Why Do the Nations Rage? Does the Bible Say Anything About the Middle East Conflict?
We have to get God out of this conflict if we’re going to have any chance to survive as a healthy, secure Jewish state.”
Political analyst Yossi Alpher, who served 12 years in the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, and later became Israel Director of the American Jewish Committee, uttered these words on a recent 60 Minutes program.1 His statement reflects the attitudes of many who see the Middle East conflict as purely political, social or geographical.
Yet, as the media report frequently on the clashes involving Israel, they fail to mention that the horrific terrorist attacks of today are only a small chapter in a history that extends back to biblical times. For thousands of years, from Egypt to exile to the Holocaust, Israel has often suffered and been treated unjustly at the hands of other nations.
Some of this history is recorded in textbooks, but the greatest sources of information we have regarding the history of Israel are our own Scriptures, which have been preserved for thousands of years.
These early texts often show Israel crying out to God for peace and justice in the midst of tense and turbulent international situations. Take for instance Psalm 2, which begins with a very pointed question, “Why do the nations rage…?” and continues, “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.'”
Apparently our ancestors weren’t content to “leave God out” of the conflicts they were having with the surrounding nations. In fact, they viewed the troubles they were having as part of a battle that was not merely a military conflict or a political conflict, but a spiritual conflict.
But can such an ancient text really have relevance for today’s Middle East situation? The answer is yes, for when we look at this Psalm closely, we’ll see that not only does it offer a perspective of the past, but also the present and future. Psalm 2 affirms that Israel’s present suffering is ultimately only part of a much greater story. While Psalm 2 begins by telling of the turmoil of the nations, it ends with a promise of blessing for those who will look to God during such tumultuous times.
The pattern of the past
Nobody can say for sure what exactly was taking place when the Psalmist originally wrote, “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed.” What we do know is that throughout Israel’s history many other nations have sought to destroy her. These attempts were viewed not only as attacks against the country, but also against her God. The Midrash on Psalm 2 contains a list of leaders who have raged against the country and God of Israel, including Pharaoh, Sisera, Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar.2 As the Midrash links these cases together, what emerges is a pattern of rebellion not only against the God of Israel, but also against the “anointed” ones whom God selected to represent his people (Moses, Deborah, Barak, Hezekiah and the faithful Jewish exiles).
It’s interesting to note, though, that in the midst of this explanation of how other nations have responded maliciously to the Lord and his anointed, there is a surprise reading from the rabbis. They point out that the opponents of the Lord’s anointed have not always come from other nations. In section 3 of the Midrash, Korah is mentioned for his antagonism toward Aaron, the anointed of the Lord, during the time of the Exodus. Often in the Hebrew Scriptures we see that the nation of Israel as a whole has failed to heed the words of the prophets whom God anointed. Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel were opposed by vast numbers of people within the commonwealth of Israel. The great king David suffered from the rebellion of his own son, Absalom. Another sent one who suffers unjustly, even from his own, is described in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. The pattern of rejecting the Lord’s anointed one is not something that is done exclusively by outside nations.
Unfortunately, rejecting God’s representative is just as bad as rejecting God himself. The Midrash reminds us of this, and continually warns people of the present to keep this in mind and not continue in this pattern. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.
Putting a stop to the pattern
But how can we possibly heed the words of the Psalmist and the Midrash today? Who is the “anointed” of Israel to whom this applies? Where is the ruler we are to accept?
The answer is found later in the Psalm. The writer records the words of God:
“Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession.'” (Psalm 2:6-8)
Despite rebellion that has historically taken place inside and outside Israel, the Midrash urges the reader to have hope because God has declared through Psalm 2:7-8 that, “‘All these goodly promises are in the decree of the King, the King of kings, who will fulfill them for the Lord Messiah.'”
The rabbis were referring to God’s promise that one day there would be one who would be the great king, the King of kings, the promised Messiah, who would deliver the promises of God (2 Samuel 7:6-16; Isaiah 9-11; Daniel 7:9-14). Psalm 2 draws a connection between the “anointed” and the “King,” the Messiah to come.
The hope of this psalm is that one day God will send his Messiah and put an end to the raging nations. The psalm concludes with the message that one day, all must be prepared to give homage to this great one, being prepared to “kiss the Son.” So however long it takes or whenever he comes, one day God will be exalted, and the Messiah, the “anointed” who is greater than all other “anointed” ones before him, will play a key role in bringing all people to the one true God.
The psalmist recognizes that, given this promise, all opposition to God is futile. The Midrash on Psalm 2 understands two key points: (1) God and his chosen one have not always been followed, but (2) one day the chosen one will be followed as a sovereign God delivers his people.
So who is the Anointed?
Even before the Midrash was penned, there were Jewish people who recognized that the Anointed One of Psalm 2 had already come. As members of this first-century Jewish community in Jerusalem were facing a turbulent time, it is recorded that they prayed,
“Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the LORD and against His [Anointed].” (Acts 4:24a-26)
The prayer continues,
“For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together…” (verse 27)
These first-century Jews believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the “Son” the psalmist wrote about. They believed God had anointed Jesus with ability to heal and deliver. Some of them had heard God speak of him as Son (Matthew 3:17). All of them were despondent when Jesus was put to death, yet in the book of Acts, in the New Testament, it is recorded that they were turning to God in confidence and boldness. Why? Because Jesus’ messiahship had been proven by his resurrection.
They were confident that Jesus was the Messiah, even though believing in him didn’t make these Jewish people very popular with the authorities, both Jewish and Roman. In fact, the words above were spoken as a prayer for Peter, a first-century Jewish man, who had been imprisoned for telling others about Jesus. So what did these Jews actually pray? “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness.…” They asked to be given strength to continue declaring boldly the identity of the one they knew God had shown to be the chosen one of God. They did so despite the realization that many did not believe in Jesus and would rage against them and him.
Psalm 2 offered real hope for these people in the midst of turmoil. Though many were raging against them, including their friends and family members, these Jewish people believed that if they took refuge in Jesus they would ultimately be safe. After all, the point of the psalm is that whoever opposes God’s anointed stands opposed to God, and whoever takes refuge in God’s anointed will be blessed.
Two thousand years later, there are still millions of people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah that God promised to send. They believe he offers everlasting peace with God to all those who will believe in him. Many people do not want to accept this-they believe peace can be achieved by other means.
Psalm 2 tells us that it often is the case that the Lord’s chosen is not recognized and revered. Isn’t it interesting that this very rejection is in itself kind of a “prerequisite” for being the Anointed?
A text like this invites us to look at the big picture, to see beyond news reports and recent history, and consider what God is doing. Psalm 2 tells us that God has a plan to bring peace and justice to the earth through the Messiah. Further, Psalm 2 tells us that to know this anointed Son is to have blessing and shalom, despite the circumstances.
You may well know someone who is talking to you about Yeshua. You may have heard many people speak against him. And yet, if there’s a chance he is the one of whom the Psalmist wrote, the choice of whether or not to believe him is extremely important, whether a person is from Israel or from another “nation.”
After all, it may very well be that the way to achieve true peace is not to “keep God out of it,” but to recognize that God must be in the thick of it for true shalom to take place.
- 60 Minutes Web Site
- “Thus Pharoah asked: Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? (Ex. 5:2). And when it is said of Sisera that for twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel (Judges 4:3), by mightily is meant blasphemously and revilingly, as is suggested by the verse ‘Your words have been all too mighty against Me, says the Lord’ (Mal. 3:13). And Sennacherib spoke foully, Have any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria…that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand? (2 Kings 18:33, 25). And Nebuchadnezzar spoke foully: O Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego…who is the god that shall deliver you out of my hand? (Dan. 3:14-15).”