Why do the Heathen rage
Or "the nations"; which some understand of the Jews, who are so called, ( Genesis 17:5 ) ( Ezekiel 2:3 ) ; because of their various tribes; and of their rage against the Messiah there have been many instances; as when they gnashed upon him with their teeth, and at several times took up stones to stone him, and cried out in a most furious and wrathful manner, crucify him, crucify him, ( Luke 4:28 Luke 4:29 ) ( John 8:59 ) ( 10:31 ) ( John 19:6 John 19:15 ) ; though it is best to interpret it of the Gentiles, as the apostles seem to do in ( Acts 4:27 ) . The Hebrew word translated "rage" is by one Jewish writer F26 explained by (wrbx) , "associate" or "meet together"; and which is often the sense of the word in the Syriac and Chaldee languages, in which it is more used; and another F1 says, that it is expressive of "gathering together, and of a multitude"; it intends a tumultuous gathering together, as is that of a mob, with great confusion and noise F2; and so the Gentiles, the Roman soldiers, gathered together, even multitudes of them, and came out with Judas at the head of them, with swords and staves, to apprehend Christ and bring him to the chief priests and elders, ( Matthew 26:47 ) ; these assembled together in Pilate's hall, when Christ was condemned to be crucified, and insulted him in a most rude and shocking manner, ( Matthew 26:2 ) ( Matthew 27:22 Matthew 27:23 Matthew 27:26 ) ; and many are the instances of the Gentiles rising in mobs, and appearing in riotous assemblies, making tumults and uproars against the apostles to oppose them, and the spread of the Gospel by them; to which they were sometimes instigated by the unbelieving Jews, and sometimes by their own worldly interest; see ( Acts 13:50 ) ( Acts 14:5 Acts 14:19 ) ( Acts 17:5 Acts 17:6 ) ( 19:23-32 ) , to which may be added, as instances of this tumult and rage, the violent persecutions both of the Pagan emperors and of the Papists, which last are called Gentiles as well as the other; for this respects the kingdom of Christ, or the Gospel dispensations, from the beginning to the end;
and the people imagine a vain thing?
by "the people" are meant the people of Israel, who were once God's peculiar people, and who were distinguished by him with peculiar favours above all others, and in whom this prophecy has been remarkably fulfilled; they imagine it and meditated a vain thing when they thought the Messiah would be a temporal King, and set up a kingdom, on earth in great worldly splendour and glory, and rejected Jesus, the true Messiah, because he did not answer to these their carnal imaginations; they meditated a vain thing when they sought to take away the good name and reputation of Christ, by fixing opprobrious names and injurious charges upon him, for Wisdom has been justified of her children, ( Matthew 11:19 ) ( Luke 7:35 ) ; and so they did when they meditated his death, with those vain hopes that he should die and his name perish, and should lie down in the grave and never rise more, ( Psalms 41:5 Psalms 41:6 Psalms 41:8 ) ; for he not only rose from the dead, but his name was more famous after his death than before; they imagined a vain thing when they took so much precaution to prevent the disciples stealing his body out of the sepulchre, and giving out that he was risen from the dead, and more especially when he was risen, to hire the soldiers to tell a lie in order to stifle and discredit the report of it; they meditated vain things when they attempted to oppose the apostles, and hinder the preaching of the Gospel by them, which they often did, as the Acts of the Apostles testify; and it was after one of these attempts that the apostles, in their address to God, made use of this very passage of Scripture, ( Acts 4:2 Acts 4:3 Acts 4:17 Acts 4:18 Acts 4:24 Acts 4:25 ) ; and they still meditate a vain thing in that they imagine Jesus of Nazareth is not the Messiah, and that the Messiah is not yet come; and in that they are expecting and looking for him. Now the Psalmist, or the Holy Ghost by him, asks "why" all this? what should move the Gentiles and the Jews to so much rage, tumult, and opposition against an holy and innocent person, and who went about doing good as he did? what end they could have in it, or serve by it? and how they could expect to succeed? what would all their rage and not, and vain imagination, signify? it is strongly suggested hereby that it would all be in vain and to no purpose, as well as what follows.
F26 Aben Ezra in loc.
F1 R. Sol. Ben Melech in Ioc.
F2 (wvgr) "congregrant se turmatim", Vatablus; "eum tumultu", Munster, Tigurine version.