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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Chapter 84
 
 
 
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PSALM 83

A PLEA FOR GOD TO CONFOUND HIS ENEMIES;

THIS IS THE LAST OF THE ASAPH PSALMS.

There is an extensive list of God's enemies given in the psalm, but the tragedy is that Israel herself should have been numbered among them. The whole attention of her people should have been in the direction of loyalty to God and a true exhibition of the righteousness which His Law required of them, but, instead, there was this constant plea for God to wreak vengeance and destruction upon their enemies. God indeed eventually did just that very thing, but it also included the judgment and destruction of God's enemies within Israel herself, only the righteous remnant being spared.

This psalm naturally divides into two parts: (1) a description of the threatening situation confronting Israel (Psalms 83:1-8); and (2) a devout prayer to God for him to destroy his enemies, which were also the enemies of Israel (Psalms 83:9-18).

The world's scholarship is unable to determine, with any certainty, any particular time in the whole history of Israel that fits the picture revealed here. Briggs gave the occasion as, "During the time of Nehemiah."F1 Leupold wrote that the occasion was, "That described in 2 Chr. 20, when Jehoshaphat was attacked by Edom, Moab and Ammon."F2 Addis thought he had found the occasion in 1 Maccabees 5, "In the year 165 B.C."F3 Rawlinson selected an occasion in the times of David, described in 2 Sam. 10, and 1 Chr. 19. "Then only do we find a record of Asher (Assyria) helping the children of Lot (Moab and Ammon)."F4

The group of nations here listed as enemies of Israel were, "Probably never united for any common end."F5 The enemies mentioned here did not even exist all at the same time. Assyria, for example was not an effective enemy of Israel till long after the times of David; and in the times of the Maccabees, "Both Amalek and Assyria had long previously been blotted out of the roll of nations."F6 Whatever degree of probability may exist that any of the four occasions proposed above could be correct appears to this writer as favoring that proposed by Rawlinson; but against that selection is that fact that the majority of the enemies mentioned in this chapter are not even mentioned in any of the wars, invasions, and threatenings that are recorded in the Holy Bible.

Maclaren offered a bold solution to this difficult problem, admitting at the same time that there were weighty objections to it, and also pointing out that there are also weighty objections against every other proposed solution.

"The failure of all attempts to point to a period when all the allies here represented as confederate against Israel were, or even could have been, united in assailing it, inclines one to suppose that the enumeration here is not history, but poetic idealization. The psalm would then be, not the memorial of a fact, but the expression of the standing relation between Israel and the outlying heathendom."F7

The very fact that enemies from all four directions are mentioned, enemies of various nationalities, and enemies dating back to the times of Joshua and also in the times of David, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah -- all these appear to be a kind of composite including all the enemies Israel ever had.

The picture that emerges then, is that of the entire hostile world, forgetting their differences, and burying their mutual hatreds and animosities, in order to make common cause against "The Israel of God." Herod and Pilate became friends in their opposition to Christ; and here we find the equivalent of it in the Old Testament, where all the world surrounds the Chosen of God, making common cause against them, hating them with malicious hatred, and determined even to exterminate them and blot out their very name from the face of the earth! This psalm describes a situation that includes all of this.

The only reasonable alternative to Maclaren's interpretation would be to suppose that at some period, "During the eighth or ninth centuries, Judah was in danger of invasion by such a coalition as that named here."F8 No such occasion is known; but considering the vast ignorance of all men about countless things that took place in those centuries, there might well indeed have been just such an occasion as that described here. We believe that either this or Maclaren's interpretation may be accepted without any violation of what the sacred text actually says.

The paragraphing we have chosen is that proposed by Albert Barnes.F9

Ps. 83:1

PRAYER FOR GOD, NOT TO BE SILENT

O God, keep not thou silence:

Hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God."

The repetition here, the rapidity of the appeals, and the whole tone of the passage bespeak the urgency of the situation. The language here is that of petition, not of command; and, "This passage denotes that the danger is imminent, and that the necessity for God's intervention was urgent."F10

SUMMARY OF THE DANGER THREATENING ISRAEL

For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult;

And they that hate thee have lifted up the head.

They take crafty counsel against thy people,

And consult together against thy hidden ones.

They have said, Come, let us cut them off from being a nation;

That the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.

For they have consulted together with one consent;

Against thee do they make a covenant."


 
Verses 2-5
For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult; And they that hate thee have lifted up the head. Thy take crafty counsel against thy people, And consult together against thy hidden ones. They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; That the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance. For they have consulted together with one consent; Against thee do they make a covenant:
(Psalms 83:2). The hatred of the whole evil world against God's people is due primarily to the world's rejection of the value-judgments and strict morality of God's holy religion. The Book of Numbers reveals that it was the Decalogue and particularly its command against adultery that outraged Moab and led to the campaign of Moab and the prophet Balaam against Israel (Num. 25--26).

They take crafty counsel against thy people
(Psalms 83:3). An example of such crafty counsel is mentioned in Num. 31:16, which refers to the crafty counsel of Balaam to the Moabites which led to the disaster at Baal-Peor (Num. 24-26).

Come let us cut them off from being a nation
(Psalms 83:4). The picture of counsels being held and of purposes being outlined in these verses raises a question of, Who led such maneuvers? The answer, of course, is Satan. Not only in the final days, when Satan shall rally Gog and Magog to make war against God's people, but in ancient Israel (as in this chapter), and, for that matter, throughout human history, the inveterate, implacable enemy of all righteousness is Satan. The evil one (the devil) is very angry, For he knoweth that he hath but a short time (Revelation 12:12).

History indicates clearly that many efforts have been made by satanically led nations to destroy God's true religion. The Roman emperors attempted it; and the prophecies reveal that other attempts will be made in the future.

Barnes pointed out that an attempt is now in progress to destroy God's church through, prosperity, radical criticism and denial of the Bible, materialism, humanism, (and recently by Communism). These are the phases of Satan's war against the Truth at the present time. "Whether the Church can be destroyed by such opposition is now before the mind of Satan."F11

Why does not Satan attempt to destroy the church by murderous persecutions, as in the past? The answer is simple enough; he learned by experience that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.

ENUMERATION OF THE ENEMIES

The tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites;

Moab and the Hagarenes;

Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek;

Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre:

Assyria also is joined with them;

They have helped the children of Lot.

(Selah)"

The peoples mentioned here are: (1) the Edomites; (2) the Ishmaelites; (3) the Moabites; (4) the Hagarenes; (5) Gebal; (6) Ammon; (7) Amalek; (8) Philistines; (9) Tyre; and (10) Assyria.

All of these are well known, except Gebal and the Hagarenes. Gebal was "An ancient Phoenician city situated on a bluff overlooking the Mediterranean sea."F12 "The Hagarenes were probably Arabs, so called from Hagar, the handmaiden of Abraham, and the mother of Ishmael."F13

A discussion of this extensive confederation against Israel is given in the chapter introduction.

PRAYER FOR GOD TO INTERVENE AS IN ANCIENT INSTANCES OF HIS HELP

Do thou unto them as unto Midian;

As to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the river Kishon;

Who perished at Endor,

Who became as dung for the earth.

Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb;

Yea, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna;

Who said, Let us take to ourselves in possession

The habitations of God"


 
Verses 9-12
Do thou unto them as unto Midian, As to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the river Kishon; Who perished at Endor, Who became as dung for the earth. Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb; Yea, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna; Who said, Let us take to ourselves in possession The habitations of God.
(Psalms 83:9). The seventh chapter of Judges gives the narrative of how Gideon and three hundred men routed the Midianites, and beheaded their nobles Oreb and Zeeb.

As to Sisera, as to Jabin
(Psalms 83:9). Judg. 4 gives the record of Israel's victories over Sisera and Jabin, a key factor in which was that Jael, the wife of Heber, slew Sisera in his sleep, and Israel prevailed over Jabin the king of Canaan.

Which perished at Endor
(Psalms 83:10). This was evidently the scene of the battle in which Jabin king of Canaan was defeated. The mention of the flesh of the slain fertilizing the ground is an indelicate thought such as many that we encounter in the imprecatory psalms.

Like Oreb and Zeeb
(Psalms 83:11). These were discussed under Ps. 83:9, above.

Like Zebah and Zalmunna
(Psalms 83:11). These were two petty kings of Midian who were slain by Gideon (Judges 8:4-21).F14

Let us take.. the habitations of God
(Psalms 83:12). This is difficult to understand because God had only one habitation in Israel, i.e., at the location of the tabernacle or the temple. Perhaps the enemy by this intention were thinking of all the dwellings of the Jews in Israel. The language of this verse should not be understood as the words of Oreb, Zeeb, Zebah and Zalmunna, but as the arrogant boast of the enemies mentioned in Ps. 83:6-8.

PRAYER FOR OVERTHROW OF ALL ISRAEL'S ENEMIES

O God, make them like the whirling dust;

As stubble before the wind.

And the fire that burneth the forest,

And as the flame that setteth the mountains on fire,

Pursue them with thy tempest,

And terrify them with thy storm.

Fill their faces with confusion,

That they may seek thy name, O Jehovah.

Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever;

Yea, let them be confounded and perish;

That they may know that thou alone, whose name is Jehovah,

Art the Most High Over all the earth."


 
Verses 13-18
O my God, make them like the whirling dust; As stubble before the wind. As the fire that burneth the forest, And as the flame that setteth the mountains on fire, So pursue them with thy tempest, And terrify them with thy storm. Fill their faces with confusion, That they may seek thy name, O Jehovah. Let them be put to shame and dismayed for ever; Yea, let them be confounded and perish; That they may know that thou alone, whose name is Jehovah, Art the Most High over all the earth.
(Psalms 83:13). This rendition is given in some versions instead of like the whirling dust; and Leupold understood it as a reference to the tumbleweed.F15

The whirling dust
(Psalms 83:13). This was possibly a whirlwind, a phenomenon that appears but a little while, soon vanishing away.

As the fire that burneth the forest
(Psalms 83:14). There is no more terrible figure of destruction than that of a forest fire; and the meaning here is that the psalmist is praying that the destruction of Israel's enemies will be as thorough and complete as that caused by a forest fire.

Pursue with thy tempest. terrify with thy storm
(Psalms 83:15). The psalmist prays not merely for the destruction of their foes, but for God to overwhelm them also with fright and terror.

That they may seek thy name, O Jehovah
(Psalms 83:16). Leupold understood this line as a prayer for the conversion of Israel's enemies. These words are obviously another way of saying, That they may be turned from their evil ways to God.F16 While freely admitting that this view could indeed be correct, the psalmist, nevertheless, called in the same breath for their shame and dismay forever, and that they might perish (Psalms 83:17). This may be explained by the assumption that the psalmist certainly expected no such conversion on the part of his enemies.

Thou whose name is Jehovah, art the Most High over all the earth
(Psalms 83:18). We have been greatly surprised by the frequency with which Jehovah is called Most High in the Psalms. A very necessary deduction from the instance of this here is that all Israel accepted Most High as a legitimate appellation of Jehovah. The prayer is here that even all of the enemies of God and of Israel may come into that same knowledge.


Footnotes for Psalms 83
1: International Critical Commentary, Vol. II, p. 217.
2: H. C. Leupold, p. 597.
3: W. E. Addis, p. 397.
4: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 8-B, p. 184.
5: Alexander Maclaren, Vol. II, p. 435.
6: Ibid., p. 432.
7: Ibid.
8: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 659.
9: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), Vol. II, p. 332.
10: Ibid. <11> Ibid., p. 333.
12: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Chicago, Illinois: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), p. 1180.
13: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), op. cit., p. 334.
14: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Chicago, Illinois: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), p. 3133.
15: H. C. Leupold, p. 601.
16: Ibid.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalm 83". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=ps&chapter=083>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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