This is a Messianic Psalm – meaning it talks about the Anointed One who God will send to rule the earth in the future (Jesus).
It opens up with a rhetorical question – why are people setting themselves up against God? These are people of power – kings and rulers – who are coming together against God. They seem to see Him as a killjoy, setting restricting rules for the sake of it, but the Psalmist undercuts this by using God’s covenant name – the LORD (Yahweh) to highlight His goodness and love. He cares for our wellbeing.
The word Lord also appears not written all in capitals – this is usually a translation of the word Adonai – a name for God that emphasises His authority.
The Psalmist sees the futility of their rebellion – he can see that God has anointed a King – His Son – who will rule over the earth and one day everyone will be subject to Him. But this can be a good thing – those who seek refuge in the Anointed will find it, those who worship Him will be spared.
The Psalms often present this choice to us – our way or God’s way: will we stand against Him or submit to His authority in our lives? This Psalm urges the nations to give up their rebellion and submit to the LORD who will give them refuge – if they don’t they will face His judgement.
I was struck by verse 11: “Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling” – it brought to mind those similar verses in Philippians 2v12-13, which tell us to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling”. I think we can sometimes forget or even ignore the judgement and holiness of God – this reminds us that He deserves our respect and our worship.
Verse 8 also sent me searching for references: “I will make the nations your heritage”. One verse that suggests Jesus as the object of this promise (the one receiveing the heritage) is Hebrews 1v2, where He is described as the ‘heir of all things’.
What this verse reminded me of is the only clue Jesus gave as to when He would return. In Matthew 24v1-14, the disciples are asking Jesus how they will know when ‘the end of the age’ is coming. Jesus warns them not to be distracted by false teachers telling them the end is coming, then He gives the clue: “And the gospel of the Kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
Way back in the Psalms, Jesus, the Anointed One, was promised that all nations would be His inheritance, and He won’t return until every nation has been given the opportunity to hear and follow. Which makes our mission clear. We must take the news that Jesus is God’s Anointed One, who will judge those who set themselves up against Him, but will provide refuge to those who fear and trust Him.
(Photo is of the stained glass window in the chapel at Goodrich Castle, Herefordshire)