This is a Psalm that is not often read, and very seldom expounded, I should think. According to the title, it is “A Song or Psalm of Asaph.” Asaph is one of a little group of poets who flourished side by side with David. This is a patriotic hymn. The nation was about to be attacked by many adversaries; so, like a true patriot, the poet desired that God would give the victory to his people, and deliver them. You may regard this Psalm as a prophecy, it reads like a prayer or wish of the writer, and no doubt it is so; but it may also be read as a prophecy of what will happen to the enemies of God’s people.
Psalms 83:1-2. Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God. For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.
God’s enemies are making a noise, and the psalmist’s prayer is that the Lord himself will speak and answer them. God’s voice made the heavens and the earth: “He spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.” A single word from him will win the day. The poet’s prayer is not, “Grant a leader bold and brave,” but, “Lord, speak, speak!” “For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult.” The enemies of Israel were the enemies of God. If they were our enemies only, we might keep silence; but as they are also the enemies of God, our loyalty to the Lord compels us to cry unto him to speak against them.
Psalms 83:3. They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.
Craft goes with power in plotting against God’s people. The seed of the serpent are like him from whom they came, and of him it is said, “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made;” and the seed of the serpent are very full of crafty counsel and subtlety. This the psalmist mentions in his prayer, and then he looks to God to countermine their mines, to baffle their craft, and by his wisdom to save his people.
Psalms 83:4. 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.
So terrible was the anger of these nations against God’s people that nothing would content them but the destruction of Israel, the blotting out of its very name from the memory of men; and I am sure that, if the world could have its way, it would extinguish the Church of Christ. You notice, in these days of boasted liberality and pretended charity, that the charity is only for error; but for the old gospel there is no charity. The cry concerning it is, “Let it be cut to pieces; let it be destroyed. It is an old nuisance, put it out of the way.” This is how the enemies of God would have it, “that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.”
Psalms 83:5. For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee:
There were many nations of heathens, and they were agreed in nothing except in their hatred of Israel. There they were agreed, as Herod was the friend of Pilate while Christ was under examination, but not at any other time. The psalmist mentions ten different nations which had banded themselves together against God’s chosen people Israel. Ten against one is long odds but then God was on the side of Israel. One man with God is in the majority, however many there may be on the other side, for God counts for more than all who can be against him.
Psalms 83:6. The tabernacles of Edom,
These descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother, ought to have been the best friends of Israel, but they were the worst of their enemies. How often does it happen that kinship in blood makes no kinship in grace! “A man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”
Psalms 83:6. And the Ishmaelites;
These again were near akin to the seed of Abraham and Isaac; but the Ishmaelites were always among the most bitter enemies of Israel.
Psalms 83:6. Of Moab,
Moab was descended from a daughter of Lot.
Psalms 83:6. And the Hagarenes;
Perhaps descended from Hagar by some other husband.
Psalms 83:7. Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek;
All these were hereditary enemies of Israel, Amalek especially so, for God had determined that there should be war with Amalek throughout all generations.
Psalms 83:7. The Philistines —
These were the old enemies of Israel. Remember how Samson fought with them, and what tugs of war David had with them.
Psalms 83:7. With the inhabitants of Tyre;
What were they about in warring against God’s people? They were merchants, shippers. Yes; but it sometimes happens that, when worldly craft is in danger, men of trade and commerce can be as bitter against true religion as anybody else.
Psalms 83:8. Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah.
Here is a mention of the growing power of Assyria. What a host there was, what a band of enemies against God’s people! Oh, dear friends, I trust that none of us will have our names written in this black list! Be not enemies of God and of his truth; for, if so, you will wage a losing battle. Let the tow fight with the flame, or the dust with the wind, they will speedily be overcome, and woe be unto the man who contends with his Maker! What can he do? Let us, brethren, be on God’s side. God grant, of his grace, that we may never lift a hand against his cause!
Now comes the prayer or prophecy of the poet.
Psalms 83:9-10. Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kison: which perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth.
In those great battles the enemies of the Lord and his people were utterly cut in pieces. Mighty men as they were, they left their corpses to manure the soil.
Psalms 83:11. Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb: yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna.
These were four princes who were slain by Gideon and his allies; two of them bore the names of wolf and raven, — cruel names, and war is ever a cruel thing. But what had they done, these men of arms, these mighty warriors? The psalmist tells us: —
Psalms 83:12. Who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession.
They were not content with their own houses, they wanted God’s houses; and there are some men who can never rest except when they are doing mischief to the cause and cross of Christ. Woe unto them, for the fate of Oreb and Zeeb shall be theirs in due time!
Psalms 83:13. O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind.
Or rather, “Thou shalt make them a wheel,” never still. The real translation, I think, would be, “Make them like those light dry flowers which are blown by the wind across the plains.” Mr. Thomson, in his Land and the Book, speaks of the branches of the wild artichoke which form a sphere or globe a foot or more in diameter, and he says that he has seen thousands of them come wheeling along. Isaiah calls them, “a rolling thing before the whirlwind.” A puff of wind would come and take them in one direction, and then a contrary wind would drive them in quite another direction, they are so light, downy, gossamer-like, that they never can rest. Now this is just what happens to many men who set themselves against God and his grace. They are like rolling things never at rest, believing nothing, knowing nothing, hoping nothing, comforted by nothing, they are like a wheel. Oh, that we may never know by personal experience what this means, “Make them like a wheel, as the stubble before the wind”! You know how that is; the stubble is blown up, down, to the right, to the left, whichever way the wind blows. Are any of you like that tonight? Have you no stability? Have you no good hope for the future? When you think about death and eternity, are you like the stubble before the wind? If so, God have mercy upon you, and bring you to the only place where you can obtain salvation and stability!
Psalms 83:14. As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire;
Travellers tell us that they have sometimes seen the sides of mountains all ablaze where the timber, growing old, and everything being dry in the heat of summer, a chance spark has set the whole on a flame. This is what God will do with his enemies. He will as certainly and as readily destroy them as the wood is burnt with fire, or the mountain’s side is consumed by the raging flames. Who will stand against God then? Who will dare attempt it? Consider his great might, and flee from his wrath.
Psalms 83:15. So persecute them with thy tempest,
Or, “Thou wilt so follow them up with thy tempest.”
Psalms 83:15-16. And make them afraid with thy storm. Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD.
That is the prayer which we might pray tonight for all those who are denying the Godhead of Christ, and his great sacrifice of the Cross, and for all who reject the inspiration of Scripture and the blessed doctrines of grace. “O Lord, fill their faces with shame, that they may seek thy name!” Oh, that men did but know their own character! If they did but feel ashamed of their own sin, they might be led to seek the name of God.
Psalms 83:17. Let them be confounded and troubled for ever;
Or rather, “They shall be confounded and troubled for ever.” That is an awful passage, “Confounded and troubled for ever.”
Psalms 83:17-18. Yea, let them be put to shame, and perish: that men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.
You notice that, when I read the Scriptures, wherever I find the word LORD in capital letters, I read it as Jehovah, for so it should be. I wish that the translators of the Revised Version had had the courage of their convictions, and had so translated it, for we want that grand name back, Jah, Jehovah. Let me entreat you never to trifle as some do with that sacred word Hallelujah, or Hallelujah, praise to Jehovah.