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83. Psalm 83
1A Song, -- A Psalm of Asaph. O God, let there be no silence to Thee, Be not silent, nor be quiet, O God. 2For, lo, Thine enemies do roar, And those hating Thee have lifted up the head, 3Against Thy people they take crafty counsel, And consult against Thy hidden ones. 4They have said, `Come, And we cut them off from [being] a nation, And the name of Israel is not remembered any more.` 5For they consulted in heart together, Against Thee a covenant they make, 6Tents of Edom, and Ishmaelites, Moab, and the Hagarenes, 7Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek, Philistia with inhabitants of Tyre, 8Asshur also is joined with them, They have been an arm to sons of Lot. Selah. 9Do to them as [to] Midian, As [to] Sisera, as [to] Jabin, at the stream Kishon. 10They were destroyed at Endor, They were dung for the ground! 11Make their nobles as Oreb and as Zeeb, And as Zebah and Zalmunna all their princes, 12Who have said, `Let us occupy for ourselves The comely places of God.` 13O my God, make them as a rolling thing, As stubble before wind. 14As a fire doth burn a forest, And as a flame setteth hills on fire, 15So dost Thou pursue them with Thy whirlwind, And with Thy hurricane troublest them. 16Fill their faces [with] shame, And they seek Thy name, O Jehovah. 17They are ashamed and troubled for ever, Yea, they are confounded and lost. 18And they know that Thou -- (Thy name [is] Jehovah -- by Thyself,) [Art] the Most High over all the earth!
1 O God! hold not thy peace. It is very generally agreed among commentators, that this psalm was composed during the reign of king Jehoshaphat; and in this opinion I readily concur. That godly king, as is well known, had to engage in dreadful wars against multiplied hosts of enemies. Although the Ammonites and Moabites were the originators of the principal war in which he was engaged, yet they mustered forces not only from Syria, but also from distant countries, and the troops thus brought together well nigh overwhelmed Judea with their multitude. It would then appear, from the long list of enemies, here enumerated, who had conspired together to destroy the people of God, that the conjecture is well-founded which refers the composition of this psalm to that occasion; 430430 Compare the 6th, 7th, and 8th verses of the psalm with 2 Chronicles 20:1, 10, 22; and the 12th verse of the psalm with the 11th verse of that chapter. and sacred history informs us, that one of the Levites, under the influence of the Spirit of prophecy, gave the king assurance of victory, 431431 The name of this Levite was Jahaziel, and he is expressly said to be a prophet of the race of Asaph, 2 Chronicles 20:14. It is not unlikely that he is the same with Asaph, the author of this psalm. and that the Levites sang before the Lord. In the midst of so great dangers, the whole nation, as well as the holy king, must have been involved in the deepest distress; and, accordingly, we have here a prayer full of earnestness and solicitude. These feelings prompted the repetition of the words which occur in the very opening of the psalm, Hold not thy peace, Keep not silence, be not still By this, the faithful would intimate, that if God intended to succor them, it behoved him to make haste, else the opportunity for doing so would be lost. It is unquestionably our duty to wait patiently when God at any time delays his help; but, in condescension to our infirmity, he permits us to supplicate him to make haste. What I have rendered, keep not silence with thyself, is literally keep not silence to thyself, which some translate by the paraphrase, Hold not thy peace in thy own cause, — an exposition which is too refined to be more particularly noticed. This form of expression is equivalent to saying, Hold not thyself in. Perhaps the particle is here superfluous, as it is in many other places.
2 For, behold! thy enemies are tumultuous. As an argument for enforcing the prayer of the preceding verse, it is affirmed that the faithful are oppressed both by the impetuous violence and the crafty policy of their enemies, which, to all human appearance, rendered their escape from death utterly hopeless. When it is said that they are tumultuous and lift up the head, the meaning is, that relying upon their own power, they behave themselves insolently and proudly. By this conduct on the part of their enemies, the minds of the people of God are greatly depressed, and the only way in which they can obtain relief, is by making their moan to Him whose continual work it is to repress the proud. When, therefore, the saints implore his aid, it is their ordinary course to lay before him the perverseness of their enemies. It is worthy of notice, that those who molest the Church are called the enemies of God.
It affords us no small ground of confidence that those who are our enemies are also God’s enemies. This is one of the fruits of his free and gracious covenant, in which he has promised to be an enemy to all our enemies, — a promise for which there is good cause, when it is considered that the welfare of his people, whom he has taken under his protection, cannot be assailed without an injury being, at the same the done to his own majesty. Meanwhile, let us live at peace with all men, as much as in us lies, and let us endeavor to practice uprightness in our whole deportment, that we may be able confidently to appeal to God, that when we suffer at the hands of men, we suffer wrongfully. The pride and violent assaults of our enemies may be combined with craftiness. But when such is the case, it becomes us to yield to God the honor which belongs to him, by resting satisfied that He can succor us; for to break the proud who foam out their rage, and to take the crafty in their own craftiness, is work which He has been accustomed to perform in all ages. To keep us from thinking that we are abandoned to the snares and traps of our enemies, the prophet here seasonably sets before us a consideration calculated to administer the highest consolation and hope, when he calls us God’s hidden ones This expression is understood by some as meaning that the aid and protection which God extends to us, is not apparent to the eye of sense and reason; just as it is said elsewhere of the life of the people of God, that it is hid, (Colossians 3:3.) But this interpretation is too forced, and altogether inconsistent both with the scope of the passage and the natural construction of the words. The design of them is simply to teach that we are hidden under the shadow of God’s wings; for although to outward appearance we lie open, and are exposed to the will of the wicked and the proud, we are preserved by the hidden power of God. 432432 The Hebrew word translated thy hidden ones, primarily means a treasure, and is so taken in Psalm 17:14. Accordingly, it is here rendered by Mudge, and French and Skinner, “thy treasured ones:” that is, thy peculiar people: those whom thou hast hitherto protected and kept in perfect safety, as in a place of security and secrecy. The Septuagint reads, κατὰ τῶν ἁγίων σου, “against thy saints.” The word is also sometimes put for the sanctuary, as in Ezekiel 7:22. Some therefore think that the temple, and the treasures contained in it, are intended. Accordingly, it is said in another Psalm, (27:5,)
“In the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me.” (Psalm 27:5)
It is, however, at the same time to be observed, that none are hid under the keeping and protection of God but those who, renouncing all dependence on their own strength, betake themselves with fear and trembling to Him. Such as under the influence of a flattering belief in the sufficiency of their own strength to resist, boldly enter the conflict, and, as if devoid of all fear, wax wanton, will ultimately suffer the consequences which result from inadequate resources. 433433 “Ils sentiront a la fin a leur grande honte, qu’ils estoyent desnuer de toute vertu.” — Fr. “Will at length find, to their great shame, that they were destitute of all power.” We will then best consult our own safety by taking shelter under the shadow of the Almighty, and, conscious of our own weakness, committing our salvation to him, casting it, so to speak, into his bosom.
4 They have said, Come and let us cut them off from being a nation. The wickedness of these hostile powers is aggravated from the circumstance, that it was their determined purpose utterly to exterminate the Church. This may be restricted to the Ammonites and Moabites, who were as bellows to blow up the flame in the rest. But the Hagarenes, the Syrians, and the other nations, being by their instigation affected with no less hatred and fury against the people of God, for whose destruction they had taken up arms, we may justly consider this vaunting language as uttered by the whole of the combined host; for having entered into a mutual compact they rushed forward with rival eagerness, and encouraged one another to destroy the kingdom of Judah. The prime agent in exciting such cruel hatred was doubtless Satan, who has all along from the beginning been exerting himself to extinguish the Church of God, and who, for this purpose, has never ceased to stir up his own children to outrage. The phrase, to cut them off from being a nation, signifies to exterminate them root and branch, and thus to put an end to them as a nation or people. That this is the meaning is more clearly evinced from the second clause of the verse, Let the name of Israel be no more remembered The compassion of God would in no small degree be excited by the circumstance that this war was not undertaken, as wars commonly have been, to bring them, when conquered, under the power of their enemies; but the object which the cruelty of their enemies aimed at was their entire destruction. And what did this amount to but to an attempt to overthrow the decree of God on which the perpetual duration of the Church depends.
5 For they have consulted with the heart together. The multiplied hosts which united their powers together to oppose the Church of God and to effect her overthrow, are here enumerated. As so many nations, formed into one powerful confederacy, were bent on the destruction of a kingdom not greatly distinguished by its power, the miraculous aid of God was indispensably necessary for the deliverance of a people who, in such extremity, were altogether unable to defend themselves. In circumstances apparently as hopeless good king Asa gave utterance to that truly magnanimous reflection:
“Lord, it is nothing with thee to help whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O Lord our God! for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitudes”
(1 Chronicles 14:11.)
The same Spirit who inspired that pious king with such invincible fortitude dictated this psalm for the benefit of the whole Church, to encourage her with unhesitating confidence to betake herself to God for aid. And in our own day he sets before us these words, in order that no danger or difficulty may prevent us from calling upon God. When the whole world may conspire together against us, we have as it were a wall of brass for the defense of Christ’s kingdom in these words, “Why do the heathen rage?” etc., (Psalm 2:1.)
It will be in no small degree profitable to us to contemplate this as an example in which we have represented to us, as in a mirror what has been the lot of the Church of God from the beginning. This, if rightly reflected upon, will keep us at the present day from being unduly dejected when we witness the whole world in array against us. We see how the Pope has inflamed the whole world against us with diabolical rage. Hence it is, that in whatever direction we turn our eyes, we meet with just so many hostile armies to destroy us. But when we have once arrived at a settled persuasion that no strange thing happens to us, the contemplation of the condition of the Church in old time will strengthen us for continuing in the exercise of patience until God suddenly display his power, which is perfectly able, without any created aid, to frustrate all the attempts of the world.
To remove from the minds of the godly all misgivings as to whether help is ready to be imparted to them from heaven, the prophet distinctly affirms that those who molest the Church are chargeable with making war against God, who has taken her under his protection. The principle upon which God declares that he will be our helper is contained in these words,
“He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye,”
And what is said in another psalm concerning the patriarchs, is equally applicable to all true believers,
“Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm,”
He will have the anointing with which he has anointed us to be, as it were, a buckler to keep us in perfect safety. The nations here enumerated did not avowedly make war against him; but as, when he sees his servants unrighteously assaulted, he interposes himself between them and their enemies to bear the blows aimed at them, they are here justly represented as having entered into a league against God The case is analogous to that of the Papists in the present day. If any were to ask them, when they hold consultations for the express purpose of accomplishing our destruction, Whether they were stronger than God? they would immediately reply, That they had no intention whatever of assaulting heaven in imitation of the giants of old. But God having declared that every injury which is done to us is an assault upon him, we may, as from a watch-tower, behold in the distance by the eye of faith the approach of that destruction of which the votaries of Antichrist shall have at length the sad and melancholy experience.
The expression, to consult with the heart, is by some explained, to deliberate with the greatest exertion and earnestness of mind. Thus it is quite common for us to say, that a thing is done with the heart which is done with earnestness and ardor of mind. But this expression is rather intended to denote the hidden crafty devices complained of a little before.
Some interpreters refer the tents of Edom to warlike furniture, and understand the words as meaning, that these enemies came well equipped and provided with tents for prolonging the war; but the allusion seems rather to be to the custom which prevailed among those nations of dwelling in tents. It is, however, a hyperbolical form of expression; as if it had been said, So great was their eagerness to engage in this war, that they might be said even to pluck their tents from the places where they were pitched.
I do not intend to enter curiously into a discussion concerning the respective nations here named, the greater part of them being familiarly known from the frequency with which they are spoken of in the sacred Scriptures. When it is said that Assur and the rest were an arm to the sons of Lot, this is evidently an additional aggravation of the wickedness of the sons of Lot. It would have been an act of unnatural cruelty for them to have aided foreign nations against their own kindred. But when they themselves are the first to sound the trumpet, and when of their own suggestion they invite the aid of the Assyrians and other nations to destroy their own brethren, ought not such barbarous inhumanity to call forth the deepest detestation? Josephus himself records, that the Israelites had passed through their borders without doing them any harm, sparing their own blood according to the express command of God. When the Moabites and Ammonites then knew that their brethren the Jews spared them, remembering that they were of the same blood, and sprung from one common parentage, ought they not also to have reciprocated so much kindness on their part as not to have embarked in any hostile enterprise against them? But it is, as it were, the destiny of the Church, not only to be assailed by external enemies, but to suffer far greater trouble at the hands of false brethren. At the present day, none are more furiously mad against us than counterfeit Christians.
9. Do to them as to the Midianites. The faithful, having complained of the very grievous oppressions to which they were subjected, with the view of inducing God the more readily to succor them, now call to their remembrance the many occasions on which he had afforded relief to his people, when brought into the most desperate circumstances. From this, it is an obvious inference, that God wisely delays his aid to his servants under oppression, that when they seem to be reduced to the last extremity, he may appear in a miraculous manner for their succor. The prophet, in this verse, mingles together two histories. Strict accuracy would have required him to have said in one connected sentence, Do to them as to the Midianites at the brook Kishon. But he inserts in the middle of this sentence, the slaughter of Jabin and Sisera. It was, however, of no great importance to distinguish particularly between the two histories. He considered it enough for his purpose, to bring to the remembrance of himself and other pious Jews, the miracles which God in the days of old had so often wrought in delivering his people. The great object aimed at is to show, that God, who had so often put his enemies to flight, and rescued his poor trembling sheep out of the jaws of wolves, was not now without the power of effecting the same deliverance. The wonderful manner in which he succoured his people by the hand of Gideon is well known: Judges 6 and 7; It might have seemed altogether ridiculous for Gideon to venture to engage in battle against a very powerful army, with no greater a number of men of war than three hundred, and these, be it observed, such as had been in a state of bondage during their whole lives, and whom the mere look of their lords might have thrown into consternation. And yet, it came to pass, that the Midianites perished by turning their swords against each other. The same goodness God displayed in the slaughter of Sisera and king Jabin, Judges 4:13. Barak, under the conduct of a woman, Deborah, discomfited them both, when, with a small handful of soldiers, he intrepidly gave battle to their mighty host. And Sisera, the general of the army, did not die bravely on the field of battle, but was smitten by the hand of a woman after he had retired to some hiding-place. That the faithful may not be overwhelmed with terror and fall into despair, they seasonably fortify themselves with these examples of deliverance, by which God had shown that in himself alone there resides a sufficiency of power to defend his people, whenever, destitute of the resources of human aid, they should betake themselves to him. From that astonishing and unwonted mode of granting deliverance, they came to the conclusion, that he is a wonderful worker in preserving his Church; in order to encourage themselves to entertain the fullest confidence, that in his breath alone they would have sufficient strength to overthrow all their enemies. Nor is it only in this passage that the slaughter of the Midianites is related for this purpose. Isaiah also (Isaiah 9:4) introduces it for confirming the truth of the Church’s restitution: “For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.” When it is stated that they became manure for the earth, the expression may be explained as meaning, either, first, that their carcases lay rotting upon the earth; or, secondly, that they were trampled under foot as manure. This latter exposition is the most appropriate; but I do not reject the former. The reason why it is said, They perished at Endor, it is somewhat difficult to ascertain. The name, Endor, is to be found in Joshua 17:11; and it is probable, that the army of king Jabin was destroyed there. 446446 Endor is not mentioned in the account given of the discomfiture of Jabin’s host, and the slaughter of Sisera, in Judges 4; but it appears from Joshua 17:11, which Calvin quotes, to have been a part of the portion which fell to the tribe of Manasseh. In that passage, Taanach and Megiddo are mentioned as districts adjoining to Endor. And in the song of Deborah, the kings of Canaan who fought on the occasion referred to, against the Israelites, are said to have fought “in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo,” Judges 5:19. This may explain why they are said to have perished at Endor, which was near the place where Sisera’s army were destroyed. The opinion entertained by some, that Endor is here used as an appellative, conveying the idea that their discomfiture was open and visible to the eye, is what I cannot approve.
12. Who have said, Let us take in possession for ourselves the habitations of God. These heathen enemies are again accused of treason against the King of heaven, in seizing upon his heritage like lawless robbers. They would not, we may be sure, avow in so many words that it was their intention to commit such a crime; but as they despised God, who, as they well knew, was worshipped by the people of Israel, they are here justly charged with the guilt of endeavoring to dispossess Him of his own inheritance. And, without doubt, they profanely poured abuse upon the true God, of whose sacred majesty they entertained the greatest contempt, their minds being besotted with their own inventions. But even granting that they abstained from gross blasphemies, yet whatever harassing proceedings are carried on against the godly redound to the dishonor of God, who has taken them under his protection. The appellation, the habitations or mansions of God, which is applied to Judea, is a form of expression, containing no small degree of comfort. God has united himself to us, with the view of having an everlasting residence amongst us, or rather that he may set as high a value upon his Church, and account it as precious, as a householder does his possessions which are most valuable, and yield him a large revenue.
13. O my God! make them like a whirling ball. As the ungodly, when they gird and prepare themselves for destroying the Church, are usually inflated with intolerable pride, the inspired bard beseeches God to put them to shame, it being impossible to abate their pride until they are laid prostrate, confounded, and shamefully disappointed. When he declares (verse 16) that, as the result of this, they will seek the name of God, he is not to be understood as speaking of their being brought to true repentance, or of their genuine conversion. I indeed admit that the first step to genuine repentance is when men, brought low by affliction, willingly humble themselves. But what is here meant is nothing more than a forced and slavish submission like that of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. It is a case of frequent occurrence for the wicked, when subdued by adversity, to give glory to God, for a short period. But they are soon again carried away with a frantic madness, which clearly discovers their hypocrisy, and brings to light the pride and rebellion which lurked in their hearts. What the prophet desires is, that the wicked may be compelled by stripes to acknowledge God, whether they will or no, in order that their fury, which breaks forth because they escape with impunity, may at least be kept under restraint. This is more clearly apparent from the 17th verse, where he distinctly prays that they may be destroyed for ever; which would not at all correspond with his previous statement, were it regarded as a prayer for their being brought to repentance. Nor does he needlessly heap together such a multiplicity of words. He does this partly because the reprobate, though often chastised, are nevertheless so incorrigible that ever and anon they are mustering up new strength and courage; and partly because there is nothing which it is more difficult to be persuaded of than that such as wallow at ease in great outward prosperity will soon perish. The cause to which this is to be attributed is just our not sufficiently apprehending the dreadful character of the vengeance of God which awaits the oppressors of the Church.
18. And let them know that thou art, thy name Jehovah. It is not the saving knowledge of God which is here spoken of, but that acknowledgement of him which his irresistible power extorts from the wicked. It is not simply said that they will know that there is a God; but a special kind of knowledge is laid down, it being intimated that the heathen who before held the true religion in contempt, would at length perceive that the God who made himself known in the Law, and who was worshipped in Judea, was the only true God. Still, however, it must be remembered, that the knowledge spoken of is only that which is of an evanescent character, having neither root nor the living juice to nourish it; for the wicked will not submit to God willingly and cordially, but are drawn by compulsion to yield a counterfeit obedience, or, being restrained by him, dare not break forth into open outrage. This, then, is an experimental recognition of God which penetrates not to the heart, but is extorted from them by force and necessity. The pronoun אתה, atah, thou, is emphatic, implying a tacit contrast between the God of Israel and all the false gods which were the product of men’s invention. The prayer amounts to this: Lord, make them to know that the idols which they have fabricated for themselves are no gods, and in fact are nothing. The despisers of God may indeed shun the light, and at one time may overcast themselves with clouds, while at another their may plunge into the deep and thick shades of darkness; but He pursues them, and draws them forth to the knowledge of himself, which they would fain bury in ignorance. And as the world indiscriminately and disgracefully applies his sacred name to its own trifling inventions, this profanation is corrected when it is added, thy name Jehovah. This implies that being, or really to be, is in the strict sense applicable to God alone; for although unbelievers may attempt to tear his glory to pieces, he continues perfect and unchanged. The contrast of which I have spoken, must be kept in mind by the reader. A nation has never existed so barbarous as not to have worshipped some deity; but every country forged particular gods for itself. And although the Moabites, the Edomites, and the rest of these nations, admitted that some power and authority belonged to the God of Israel, yet they conceived that this power and authority did not extend beyond the boundaries of Judea. Thus the king of Syria called him, “the God of the hills,” (1 Kings 20:23.) This preposterous and absurd division of God’s glory, which men make, is disproved by one word, and all the superstitions which at that time prevailed in the world are overthrown, when the Prophet attributes to the God of Israel, as well the essence of Deity as the name; for unless all the idols of the heathen are completely abolished, he will not obtain, alone and unshared, the name of Jehovah. Accordingly, it is added, Thou alone art the Most High over all the earth; a statement which is worthy of our most careful attention. The superstitious commonly think it enough to leave God his name, that is to say, two or three syllables; and in the meantime they fritter away his power, as if his majesty were contained in an empty title. Let us then remember that God does not receive that honor among men to which he is entitled, if he is not allowed to possess his own inherent sovereignty, and if his glory is obscured by setting up other objects against him with antagonist claims.