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Psalm 2:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
1 Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
Why do the nations rage. “Why do nations make a noise?” Prof. Alexander. The word heathen here—גּוֹיִם goim—means properly nations, without respect, so far as the word is concerned, to the character of the nations. It was applied by the Hebrews to the surrounding nations or to all other people than their own; and as those nations were, in fact, heathens or idolaters, the word came to have this signification. Neh. 5:8; Jer. 31:10; Ezek. 23:30; 30:11; compare אָרָם, Jer. 32:20. The word Gentile among the Hebrews (Gr., ἔθνος) expressed the same thing. Matt. 4:15; 6:32; 10:5, 18; 12:21, et sæpe. The word rendered rage—רָגַשׁ—ragash—means to make a noise or tumult and would be expressive of violent commotion or agitation. It occurs in the Hebrew Scriptures only in this place, though the corresponding Chaldee word—רְגַשׁ—regash—is found in Daniel 6:6, 11, 15—rendered in ver. 6, “assembled together,” in the margin “came tumultuously,”—and in ver. 11, 15, rendered assembled. The psalmist here sees the nations in violent agitation or commotion as if under high excitement, engaged in accomplishing some purpose—rushing on to secure something or to prevent something. The image of a mob or of a tumultuous unregulated assemblage would probably convey the idea of the psalmist. The word itself does not enable us to determine how extensive this agitation would be. Still, it is evidently implied that it would be a somewhat general movement, a movement in which more than one nation or people would participate. The matter in hand was something that affected the nations generally and which would produce violent agitation among them.
And the peoples. לְאֻמִּים Leummim. A word expressing substantially the same idea, that of people, or nations, and referring here to the same thing as the word rendered heathen—according to the laws of Hebrew parallelism in poetry. It is the people here that are seen in violent agitation: the conduct of the rulers, as associated with them, is referred to in the next verse.
Plot. The Hebrew word—הָגָה—Hagah, is the same which, in Ps. 1:2, is rendered meditate. It means here that the mind is engaged in deliberating on it; that it plans, devises, or forms a purpose;—in other words, the persons referred to are thinking about some purpose which is here called a vain purpose; they are meditating some project which excites deep thought, but which cannot be effectual. So, here, (הָגָה hagah) “plot, plan, i.e., to think and so decide a course of action, with a focus that verbal exchange takes place.”
In vain. That is, which will prove to be a vain thing or a thing that they cannot accomplish. It cannot mean that they were engaged in forming plans that they supposed would be vain—for no persons would form such plans; but that they were engaged in designs which the result would show to be unsuccessful. The reference here is to the agitation among the nations in respect to the Divine purpose to set up the Messiah as king over the world and to the opposition which this would create among the nations of the earth. See Psalm2:2. An ample fulfillment of this occurred in the opposition to him when he came in the flesh and in the resistance everywhere made since his death to his reign upon the earth. Nothing has produced more agitation in the world (comp. Acts 17:6), and nothing still excites more determined resistance. The truths taught in this verse are (1) that sinners are opposed—even so much as to produce violent agitation of mind and a fixed and determined purpose—to the plans and decrees of God, especially concerning the reign of the Messiah; and (2) that their plans to resist this will be vain and ineffectual; wisely as their schemes may seem to be laid, and determined as they themselves are in regard to their execution, vet they must find them vain. What is implied here of the particular plans against the Messiah is true of all the purposes of sinners when they array themselves against the government of God.
By Albert Barnes and Edward D. Andrews
 James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: LJogos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).