Psalm 83: Asaph’s Final Lesson

For those who have been following my posts, you will know last week I suggested Psalm 82:8 could be read as a call by God for his people to start caring for the weak and the fatherless. But the more traditional way to interpret Psalm 82:8 is that it is a call for God to step in and judge the earth because his people have done such a horrible job at doing so on his behalf. If read this second way, Psalm 82:8 is also nice a transition verse leading into Psalm 83, Asaph’s last psalm, and his cry for God to finally rescue his people from the enemies surrounding them.

When I first read Psalm 83, I wondered why the psalmist had included the names of nations and people in verses 6-8 as they seemed to disrupt the flow of the psalm. But I figured they had to be included for a reason, and not just for the purpose of locating the psalm in time and space, so I looked in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT). I found that these people and places fit two categories: 1) enemies who geographically surrounded Israel, and 2) the major superpower at the time responsible for the destruction of the northern kingdom. It seems then that Psalm 83 paints a picture of an Israel hemmed in by enemies on every side who can find no escape from a superpower who is ready to pounce.

I don’t know about you, but there have been times in my life when I felt the same way. With a major problem pressing down upon me, I looked around to friends and companions but found no real respite from my troubles. My sleep, which is often a familiar escape, became troubled as the pressure caused me to wake, realizing I had no safe place to go for sanctuary.

I think that is why Asaph begins Psalm 83 with a plea that God does not stay silent. For at this time, the people looked at their present circumstances and saw their promised land crumbling and being dismantled piece by piece, they looked to their past and saw the depravity that had taken hold of their land, and they looked to their future and all they could find was silence. They realized God’s blessings were no longer theirs to hold, and they longed to hear God’s voice once again. They longed to hear from their Lord and Father, and they, as we all so often do, longed to be held safely in the arms of one who has everything under control. But there was no voice and there were no arms for them at that time. The people had been left in silence and were surrounded by terror on every side.

Then when I read verses 9-11 I found that Asaph used more foreign names, but this time, according to NICOT, they were not enemies. Asaph, in using these names, recalls many victories in Israel’s past prior to the founding of the kingdom and the crowning of a king. He emphasizes those times when God stepped in and utterly decimated Israel’s enemies, making of them fertilizer for the field (for that is what dead bodies do when they decompose in the open field after a battle). It was certainly not a pretty and sanitized picture, but a graphic and realistic image of what God did to Israel’s past enemies. But Asaph meant more than that. He used God’s past victories to sing a hopeful song for what God would do to their present enemies.

Like many of you, I have been in that place as well, but unlike Asaph, I’ve asked for God’s vengeance for my own reasons and for it to occur according to my own timing. But, I believe Asaph’s words hold a lesson for me as to how I can better respond to problems. Asaph trusts that even in the void of a consistent silence God will eventually take care of his enemies. Such trust is not easy, as you most likely well know. But trust is not the only lesson to be learned from Asaph’s prayer.

We also learn that Asaph longs for God’s voice to be heard so that his enemies know God is the only God and Lord over all. Asaph’s cry for justice is not for his own benefit: it is that God’s glory would be known throughout the earth. This is the lesson that humbles me most intensely because I know my prayers for relief are often solely selfish, and my prayers for vengeance are often for vengeance alone. But I am called to seek a higher ground. I am called to wait in the silence and pray that my troubles serve to make known to a lost and dying world the fact that God alone is worthy of praise and devotion. It is, for this reason, we hope God is not silent. And because of that, I think God hopes that we are not silent either.

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