For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 83 and its interpreters. Psalm 83 is about ten nations conspiring to wipe out Israel. The Psalmist asks God to deal with these nations as God dealt with Israel's enemies in the past, namely, to confound and destroy those who would destroy Israel. I have three items.
1. Scholars have debated about the historical setting of Psalm 83.
Because Psalm 83 mentions Assyria as part of the confederation, there
is a view that the Psalm dates to the ninth-eighth centuries B.C.E.,
when Assyria was dominant and (during part of that time) in control of several of the nations
mentioned in the Psalm that are part of the confederation against Israel
(i.e., Tyre, Ammon, Moab, Edom, and others). Another view is that
Psalm 83 dates to the second century B.C.E., during the time of the
Maccabees. In I Maccabees 5, Israel's neighbors rose up against Israel
after Judah the Maccabee had defeated Antiochus Epiphanes and purified
the Temple. Assyria in Psalm 83, in this scholarly scenario, refers to
Syria, the country of Antiochus, who still had some soldiers in Israel
even after he went to Persia. An author in Peake's Commentary prefers this scenario because he believes that was the only time in history when a simultaneous attack against Israel occurred.
there's the view that Psalm 83 is not connected with a specific
historical event, but rather lists some of Israel's traditional enemies
from the past, perhaps to make the general point that God will
acknowledge Israel's suffering and deliver her. There are Jewish and
Christian interpretations that view the Psalm as eschatological. Some apply it to Gog and Magog, and others regard it as a type of the attack against Israel by the ten-nation confederation that is mentioned in Daniel 7 and Revelation 13.
And then there were those who discussed the Psalm in the context of the
current situation of the Middle East, as some had a "Yay-rah" Israel
attitude, whereas others cautioned against that.
2. Psalm 83:3
says (in the King James Version): "They have taken crafty counsel
against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones." Why does
this verse refer to the victims of the confederation as hidden ones? Or
One view is that the verse is saying that the Israelites
are hidden ones in the sense that God is protecting them. Another view
is that God's people are hidden in the sense that they hide from their
persecutors, but that probably does not work for Psalm 83, for the
entire nation of Israel cannot hide from her enemies, who know where she
is! The Targum says that the verse is about the enemy nations coming
after the hidden things in God's treasuries. The idea here may be that
the nations covet the hidden treasures in God's Temple.
Another approach is to say that the word translated as "thy hidden ones", tsephunechah,
actually means God's treasured ones. The root ts-ph-n can mean to
hide, but it can also refer to storing up something that is valuable
Psalm 83:16-18 says (in the KJV): "(16) Fill their faces with shame;
that they may seek thy name, O LORD. (17) Let them be confounded and
troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish: (18) That
men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth."
In v 18, the KJV supplies the word "men", meaning that it's not in the Hebrew text. V 18 should read "That they may know", or "And they will know". So why does the KJV supply the word "men"?
16-18 are puzzling verses because they talk about the Psalmist's desire
that the enemies of Israel seek the name of the LORD and know that God
is supreme, and yet the Psalmist also wants for these enemies to perish.
Are these contradictory desires? When a person seeks God and
acknowledges God's supremacy, the result is that he lives rather than
dies from God's punishment, right? So how can the Psalmist hope that Israel's enemies will turn to God and yet perish?
way that the KJV appears to handle this problem is to insert the word
"men" into v 18: to say that Israel's enemies perish, and that causes
other people to realize that the God of Israel is supreme. That does
not entirely resolve the problem, however, for v 16 expresses the hope
that the enemies of Israel will seek God's name. We cannot escape the
fact the Psalm 83 presents Israel's enemies seeking God, in some
The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary presents two Jewish interpretations.
The first is that God will not accept the repentance of Israel's
enemies but will cause them to perish. A voice in the Midrash on the
Psalms adheres to this idea, citing Psalm 18:41, which depicts the
Psalmist's enemies crying unto God and God refusing to answer them.
In my opinion, this view is important to consider because I think that
too many evangelicals read the Hebrew Bible as a document that is
obsessed with the conversion of the Gentiles. When the Hebrew Bible says
that the nations will know that God is the LORD, many evangelicals read
that as a desire for the Gentiles to enter into a personal relationship
with God. There may be something to this, for there are plenty of
passages in the Hebrew Bible that talk about the Gentiles worshiping
God. But is that the only way to understand passages about the nations
knowing that God is the LORD? Perhaps some of those passages mean that
God is gloating----that the proud nations at their last breath will
learn who is truly in charge, but it will be too late for them.
second view in Artscroll is that of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, who
said that Psalm 83 is saying that Israel's enemies will be at the edge
of perishing, yet they will call out to God, repent, and accept God's
dominion at the last minute, presumably (if I'm not mistaken) saving
themselves from destruction.
Augustine had another take on
Psalm 83:16-18. He suggested that the repentant enemies of God's
people indeed will perish, but not in the sense of being killed by God
in God's wrath. Rather, their old sinful selves will die, and they will emerge as new creatures. For Augustine, conversion itself is a process of perishing and rebirth.
realize that many biblical scholars do not think that much of the
Hebrew Bible had a rigorous conception of the afterlife. But I wonder
if there are any interpreters who have said that vv 16-18 concern a
deathbed repentance that leads Israel's enemies into a glorious