Psalm 83 – A Prayer for Help When War Threatens
This psalm is titled A Psalm of Asaph. The author Asaph was probably the great singer and musician of David and Solomon’s era (1 Chronicles 15:17-19, 16:5-7, 25:6). 1 Chronicles 25:1 and 2 Chronicles 29:30 add that Asaph was a prophet in his musical compositions.
Some commentators connect this psalm with 2 Chronicles 20:1-37 and the victory won in Jehoshaphat’s time. Others see the collection of 10 enemies set against Israel as not referring to one specific occasion, but to the constant danger of extermination Israel lived under – relevant in both the ancient and modern world.
A. The appeal for help.
1. (1-4) Asking God to take action against those set on destroying Israel.
Do not keep silent, O God!
Do not hold Your peace,
And do not be still, O God!
For behold, Your enemies make a tumult;
And those who hate You have lifted up their head.
They have taken crafty counsel against Your people,
And consulted together against Your sheltered ones.
They have said, “Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation,
That the name of Israel may be remembered no more.”
a. Do not keep silent, O God: Asaph sang this prayer in a time of national crisis. Enemies had come against Israel who were set on their national destruction. If God were to keep silent or hold His peace or be still on behalf of Israel, they would be destroyed.
i. Do not keep silent: “It is so difficult sometimes to go on living day by day without one authoritative word; and we are prone to rebuke Him for silence, that He is still, that He holds His peace…. But God has not kept silence. The Word was manifested. In Him the silence of eternity was broken.” (Meyer)
b. Your enemies make a tumult: Asaph asked God to behold this crisis and to regard the enemies of Israel as His own enemies, as those who hated Him. Asaph was confident that if God did this, He would act on behalf of Israel.
i. “They are not only enemies to us thy people, but also to thy will, and name, and glory.” (Poole)
c. Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation: This was the crafty counsel of the nations united against Israel. This desire of a confederation of nations to destroy Israel did not end in the days of Asaph. His prayer could be sung today as neighboring nations and the whole world community threaten Israel.
i. Adam Clarke paraphrased the words of verse 4: “Let us exterminate the whole race, that there may not be a record of them on the face of the earth.” (Clarke)
ii. “In all the annals of recorded history there has never been a people so encircled by foes or as persecuted as the Jews have been. Yet surprisingly, the Jews have prospered. In 1836 a world census indicated that there were then three million Jews living in many countries. A century later, in 1936, in spite of severe persecutions in which many Jews were killed, particularly in Russia, a second census indicated that the Jewish world population had risen to sixteen million, an increase of thirteen million in a century. The Nazis killed more than six million Jews, but today there are more Jews in the world than before the Nazi era. The only explanation for this growth is that the hand of God has been on this people and that he has blessed them.” (Boice)
iii. Israel has had its battles, ancient and modern. Christianity has also been opposed, and some have sought to completely cut Christians off.
One example was the Roman Emperor Diocletian (A.D. 284-305). Diocletian boasted that he had destroyed Christianity. He liked to think that he had defeated Christianity. He ordered a medal to be made with this inscription: “The name of Christianity being extinguished.” Diocletian also set up at least two monuments on the frontier of the empire with these inscriptions:
Diocletian Jovian Maximian Herculeus Caesares Augusti for having extended the Roman Empire in the east and the west and for having extinguished the name of Christians who brought the Republic to ruin
Diocletian Jovian Maximian Herculeus Caesares Augusti for having everywhere abolished the superstition of Christ for having extended the worship of the gods
iv. Diocletian is dead and gone, comparatively a footnote on the pages of history. The fame and glory of Jesus Christ is spread over all the earth. God still takes care of His sheltered ones.
v. Sheltered ones: “The ten heathen nations conspired against Israel, but they could not really harm the chosen people, for God himself had hidden them as a hen hides her chickens under her wings when the kite hovers overhead, or as one who has found a treasure hides it away from the hands of the thief.” (Spurgeon)
2. (5-8) The confederation of nations against Israel.
For they have consulted together with one consent;
They form a confederacy against You:
The tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites;
Moab and the Hagrites;
Gebal, Ammon, and Amalek;
Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;
Assyria also has joined with them;
They have helped the children of Lot. Selah
a. They form a confederacy against You: Asaph again emphasized that these enemies were not only against Israel, but against Yahweh, Israel’s God.
i. They form a confederacy: Enemies often come together to attack God and His people. That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other (Luke 23:12).
ii. Against You: “The true antagonists are, not Israel and the world, but God and the world.” (Maclaren)
iii. “What a motley group they were; a league against Israel is always attractive, and gathers whole nations within its bonds.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “Let them come from east and west, south and north, and close round Israel; God alone is mightier than they.” (Maclaren)
b. The tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites: The psalmist listed ten nations or peoples that were part of this confederacy against Israel and her God. It seems the children of Lot (specifically, Moab and Ammon) led this attack and the other eight nations helped them.
i. “The Hagarites (v. 6) were a tribe against whom the Transjordanian tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh fought at the time of the Jewish conquest of Palestine.” (Boice)
ii. “Gebal is probably not the northern city of that name (better known as Byblos, and associated with Tyre: Joshua 13:5; 1 Kings 5:18) but a locality south of the Dead Sea.” (Kidner)
iii. “The psalmist mentions ten different nations which had banded themselves together against God’s chosen people Israel. Ten against one is long odds but then God was on the side of Israel.” (Spurgeon)
iv. Selah: “There was good reason for a pause when the nation was in such jeopardy and yet it needs faith to make a pause, for unbelief is always in a hurry.” (Spurgeon)
B. The cry for vengeance.
1. (9-12) Grant victory and deliverance as in the days of the Judges.
Deal with them as with Midian,
As with Sisera,
As with Jabin at the Brook Kishon,
Who perished at En Dor,
Who became as refuse on the earth.
Make their nobles like Oreb and like Zeeb,
Yes, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna,
Who said, “Let us take for ourselves
The pastures of God for a possession.”
a. Deal with them as with Midian: God’s victory over Midian through Gideon is described in Judges 6, 7, and 8.
i. “Faith delights to light upon precedents, and quote them before the Lord; in the present instance, Asaph found a very appropriate one, for the nations in both cases were very much the same, and the plight of the Israelites very similar.” (Spurgeon)
b. As with Sisera: God’s victory over the Canaanite king Jabin and his general Sisera, through Deborah and Barak, is described in Judges 4.
i. Who perished at En Dor: “This refers to the defeat of the Midianites by Gideon, who were encamped in the valley of Jezreel, at the foot of Mount Gilboa, and near to Tabor, Judges 6:33; 7:1, and consequently in the environs of En-dor. There Gideon attacked and defeated them; and, in various places during their flight, they were destroyed.” (Clarke)
ii. Who became as refuse on the earth: John Trapp noted that this means “they lay unburied, rotted above ground.” This added to the defeat and disgrace of Israel’s enemies.
c. Make their nobles like Oreb: Oreb, Zeeb, Zebah and Zalmunna were all princes of the Midianites, defeated by Gideon in Judges 7.
i. Make their nobles: “Smite the great ones as well as the common ruck. Suffer not the ringleaders to escape. As Oreb fell at the rock and Zeeb at the winepress, so do thou mete out vengeance to Zion’s foes wherever thou mayest overtake them.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Oreb signifieth a crow, Zeeb a wolf, Zebah a cut-throat, Zalmunna a forbidder of shadow, or quiet, to his subjects; fit names for tyrants and persecutors of God’s people.” (Trapp)
d. Let us take for ourselves the pastures of God for a possession: Israel faced threats to her existence in the days of the Judges, and God delivered her. Asaph’s prayer reminded Israel of God’s previous rescue of Israel, using it as a reason to trust Him in the present crisis.
i. The phrase, the pastures of God reminds us again of what high regard God has for the land of Israel. He regards it as His pastures. “So the enemy’s thoughts are re-phrased in the prayer, to bring out the truth about the territories they had coveted: these were the pastures of God, not simply the holdings of Israel.” (Kidner)
ii. “The Midianites had despoiled the land of the crops and had caused great fear among the Israelites. This spoiling of Israel’s crops is probably referred to in the bold claim ‘Let us take possession of the pasturelands of God’.” (VanGemeren)
2. (13-15) Bring them to destruction.
O my God, make them like the whirling dust,
Like the chaff before the wind!
As the fire burns the woods,
And as the flame sets the mountains on fire,
So pursue them with Your tempest,
And frighten them with Your storm.
a. Like the chaff before the wind: Asaph prayed that God would take these many enemies, determined to destroy Israel, and scatter them like chaff before the wind and the whirling dust. He prayed they would be consumed like fire burns the woods.
i. Like the whirling dust: “The word rendered ‘whirling dust’ in Psalm 83:13 is somewhat doubtful. It literally means a rolling thing, but what particular thing of the sort is difficult to determine.” (Maclaren)
ii. “‘Tumbleweed’ (galgal lit., ‘wheel’) is a plant of the wild artichoke family (Gundelia Tournefortii), a plant with wheel-shaped stems and thistles.” (VanGemeren)
b. Pursue them with Your tempest: To the ancient Hebrew, there was nothing more powerful than the tempest or the storm. The psalmist prayed that God would not only defeat Israel’s enemies, but also pursue and frighten them with His great power.
3. (16-18) Bring these enemies to the knowledge of the true God.
Fill their faces with shame,
That they may seek Your name, O LORD.
Let them be confounded and dismayed forever;
Yes, let them be put to shame and perish,
That they may know that You, whose name alone is the LORD,
Are the Most High over all the earth.
a. Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek Your name: Asaph ended this psalm with an unexpected turn. After praying for the destruction of Israel’s enemies, he prayed that they would be thoroughly humbled (fill their faces with shame) so they would be led to seek Yahweh.
i. Asaph understood what we often forget: people will often only seek the LORD if they are first laid low before His power. There is a sense in which God must defeat us before He will save us.
ii. “But there is a deeper desire in the psalmist’s heart than the enemies’ destruction. He wishes that they should be turned into God’s friends and he wishes for their chastisement as the means to that end.” (Maclaren)
iii. “Shame has often weaned men from their idols, and set them upon seeking the Lord.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “The punishments inflicted by heaven upon wicked men are primarily intended to humble and convert them.” (Horne)
b. That they may know that You…are the Most High: This great humbling (let them be put to shame and perish) would lead to their surrender and submission to the God who is Most High over all the earth.
i. This psalm began with a plea that God would not remain silent, and ends with the idea of His fame and glory going out to all the earth. “When the silences of God are broken by His noises, men learn that the God of Grace is the Most High over all the earth.” (Morgan)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org