Today’s Sunday Psalms entry is written by Timothy Tennent.
Psalm 83 (NIV)
1 O God, do not remain silent;
do not turn a deaf ear,
do not stand aloof, O God.
2 See how your enemies growl,
how your foes rear their heads.
3 With cunning they conspire against your people;
they plot against those you cherish.
4 “Come,” they say, “let us destroy them as a nation,
so that Israel’s name is remembered no more.”
5 With one mind they plot together;
they form an alliance against you—
6 the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
of Moab and the Hagrites,
7 Byblos, Ammon and Amalek,
Philistia, with the people of Tyre.
8 Even Assyria has joined them
to reinforce Lot’s descendants.
9 Do to them as you did to Midian,
as you did to Sisera and Jabin at the river Kishon,
10 who perished at Endor
and became like dung on the ground.
11 Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb,
all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna,
12 who said, “Let us take possession
of the pasturelands of God.”
13 Make them like tumbleweed, my God,
like chaff before the wind.
14 As fire consumes the forest
or a flame sets the mountains ablaze,
15 so pursue them with your tempest
and terrify them with your storm.
16 Cover their faces with shame, Lord,
so that they will seek your name.
17 May they ever be ashamed and dismayed;
may they perish in disgrace.
18 Let them know that you, whose name is the Lord—
that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.
Sing this psalm with the Seedbed Psalter today! Visit the resource here.
One of the great continuities between Christians under the new covenant and the Jewish people under the old covenant is the recognition that redemption takes place in history. God acts in history. In this psalm, Asaph describes a very vulnerable point in Israel’s history where a number of their enemies have joined forces to attack Israel and conspire against them: “‘Come,’ they say, ‘let us destroy them as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more’” (v. 4). They need the intervention of God in history.
The psalmist goes on to remember a whole range of moments in Israel’s historical past where God delivered them from their enemies. Asaph asks God for a repeat performance, and does so in graphic terms. He describes his enemies as “refuse” (v. 10), “tumbleweed” (v. 13), and “chaff” (v. 13), and looks for the day when God will “cover their faces with shame” (v. 16).
In reading these kinds of verses in the Psalms, we must always remember that they are, after all, prayers to God. The transference of anger and emotion is essential for our own healing. The last thirty years have brought a revolution in what is known as “victim rights” in our courtrooms. In the past, victims were often not even allowed to be present at the trial. Today, it is customary during the sentencing phase for victims and family members to be allowed to directly address the perpetrator of the crime. This has proven to be a very important stage of the healing process. In these situations, some people express anger and tell the person how their lives have been ruined by his or her crime. Some will tell a convicted criminal that they hope he or she will be sent to hell. Others express words of forgiveness to the criminal. The entire range of these expressions are important, and God’s Word has acknowledged and even embraced this for centuries. The Psalms are acts of worship and prayers before God; they are not describing actions against people.
Could it be that one of the ignored reasons for the rise of violence in our society is because of the decline in prayer? As previously mentioned, many of our churches have been turned into celebration centers so that prayers of anguish, lament, and anger are not given space. Without realizing it, we bottle up our anger and fears, put on a happy face, and try to clap our hands like those around us. But the Scriptures understand the nature of worship in far more expansive ways. These ancient worship leaders, like David, the sons of Korah, and Asaph, who wrote this psalm, knew better. God invites us to express our anger, fears, and frustrations to him. He can handle it. May this journey through the Psalms help to renovate your prayer life and bring you to a deeper understanding of the historical nature of redemption. God is not simply going to save you at some future point, when you die, and take you to heaven. That will happen, but he is already meeting us in the historical now of our lives, bringing grace, forgiveness, and healing.
As graphic as this psalm is, it actually concludes in a remarkable way, further illustrating the power of prayerful transference. In the last verse, Asaph actually comes to the point where he prays for the salvation of his enemies, saying, “Let them know that you, whose name is the Lord—that you alone are the Most High over all the earth” (v. 18).