Why do nations assemble and people plot vain things;
Kings of the earth take their stand,
And regents intrigue together
Against the Lord and against His anointed? …
…So now, O kings, be prudent;
Accept discipline, you rulers of the earth!
Serve the Lord in awe;
Tremble with fright,
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.
Earlier this week I was having a conversation with a dear friend about the state of this country, and of the world in general. As is often the case between us, we were bemoaning the actions of various national and world leaders, but from opposing viewpoints. Later, while reflecting on our lively conversation, this Psalm came to mind. The first line questions why nations and people plot vain things and create intrigue. In the present political climate, we see this happening every day. When I hear the news, I tremble at unfolding events worldwide, conniving and vitriol coming from all sides. We each claim to be right, to walk in holiness, yet our actions and words betray us.
Even though written thousands of years ago, and with the acknowledgment that I probably impose twenty-first century sensibilities onto the biblical writer, this Tehillim still speaks to us. Nations have always plotted and schemed together. Evidently, this phenomenon is not a modern convention, my friend and I were not participants in some newly evolving politic, nor is this an outdated anomaly. I express my concerns and fears to my friend, he counters, I retort, and so it goes. In actuality, we each think we are right, that our way through the morass is the higher road, our moral compass is regulated to higher standards. We both assert our concerns and argue our respective points. But, as the Psalm goes on to suggest, our ways, if against the Lord, is all for naught. Vanity.
The psalmist reminds us “The Lord mocks at them…” Immediately the colloquialism came to mind, “Man plans, G-d laughs!” At that point I realized that while we may have wildly opposing (or slightly differing, whatever the case) views, we are all really in the hands of Hashem. This Psalm goes on to talk about the terror of plotting against G-d’s holiness, and G-d’s prophets, G-d’s ways. For all our bravado, all our self-righteousness, all of our unswerving assertions about how correct our viewpoint is, Hashem‘s is the final word. We will all be shattered, humbled, disciplined for how we interfere in Hashem’s design, or intimidate others, or tyrannize those with whom we disagree. This is a warning we should each take to heart, especially in this time of heightened political and ideological differences.
We are admonished to be prudent. Accept discipline, wise advice directed to the rulers of the world, but advice we would all do well to heed. Serve Hashem with awe and fear. It would behoove us to take the “awe and fear” part to heart when we think of Who it is we say we represent on this earth, especially if our prayers are coupled with behavior and words that are far from holy.
Finally, be sincere in our service. Sincerity in service cannot embrace brow-beating those with whom we disagree. We daven the same prayers, stand before the same G-d, observe the same halachot. What would be the result if instead of being bombastic in our “rightness”, we rushed to be of service where service is needed? There is a lot to ponder here. I am as guilty as anyone of arguing my point to someone else’s detriment. Where is our holiness as a people of G-d? This is something I definitely need to work on.
As an addendum, I just want to iterate that this post is merely my personal reflections on a Psalm without benefit of exegesis. I say that because I know in my heart of hearts that there is so much more here than meets the eye. At the same time, what meets the eye speaks to me, so I write it out. In the future I hope to acquire access to resources that will allow for in depth study. For now I offer humble reflections.