Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—“Why do the Nations Rage”
The opening words of Psalm 2 pose a question that has baffled mankind through the centuries. The Psalmist asks, "Why do the nations rage?" That is, why is it so difficult to bring about international peace? Why, after thousands of peace conferences, security accords, and negotiations held through the millennia, are we no closer to world peace?
In the 60's, the Burmese statesman U Thant, who was then Secretary-General of the United Nations, convened an international conference to try to discover a way to world peace and to help resolve the international conflicts of that day. Some 1600 delegates from 42 different countries assembled in the United Nation's headquarters. In his opening address, U Thant asked three remarkable questions:
1) What element is lacking so that with all our skill and all our knowledge we still find ourselves in the dark valley of discord and enmity?
2) What is it that inhibits us from going forward together to enjoy the fruits of human endeavor and to reap the harvest of human experience?
3) Why is it that, for all our professed ideals, our hopes and our skills, peace on earth is still a distant objective, seen only dimly through the storms and turmoils of our present difficulties? Here is an honest cry of frustration and bafflement from the heart of a statesman wrestling with the problem, "Why do the nations rage?" Since 1976, an organization called The Ploughshares Monitor has yearly reported on the number of armed conflicts taking place in the world. Including insurrections, civil wars, drug wars and warring nations, currently there are 33 conflicts taking place around the globe. Most of these conflicts are fueled by racial, ethnic, or religious animosities.
Why do the nations rage? That question is answered many times in the Scriptures, but notably here in this section of Isaiah, beginning with Chapter 13 and running through Chapter 23. In a word ... Pride is what makes the nations rage. They are at enmity with God, and therefore at enmity with each other.
In these chapters the prophet is given a Word from God—oracles—concerning the great, and not so great world powers that surrounded Israel in that day. These series of prophecies begin with a word concerning Babylon; then move on to include Assyria, Moab, Egypt, Philistia, Edom and other nations; and ends in Chapter 23 with the oracle against the city-nation of Tyre.
An oracle, sometimes translated burden, comes from a verb meaning “to be lifted or carried.” Oracles are weighty or burdensome kind of message to deliver.
Chapters thirteen through twenty-three reveal that God holds the nations of the world accountable for their actions. The introductory phrase of each section begins with the words “the oracle of”. The phrase ends with the nation’s individual names. Sometimes the name of the nation or empire is not used, but some symbolic name. An example is Isa. 21:1:
“The oracle concerning the wilderness of the sea. As whirlwinds in the Negeb sweep on, it comes from the wilderness, from a terrible land.” (Isaiah 21:1, ESV)
In this passage Isaiah is referring to Babylon by the Persian Gulf. Just as President Nixon had his ‘enemies list’ so these ten chapters contains Israel’s ‘enemies list’. In them, Isaiah records the nations who have been or will be a thorn in Israel’s side.
You need to remember that these oracles were wholly predictive when they were uttered. They point out things that have not yet taken place, but are going to happen from Isaiah's time onward. In the day that Isaiah writes, for example, Babylon was not yet a world power, but only a small city on the banks of the Euphrates River. Yet, two-hundred years later, Babylon had superceded Assyria, becoming the super-power of its day and was the nation that destroyed Judah and took its inhabitants into captivity. And yet, in his oracle, Isaiah prophesies that Babylon itself will become desolate (13:20-22). This, too, came true. For centuries the site of Babylon was actually lost. So totally destroyed was the city that no one could even find where it had been located. Not until archeologists re-discovered the city, did it come to light once again.
It is equally clear that some of these oracles have not yet taken place. The oracle concerning Damascus says that “ ... Damascus will cease to be a city, and will become a heap of ruins,” (Isa. 17:1). This has yet to be fulfilled. Yet, the infallible Word of God says that Damascus, a large and very old city, ultimately will be destroyed. We are not told how or when this will happen, but it will happen.
As we look back on history we can see that much of this prophecy has already been fulfilled. One of the secrets of understanding Old Testament prophecy is to separate the historic from the yet still future (not always the easiest thing to do!) These nations are not only historic but are symbols of forces at work in every age and every generation.
If these eleven chapters have a theme, it is found in Isaiah 14:26-27:
“This is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations. For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:26–27, ESV)
Because of God’s sovereign control over all nations nothing can thwart His plans by turning back His hand. God is in control of the rise and fall of the nations as He works out His divine purposes in the world. Assyria, Babylon, Moab, Egypt, Philistia, Edom—all of these nations are His tools to accomplish His purposes.
I. THE ANGER OF THE NATIONS (2:1-3)
"Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us." (Psalm 2:1-3, ESV)
1. the Psalmist opens his song with a lyric declaring man's rebellion against the Lord of
a. the psalmist stands amazed at the plans—vain plans, but plans nonetheless—of the
world's nations to overthrow the Lord and His Anointed One
1) the earth's nation-states are conspiring, and the earth's people are plotting to
rebel against the Lord's anointed one
b. in one of the most clear applications of the Psalm, the Apostle Peter quotes it
shortly after he and the Apostle John have been released from custody for preaching Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem
"On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. "Sovereign Lord," they said, "you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:" 'Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.' Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus." (Acts 4:23-30, NIV)
c. Peter clearly tells us that both Jew and Gentile, both worldly rulers and common
people have taken a stand against God, and against God's Anointed One
1) it is not some earthly king or potentate that the nations and people of the earth
are raging and plotting against
2) it is the Lord Himself, and his Anointed
A. THE NATIONS HAVE A MALICIOUS ATTITUDE
1. the psalmist begins with a rhetorical question: "Why"?—Why do the nations rage and
the peoples plot in vain? "Why"?—Why do the kings and rulers of the earth set themselves against the Lord?
2. the picture of man's rebellion is complete
a. the nations are in a rage
b. the peoples of the earth are plotting
c. the kings of the earth are setting themselves against God's authority
d. the rulers of lesser principalities are counseling together against the Lord
1) in all of this, we see the complete and utter enmity that a fallen race has toward
the sovereign Lord of the universe
3. the nations rage can literally be translated as tumultuous agitation as when
ocean waves are lashed to fury by the winds
4. in his fallen condition, man not only is not looking for God, but is in open rebellion
a. God is God
b. man is not God, but wants to be
1) here is the core of the great temptation
"For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate." (Genesis 3:5-6, ESV)
c. and that's the rub
1) our eyes were opened
2) we do know the difference between good and evil
3) but we're still not God
5. the nations rage and the peoples plot
a. the word plot in this massage comes from a word that means growl a vain thing
1) in Isaiah 31:4 the word refers to a lion growling over its prey
b. the word came to refer to people speaking in low, hushed sounds as they plotted to
take some kind of action
1) in this Psalm, it implies that lost men openly muse, but in low hushed tones, on
how they might break free from God
c. man's desire is to be the maker of his own destiny, and lord of his own life
d. the commands of God—which are always for our good—are perceived as shackles
and cords that must be loosed and discarded
1) according to the Psalmist, man's rage is "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast
away their cords from us." 2) mankind demands his freedom—even from God
B. THE NATIONS HAVE A MISGUIDED ANIMUS
1. the psalmist asks a rhetorical question: "Why"?—Why do the nations rage and the
peoples plot in vain?
a. all this animus and angst does not make sense to him
b. God has poured out his blessing upon all
"... He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:45, NIV)
c. theologians call this common grace
1) it is "common" because its benefits are experienced by, or intended for, the
whole human race without distinction between one person and another
2) it is "grace" because it is undeserved and sovereignly bestowed by God
2. God's common grace is witnessed in
a. His providential care of creation
b. His providential restraint of sin and evil
c. His providential enlightenment of human conscience
d. His providential blessings to mankind
3. considering how benevolent God is, Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot
a. yet, Isaiah tells us that they do, and they will be judged for it
C. THE NATIONS PLAN A MALEVOLENT ASSAULT
1. malevolent is a word that means '/ will that wishes evil upon another
2. the kings and rulers have taken a stand against the Lord and his Anointed One
a. it's as though they have drawn a line in the sand and dared God to cross it
b. Peter, in Acts 4, tells us plainly that this malevolent assault against God and His
Christ was the reason for Christ's crucifixion
"The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed'— for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel," (Acts 4:26-27, ESV)
c. this malevolency has been snowballing as it has come down through the centuries,
and it will break out finally in a worldwide revolution against God and against Christ in a period of Great Tribulation
II. THE ALMIGHTY RESPONDS TO THE RAGE OF THE NATIONS (2:4-6)
"He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, "As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill." (Psalm 2:4-6, ESV)
1. after recording the rebellion of the nations of the world, the Psalmist reveals the
response of the Almighty
A. THE REIGN OF THE LORD
1. man's futile rebellion is against He who sits in the heavens
a. how stupid is that?
2. the one who sits in the heavens holds the universe in the palm of His hand
• "Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness." (Isaiah 40:21-23, ESV)
B. THE REPROOF OF THE LORD
1. the nation’s futile rebellion is against He who sits in the heavens
2. the Lord of the Heavens responds to man's futile rebellion—He who sits in the
heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury
a. here is the reply of the Almighty God
1) God does not tremble or quake in his boots
2) God does not hide behind a celestial rampart, counting the enemy and
calculating whether or not He has sufficient force to counter a challenge to His kingdom
3) God does not negotiate
3. God simply laughs at their stupid insolence
a. here is the only place in all the Scriptures where we are told that God laughs
1) it is not a pleasant laugh
2) it is a laugh of derision
4. God scoffs at their plans
a. this is what the Lord holds them in derision means
1) God mocks their clenched fists and fiery slogans
5. God speaks to rebuke and to terrify these rulers
"Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying," (Psalm 2:5, ESV)
a. the Prophet Isaiah paints the same picture that will take place on the terrible Day of
“See, the day of the LORD is coming —a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger— to
make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless. I will make man scarcer than pure gold, more rare than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the LORD Almighty, in the day of his burning anger.” (Isaiah 13:9–13, NIV)
C. THE RESPONSE OF THE LORD
1. after speaking rebuke, God announces that / have set my King on Zion, my holy hill
a. this is God's unalterable purpose, and nothing on earth or in hell can thwart it
“This is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth, and this is the hand
that is stretched out over all the nations. For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:26–27, ESV)
2. nothing can keep God from establishing His Kingdom
ILLUS. In the late 3rd and early 4th centuries, the great foe of Christianity was the Roman Emperor Diocletian. He struck at the heart of the faith by killing its leaders and burning its sacred books. Diocletian thought he had succeeded. In Spain, he had a monument (actually two) erected, boasting of his success. The monument reads:
Diocletian Jovian Maximian Herculeus Caesares August!
for having everywhere abolished the superstition of Christ for having extended the worship of the gods
But Diocletian had not abolished Christianity. On the contrary, at the time Christianity was growing stronger than ever, and eventually it triumphed over Caesar's throne.
3. and God sit's on His throne and laughs at the nations
III. THE ANOINTED ONE SHALL QUASH THE RAGE OF THE NATIONS (2:7-9)
"/ will tell of the decree: The Lord 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." (Psalm 2:7-9, ESV)
1. the third section of the Psalm contains the words of God's Anointed, the Lord Jesus
A. THE ANOINTED ONE IS THE ONE AND ONLY ETERNAL SON
1. in these verses God the Son, is speaking to the Psalmist of what God the Father has
declared concerning the Anointed One's relationship to the Father and the scope of His eternal reign
a. what has God declared?
1) that the Anointed One—the Messiah—is not just Israel's Deliverer, but is God's
2. this passage gives us a glimpse of perhaps the most important of Biblical doctrine
—the ETERNAL Sonship of Christ
a. it is a doctrine denied by many pseudo-Christian sects such as the Mormons and
the Jehovah Witnesses
b. it's a doctrine that should be held and valued by all those who know and love our
3. God the Son has always existed as the Second Person of the Trinity
a. there was never a time when He 'wasn't and He is equal to the Father
ILLUS. In attempting to define the relationship of God the Son to God the Father, the early church, at the Council of Nicea developed the Nicene Creed. Here is what they said about the eternal sonship of the Christ: We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father.
1) though it has been tweaked over the centuries, that is still the orthodox position
to this day
4. the Anointed One is the one and only Eternal Son who became flesh and dwelt among
ILLUS. I like the way the Gregory of Naziansen one of the Church Fathers, describes the incarnation. Speaking of Jesus, Gregory wrote: "Remaining what he was, he assumed what he was not."
a. he means by that, the Jesus retained all the divine attributes of the Godhead, even
while he takes up human attributes
b. and that's the Doctrine of the Incarnation which is the second most important of
B. THE ANOINTED ONE'S INHERITANCE IS THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH
1. another of God's decrees concerns the Son's inheritance
a. God the Father has declared that all God the Son has to do is ask and God the
Father will give Him the nations as his heritage and make the ends of the earth his possession
2. the author of Hebrews reminds us, that though Jesus has not yet received his
inheritance, he will
"Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, "What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet." Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone." (Hebrews 2:5-9, ESV)
IV. THE ADVICE TO THE NATIONS THAT RAGE (2:10-12)
"Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him." (Psalm 2:10-12, ESV)
1. in the final section of this Psalm, the narrator speaks again
a. he utters words of warning and entreaty to those who have not yet bowed before
2. what does this voice of repentance call us to do?
a. to be wise
b. to be warned
c. to serve the Lord with fear
d. to rejoice with trembling
e. to (most importantly) kiss the Son which implies grateful, loving submission
1) "Kiss the Son" is the Old Testament way of saying, "Believe on the Lord Jesus
Christ, and thou shalt be saved"
3. that is what these nations spoken of by Isaiah will not do, which is why they are in
danger of a final fierce destruction
a. they will perish in the way but blessed are all who take refuge in him
Con. As he works his plan of salvation for the world, God is full of surprises. Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, all thought they were in control of their own destiny. At the height of their power each in turn believed—erroneously—that they controlled the world and had no fear of competitive nations. Israel got so low and desperate that they decided God had forgotten them and no longer had the will or way to save them. God had surprises for both Israel and the nations that surrounded her.
It’s easy to assume that in our habit-driven life where we think we now how everything is going to turn out, God has a surprise for us, too.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8–9, NIV)