God and the nations in the Psalms: framework
If we assume that the Psalter has been put together with purpose rather than just randomly, we can expect that its shape will help us to understand its theology, including what God’s attitude to the nations is. One way to do that is by looking at how the Psalter starts and ends.
The first two psalms of the book probably introduce the whole collection which is important for discovering God’s attitude to the nations, because Psalm 2 explicitly mentions them! Like we saw in the sketch, there’s a focus on their rebellion (2:1-3) and God’s defeat of them (2:8-9) but there’s also a note of invitation as they are commanded to serve God and celebrate his rule (2:10).
By the end of the Psalter, though, the nations kind of drop from sight. In Psalm 146-150 there’s a call for everything that has breath to praise the Lord (150:6) but no explicit mention of the nations apart from one reference to their defeat (149:7). Instead, Israel is primarily addressed; the activity of the nations is not in the foreground. It’s the praise of God which is constant throughout the whole book and centre stage here at the end. If we’re going to talk about God’s attitude to the nations, we need to account for this. God’s ultimate goal is his own glory and his interest in the nations fits within that framework.
So there’s this movement across the book, from nations in rebellion invited to serve God, to one people praising God. So what happens in the middle? And how does this movement relate to God’s preferential treatment of Israel and his defeat of the nations? Is that why they’re not there at the end? In the next two posts, we’ll look at the psalms that deal with these issues in a sustained way.