George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 3

Psalm 83

1. Structure

Prayer for help against enemies
The enemies are named
An appeal to God’s deliverances wrought in ancient times
A continuing prayer for help...
So that God’s Name will be glorified

2. Title

This is the last Asaph psalm. All these 12 Asaph psalms (50, 73-83) seem to belong to the time of Hezekiah.

The subscription, Gittith, means wine-presses, suggesting the autumn, with its harvesting and threshing, and hence (figuratively) a time of judgment, pressure, tribulation, and (the wine-presses!) bloodshed. See also the notes concerning Gittith on Psalms 7 and 80.

3. The confederacy identified

In contrast with many other psalms, Psalm 83 specifically identifies the members of the great coalition ranged against God’s people.

Edom. The Edomites were descendants of Esau. When Esau was forty years old he married two Canaanite women; later he married a daughter of Ishmael (Gen. 26:34; 28:9). The land first occupied by his offspring was called the land of Seir. The Edomites were frequently involved in conflicts with the Hebrews. In Greek times they were known as Idumeans. Ezekiel 35 and Obadiah records the future victory of Israel over Edom, through divine intervention.

The Ishmaelites were descendants of Ishmael. Abraham was his father and Hagar, an Egyptian, was his mother (Gen. 16). Ishmael married an Egyptian (Gen. 21:21) and had twelve sons who became princes (Gen. 17:20). They dwelt in settlements and movable camps in the desert north of Arabia. Midianite merchants sometimes traveled with them. Ishmael was to have no territory of his own, but was to be a sojourner in the presence of his brethren (Gen. 16:12). The Bedouin tribes today proudly claim descent from Ishmael. In fact, all the Arabs, after the example of Mohammed, claim descent from Ishmael.

Moab. The Moabites were descendants from Lot through his eldest daughter (Gen. 19:37). They took possession of the land east of the Dead Sea and north of Edom.

The Hagarenes are presumably other children of Hagar (Gen. 16:1,3) — also called Hagarites and Hagrites. They were a nomad people who dwelt throughout all the land east of Gilead, and were allied with the other Ishmaelites (see Gen. 25:16-18).
Gebal. These were a nomad people who dwelt in the north portion of the mountains of Edom, known also as Teman (Josephus, Ant. ii. 1,2; ix. 9,1). The inhabitants of this area allied themselves with Moab and the Arabian nomads against Israel.

Ammon. The Ammonites were descendants from Lot through his younger daughter (Gen. 19:38). They occupied a territory north of Moab. There is a long history of warfare between the Israelites and the descendants of Lot.

Amalek. The Amalekites were descendants of Esau (Gen. 36:12). For a long time they were centered about Kadesh-barnea, in northern Arabia. They fought the Israelites at Rephidim soon after the Israelites left Egypt. The territory they finally occupied was north central Arabia. They suffered a crushing defeat by Saul, but were not totally destroyed, contrary to what God had commanded. During the reign of Hezekiah the sons of Simeon “smote the remnant of the Amalekites that escaped” and dispossessed them of mount Seir (1 Chron. 4:41-43).

The Philistines were descendants of Mizraim, a son of Ham (Gen. 10:13,14). They settled along the coast of Canaan, including the area today called the Gaza Strip. They often invaded the land of Canaan, and have been perpetual enemies of the Israelites.

The inhabitants of Tyre. Tyre was an important city of Phoenicia. It was a great commercial center — located near the border of the territory occupied by the tribe of Asher. During the time of David and Solomon, Hiram king of Tyre was friendly to Israel. This friendliness evaporated later on. The prophets denounced the Tyrians for delivering the Israelites to the Edomites (Amos 1:9) and spoiling their goods, and selling them as slaves to the Greeks (Joel 3:5,6). The classic prophecy of Ezekiel (chs. 27; 28) against the city of Tyre is well-known.
Assur was a descendant of Shem (Gen. 10:22). Actually, the Assyrians were probably not purely Semitic, and some of their history is not well-known. They became a powerful nation, with Nineveh its capital. They waged many wars and were for several generations a constant threat to the small nations of the Middle East. The northern kingdom of Israel (the ten tribes) were taken into captivity by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17), and much of the southern kingdom of Judah was overrun by them in the days of Hezekiah.

One further point of distinction should be noted here: This confederacy is plainly different from the one described in Ezekiel 38. The conspirators of Psalm 83 are mostly Semitic (with some from Ham), and for the most part closely related — by blood and past history — to Israel. They are also located immediately adjacent to the land of Israel (cp. Joel 3:12 — “all the heathen round about”). On the other hand, the hostile powers of Ezekiel’s vision (Meshech, Tubal, Gomer, Libya, Persia, Ethiopia, etc.) are all of Japheth (cp. Gen. 10:1-4), and altogether unrelated to the Jews. They form an outer ring around Israel, at some considerable distance, and therefore seem to represent a “second wave” of heathen attack upon God’s Land and God’s People.

4. Contemporary reference

The list of adversaries in vv. 6 and 7 points to the Assyrian invasion in the reign of Hezekiah. (For an alternative interpretation, see Par. 6.) The details fit into the picture of the Sennacherib invasion easily; and the phraseology time after time echoes that of Isaiah in his prophecies of that invasion.

Thine enemies. That is, the enemies of Jehovah. Sennacherib’s in-vasion of Judah was not just one more exercise in empire-building, but also and particularly an open expression of hostility to the name of Jehovah (Isa. 36:13-20; 37:10-13).

Make a tumult. The s.w. occurs in Psa. 46:3 (a Hezekiah psalm) and in Isa. 17:12 (a prophecy about the Assyrians).

They that hate thee: s.w. Psa. 81:15 (another Hezekiah psalm).

Have lifted up the head — in pride, arrogance, and rebellion.
Thy hidden ones is a mysterious phrase, with possible reference to:

(a) the angels of the Lord operating on Israel’s behalf (Isa. 37:36);

(b) the cherubim of glory in the holy of holies (the Assyrian religion had adopted the idea of cherubim in their temples);

(c) most of the nation, shut up behind the walls of Jerusalem (RSV has “protected ones”; LXX “saints”); or

(d) an intensive plural with reference to the great king Hezekiah, secluded in his desperate illness.
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. The name of Isra-EL is the name of God! This is a campaign of hatred against Israel and Israel’s God (v . 2) — a “holy war”!
They are confederate is, literally, “they have cut a covenant” (cp. RSV) — a Middle Eastern custom alluded to in Gen. 15:10,17 and Jer. 34:18,19, a solemn “agreement of blood” binding upon the participants under pain of death.
The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab and the Hagarenes. See notes, Par. 3. Assuming that the Hagarenes are amalgamated with the Ishmaelites, then all four peoples mentioned in this verse come in for bitter censure in Isaiah in connection with Sennacherib’s campaign: Edom (ch. 34; 63:1-6); the Ishmaelites (21:13-17); and Moab (chs. 15; 16).
The Philistines. This land was overrun by the Assyrians (Taylor Prism). Its people, from being (early in Hezekiah’s reign) tributary to Judah, were probably forced to change sides.

Tyre also forsook the ancient friendship with the line of David and gave support to the Assyrians; hence the denunciations of Isa. 23 and the prophecy of Psa. 48:7 (Tarshish = Tyre?).
The psalmist appeals to God for help, citing — as justification for such a request — the Israelite victories over the Midianites and the Canaanites in the days of the judges.
Do unto them as unto the Midianites. These were descendants of Midian, a son of Abraham by Keturah (Gen. 25:1,2), a people of the desert. In their early history they occupied a region in the Arabian desert near the Gulf of Akabah. About the time of the Exodus, Midian controlled the pasture lands east of Horeb in the peninsula of Sinai. Later they occupied an area adjacent to Moab and near the Amorite kingdom whose capital was Heshbon. The Midianites who attacked Israel were the subject of a divinely-arranged mutual destruction (comparable to those described in Zech. 14:13 and Ezek. 38:21) in the days of Gideon (Judg. 7:19-23; Isa. 9:4,5; 10:26).

Sisera was a commander of a Canaanite army which held northern Israel in subjection. He was defeated by Barak by the Kison, or Kishon River. Sisera fled and sought refuge with Heber the Kenite, where he was killed by Jael, Heber’s wife, as he slept (Judg. 4).

Jabin. There are two Canaanite kings by this name. The first one was Jabin king of Hazor in Galilee in the time of Joshua. He headed a confederacy of kings in the north and central part of Palestine and was defeated by Joshua (Josh. 11). The other Jabin king of Hazor oppressed the Israelites for twenty years during the time of the Judges. Sisera was the commander-in-chief of his army, which was defeated by Barak.
Endor was a town belonging to the tribe of Manasseh (Josh. 17:11), which was evidently near the site of the great battle.

They became as dung for the earth = Isa. 25:10, in reference to Moab.
Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb. Two Midianite princes who were defeated, captured and put to death by Gideon. These were slain, respectively, at a rock called the rock of Oreb (Isa. 10:26), and at a wine-press (cp. Gittith, Par. 2) which was afterward called by the name of Zeeb (Judg. 7:25). Thus these hostile generals — like Sennacherib (Isa. 37:38) — escaped the immediate destruction of their armies only to be slain later!

Yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna. Two kings of Midian who were pursued and slain by Gideon (Judg. 8:4-28).
Who said must surely look back to vv. 5-7, not to vv. 9-11; this v. 12 is irrelevant to the Midianite and Canaanite oppressions in Judges 4 and 6.

Let us take to ourselves the houses of God. The Hebrew signifies “pleasant places”, or “pastures” (RSV).
O my God, make them like a wheel, like the stubble before the wind. “Wheel” (galgal) is the wild artichoke, which, when ripe and dry, breaks off at the root and is carried by the wind, rolling like a wheel over the plains. The RSV margin has “tumbleweed”. The Assyrian power is so likened in Isa. 17:12,13:

“Woe to the multitude of many people, which make a noise like the noise of the seas; and to the rushing of nations, that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters! The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing [galgal, s.w. Psa. 83:13] before the whirlwind.”
Flame... fire... storm. Compare similar language in Isa. 30:27, 30,33:

“Behold, the name of the Lord cometh from far, burning with his anger, and the burden thereof is heavy: his lips are full of indignation, and his tongue as a devouring fire... And the Lord shall cause his glorious voice to be heard, and shall shew the lighting down of his arm, with the indignation of his anger, and with the flame of a devouring fire, with scattering, and tem- pest, and hailstones... For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared: he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.”
Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O Lord. This was fulfilled in the by-now familiar 2 Chron. 32:23. Especially is this true of Tyre (v. 7 here; Isa. 23:18).
That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth. The honor and authority of Jehovah was in question (see on v. 2); therefore there had to be drastic action against the invaders.

5. The Last Days

No prophecy of the time of the end so clearly indicates the final oppressors of Israel as does this psalm (and yet, it is extraordinary that earlier generations of Christadelphians seem to have ignored altogether such an application!). Here are ten of the surrounding nations, an Arab confederacy (see Par. 3), all set on achieving the final destruction of Israel. There is also for them the equally important purpose of establishing exclusively the religion of the false prophet Mohammed!

Looking at the names in vv. 6-8 (from a geographical as well as an ethnic viewpoint) — and superimposing Old Testament conflicts on a modern world, the great confederacy consists of:

Palestinians — s.w. Philistines — (PLO?) in the Gaza Strip, etc.;
Saudi Arabia (Edom, Gebal, Amalek);
Jordan (Ammon and Moab);
Lebanon and Syria (Tyre);
Iraq (Assur) — which is, incidentally, the land of ancient Babylon; and possibly
the more remote Arab nations to the east (Ishmaelites, Hagarenes)... or is Egypt thus referred to?

It is just possible that “Assur” is also an oblique reference to Russia; “they have been an arm to the children of Lot” (Psa. 83:8, mg.) — that is, in modern terms, a supplier of “arms”!

heir declared purpose is a final end to the state of Israel.
They have taken crafty counsel. The LXX has the same very unusual word as in Rev. 17:13,17, which describes ten kings giving their resources to a leader — the Beast — to make war with the Lamb. Compare the ten toes in Daniel 2, the ten horns in Daniel’s fourth beast (= Rev. 13; 17), and the ten nations of Canaan (Gen. 15:19-21) with the ten nations of Psalm 83.
Do unto them as unto the Midianites. Isa. 9:4 compares Messiah’s power to “the day of Midian”.
O my God, make them... as the stubble before the wind. For the same figure describing judgment against the enemies of God’s people in the Last Days, see Dan. 2:35; Isa. 29:5.
Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek thy name. The two phrases seem to have very different flavors. They would seem therefore to describe two opposite reactions by the nations to a mighty “theophany” — either (a) rebellion, followed by humiliation and ultimate destruction, or (b) willing obedience, followed by ultimate salvation.
That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth. Here, surely, is the kingdom of God, established at last.

6. Application to Jehoshaphat?

An alternative view of Psalm 83 (together with 82 and 84) is offered by E. Whittaker and T. Benson. They suggest that the psalm has its origins in the times of Jehoshaphat — when an “Arab” invasion of Judah was repelled (2 Chron. 20; see “Jehoshaphat in Psalm and Prophecy”, The Testimony, Sept. 1976, vol. 46, pp. 335-340).

2 Chronicles 20 describes an invasion of the land of Judah by Moab, Ammon, and — with them — “other beside the Ammonites” and “the children from mount Seir” (vv. 1,10). There seems to have been a confederacy led by Moab and Ammon. In Psalm 83 five nations seem to be linked with Moab and with Ammon. These are Edom, the Ishmaelites, the Hagarenes, Gebal, and Amalek. These might correspond to the “others” of 2 Chronicles 20:1. No mention of Tyre and Philistia is made in 2 Chronicles 20. It is possible they did not take an active part in the initial attack, but planned to intervene later, and were deterred from doing so by the destruction of the eastern part of the alliance.

An identifying link lies in the ascription of the psalm to the sons of Asaph. In 2 Chronicles 20:14,15 a prophet Jahaziel, a Levite and a descendant of Asaph, spoke to the Israelites, telling them not to be afraid of the great multitude... “For the battle is the Lord’s.” It is possible that Jahaziel may have written the psalm for posterity as a record of Israel’s victory.

Compare the similarity of the two parts of Scripture:

Psalm 83

2 Chronicles 20
Tumult (Hebrew hamah)
Hamon = multitude or company
“Let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may no more be in remembrance.”
“To come to cast us out of thy possession”
Children of Lot are helped by the other nations listed
Children of Ammon and Moab head the coalition
Self-destruction, as in the day of Midian (Judg. 7:22)
“They became as dung for earth”
“Dead bodies are fallen to the earth”
May seek “thy Name”
Seeking “thy Name”
“The most High over all earth”
“Rulest over all the kingdoms of the the earth”

In further support of this hypothesis, Assur seems to be mentioned in Psalm 83 as merely one more, undistinguished, ally — and not as the great head of a confederacy of nations (as it was in the later days of Hezekiah).

Whether Psalm 83 deals initially with (1) Hezekiah, or with (2) Jehoshaphat, or even (in some parts, at least) with (3) David (cp. 83:6-8 with 60:7,8 and notes there) — no matter which — the Last Days application is plain and striking. It may even be that (after the pattern of such psalms as 42/43, 59, and 65) Psalm 83 is one more case of an earlier psalm (David’s?) being amplified (Jehoshaphat’s?) and amplified yet again (Hezekiah’s?) to suit each successive confrontation between Israel and its Arab enemies.
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