Psalm 83 is the last of the Psalms of Asaph, which include Psalm 50 as well as Psalm 73-83. It is also the last of the “Elohist” collection (Psalms 42-83) in which one of God’s titles Elohim is mainly used. Some commentators link this Psalm to 2 Chronicles 20:1-37 which tells of the great victory under Jehoshephat, while others view the list of 10 enemies set against Israel as an ever-present threat and not in reference to one specific event. This was the threat of annihilation under which Israel lived and is relevant both in the ancient and modern world.
The first four verses are a plea for God to move; to take action and not remain still. Asaph appeals to God’s righteousness, to see Israel’s enemies as God’s enemies. He goes on to tell of all the many nations, some powerful and vast, that are arranged to conspire against Israel and threatening her with extermination. Asaph then cries out for God to take vengeance on behalf of Israel like what was once written in the book of Judges. There is an appeal to precedent as Asaph points the congregation to Judges 4-8.
There is a surprising turn in the last three verses of this Psalm; Asaph prays that God would not just act to destroy, but to humble those who oppose Him so that they seek His name! The Psalmist prays with a desire stronger than that for mere retribution, but salvation.
How many times have you read through the Old Testament? Even if you’ve only gone through it once – even if you’ve only skimmed it once, you’d notice that time and time again, the people that God chose to be His own forget Him and everything He has done to save them. It’s tempting to sit in our rooms with our Bibles and say to ourselves, if I had seen God give Moses the Ten Commandments or part the Red Sea, I would never stray from Him! I have thought as much myself many times. That is, until I lived long enough to see that no matter what wonderful things God has done in my life and the lives of those around me, I am always tempted to forget.
I am guilty and you are guilty and the entire human race is guilty of forgetting what isn’t directly in front of us, even if it’s God! Asaph knew that people forget God. Until we go home to our heavenly Father, our flesh is eager to supplant Him in the temple of our hearts and erect idols of any and every sort. We long to exalt ourselves and we crave autonomy; we become so set on being free from all constraints that we actually become enslaved to freedom!
How bitterly ironic it is that we who desire to be free from all things actually become chained to the whims of our bodies and minds! Asaph understood the condition of the human heart; people will often only seek the Lord if they are first humbled by His incredible power. There is a sense that God must defeat us before He will save us. Humility and submission run utterly counter to the message of this day – do what you want, become who you want, behave how you want, for there is no right answer.
Humility and submission are the aim of Psalm 83, and in it we see a certain Christ-ness: that even those who would harm the people of God might turn from their ways and seek the face of the Lord. There is a call for action and retribution, but the end of this prayer is not only destruction, but the humbling and repentance of wicked hearts. “But there is a deeper desire in the psalmist’s heart than the enemies’ destruction. He wishes that they should be turned into God’s friends and he wishes for their chastisement as the means to that end.” (Maclaren)
There are so many stories flooding the news these days that I find nearly impossible to watch. It’s all too much, too difficult, too disturbing. What’s worse is that I find myself growing bitter and angry as I hear more details about this politician’s lies or that leader’s war crimes; I find myself wanting them to be swept away in fire and fury to face the wrath and judgement of God. I know there is an element of righteous anger at play here, but my heart does not confine itself to only righteous anger. What about yours? This is not the way Christ wants me or any of us to regard anyone, but to pray for their salvation, turn the other cheek, and bless those who curse us. It is far easier to be kind to someone being rude at the supermarket or saying nasty things online than it is to inwardly wish that those who are committing atrocities all over the world would find Christ and repent. Most of me, I’ll admit, doesn’t want them to find Christ and repent. Most of me thinks they don’t deserve it, that they’ve gone too far, that they only deserve wrath. My goodness, how quickly I forget … what about you?
At times like these, let us all remember that each one of us that are in Christ now were once enemies of His and fully deserving nothing but His wrath. Each one of us, no matter how far along the path of sanctification, are still sinners in desperate need of the grace and forgiveness that comes with being in Christ. None of us are better than anyone else, none of us have earned the grace of God. We are simply exiles and beggars in this world showing other beggars where we found Bread. It takes a mighty man or woman to pray for the salvation of our enemies, but we see mirrored in this Psalm of Asaph the words of Christ: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven,” (Matt. 5:43-45).
Lord God, we thank you that while we were still enemies of you, Christ died for the ungodly. We thank you for loving the world that you gave us your Son to die in our place. Thank you for the gift of faith, the gift of your Holy Spirit, and the gift of eternal life. Let us always be tender-hearted and loving in all things, but especially so towards those who we consider our enemies. Keep in our minds the truth that we are saved by grace alone and pray that all who reside upon this earth might come to know you as their Lord and saviour. Amen.
Song: Thank You For Saving Me (Delirious)
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.