PSALM 83 - SURROUNDED BY ENEMIES
This psalm is a song, as shown in the instruction. It is also a lament due to the fact that Israel faces a crisis. It is also an imprecatory psalm, calling for God’s judgment against Israel’s enemies.
The psalm does not indicate when the events occurred, but it appears from the names used to refer to the period of the Book of Judges. There is also a similar event in 2 Chronicles 20, where the Moabites and Ammonites came to attack King Jehoshaphat from Edom.
However, it could be that the enemies named are symbolic of all of Israel’s enemies and that the number of enemies, 10, is symbolic of that.
The Call To Action
The psalmist saw God as silent and inactive despite the crisis Israel faced. Israel often ignored God when things were going well, but desperately called for him to act when they were in trouble and they were not able to get out of in their own strength.
This is a common malady for people, even those who are believers. We get comfortable in good times and get apathetic, instead of grateful. But when a crisis comes, and we cannot handle it, we suddenly want to be close to God and have him fix the problem for us. Then when it is fixed, we return to apathy.
Defining the Crisis
The psalmist laid out the problem before God. He identified Israel’s problems as God’s problems. He said “your enemies” and “those who hate you”.
Israel often wanted to be like the nations around them. They wanted a king because the other nations had one. (1 Samuel 8) They worshipped the pagan God’s of the Caananites despite God’s warning against it.
Yet, they wanted to be God’s people, especially when they were in trouble. So, the psalmist refers to Israel as “your people” and “your treasured ones”.
The nations surrounding Israel were plotting to wipe them out. They made “crafty plans” and consulted together. (3) Although most nations at the time recognized that the gods of other nations existed, Israel, when it was faithful, did not. They claimed that their God was the only god and all others were fake. They also claimed to be a special people because of their relationship to the one true God. That certainly will make you a target.
The words “come let us” in verse 4 reminds us of the same words when men got together to build a tower to heaven called the Tower of Babel. That was a rebellion against God and this is a rebellion against God by attacking his people. Verse 8 continues this thought by saying the enemies make a covenant against you, instead of against your people. “Covenant” here is the same as making an alliance of peoples against God.
The Enemies Listed
Many nations had come together to make a covenant to attack Israel. (5) There were 10 listed by the psalmist.
Edom is listed first as the primary enemy and organizer of the coalition of nations. Edom was the nation founded by Esau. Esau was the son of Isaac and the older twin of Jacob. He sold his birthright (as firstborn) to Jacob for Jacob’s red stew. He was call Edom, which, in Hebrew, sounds like the word for “red”. Edom was a long time enemy of Israel. This enmity was first manifested in the Bible by Edom’s refusal to let Israel pass through its country on the way to Canaan. They came out against Israel to fight them until Israel took another route. (Numbers 20:14-21)
The Ishmaelites were Arabs, descended from Ishmael, the son of Abraham by his wife’s handmaiden, Hagar, who was an Egyptian. (Genesis 16 & 21) The term might include Bedouin tribes who were traders and might include the Midianites, enemies of Israel in the Book of Judges.
Moab and Ammon were descendants of Lot via incestuous relations with his daughters after fleeing Sodom. (Genesis 19) Moab also opposed Israel during the Exodus, seeking help from the Midianites, who hired the prophet Balaam to curse Israel. Moab and Ammon were both countries east of the Jordan. The Ammonites attacked Israel in the time of Jephthah (Judges 11).
The Moabites and the Ammonites are joined by Asshur, called the strong arm of the children of Lot. (8) Asshur is probably Assyria, which, at various times, controlled most of the land east, north, and west of Israel. Moab and Ammon may have been subject to Assyria, which would led them military aid in some circumstances.
The Hagrites were a tribe north of Israel and east of the Jordan which fought with the tribes of Rueben, Gad, and Manasseh. (1 Chronicles 5:10)
Gebal could either be a city in Lebanon on the coast or a tribe of Edomites that lived south of the Dead Sea. The New International Version has a footnote that indicates Gebal is Byblos, a port city like Tyre.
Amalek was the grandson of Esau. The Amalekites lived south of Israel in the Negev Desert. (Numbers 13:29) They attacked Israel at Rephidim, right after Moses got water from the rock.They also joined the Midianites to attack Israel in the battle recorded in Judges 6.
The Philistines lives west of Israel on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. They had 5 principal cities. They invaded Israel in the time of the judges as seen in the story of Samson. King David also had to deal with them. They also seem to be aligned with Tyre, the city state located in present day Lebanon.
All of nations joined together to attack Israel. They surrounded Israel on all sides. The psalmist knew Israel could not prevail against this coalition without the Lord’s intervention.
Asking God To Repeat The Past
In these verses, the psalmist refers to the Lord’s defeat of past enemies. He asked God to defeat the present coalition of enemies as he defeated enemies in the past.
The list of defeated enemies come from the book of Judges. Jabin was a king of the Canaanites and Sisera was the commander of his army. Deborah was the judge of Israel at the time and was a prophetess. She brought Barak and attacked the army of Jabin. Jabin was defeated and a woman killed Sisera by driving a tent stake into his temple. (Judges 4)
Midian had also oppressed Israel. The Lord raised up Gideon to defeat them. (Judges 6) Oreb and Zeeb were princes of Midian. (Judges 7:26) Zebah and Zalmunna were kings of Midian, whom Gideon killed personally. (Judges 8)
The Canaanites and the Midianites both had superior forces to Israel, but God gave Israel the victory. Therefore, the psalmist used them as examples since the current coalition of enemies has much greater forces than Israel.
The psalmist went on to ask God to act in judgment against the enemy coalition. He wanted God to treat them as dust or chaff, as weak and useless. He wanted God to terrify them, to shame them forever, and to let them perish in disgrace.
The psalmist ends on a higher note. He appeals to God to act that the enemies may seek his name. (16) Secondly, he wants God to act so that they know that Yahweh is God alone and he is Most High over the earth.
When we feel surrounded, our response should be to call upon God. He is always with us and ready to help us. Psalm 24:2 says “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time and forever more”.