I was struck this morning reading Psalm 9 at the way the psalmist wrote about the nations of the world.
In verses 19-20, he writes:
Arise, Lord, do not let mortals triumph;
let the nations be judged in your presence.
Strike them with terror, Lord;
let the nations know they are only mortal.
The psalmist is crying out to God for help and deliverance from his enemies. The surrounding nations are harassing God’s people. Yet the psalmist knows God is a refuge for the afflicted.
The plea for the nations to know their mortality is a plea for the nations to understand that Yahweh is God, not the nations. No king, sultan, pharaoh, emperor, prime minister, or president is mightier than the Mighty One.
The nations here, and throughout the Psalms, is used in contrast to Israel–God’s people. Israel was a geo-political nation defined by borders and a particular piece of real estate in the world. But it was also more than that. It was a nation ruled directly by Yahweh, their true king.
Israel’s central statement of faith (known as the Shema) was a simple declaration of allegiance to God: “Yahweh our God, Yahweh is the only one!” The nations are anyone and everyone whose allegiance is to something other than Yahweh.
As we come to the New Testament, we see that this extends to God’s people in the Church. The Church is God’s new thing–a new people, a new nation.
The Church’s central statement of faith was three simple words: “Jesus is Lord.” In the first century context, that emphatically meant “Caesar is not.” (A profoundly politically statement!)
The Church is not defined by political policies or geographic borders, but by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
No geo-political nation on earth today is ruled by the God of the Bible like Israel was. Not one. Not even the United States.
Yet it’s easy for Christians in the United States to read a prayer like Psalm 9 and pray as if the United States is God’s chosen nation. Many Christians believe the U.S. is exempt from being judged by the Lord. That we are, somehow, not a part of “the nations.”
When a Christian believes this and then comes to Psalm 9, they are likely to pray something like this: “Lord, bless the United States and strike all the other nations with terror. Make all the other nations know that they are mortal.”
But the United States is part of the nations. Like all other nations, it will be judged in God’s presence. The United States is mortal and, one day, it will know it. This is not something our country can escape.
“Wait!” you may say. “What about Psalm 33 and ‘blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord’? Our nation can make the Lord our God!”
Well, the context of Psalm 33 reveals “the nation” is God’s people Israel–not just any nation. The rest of the verse goes like this: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!”
Let me say it again. In the Old Testament, that heritage is Israel, and through the Gospel, we see that the Church is God’s new people, his heirs through the work of Jesus (see Romans 2-4, Ephesians 2, and the entire book of Galatians).
What’s the point here? Failing to understand all of this is one of the first steps toward Christian Nationalism. It leads to an unbiblical view of how the gospel and the kingdom of God intersect with and “converse with” the kingdoms of this world.
God’s Kingdom is distinct from this world. It’s altogether it’s own thing and it will never end. The United States, however? It will fade and in the end, its mortality will be plain for all to see.
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28)