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Psalm chapter 83

New Living Translation

King James Version

What does Psalm chapter 83 mean?

Some psalms are considered "imprecatory:" they call on God to bring direct, literal, severe harm on some enemy. This is one such song. Other imprecatory psalms include Psalm 5, 10, 35, 58, 69, 109, and 140. God does not necessarily promise to deliver the results these passages request. Mostly, the imprecatory psalms are a window into the mindset of those suffering under the threat of evil and persecution.

This psalm is associated with the name Asaph, as are Psalms 50 and 73—82. However, it does not easily match any event in Old Testament history. The closest connection to this list of nations is the attack on Jerusalem during the reign of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20). If Psalm 83 refers to that exact moment, it would mean a successor to Asaph wrote this in his style (2 Chronicles 20:14), rather than it being written by Asaph himself. Some interpreters take this passage as a general statement: that Israel is perpetually surrounded by hateful enemies seeking her annihilation. Others believe this refers to a multinational invasion of Israel which had not yet occurred and will be fulfilled in or near the end times.

The psalm begins with a prayer that God would protect Israel. The appeal is for God to act, rather than to allow an attack to proceed. These aggressors are not acting at random. They are planning—plotting—and with murderous intent. They want more than victory. These enemies want to erase the Jewish people and dissolve even the memory of their existence (Psalm 83:1–4).

The ten groups listed as part of this coalition correspond to many of Israel's historic foes. Mentioned here are Edomites (Genesis 36:1), Ishmaelites (Genesis 16:3–¬4, 11–12), Moabites and Ammonites (Genesis 19:34–38; Numbers 25:1; Judges 10:7–8; 2 Samuel 12:26), Amalekites (Exodus 17:8; Judges 6:1; 1 Samuel 15:1–9; 30:1) and the city-state of Tyre (Joshua 19:29; Ezekiel 26:1–3). The region of Gebal (Ezekiel 27:9; 1 Kings 5:18; Joshua 13:5) and the Hagrites (1 Chronicles 5:10) are included, as well. Also noted are the infamous Philistines (Judges 3:1–3; 16:28–30; 1 Samuel 17:2–3; 2 Samuel 5:25). These nations represent threats from every direction, and in every part of Israel's history (Psalm 83:5–7).

The last assailant noted is Assyria—or Asshur—which became an especially powerful foe (Genesis 10:11; Jonah 1:1–2; 2 Kings 5:1–19; 17:6). That may be why Asaph refers to them as the "strong arm" of this coalition. Reference to the "children of Lot" probably means the Moabites and Ammonites, who originated in an incestuous incident between Lot and his own daughters (Genesis 19:34–38). Perhaps those two nations were leading this current campaign (Psalm 83:8).

Asaph's first request is that God echo the brutal judgments brought against enemies in Israel's past. His examples include Jabin and Sisera, Canaanite leaders who were defeated by Deborah and Barak (Judges 4:23–24). This led to Sisera's attempted escape and slaughter by a clever woman (Judges 4:17, 21). Asaph also mentions Midian, who survived when Israel failed to follow God's command just after leaving Egypt (Numbers 31:7ff). The same people later oppressed Israel (Judges 6:1) and were defeated by Gideon (Judges 7:12, 24–25). Oreb, Zeeb, Zebah, and Zalmunna were among the important Midianite leaders captured and executed in that campaign (Judges 8:3, 12) (Psalm 83:9–12).

The last portion of the psalm calls on God to bring justice to these nations, using the imagery of nature. Asaph asks that these attacking enemies be utterly destroyed and brought to shame. That sense of disgrace is not only a question of defeat. Asaph also recognizes that the better purpose of God's judgment is leading people to acknowledge Him as Most High (Psalm 83:13–18).
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