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Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Presented by Rabbi Boruch Merkur


לָ֭מָּה רָגְשׁ֣וּ גוֹיִ֑ם וּ֝לְאֻמִּ֗ים יֶהְגּוּ־רִֽיק׃

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?

This verse opens with a rhetorical question about the futility of the nations’ and peoples’ rebellion against divine authority. It makes a distinction between ‘nations’ (גויים) and ‘peoples’ (לאומים). While ‘nations’ refers to a collective without a specific religious identity, ‘peoples’ implies a unity under a certain religious or ideological doctrine. The verse points to a joint rebellion that encompasses both religious and political defiance against the Lord and His anointed king.

The rebellion of the nations is described as a restless agitation, a futile effort to challenge the established divine order. This is contrasted with the enduring reign of God and His Messiah. The nations, in their political defiance, and the peoples, with their ideological opposition, vainly strive against the unassailable authority of the divine.

This verse sets the stage for the rest of the Psalm, emphasizing the ineffectiveness of human plots against God’s sovereign plans. It introduces the key theme of divine supremacy over human rebellion, underscoring the inherent futility in resisting the will of the Almighty.


יִ֥תְיַצְּב֨וּ ׀ מַלְכֵי־אֶ֗רֶץ וְרוֹזְנִ֥ים נֽוֹסְדוּ־יָ֑חַד עַל־יְ֝הֹוָ֗ה וְעַל־מְשִׁיחֽוֹ׃

The kings of the earth stand firm and rulers unite against the Lord and His anointed.

This verse elaborates on the nature of the rebellion against divine authority, showing it as a concerted effort by earthly rulers. The kings and rulers (the “מלכים” and “רוזנים”) stand in opposition, not just as individual entities, but united in their defiance. The rebellion is multidimensional: it is against God (“על-יהוה”) in a religious sense and against His anointed (“על-משיחו”) in a political sense.

The verse highlights the scope of this opposition. It is not limited to the masses (the “גוים” from the previous verse) but includes those in power, who should be upholders of justice and righteousness. Their standing firm (“יתיצבו”) implies a deliberate, calculated stance, not a spontaneous or unconsidered reaction. The uniting of rulers (“נוסדו-יחד”) emphasizes their collective effort in this rebellion, further underscoring the gravity of their defiance.

This alignment against divine authority reflects a profound misunderstanding of the nature of true power and governance. It is a futile stand, as the subsequent verses will reveal, against an unassailable divine plan. This verse thus sets the stage for the dramatic confrontation between human authority and divine will, highlighting the former’s limitations in the face of the latter’s omnipotence.


נְֽ֭נַתְּקָה אֶת־מֽוֹסְרוֹתֵ֑ימוֹ וְנַשְׁלִ֖יכָה מִמֶּ֣נּוּ עֲבֹתֵֽימוֹ׃

Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.

In this verse, the nations and rulers express their resolve to free themselves from what they perceive as the binding restrictions imposed by divine authority. The imagery of breaking “chains” (מוסרות) and casting off “shackles” (עבותות) is potent, symbolizing the rejection of God’s commandments and the Messiah’s rule. Malbim notes that while chains are weaker and can be broken, shackles are stronger and more difficult to remove, yet the rebellious are determined to cast off both.

This metaphor extends to both religious and political dimensions. In terms of religion, they aim to discard commandments that appear illogical or lack rational basis while also abandoning those rooted in reason and intellect. Politically, they seek to overthrow the yoke of servitude, including commitments made under oaths and covenants, in a show of rebellion and breach of faith.

This verse, therefore, highlights the depth of the rebellion, not just as a physical or political act but as a profound spiritual defiance. It underscores the nations’ and rulers’ determination to liberate themselves from divine ordinances, mistakenly viewing them as oppressive, rather than guides to true freedom and righteousness.


יוֹשֵׁ֣ב בַּשָּׁמַ֣יִם יִשְׂחָ֑ק אֲ֝דֹנָ֗י יִלְעַג־לָֽמוֹ׃

He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.

This verse responds to the nations’ and rulers’ rebellion, depicting God’s reaction from His heavenly throne. The image of God “laughing” and “scoffing” at the futile efforts of the rebels is profound. It conveys not a sense of amusement, but rather a divine perspective on the absurdity and futility of their defiance. The contrast between the plotting of earthly powers and God’s response from His exalted position in the heavens underscores the gap between human machinations and divine omnipotence.

The laughter of God is unique among divine expressions, signifying His absolute authority and the insignificance of human rebellion in the face of His will. It’s not merely a reaction of derision but also an expression of the certainty of God’s plans, highlighting the ultimate ineffectiveness of any opposition to His decrees.

This verse reassures the faithful of the ultimate triumph of God’s purpose over human resistance. It illustrates the inherent powerlessness of human opposition against God’s sovereignty, serving as a reminder of the transient nature of earthly power compared to the eternal dominion of the divine. The laughing response of God signifies the assured victory of divine will and the inevitable downfall of those who resist it.


אָ֤ז יְדַבֵּ֣ר אֵלֵ֣ימוֹ בְאַפּ֑וֹ וּֽבַחֲרוֹנ֥וֹ יְבַהֲלֵֽמוֹ׃

Then He shall speak to them in His anger, and terrify them in His wrath.

In this verse, the response of God to the rebellion described in the previous verses intensifies. The “speaking” in anger (באפו) and the act of terrifying (יבהלמו) in wrath (בחרונו) indicate a decisive divine intervention. Malbim interprets this as God’s confrontation with the rebellious nations and rulers, marking a turning point where mere mockery gives way to direct action.

This verse conveys the gravity and seriousness of opposing God’s authority. The act of speaking in anger implies a pronouncement of judgment or a declaration of divine will against the rebels. The terror that ensues from God’s wrath highlights the overwhelming and formidable nature of divine retribution.

The timing of this divine intervention is significant — “אז” (then), at the height of their rebellion, God asserts His authority. This intervention serves as a stark reminder of God’s omnipotence and the ultimate futility of human defiance. It also underscores the accountability of the nations and rulers for their actions against God and His anointed.

The verse thus portrays a dramatic and forceful assertion of divine sovereignty, emphasizing that while God may initially respond to rebellion with derision, His justice and wrath will inevitably prevail against those who persist in their defiance.


וַ֭אֲנִי נָסַ֣כְתִּי מַלְכִּ֑י עַל־צִ֝יּ֗וֹן הַר־קׇדְשִֽׁי׃

Yet I have set my king upon Zion, my holy hill.

This verse can be seen as a declaration of God’s unwavering decision to establish His chosen ruler, despite human opposition. This is a direct and authoritative response to the preceding turmoil and chaos caused by nations and rulers.

The setting of this divine appointment on Zion, the sacred hill, is crucial. It symbolizes not only the geographical center of worship and divine presence for the Israelites but also represents a spiritual and eternal kingdom that stands above human political structures.

This verse, therefore, serves as a profound assertion of God’s ultimate sovereignty. It affirms that God’s plans and decrees transcend human rebellion and plots. The king, set upon Zion, embodies God’s righteous rule and is a symbol of His enduring covenant with His people.


אֲסַפְּרָ֗ה אֶֽ֫ל־חֹ֥ק יְֽהֹוָ֗ה אָמַ֘ר אֵלַ֥י בְּנִ֥י אַ֑תָּה אֲ֝נִ֗י הַיּ֥וֹם יְלִדְתִּֽיךָ׃

I shall speak of the decree: the Lord said to me, ‘You are My son; today I have begotten you.’

I shall speak of the decree - The psalmist announces that, like the norms and laws governing nations, there are divine decrees between peoples. These universal principles, such as a nation or a king refraining from encroaching upon the territories of others without justified cause, are ingrained across civilizations. Those who violate these norms, using force to destroy nations or seize their inheritance, are deemed as tyrants and agitators of the earth. However, the psalmist, in their quest to conquer nations and shake kingdoms, declares adherence to a divine law, a decree from the Lord, who owns the earth and all its fullness. This divine sanction, different from human constructs, legitimizes their actions as decreed by God Himself.

The Lord said to me, ‘You are My son; today I have begotten you’ - This decree, as stated by the Lord, affirms the psalmist’s divine sonship, signifying that on this day, amidst the tumult of nations, God has begotten the psalmist. This begetting implies a dominion over all, akin to a son ruling over his father’s assets. The decree of anointing the psalmist as king further intensifies this authority. Consequently, it is within the psalmist’s right to ask and receive from God, who will grant nations as an inheritance and the ends of the earth as possession. This decree not only permits the acquisition of territories but also allows for their complete subjugation and potential annihilation, symbolized by the iron rod shattering pottery, indicating God’s permission to eradicate them entirely if necessary.


שְׁאַ֤ל מִמֶּ֗נִּי וְאֶתְּנָ֣ה ג֭וֹיִם נַחֲלָתֶ֑ךָ וַ֝אֲחֻזָּתְךָ֗ אַפְסֵי־אָֽרֶץ

Ask it of Me, and I will make the nations your domain; your estate, the limits of the earth.

This verse, in its profound simplicity, beckons the divine assurance of inheritance and dominion. The speaker, imbued with divine authority, invites a request: “Ask of Me.” This is no mere rhetorical offer; it’s a genuine invitation to claim a vast inheritance. The scope of this inheritance is global, extending to the very ends of the earth.

In the broader context of Malbim’s insights, this verse is not just about territorial gain but signifies a deeper, more spiritual inheritance. The nations and the ends of the earth represent more than just physical land; they embody the fullness of divine promise and the extensive reach of spiritual influence. The request to “ask” reflects the principle that divine blessings, though promised, require active pursuit and prayerful petitioning.

Thus, this verse serves as a pivotal point, transitioning from divine response to human agency. It’s about the intersection of divine providence and human initiative. The inheritance is there, vast and waiting, but it must be actively sought and asked for. It encapsulates a profound truth about the nature of divine promises: they are sure and certain, yet they beckon human participation.


תְּ֭רֹעֵם בְּשֵׁ֣בֶט בַּרְזֶ֑ל כִּכְלִ֖י יוֹצֵ֣ר תְּנַפְּצֵֽם׃

Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

In this verse, the imagery is vivid and potent. The Psalmist speaks of a rod of iron, symbolizing unyielding strength and authority. This rod is not merely a tool for guidance or support but an instrument of breaking and shattering. The comparison to a potter’s vessel amplifies the intensity of the action. Just as a potter’s creation, once shattered, cannot be restored to its original form, so too, the entities subjected to this breaking are irreparably altered.

This metaphor serves to illustrate the inevitability and totality of the divine judgment. The entities subjected to this shattering are not just altered or reprimanded but completely broken down. This speaks to a larger theme of irreversible change and the ultimate power that enforces it. Such imagery is a stark reminder of the immense and unchallengeable power that the verse attributes to the divine.


וְ֭עַתָּה מְלָכִ֣ים הַשְׂכִּ֑ילוּ הִ֝וָּסְר֗וּ שֹׁ֣פְטֵי אָֽרֶץ׃

Now, kings, be wise; be instructed, judges of the earth.

And now, signals a shift, addressing the kings and judges of the earth. This verse is an urgent call for realization and transformation. After God’s proclamation of His anointed king, the rulers of the world are implored to recognize the futility of their rebellion. The two verbs, “be wise” and “be instructed,” delineate the path of enlightenment. “Be wise” (השׂכִּילוּ) advocates for a discerning understanding rooted in intellect, urging the leaders to comprehend the divine mandate from a standpoint of wisdom. “Be instructed” (הִוָּסְרוּ) complements this by emphasizing the need for moral and ethical guidance, a kind of reproof that shapes behavior and aligns it with divine will.

The invocation to the “judges of the earth” underscores the widespread impact of their decisions, stressing their influence and responsibility in shaping the moral and spiritual fabric of society. The wisdom here is not just for personal enlightenment but has broader implications for governance and justice. The verse serves as a reminder that worldly power is transient and must be aligned with divine purpose. It is a call to embrace a higher wisdom, one that transcends mere political or judicial authority, leading to a harmonious alignment with divine will and ultimate truth. This alignment, the Malbim suggests, is the true source of wisdom and guidance for those who hold power on earth.


עִבְד֣וּ אֶת־יְהֹוָ֣ה בְּיִרְאָ֑ה וְ֝גִ֗ילוּ בִּרְעָדָֽה׃

Serve the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling.

This verse in Psalms highlights a profound approach to spirituality, where service to the Divine is performed with a deep sense of reverence, and joy is mingled with a respectful awe. It encapsulates the balanced attitude one should have in their spiritual journey – one of solemn respect and joyful celebration in the presence of the Divine.


נַשְּׁקוּ־בַ֡ר פֶּן־יֶאֱנַ֤ף ׀ וְתֹ֬אבְדוּ דֶ֗רֶךְ כִּֽי־יִבְעַ֣ר כִּמְעַ֣ט אַפּ֑וֹ אַ֝שְׁרֵ֗י כׇּל־ח֥וֹסֵי בֽוֹ׃

Pay homage in good faith, lest He be angered, and your way be doomed in the mere flash of His anger. Happy are all who take refuge in Him.

This verse emphasizes the importance of sincerely seeking refuge and protection in the divine, highlighting the potential consequences of angering such a powerful force. The fleeting nature of divine anger is contrasted with the enduring happiness of those who find their sanctuary in Him. This teaches the value of genuine faith and the protection it offers.

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