Psalm 83 — Psalms of Asaph
This is the last of Asaph’s psalms, and it follows the same format as the previous one. It remembers God’s protection in the past and like all prophesy calls for the faithfulness of God’s people by at the same time pouring the people’s laments and asking the people to rely on God. Being God’s people does not mean that they, or we, can make their/our own plans and expect God to bless them, They/we are supposed to participate in God’s plan. When we ask why God is silent, and look to God we already have our answer.
Asaph had a long career. Appointed by David as one of the chief musicians in the Temple, and still serving under Solomon. Asaph’s role was prophetic, his job was to listen to the prayers concerns and laments of the people, and to give God’s reply. The Psalms of Asaph, Psalms 50 and 73–83 are both communal laments and words of prophesy
A song. A psalm of Asaph.
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 pasture-lands of God.’
13 Make them like tumble-weed, 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;Psalm 80 NIV UK
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.
Psalm 83 is a poem with this structure:
- A Plea for Help (83:1).
- A Protest Against Israel’s Enemies (83:2-8).
- A Petition for Divine Judgment (83:9-18).
- God’s deliverance in the past (verses 9-11)
- His reputation at stake in the present crisis (verses 16-18)
On the surface of it the psalm is a general plea for help. There is no record of an alliance of the countries listed in verses 5 to 8 attacking together. The largest alliance being the attack by the Moabites, Ammonites and Meunites at the time of King Jehosaphat. Although it is a general psalm there are hints that it is based on an actual conflict; Lot’s descendants (verse 8) are the Moabites and Ammonites the same tribes that did not give Moses leading the Israelites right to go through their land on the way to the promised land. The Israelite tribes of Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh settled their land, calling it Gilead, and the Moabites and Ammonites saw them as occupying their territory. There was always conflict between Israel and Judah, and Moab and Ammon.
Verses 9 to 12 are detail a conflict from Judges 6 to 8, the victory of Gideon against Mideon, the battles were in Gilead, Gideon himself being from the tribe Manasseh. That’s the background to the psalm.
God has promised to protect those who follow him. He is after a relationship with his people.
Sometimes it feels like God is asleep for you.
“Why are you asleep?” you ask. “If you love me you would not let me go through this.”
He could ask us, “Why are you afraid, where is your faith?”
What is the object of our faith, who is your faith in? God never promised to keep us from suffering, in this life it will not always work our but God is with us in the darkest times of our lives. He will never leave of forsake you.
It took me a long time to realise this. Years into being disabled before I could trust God to be with me. I wanted God to heal me, but it never came. I had seen God heal people in the name of Jesus. I had been healed in the name of Jesus, I had prayed, ‘be healed’ over people and seen that prayer answered immediately, I had become embittered by the bad advice of other Christians claiming I had no faith in God, which was not true, I had lots of faith and I was sure that God could heal. I needed to find God in my grief, being an active person seeing my ability to be active slowly ebbing away as I went from walking with a stick to walking with a crutch to walking with two crutches. I needed to trust God in my darkest time.
That is what Asaph is saying in these psalms, He is asking the people of God to trust God collectively in their dark times like I had to learn alone. The Message version of the Bible finishes this last of Asaph’s psalms like this:
Bring them to the end of their rope,
and leave them there dangling, helpless.
Then they’ll learn your name: “God,”
the one and only High God on earth.
The role of God’s people is to show what God is like to the world, even in the dark times, even when attacked.