Charles H. Spurgeon’s opening remarks set the stage for this beautiful and comforting Psalm.
We shall not greatly err in our summary of this sublime Psalm if we call it THE PSALM OF MESSIAH THE PRINCE; for it sets forth, as in a wondrous vision, the tumult of the people against the Lord’s anointed, the determinate purpose of God to exalt his own Son, and the ultimate reign of that Son over all his enemies. Let us read it with the eye of faith, beholding, as in a glass, the final triumph of our Lord Jesus Christ over all his enemies.
Why do the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?
Both “conspire” and “plot” refer to secretive plans. Very few people would deny that there are legitimate cases in which secrecy is necessary. However, the loss of accountability and the associated temptations for corruption and duplicity in secretive organizations argue powerfully against thoughtless acceptance.
But this conspiracy and plotting are claimed to be “in vain.” The world is filled with people, both powerful and powerless, who claim that they understand the mechanisms by which events can be controlled. They imagine that by pressing this lever or pushing that button they will obtain specific, predetermined outcomes.
History argues decisively to the contrary. For it is filled with the occurrence of unintended consequences, unexpected twists and hidden motives that baffle and overturn those foolish enough to imagine they are in control of events.
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us.”
The kings and rulers of the earth imagine endlessly that they can control events so as to increase their wealth and power. But it is not against each other that they fight, but rather “against the Lord and his anointed.” They presume to operate above and outside the “bonds” and “cords” of morality due to their will to power.
Does the Lord passively accept this rebellion? Are His anointed powerless?
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord has them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“I have set my king
on Zion, my holy hill.”
These great rulers and revolutionaries are pathetic objects of derision to the Lord God. They act with clever planning, malicious deception and power of arms only to be utterly overturned by a word spoken by the Lord God.
And what is that word? “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.” That King is no other than Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
Today we know this promised Anointed One as the Lord Jesus Christ. It is impossible to submit to God without submitting to Him as Lord and Savior, for the Father has made Him Lord and Christ, bestowing upon Him the name above all names (Acts 2:36; Phil. 2:5-11). John Calvin comments, “All who do not submit themselves to the authority of Christ make war against God… . It is in vain for them to profess otherwise.”
I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my son,
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
God is not in the slightest passive in the face of this rebellion. Yes, in this fallen world the kings and rulers will rage against God’s purposes. But Jesus Christ, the begotten Second Person of the Christian Trinitarian God will ultimately “break them” and “dash them.”
The word “begotten” must not be passed over without comment. The Nicene Creed uses this word to explain Jesus Christ’s eternal place in the Godhead.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Ligonier Ministries provides additional insight.
The Son is eternally generated by the Father. This generation, or begottenness, never had a beginning. The Son has always existed and has always been fully God even though He is begotten of the Father. And the Father has always begotten the Son such that the Son and the Father are both fully God.
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
with trembling kiss his feet,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way;
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
A king (or ruler) can only be wise if they understand that they are subservient to a just and omnipotent God who will intervene in human affairs as He deems right. The opposite of the initial kings who plan and conspire is the king who serves “the Lord with fear.” There is no secrecy that this omnipresent God cannot penetrate, no motives that are hidden from Him. Were we to truly believe this our thoughts and actions, even those hidden from all human sight, would be fundamentally transformed.
The message of this Psalm is well summarized as follows.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that Christ executes the office of king by “subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies” (Q&A; 26). All who oppose this work do so in vain. He will conquer the hearts of His elect, drawing them all to Himself. He will defeat His enemies and ours. He is the mighty King and Lord of all, and we need not fear anything if we are in Him.