proclaim. Not the mob only, but the mighty (among whom one might have expected more sense and consideration) appear violent against Christ. Though his kingdom is not of this world, nor in the least calculated to weaken their interests, but very likely, if they pleased, to strengthen them, yet the kings of the earth and rulers are up in arms immediately. See the effects of the old enmity in the seed of the serpent against the seed of the woman, and how general and malignant the corruption of mankind is. See how formidable the enemies of the church are; they are numerous; they are potent. The unbelieving Jews are here called heathen, so wretchedly had they degenerated from the faith and holiness of their ancestors; they stirred up the heathen, the Gentiles, to persecute the Christians. As the Philistines and their lords, Saul and his courtiers, the disaffected party and their ringleaders, opposed David's coming to the crown, so Herod and Pilate, the Gentiles and the Jews, did their utmost against Christ and his interest in men, Acts 4:27.

_ _ 2. Who it is that they quarrel with, and muster up all their forces against; it is against the Lord and against his anointed, that is, against all religion in general and the Christian religion in particular. It is certain that all who are enemies to Christ, whatever they pretend, are enemies to God himself; they have hated both me and my Father, John 15:24. The great author of our holy religion is here called the Lord's anointed, or Messiah, or Christ, in allusion to the anointing of David to be king. He is both authorized and qualified to be the church's head and king, is duly invested in the office and every way fitted for it; yet there are those that are against him; nay, therefore they are against him, because they are impatient of God's authority, envious at Christ's advancement, and have a rooted enmity to the Spirit of holiness.

_ _ 3. The opposition they give is here described. (1.) It is a most spiteful and malicious opposition. They rage and fret; they gnash their teeth for vexation at the setting up of Christ's kingdom; it creates them the utmost uneasiness, and fills them with indignation, so that they have no enjoyment of themselves; see Luke 13:14; John 11:47; Acts 5:17, Acts 5:33; Acts 19:28. Idolaters raged at the discovery of their folly, the chief priests and Pharisees at the eclipsing of their glory and the shaking of their usurped dominion. Those that did evil raged at the light. (2.) It is a deliberate and politic opposition. They imagine or meditate, that is, they contrive means to suppress the rising interests of Christ's kingdom and are very confident of the success of their contrivances; they promise themselves that they shall run down religion and carry the day. (3.) It is a resolute and obstinate opposition. They set themselves, set their faces as a flint and their hearts as an adamant, in defiance of reason, and conscience, and all the terrors of the Lord; they are proud and daring, like the Babel-builders, and will persist in their resolution, come what will. (4.) It is a combined and confederate opposition. They take counsel together, to assist and animate one another in this opposition; they carry their resolutions nemine contradicenteunanimously, that they will push on the unholy war against the Messiah with the utmost vigour: and thereupon councils are called, cabals are formed, and all their wits are at work to find out ways and means for the preventing of the establishment of Christ's kingdom, Psalms 83:5.

_ _ 4. We are here told what it is they are exasperated at and what they aim at in this opposition (Psalms 2:3): Let us break their bands asunder. They will not be under any government; they are children of Belial, that cannot endure the yoke, at least the yoke of the Lord and his anointed. They will be content to entertain such notions of the kingdom of God and the Messiah as will serve them to dispute of and to support their own dominion with: if the Lord and his anointed will make them rich and great in the world, they will bid them welcome; but if they will restrain their corrupt appetites and passions, regulate and reform their hearts and lives, and bring them under the government of a pure and heavenly religion, truly then they will not have this man to reign over them, Luke 19:14. Christ has bands and cords for us; those that will be saved by him must be ruled by him; but they are cords of a man, agreeable to right reason, and bands of love, conducive to our true interest: and yet against those the quarrel is. Why do men oppose religion but because they are impatient of its restraints and obligations? They would break asunder the bands of conscience they are under and the cords of God's commandments by which they are called to tie themselves out from all sin and to themselves up to all duty; they will not receive them, but cast them away as far from them as they can.

_ _ 5. They are here reasoned with concerning it, Psalms 2:1. Why do they do this? (1.) They can show no good cause for opposing so just, holy, and gracious a government, which will not interfere with the secular powers, nor introduce any dangerous principles hurtful to kings or provinces; but, on the contrary, if universally received, would bring a heaven upon earth. (2.) They can hope for no good success in opposing so powerful a kingdom, with which they are utterly unable to contend. It is a vain thing; when they have done their worst Christ will have a church in the world and that church shall be glorious and triumphant. It is built upon a rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The moon walks in brightness, though the dogs bark at it.

_ _ II. The mighty conquest gained over all this threatening opposition. If heaven and earth be the combatants, it is easy to foretel which will be the conqueror. Those that make this mighty struggle are the people of the earth, and the kings of the earth, who, being of the earth, are earthy; but he whom they contest with is one that sits in the heavens, Psalms 2:4. He is in the heaven, a place of such a vast prospect that he can oversee them all and all their projects; and such is his power that he can overcome them all and all their attempts. He sits there, as one easy and at rest, out of the reach of all their impotent menaces and attempts. There he sits as Judge in all the affairs of the children of men, perfectly secure of the full accomplishment of all his own purposes and designs, in spite of all opposition, Psalms 29:10. The perfect repose of the Eternal Mind may be our comfort under all the disquietments of our mind. We are tossed on earth, and in the sea, but he sits in the heavens, where he has prepared his throne for judgment; and therefore,

_ _ 1. The attempts of Christ's enemies are easily ridiculed. God laughs at them as a company of fools. He has them, and all their attempts, in derision, and therefore the virgin, the daughter of Zion, has despised them, Isaiah 37:22. Sinners' follies are the just sport of God's infinite wisdom and power; and those attempts of the kingdom of Satan which in our eyes are formidable in his are despicable. Sometimes God is said to awake, and arise, and stir up himself, for the vanquishing of his enemies; here is said to sit still and vanquish them; for the utmost operations of God's omnipotence create no difficulty at all, nor the least disturbance to his eternal rest.

_ _ 2. They are justly punished, Psalms 2:5. Though God despises them as impotent, yet he does not therefore wink at them, but is justly displeased with them as impudent and impious, and will make the most daring sinners to know that he is so and to tremble before him. (1.) Their sin is a provocation to him. He is wroth; he is sorely displeased. We cannot expect that God should be reconciled to us, or well pleased in us, but in and through the anointed; and therefore, if we affront and reject him, we sin against the remedy and forfeit the benefit of his interposition between us and God. (2.) His anger will be a vexation to them; if he but speak to them in his wrath, even the breath of his mouth will be their confusion, slaughter, and consumption, Isaiah 11:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:8. He speaks, and it is done; he speaks in wrath, and sinners are undone. As a word made us, so a word can unmake us again. Who knows the power of his anger? The enemies rage, but cannot vex God. God sits still, and yet vexes them, puts them into a consternation (as the word is), and brings them to their wits' end: his setting up this kingdom of his Son, in spite of them, is the greatest vexation to them that can be. They were vexatious to Christ's good subjects; but the day is coming when vexation shall be recompensed to them.

_ _ 3. They are certainly defeated, and all their counsels turned headlong (Psalms 2:6): Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. David was advanced to the throne, and became master of the strong-hold of Zion, notwithstanding the disturbance given him by the malcontents in his kingdom, and particularly the affronts he received from the garrison of Zion, who taunted him with their blind and their lame, their maimed soldiers, 2 Samuel 5:6. The Lord Jesus is exalted to the right hand of the Father, has all power both in heaven and in earth, and is head over all things to the church, notwithstanding the restless endeavours of his enemies to hinder his advancement. (1.) Jesus Christ is a King, and is invested by him who is the fountain of power with the dignity and authority of a sovereign prince in the kingdom both of providence and grace. (2.) God is pleased to call him his King, because he is appointed by him, and entrusted for him with the sole administration of government and judgment. He is his King, for he is dear to the Father, and one in whom he is well pleased. (3.) Christ took not this honour to himself, but was called to it, and he that called him owns him: I have set him; his commandment, his commission, he received from the Father. (4.) Being called to this honour, he was confirmed in it; high places (we say) are slippery places, but Christ, being raised, is fixed: “I have set him, I have settled him.” (5.) He is set upon Zion, the hill of God's holiness, a type of the gospel church, for on that the temple was built, for the sake of which the whole mount was called holy. Christ's throne is set up in his church, that is, in the hearts of all believers and in the societies they form. The evangelical law of Christ is said to go forth from Zion (Isaiah 2:3, Micah 4:2), and therefore that is spoken of as the head-quarters of this general, the royal seat of this prince, in whom the children of men shall be joyful.

_ _ We are to sing these verses with a holy exultation, triumphing over all the enemies of Christ's kingdom (not doubting but they will all of them be quickly made his footstool), and triumphing in Jesus Christ as the great trustee of power; and we are to pray, in firm belief of the assurance here given, “Father in heaven, Thy kingdom come; let thy Son's kingdom come.”

John Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Psalms 2:1

Heathen — Who did so against David, 2 Samuel 5:6, 2 Samuel 5:17; 1 Chronicles 14:8, and against Christ, Luke 18:32; Acts 4:25, &c.

Geneva Bible Translation Notes

Psalms 2:1

Why do the (a) heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?

(a) The conspiracy of the Gentiles, the murmuring of the Jews and power of kings cannot prevail against Christ.

Cross-Reference Topical ResearchStrong's Concordance
am 2963, bc 1042


Psalms 18:42 Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind: I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets.
Psalms 46:6 The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.
Psalms 83:4-8 They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from [being] a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance. ... Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah.
Isaiah 8:9 Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces.
Luke 18:32 For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on:
Acts 4:25 Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?

or, tumultuously assemble,
Luke 22:1-2 Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover. ... And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him; for they feared the people.
Luke 22:5 And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money.
Luke 22:22-23 And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed! ... And they began to enquire among themselves, which of them it was that should do this thing.
Acts 16:22 And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat [them].
Acts 17:5-6 But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. ... And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;
Acts 19:28-32 And when they heard [these sayings], they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great [is] Diana of the Ephesians. ... Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together.


Matthew 21:38 But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.
John 11:49-50 And one of them, [named] Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, ... Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.
Acts 5:33 When they heard [that], they were cut [to the heart], and took counsel to slay them.
Revelation 17:14 These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him [are] called, and chosen, and faithful.

Heb. meditate
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Ps 18:42; 46:6; 83:4. Is 8:9. Mt 21:38. Lk 18:32; 22:1, 5, 22. Jn 11:49. Ac 4:25; 5:33; 16:22; 17:5; 19:28. Rv 17:14.

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