Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This is another of the psalms of Asaph, the last of the group or collection that is found under his name. Compare the Introduction to Ps. 73. The occasion on which this was composed is not certainly known, and cannot now be ascertained. Grotius supposes that it relates to the time of David, and especially to the first war with the Syrians referred to in 2 Sam. 8, or to the second war with the Syrians referred to in 2 Sam. 10, and 1 Chr. 19. Kimchi, DeWette, and others, suppose that it relates to the time of Jehoshaphat, and to the war with the Ammonites and Moabites, referred to in 2 Chr. 20. Hengstenberg and Prof. Alexander concur in this opinion, and suppose that it was written on the same occasion as Psa 47:1-9; Psa 48:1-14; the first, composed and sung on the field of battle; the second, on the triumphant return to Jerusalem; the third - the one before us - in confident anticipation of victory. This is, perhaps, rather fanciful, and it certainly cannot be demonstrated that this is the correct opinion. It would seem, at least, to be hardly probable that a psalm would be composed and sung in a battlefield.
All that is certain in regard to the psalm is, that it was written in view of a threatened invasion by combined armies, and the prayer is, that God would give help, as he had done when the nation had been threatened on other occasions. The nations which were combined, or which had formed an alliance for this purpose, are specified in Psa 83:6-8; Edom; Ishmael; Moab; the Hagarenes; Gebal; Ammon; Amalek; the Philistines; the Tyrians, Assur, and the children of Lot.
The contents of the psalm are as follows:
I. A prayer that God would no longer keep still, or be silent, Psa 83:1.
II. A statement of the occasion for the prayer, to wit, the conspiracy or combination formed against his people, Psa 83:2-5.
III. An enumeration of the nations thus combined, Psa 83:6-8.
IV. A prayer that God would interpose as he had done in former times, in critical periods of the Jewish history - as in the case of the Midianites; as in the time of Sisera, and Jabin; and as in the wars waged with Oreb and Zeeb, Zebah and Zalmunna, Psa 83:9-12.
V. A prayer that these enemies might be utterly overthrown and confounded; that God would promote his own glory; and that his people might be secure and happy, Psa 83:13-18.
Keep not thou silence, O God - See the notes at Psa 28:1. The prayer here is that in the existing emergency God would not seem to be indifferent to the needs and dangers of his people, and to the purposes of their enemies, but that he would speak with a voice of command, and break up their designs.
Hold not thy peace - That is, Speak. Give commaud. Disperse them by thine own authority.
And be not still, O God - Awake; arouse; be not indifferent to the needs and dangers of thy people. All this is the language of petition; not of command. Its rapidity, its repetition, its tone, all denote that the danger was imminent, and that the necessity for the divine interposition was urgent.
For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult - Are excited; are aroused; are moving in a wild, furious, tumultuous manner, rushing on to the accomplishment of their designs. They come like rolling waves of the sea. See the word used here explained in the notes at Psa 2:1, where it is rendered, in the text, "rage;" in the margin, "tumultuously assemble."
And they that hate thee - Thine enemies; the enemies of thy cause, and of thy people. Who they were is specified in Psa 83:6-8.
Have lifted up the head - Have become proud; bold; confident of success, all of which is indicated by the phrase "lifted up the head." The head is bowed down in penitence and trouble; pride lifts it up; boldness, confidence, and wickedness, are indicated by its being thus lifted up.
They have taken crafty counsel - The one word translated "have taken crafty" - ערם ‛âram - means properly to make naked; and then, to be crafty, cunning, malignant, Sa1 23:22. It is well rendered here, they have taken crafty counsel. The meaning is, they have made their counsel or their consultations crafty, cunning, artful, malignant. Instead of pursuing a course in their deliberations that would be just, true, honorable, they have followed the reverse. On the word rendered "counsel" - סוד sôd - which means a couch or cushion, and hence, a divan - see Job 15:8, note; Psa 25:14, note; Psa 64:2, note. The idea here is, that the persons referred to in the subsequent part of the psalm (Psa 83:6-8) had been assembled in a divan, or for consultation, and that they had there formed a malignant plan - against God and his people - which they were now proceeding to execute.
Against thy people - For the purpose of destroying them.
And consulted against thy hidden ones - The word rendered "hidden ones" - from the verb צפן tsâphan, to hide, to conceal - properly denotes that which is secret, private, inaccessible Eze 7:22; and then, anything protected or hidden so as to be secure. Compare the notes at Psa 27:5. It would seem here to refer to those who were so protected by Yahweh - so inaccessible to others by reason of his guardian care - that they would be safe.
They have said, Come, and let us cut them off ... - Let us utterly destroy them, and root them out from among the nations. Let us combine against them, and overpower them; let us divide their land among ourselves, attaching it to our own. The nations referred to Psa 83:6-8 were those which surrounded the land of Israel; and the proposal seems to have been to partition the land of the Hebrews among themselves, as has been done in modern times in regard to Poland. On what principles, and in what proportions, they proposed thus to divide the land is not intimated, nor is it said that the project had gone so far that they had agreed on the terms of such a division. The formation of such a purpose, however, was in itself by no means improbable. The Hebrew people were offensive to all the surrounding nations by their religion, their prosperity, and the constant rebuke of tyranny and idolatry by their religious and their social institutions. There had been enough, also, in their past history - in the remembrance of the successful wars of the Hebrews with those very nations - to keep up a constant irritation on their part. We are not to be surprised, therefore, that there was a deeply-cherished desire to blot out the name and the nation altogether.
That the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance - That the nation as such may be utterly extinct and forgotten; that the former triumphs of that nation over us may be avenged; that we may no longer have in our very midst this painful memorial of the existence of one God, and of the demands of his law; that we may pursue our own plans without the silent or the open admonition derived from a religion so pure and holy. For the same reason the world has often endeavored to destroy the church; to cause it to be extinct; to blot out its name; to make the very names Christ and Christian forgotten among mankind. Hence, the fiery persecutions under the Roman government in the time of the Emperors; and hence, in every age, and in every land, the church has been exposed to persecution - originated with a purpose to destroy it as long as there was any hope of accomplishing that end. That purpose has been abandoned by Satan and his friends only because the result has shown that the persecution of the church served but to spread its principles and doctrines, and to fix it more firmly in the affections and confidence of mankind, so that the tendency of persecution is rather to overthrow the persecutor than the persecuted. Whether it can be destroyed by prosperity and corruption - by science - by error - seems now to be the great problem before the mind of Satan.
For they have consulted together with one consent - Margin, as in Hebrew, heart. There is no division in their counsels on this subject. They have one desire - one purpose - in regard to the matter. Pilate and Herod were made friends together against Christ Luk 23:12; and the world, divided and hostile on other matters, has been habitually united in its opposition to Christ and to a pure and spiritual religion.
They are confederate against thee - literally, "They cut a covenant against thee;" that is, they ratify such a covenant, compact, league - referring to the manner in which bargains and agreements were ratified by cutting in pieces a victim sacrificed on such occasions; that is, by giving to such a transaction the solemnity of a religious sanction. Gen 15:10; Jer 34:18-19. See Bochart, Hieroz. i. 35. The meaning here is, that they had entered into this agreement in the most solemn manner, under the sanctions of religion.
The tabernacles of Edom - The tents of Edom; meaning here, the dwellers in those tents, that is, the Edomites. The word tabernacles or tents does not necessarily imply that the nation then led a wandering life, for the word came to signify in process of time a dwelling-place, or a habitation. The Edomites were not, in fact, a roving and wandering people, but a people of fixed boundaries. In early periods, however, like most ancient people, they doubtless dwelt in tents. Edom, or Idumea, was south of Palestine. See the notes at Isa 11:14.
And the Ishmaelites - The descendants of Ishmael. They dwelt in Arabia Deserta.
Of Moab - On the situation of Moab, see the notes at Isa 15:1-9. It was on the southeast of Palestine.
And the Hagarenes - The Hagarenes were properly Arabs, so called from Hagar, the handmaid of Abraham, the mother of Ishmael. Gen 16:1; Gen 25:12. As connected with the Ishmaelites they would naturally join in this alliance.
Gebal - The Gebal here referred to was probably the same as Gebalene, the mountainous tract inhabited by the Edomites, extending from the Dead Sea southward toward Petra, and still called by the Arabs Djebal. (Gesenius, Lexicon) The word means mountain. Those who are here referred to were a part of the people of Edom.
And Ammon - The word Ammon means son of my people. Ammon was the son of Lot by his youngest daughter, Gen 19:38. The Ammonites, descended from him, dwelt beyond the Jordan in the tract of country between the streams of Jabbok and Arnon. These also would be naturally associated in such a confederacy. Sa1 11:1-11.
And Amalek - The Amalekites were a very ancient people: In the traditions of the Arabians they are reckoned among the aboriginal inhabitants of that country. They inhabited the regions on the south of Palestine, between Idumea and Egypt. Compare Exo 17:8-16; Num 13:29; Sa1 15:7. They also extended eastward of the Dead Sea and Mount Seir Num 24:20; Jdg 3:13; Jdg 6:3, Jdg 6:33; and they appear also to have settled down in Palestine itself, whence the name the Mount of the Amalekites, in the territory of Ephraim, Jdg 12:15.
The Philistines - Often mentioned in the Scriptures. They were the ancient inhabitants of Palestine, whence the name Philistia or Palestine. The word is supposed to mean the land of sojourners or strangers; hence, in the Septuagint they are uniformly called ἀλλοφύλοι allophuloi, those of another tribe, strangers, and their country is called γῆ ἀλλοφύλων gē allophulōn. They were constant enemies of the Hebrews, and it was natural that they should be engaged in such an alliance as this.
With the inhabitants of Tyre - On the situation of Tyre, see the Introduction to Isa. 23. Why Tyre should unite in this confederacy is not known. The purpose seems to have been to combine as many nations as possible against the Hebrew people, and - as far as it could be done - all those that were adjacent to it, so that it might be surrounded by enemies, and so that its destruction might be certain. It would not probably be difficult to find some pretext for inducing any of the kings of the surrounding nations to unite in such an unholy alliance. Kings, in general, have not been unwilling to form alliances against liberty.
Assur also is joined with them - Assyria. Assyria was on the northeast of Palestine. The conspirators had secured, it seems, the aid of this powerful kingdom, and they felt confident of success.
They have holpen the children of Lot - The sons, or the descendants of Lot. The margin is, as the Hebrew, "been an arm to." That is, they were an aid, or help; in other words, the sons of Lot were permitted, as it were, to make use of the arm of these powerful nations in accomplishing their purposes. The sons of Lot were Moab and Ammon, the ancestors of the Moabites and the Ammonites, Gen 19:37-38. It would appear from this, that the purpose of destroying the Hebrew people had been originated by the Moabites and Ammonites, and that they had called in the aid of the surrounding nations to enable them to carry out their plan. The enumeration of those who had joined in the alliance shows that all the nations adjacent to Palestine, on every side, had entered into the agreement, so that the land was completely encompassed, or hemmed in, by enemies. In these circumstances, the conspirators felt secure; in these circumstances, the Hebrew people had no resource but to call upon God. Thus it often occurs that the people of God are so surrounded by enemies, or are so hemmed in by troubles and trials, that they have no other resource than this: they are shut up to the necessity of prayer. Often God so orders, or permits things to occur, as to cut off his people from every other dependence, and to make them feel that there is no help for them but in Him.
Do unto them as unto the Midianites - That is, Let them be overthrown and destroyed as the Midianites were. The reference here is to the complete overthrow of the Midianites, as related in Num. 31.
As to Sisera - The captain or commander of the army of Jabin, king of Canaan. He was conquered by the Hebrew armies under the direction of the prophetess Deborah, by the instrumentality of Barak Jdg 4:4, Jdg 4:6,Jdg 4:14-15, and was slain by Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, Jdg 4:17-21.
As to Jabin - The king of Canaan, in whose service Sisera was.
At the brook of Kison - Jdg 4:13. This is a stream which rises near Mount Tabor, and empties itself into the Bay of Ptolemais. In Jdg 5:21, in the song of Deborah on occasion of this victory, it is mentioned as "that ancient river, the river Kishon;" that is, it was a stream which was well known; which had been referred to in ancient tales and poetry; not a newly discovered river, but a river whose name and locality were familiar to all.
Which perished at En-dor - Endor is not particularly mentioned in the history of the transaction in the book of Judges, but it is known that Endor was in the vicinity of Mount Tabor, and there is no improbability in the tradition which has fixed the site of the battle at or near Endor. The word or name "En-dor" means properly fount of the dwelling (or, habitation), and was probably given at first to a spring or fountain near to which some distinguished or well-known person dwelt. It is mentioned in Jos 17:11; Sa1 28:7.
They became as dung for the earth - The land was enriched or made fertile by their flesh, their blood, and their bones, as the field of Waterloo was by that of the slain, or as fields of battle commonly are.
Make their nobles like Oreb and like Zeeb - These were princes or rulers of the Midianites, slain by Gideon, the one on the rock Oreb, and the other at the wine-press of Zeeb. Jdg 7:25. The prayer here is, that the enemies who had conspired against the land of Israel might be utterly destroyed.
Yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna - The word here rendered princes means properly anointed, and was given to princes, kings, prophets, and priests, as anointed, or as set apart by anointing to their office. Zebah and Zalmunna were kings of Midian, slain also by Gideon. See Jdg 8:5, Jdg 8:21.
Who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession - The houses of God here mean the habitations of God, or the places where he dwelt among the people. As there was but one ark, one tabernacle, and one temple, or one place of constituted public worship, this must refer to other places where God was worshipped, or where he might be supposed to reside; either to synagogues (see the notes at Psa 74:8), or to the private dwellings of the people regarded as a holy people, or as a people among whom God dwelt. This may, therefore, imply that their dwellings - their private abodes - were also dwelling-places of God, as now the house of a religious family - a place where God is regularly worshipped - may be regarded as an abode of God on the earth. The language here is not to be understood as that of Oreb and Zeeb, of Zebah and Zalmunna, but of the enemies referred to in the psalm, who had entered into the conspiracy to destroy the Hebrew nation. They had said, "Let us inherit the houses of God;" that is, Let us take to ourselves, and for our possession, the dwellings of the land where God is supposed to reside.
O my God, make them like a wheel ... - Or rather, like a rolling thing - something that the wind rolls along. The word גלגל galgal - means properly a wheel, as of a chariot, Eze 10:2, Eze 10:6; or a wheel for drawing water from a well, Ecc 12:6; then, a whirlwind, Psa 77:19; and then, anything driven before a whirlwind, as chaff, or stubble, Isa 17:13. Compare the notes at Isa 22:18. The prayer here is, that they might be utterly destroyed, or driven away.
As the fire burneth a wood ... - The same idea is here presented under another form. No image of desolation is more fearful than that of fire raging in a forest; or of fire on the mountains. As trees and shrubs and grass fall before such a flame, so the prayer is, that they who had combined against the people of God might be swept away by his just displeasure.
So persecute them - So pursue them; so follow them up. The word "persecute" is now used in a somewhat different sense, as denoting pain or suffering inflicted on account of religious opinion. It means here simply to pursue.
With thy tempest - With the expressions of thy displeasure; with punishment which may be compared with the fury of a storm.
And make them afraid with thy storm - Or, Make them afraid, terrify them, so that they will flee away. As all that is here sought by prayer is what people endeavor to do when an enemy invades their country - as they make arrangements for repelling those enemies, and overthrowing them, and as they feel that it is right to do so - there is no impropriety in making this the subject of prayer to God. What it is right for men to attempt, it is right to pray for; what it would be right for them to do if they had the power, it is right to ask God to accomplish; what is free from malignity in the act, and in the design, may be free from malignity in the desire and the prayer; and if men can carry with them the idea that what they are endeavoring to do is right, whether as magistrates, judges, rulers, defenders of their country, or as private men, they will have very little difficulty in regard to the so-called "imprecatory psalms." See this subject treated in the General Introduction
Fill their faces with shame - As those who are disappointed and foiled in their plans - such disappointment and confusion commonly manifesting itself in the face. The prayer here is, that their enemies might be so baffled in their designs - that they might be made so to feel how vain and hopeless were all their plans - that there might be such a manifest interposition of God in the case, as that they should be led to see that Yahweh reigned; that it was in vain to contend with him, and that his people were under his protection.
That they may seek thy name, O Lord - That they may be led to seek thee. This explains the drift and design of the whole prayer in the psalm. It is not a malignant prayer for the destruction of their enemies; it is not a wish that they might be made to suffer; but it is a prayer that the divine dealing might be such as to lead them to the acknowledgment of the true God. It is a benevolent thing to desire that men may be brought to the knowledge of the true God, though it be through the discomfiture of their own plans, by defeat, or by suffering. Anything that leads people to an acquaintance with God, and results in securing his friendship and favor, is a gain, and will be cause of thankfulness in the end.
Let them be confounded - Let them be ashamed. That is, Let them have that kind of shame and confusion which results from the fact that their plans have not been successful, or that they have been foiled and baffled in their schemes.
And troubled - Disturbed; put to confusion. Let them be troubled as men are who are unsuccessful in their projects.
Forever - As a people; as confederated nations; as united in such an unholy alliance. Let them never again be able thus to combine, or to form a compact for the destruction of thy people. This does not refer to them as individuals, but as nations. It is a prayer that they may be so discomfited now that they may see the wickedness and folly of all such efforts, and that they may never again form such a combination.
Yea, let them be put to shame - By utter failure in their schemes.
And perish - Not individually, but as combined - as an alliance. Let there be a complete end to such a confederacy, so that it shall never be seen again.
That men may know - That all people may be impressed with the belief that thou art the true and only God. This was the design and aim of the prayer in the psalm. It was that there might be such a manifestation of the power of God; that it might be so evident that the events which had occurred could be traced to no other source than God himself, that all people might be led to honor him.
That thou whose name alone is Jehovah - To whom alone this name belongs; to whom alone it can be properly ascribed. This was the special name by which God chose to be known. Exo 6:3. Compare the notes at Isa 42:8. On the word Jehovah - יהוה Yahweh - see the notes at Psa 68:4. It is found in combination, in Gen 22:14; Exo 17:15; Jdg 6:24; Eze 48:35; Jer 23:6; Jer 33:16.
Art the Most High over all the earth - Thou art the Supreme God, ruling over all people. Thy dominion is so absolute over nations, even when combined together, and thy power is so complete in foiling their plans, and disconcerting their purposes, that it is clear that thou dost reign over them. He that could break up such a combination - he that could rescue his people from such an allied force - must have all power over the nations - must be the true God.