The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Psalm 83

Psa 83:1


See Lesson, Beasts, heads, and horns.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT: Hezekiah and Sennacherib, as all the Asaph psalms. Or... an alternative view suggests that the psalm has its origins in the times of Jehoshaphat -- when an "Arab" invasion of Judah was repelled (2Ch 20; see Tes 46:335-340). 2Ch 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" (2Ch 20:1,10). There seems to have been a confederacy led by Moab and Ammon. In Psa 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 2Ch 20:1. No mention of Tyre and Philistia is made in 2Ch 20. Poss 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 2Ch 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." Poss Jahaziel may have written the psalm for posterity as a record of Israel's victory.

Psa 83:2

YOUR ENEMIES: That is, the enemies of God. Sennacherib's invasion 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).

ARE ASTIR: Sw in Psa 46:3 (a Hezekiah psalm) and in Isa 17:12 (a prophecy about the Assyrians).

YOUR FOES: Sw Psa 81:15 (another Hezekiah psalm).

REAR THEIR HEADS: In pride, arrogance, and rebellion.

Psa 83:3

THEY CONSPIRE: (NT) 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. Cp the ten toes in Dan 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 Psa 83.

THOSE YOU CHERISH: "Thy hidden ones" (AV) is a mysterious phrase, with poss ref 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 ref to the great king Hezekiah, secluded in his desperate illness.

Psa 83:4

The name of Israel IS the name of God: "Isra-EL". A campaign of hatred against Israel and Israel's God.

Psa 83:5

THEY FORM AN ALLIANCE: "They are confederate" (AV) 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.

Psa 83:6

Vv 6-8: Assuming that the Hagrites are amalgamated with the Ishmaelites, then all four peoples mentioned in this v come in for bitter censure in Isa in connection with Sennacherib's campaign: Edom (Isa 34; 63:1-6); the Ishmaelites (Isa 21:13-17); and Moab (Isa 15; 16). This confederacy is plainly different from the one described in Eze 38. The conspirators of Psa 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 immed adjacent to the land of Israel (cp Joe 3:12 -- "all the nations on every side"). 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.

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. Eze 35 and Oba record the future victory of Israel over Edom, through divine intervention.

THE ISHMAELITES: 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 HAGRITES: Presumably other children of Hagar (Gen 16:1,3) -- also called Hagarites and Hagarenes. A nomad people who dwelt throughout all the land east of Gilead, and were allied with the other Ishmaelites (see Gen 25:16-18).

Psa 83:7

GEBAL: 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). They 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 (1Ch 4:41-43).

See Lesson, Amalek.

PHILISTIA: 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. This land was overrun by the Assyrians (Taylor Prism). Its people, from being (early in Hezekiah's reign) tributary to Judah, were prob forced to change sides. See Lesson, Philistia in prophecy.

THE PEOPLE 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 (Amo 1:9) and spoiling their goods, and selling them as slaves to the Greeks (Joe 3:5,6). The classic prophecy of Ezekiel (Eze 27; 28) against the city of Tyre is well-known. 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?).

Psa 83:8

ASSYRIA: "Assur" (AV) was a descendant of Shem (Gen 10:22). Actually, the Assyrians were prob 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 (2Ki 17), and much of the southern kingdom of Judah was overrun by them in the days of Hezekiah.

See Lesson, Selah.

Psa 83:9

Vv 9-12: 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 TO THEM AS YOU DID TO MIDIAN: 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 Aqaba. 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 (cp to those described in Zec 14:13 and Eze 38:21) in the days of Gideon (Jdg 7:19-23; Isa 9:4,5; 10:26).

SISERA: 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 (Jdg 4).

JABIN: 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 (Jos 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.

Psa 83:10

ENDOR: A town belonging to the tribe of Manasseh (Jos 17:11), which was evidently near the site of the great battle.

REFUSE ON THE GROUND = Isa 25:10, in ref to Moab.

Psa 83:11

MAKE THEIR NOBLES LIKE OREB AND 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 winepress which was afterward called by the name of Zeeb (Jdg 7:25). Thus these hostile generals -- like Sennacherib (Isa 37:38) -- escaped the immediate destruction of their armies only to be slain later!

ALL THEIR PRINCES LIKE ZEBAH AND ZALMUNNA: Two kings of Midian who were pursued and slain by Gideon (Jdg 8:4-28).

Psa 83:12

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 Jdg 4; 6.

Psa 83:13

TUMBLEWEED = "Wheel" (galgal) in AV; 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 described in Isa 17:12,13: " a rolling thing [galgal, sw Psa 83:13] before the whirlwind."

LIKE CHAFF BEFORE THE WIND: (NT) For the same figure describing judgment against the enemies of God's people in LD, see Dan 2:35; Isa 29:5.

Psa 83:14

Vv 14,15: Cp similar language in Isa 30:27, 30,33.

Psa 83:16

Fulfilled in 2Ch 32:23. Esp is this true of Tyre (v 7 here; Isa 23:18).

Psa 83:18

The honor and authority of Yahweh was in question (see on v 2); therefore there had to be drastic action against the invaders.

SUBSCRIPTION: "FOR THE DIRECTOR OF MUSIC. ACCORDING TO GITTITH": "The winepress" (as in Psa 7; 80; 83; Jdg 6:11; Neh 13:15). The "winepress" psalms were to be sung in the autumn, in connection with the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23:39-43). The treading of grapes was a figure of harvest joy (Isa 16:10) and a sym of divine judgment (Isa 63:3-6).
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