Against a Hostile Alliance
1 A song. A psalm of Asaph.[b]
2 O God, do not remain silent;[c]
do not be quiet and inactive, O God.
3 [d]Note how your enemies rage about,
how your foes increase in arrogance.[e]
4 They formulate shrewd plans against your people,
conspiring against those you love.
5 They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
let the name of Israel be totally forgotten.”
6 They conspire with a single mind,
forming an alliance[f] against you:
7 [g]the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
Moab and the Hagrites,
8 Gebal, Ammon, and Amalek,
Philistia, and the inhabitants of Tyre;
9 Assyria has also joined them as an ally,
offering aid to the descendants of Lot. Selah
10 [h]Deal with them as you did with Midian,[i]
and with Sisera and Jabin at the brook of Kishon,[j]
11 who were destroyed at Endor
and became manure for the ground.
12 [k]Make their chieftains like Oreb and Zeeb,
and all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna,
13 who boasted, “Let us seize for ourselves
the pastures of God.”
14 [l]O my God, treat them like tumbleweed,
like chaff blown before the wind.
15 As a fire rages through a forest,
as a flame sets mountains ablaze,
16 so hound them with your tempests
and terrify them with your stormwinds.[m]
17 Fill their faces with shame
so that they will seek your name,[n] O Lord.
18 [o]Let them be humiliated and terrified forever;
let them be disgraced and perish.
19 Let them know that you alone,
whose name is the Lord,
are the Most High over all the earth.
- Psalm 83:1 After the deportation in 587 B.C., Israel ceased to exist as a political entity. The community that has been reestablished in Jerusalem after the return is subjected to the tutelage of great powers and the vexation of their neighbors. The communities that had been scattered among foreign peoples have already experienced more than one persecution. In their struggles with pagan religions and cultures, believers feel threatened in their faith. It seems that all forces have formed a coalition to destroy Israel because it wishes to remain faithful to its vocation as the People of God. As a result, the psalmist directs the following challenge to the Lord: May he let himself be known by crushing the pride of the nations; indeed, may the latter meet the cruel fate of the petty kings who wanted to destroy Israel at the time of the Judges (see notes on Pss 5:11; 35).
Obviously, this is a prayer of vengeance, but even more of salvation. It wishes to provoke Heaven: how could a polytheistic and idolatrous world come to worship the one and all-powerful God if he abandons his people? The chosen people could never resign themselves to such a collapse; that would be tantamount to the defeat of the Lord himself.
Although as Christians we are constantly under threat from the godless, we can ceaselessly implore God the Father (by this psalm) to grant his new People a complete victory over our enemies. We do not desire the eternal death of our foes but ask that God will bring them low and lead them to himself as God and Father.
- Psalm 83:1 Asaph: see notes on Pss 73–89.
- Psalm 83:2 Do not remain silent: i.e., spring into action (see Pss 35:22; 109:1).
- Psalm 83:3 The words, Come, let us, are the very ones used by the leaders of the rebels at the tower of Babel when humanity attempted to usurp the power of the Lord (see Gen 11:3f). They obviously identify the enemies of God and of his people who cunningly plot to show their independence from the Lord and to exterminate Israel as a nation. Name: see note on Ps 5:12.
- Psalm 83:3 Increase in arrogance: literally, “rear their heads.”
- Psalm 83:6 Alliance: there is no record of such a vast alliance of nations ever arrayed against Israel at one time. It may be that only some of them were attacking at the moment while passively being supported by the others. Some point to the time when Moab, Ammon, and Edom were invading Judah during the reign of King Jehoshaphat (see 2 Chr 20). Against you: the invaders acknowledge openly that the war is intended not only against the people but also against their God.
- Psalm 83:7 The members of the hostile alliance are all well-known foes of Israel. The psalmist alludes to the Edomites, descendants of Esau, the son of the patriarch Isaac (see Gen 36), and the Ishmaelites, who descended from Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar (see Gen 16:15f); he also mentions the Moabites (see 2 Chr 20:1) and Ammonites, descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham (see Gen 19:38); next, he includes the Hagrites, an Arabian Bedouin tribe that was encamped on the border of the Syro-Arabian Desert (see 1 Chr 5:10, 19f). Other members were the inhabitants of Gebal, in the territory of the Edomites south of the Dead Sea (see Jos 13:5), and the Amalekites (see Gen 14:7). The Philistines, Israel’s foes along the Mediterranean coast of Palestine (see Ex 15:14), were also part of the alliance, as were the inhabitants of Tyre (see Isa 23:3). Assyria (see Gen 10:11) is mentioned as rendering assistance to the alliance; hence, it must not have become a major power in that area.
- Psalm 83:10 These verses are part of the so-called imprecatory (or cursing) psalms that call upon God to mete out justice to enemies (see notes on Pss 5:11; 35). In their thirst for justice, the authors of these psalms use hyperbole (or overstatement) in order to move others to oppose sin and evil.
- Psalm 83:10 The psalmist takes heart by recalling two great victories won with God’s help against superior forces during the time of the Judges: the victory of Gideon over the Midianites (see Jdg 7) and the defeat of King Jabin (see Jdg 4). He knows that in order for God’s kingdom of righteousness and peace to come, his foes must be defeated (see note on Ps 5:11).
- Psalm 83:10 Midian: it was at Midian (see Ex 2:15) that Gideon defeated the Midianites and slew the leaders named in verse 12 (see Jdg 7:24-25; 8:5). Sisera and Jabin: commander and king, respectively, of the army defeated by Deborah and Barak in the Plain of Esdraelon near Endor at the foot of Mount Tabor (see Jdg 4–5).
- Psalm 83:12 The Midianites had despoiled the croplands (v. 13: Let us seize for ourselves the pastures of God) and driven fear into the hearts of the Israelites. In their defeat at the hands of the Lord through Gideon, their leaders Oreb, Zeeb, Zebah, and Zalmunna were captured and put to death (see Jdg 7:25; 8:21).
- Psalm 83:14 The psalmist likens the fate of the enemies to that of tumbleweed and chaff carried away by the wind and a forest or mountains destroyed by fire (common figures of destruction at the hand of the Lord: see Pss 1:4; 35:5; Isa 5:24; 10:17; 17:13; 29:5; Jer 13:24).
- Psalm 83:16 Tempests . . . stormwinds: for God in the thunderstorm, see Pss 18:8-16; 68:34; 77:18f; Ex 15:7-10; Jos 10:11; Jdg 5:4, 20f; 1 Sam 2:10; 7:10; Isa 29:5f; 33:3. See also note on Ps 68:5.
- Psalm 83:17 They will seek your name: the psalmist prays that God will humiliate the enemies and lead men to seek his name, i.e., realize and accept that the Lord alone is God (see v. 19).
- Psalm 83:18 The Chronicler (2 Chr 20:22-29) records the defeat of the alliance and mentions that all the nations were terrified when they learned that the Lord fought on the side of the Israelites. This is precisely what the psalmist asks so that his people will be saved and the Lord will be praised by the whole world.