As we witness the turmoil in and amongst the nations at the moment, Psalm 2 is one of those passages of Scripture which speaks volumes about our world today. It begins: Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
The word “heathen” is an older translation of the Hebrew word “goy”. If you have ever spoken with a Jewish person, you will hear them refer to Gentiles as “goyim”. Despite some anti-Semites believing otherwise, this is not intended as an insult because “goyim” literally means “nations”. That is why in later translations of the Bible, the translators substituted the word “heathen” for “nations”. Sadly, those who have failed to understand this have persecuted the Jewish people because they have taken offense at the term. I recently came across a copy of the Jewish Daily Bulletin published in New York on Tuesday, 16 January 1934. A short article read as follows: Max Hirschenberg and Moritz Schriesheimer, Jewish employees of a Karlsruhe firm, were arrested today by the political police and sent to a concentration camp. Secret police declared that Aryan girls employed by the firm had said, “we can no longer stand the Jewish molestation.” Hirschenberg is also charged with having insultingly referred to non-Jews as “Goyim.” The word “Goyim” is merely a translation of the Hebrew word for Gentile.
To prove the point above, in the New Testament, the corresponding word for “goy” is “ethne”, the source of our English word “ethnic”. It is used in Matthew 28:19 when Jesus says: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [ethne], baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.
Despite being found more than 140 times in the King James Version of the Bible, throughout the years “heathen” has lost its original Biblical meaning of “not Jewish”. Today, people associate the word with being a pagan or an unbeliever. Some go so far as to connect the word with people groups who are barbaric or uncivilized. Perhaps that is another reason the translators of modern English Bibles decided to use the word “nations” in its place.
In Isaiah 49, we see mention of a “Servant” who was to be a light to the Gentiles. In verse 6 we read: Indeed He says, it is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth. The Servant would do more than restore Israel to its former glory. He would ultimately serve as an agent of salvation to the Gentiles. The expression of God’s desire to reach the nations is seen in verse 1 of Isaiah 49: Listen, O coastlands, to Me, and take heed, you peoples from afar! Praise God that this promise was fulfilled as seen in Ephesians 2:11-13: Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh – who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands – that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. You see, in Isaiah 49, we see wonderful themes – God’s Servant explains His ministry as bringing light in the darkness (v 1-7), liberty to the captive (v 8-13) and love and hope to the discouraged (49:14 – 50:3).
As we see from the command referred to in Matthew 28 above, Jesus didn’t just limit His grace to the Jews – He wanted to extend God’s grace to the Gentiles by ensuring that the truth of God reached ALL nations. This is important due to the fact that God is the judge of ALL of the earth and each person must choose to accept or reject His offer of salvation. In the account of Abraham interceding for Sodom, Genesis 18:25 confirms the scope of His judgement: Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
In Luke 2, we read a wonderful account of a man named Simeon. After seeing the Christ-child for himself, we read in verses 29-32: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” When Jesus begins His Galilean ministry – known as Galilee of the Gentiles – we see the fulfilment of Isaiah 9:1-2 when Matthew records in Matthew 4:14-16: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
Even though many (both then and now) have accepted the Light of the world, there are countless others who have rejected Him. John 3:18-19: He that believes on Him is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. How sad that mankind’s response to the revelation of God’s Light has been to ignore it and continue their evil deeds. Whatever their reasons for doing so, they cannot claim they did not have an opportunity to know Him and to receive His gift of salvation. This is supported by Romans 1:18-21. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Fallen man will embrace mother nature, the big-bang theory and evolution, gods and goddesses they have made themselves - ANYTHING but the Almighty Creator! The world’s system of salvation is as simple as ABC: Anything But Christ.
This current age will not roll on indefinitely. Though they remain wilfully ignorant to the prophecies of the Bible, it is very clear from Matthew 25 that the nations are soon going to be held to account. When Jesus returns at the end of the Tribulation Period, He will judge the nations. Matthew 25:31-34: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. But for the nations who rejected Christ, verse 41 confirms their fate: “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
The very heathen who rage at God throughout the Tribulation Period will be the very same ones who will express an eternity of regret when they are cast into the Lake of Fire. Their rage leads to rebellion and their rebellion gives way to regret. If only they would take the advice of the final verse of Psalm 2: Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.