Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The vision of the judgement of unjust rulers who oppress God’s people within the nation is followed by a prayer for the judgement of the nations which threaten to destroy God’s people as a nation from without. The nations around are represented as joining in an unhallowed confederacy against Israel. Their aim is nothing less than to frustrate the counsel of God, and blot the very name of Israel out of remembrance. The ancient enemies of Israel, the Moabites and Ammonites, are the leaders of the coalition; with them are united the Edomites, Amalekites, and Arabian tribes from the desert: Philistia, Tyre, and even Assyria, appear as their auxiliaries.
In spite of the apparent definiteness of the historical circumstances, it is impossible to fix the occasion of the Psalm with any certainty.
(i) Many commentators connect it with the events related in 1 Maccabees 5. Provoked by the success of Judas in restoring the Temple, “the nations round about” … “took counsel to destroy the generation of Jacob that was among them, and thereupon they began to slay and destroy the people.” Judas accordingly turned his arms against them, and of the tribes and nations named in the Psalm, the Edomites, Ammonites, Philistines, and Tyrians are mentioned among the enemies whom he defeated. The Ishmaelites and perhaps Gebal and the Hagarenes might be included among the Arabians (1Ma 5:39); but the Moabites no longer existed as an independent nation, and the Amalekites had long been destroyed (1 Chronicles 4:42 f.). It is assumed that the names of ancient enemies are vaguely used for the tribes inhabiting the territories which formerly belonged to them, or are introduced to heighten the effect. Assyria is supposed to mean Syria, or possibly the Samaritans. But (1) the narrative of 1 Macc. does not speak, as the Psalm does, of a confederacy. (2) The prominence of “the children of Lot” in the Psalm does not suit a time when Moab had ceased to exist. (3) While it is possible that Asshur might mean Syria, it is hardly possible that the most bitter enemies of the Jews could be mentioned merely as the auxiliaries of less important nations.
(ii) Other commentators think that the Psalm refers to the coalition against Jehoshaphat described in 2 Chronicles 20. Upon that occasion the Moabites and Ammonites took the leading part: they were joined by Arabians and Edomites, and the combined forces made their rendezvous in Edom before invading Judah. The aim of the invaders (2 Chronicles 20:11) corresponds to that described in the Psalm, and the result of the victory (2 Chronicles 20:29) is the confession of Jehovah’s power for which the Psalmist prays; while the prominent part taken by the Asaphite Levite Jahaziel gives a link of connexion with an Asaphite Psalm. But of the nations named in the Psalm the Ishmaelites and Hagarenes, Gebal and Amalek, Philistia, Tyre, and Assyria, are not mentioned in Chronicles. Even if we could suppose that the Ishmaelites, Hagarenes and Gebal correspond to the Meunites, and that Amalek is included in Edom (Genesis 36:12), there is no hint that the coalition against Jehoshaphat was supported by the Philistines and Phoenicians, though we learn from Amos 1:6; Amos 1:9, that they were in alliance with Edom against Judah at an early date; while the mention of Assyria at this period, even as an auxiliary, is isolated and perplexing.
 For the corrupt reading of the Mass. Text in Psalm 83:1 some of the Ammonites we should probably read with the LXX some of the Meûnîm (1 Chronicles 4:41; 2 Chronicles 26:7). Josephus (Ant. ix. 1, 2) says that the Moabites and Ammonites took with them a great body of Arabians.
 For Aram (Syria) in Psalm 83:2 Edom must certainly be read.
(iii) Others again refer the Psalm to the Persian period, and connect it with the opposition to the rebuilding of the city described in Nehemiah 4:1 ff., Nehemiah 4:7 ff., where Arabians, Ammonites, and Ashdodites are mentioned among the enemies of Judah. In this case Asshur must stand for Persia, as in Ezra 6:22. Robertson Smith (Old Test. in Jawish Ch. ed. 2, p. 439) refers it to the time of Artaxerxes Ochus, c. 350 b.c., or later. But the circumstances of the first occasion present no really close correspondence to the situation described in the Psalm; and of the details of the time of Ochus we are wholly ignorant.
In fact history records no one single occasion upon which the nations and tribes mentioned in the Psalm were united in a confederacy against Israel. On the whole, the invasion recorded in 2 Chronicles 20 offers the closest parallel and the best illustration, and the Psalm may have been written with reference to it. It is possible that nations which did not actually join the confederacy may have threatened to do so; or enemies of Israel, actual and possible, past and present, are enumerated in order to heighten the effect, and forcibly represent the formidable nature of the danger. Poetry is not history, and as Bishop Perowne observes, “divine inspiration does not change the laws of the imagination, though it may control them for certain ends.”
It is of course possible that the Psalm refers to some episode in Jewish history of which no record has been preserved; nor must the possibility be excluded that the Psalm is not historical but, so to speak, ideal. A poet, pondering on such a passage as Micah 4:11-13, at a time when neighbouring nations were menacing Judah, might expand that prophecy in a concrete form into the prayer of this Psalm, that, though enemies from every side should conspire to destroy Israel, Jehovah would frustrate their schemes, and make their malice an occasion for the exhibition of His own supremacy.
The Psalm falls into two main divisions.
i. The Psalmist prays that God will not remain an inert and indifferent spectator, while enemies close in upon His people from every side with intent to destroy them utterly (Psalm 83:1-8).
ii. May He discomfit them as He discomfited the Midianites and Canaanites of old, till they yield Him homage; or if they will not submit, may He disperse and destroy them till they are forced to acknowledge His supremacy (Psalm 83:9-18).
A Song or Psalm of Asaph. Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God.1. Keep not &c.] O God (Elôhîm), keep not still, lit. let there be no rest to thee. hold not thy peace] Or, be not silent. Cp. Psalm 28:1; Psalm 35:22; Psalm 39:12.
be not still] Neither take thou rest, O God (El). For the phrases of this verse cp. Isaiah 62:1; Isaiah 62:6-7. God seems to be indifferent to the danger of His people: their enemies are mustering unrebuked: but He has only to speak the word, and their schemes will be utterly frustrated (Psalm 76:6 ff.).
1–4. An urgent prayer that God will come to the rescue of His people, whom their enemies are conspiring to annihilate.
For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.2. make a tumult] A word denoting the uproar and tumult of a throng of people: the substantive for multitude, frequently used of a great army, is derived from it: cp. Psalm 46:3; Psalm 46:6; Isaiah 17:12; Isaiah 29:5; Isaiah 29:7-8; 2 Chronicles 20:2; 2 Chronicles 20:12; 2 Chronicles 20:15; 2 Chronicles 20:24.
thine enemies … they that hate thee] For Israel’s enemies are Jehovah’s enemies: their plot to destroy His people is a plot to frustrate the purposes and put an end to the worship of Jehovah. Cp. against thee, Psalm 83:5; and Jdg 5:31.
They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.3. They have taken … and consulted] They are taking … and consulting together. Jehovah’s hidden ones are His people whom He conceals in His pavilion in the day of trouble (Psalm 27:5; Psalm 31:20), those to whom He has given an asylum from their enemies. The later Greek Versions (Aq. Symm. Theod.) and Jerome read the singular, thy secret place, i.e. the temple, cp. Ezekiel 7:22.
They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.4. from being a nation] Their aim is to obliterate the name of Israel from the map of the world. For the phrase cp. Jeremiah 48:2; and see Psalm 74:8; 1Ma 5:2. that the name &c.] More accurately, and so the name of Israel shall be remembered no more.
For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee:5. they are confederate against thee] Lit., against thee do they make a covenant. Cp. Psalm 83:2.
5–8. An enumeration of the confederate peoples. From the southeast come the Edomites, who inhabited the mountainous region between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Akaba, and the Ishmaelites, who roamed over the deserts from the borders of Egypt to the north-west shore of the Persian Gulf (Genesis 25:18): from the east of the Dead Sea come the Moabites, and from the north-east the Hagarenes or Hagrites who lived in the neighbourhood of the Hauran, east of Gilead (1 Chronicles 5:10; 1 Chronicles 5:19-20);—they are mentioned in the inscriptions of Sennacherib along with the Nabatheans. Gebal is not the Gebal of Ezekiel 27:9 to the north of Tyre (Byblus), but the northern part of the mountains of Edom, southward of the Dead Sea, a district known to Pliny as Gebalene. The Ammonites, ancient and bitter foes of Israel, come from their home beyond the Jordan, the Amalekites from the southern deserts between the Arabah and the Mediterranean. The maritime states of the Philistines on the west and Tyre on the north have joined them, and even the remote Assyria sends a contingent to support the confederacy.
The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes;6. The tabernacles &c.] The tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, i.e. the nomadic Edomites and Ishmaelites who dwell in tents. Cp. Habakkuk 3:7. of Moab] Omit of.
Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre;7. the Philistines] Lit. Philistia. In Amos 1:6 ff., Amos 1:9 ff., Philistia and Tyre are censured for surrendering Israelite captives to Edom, which in its turn (Psalm 83:11) is condemned for unbrotherly hostility to Israel.
Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah.8. Assur] Assyria. The mention of Assyria as an auxiliary of Moab and Ammon seems to imply that it was not yet a leading power, which would fall in with an early date for the Psalm. Assyria is not known to have come in contact with Israel until the reign of Jehu, who paid tribute to Shalmaneser II in b.c. 842. Still in the time of Jehoshaphat the Assyrians appear to have made conquests in Phoenicia and Syria, and the Ammonites might have procured help from them as they did from Syria at an earlier date (2 Samuel 10:6).
If the Psalm belongs to the Persian or Maccabaean age, Assyria must stand for Persia or Syria. Theodoret suggests that the Samaritans, as Assyrian colonists, are meant. Lagarde, followed by Cheyne, cuts the knot by reading Geshur for Asshur (see 2 Samuel 3:3); but this petty Syrian kingdom would hardly be mentioned as an important ally.
they have holpen] Lit. they have been an arm, i.e. a help. Cp. Isaiah 33:2.
the children of Lot] The Moabites and Ammonites, who seem to be singled out as the leaders of the confederacy. Cp. 2 Chronicles 20:1. The phrase occurs in Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:19, the only other passages in O.T. outside of Genesis where Lot is mentioned. It points to the unbrotherly character of the hostility of these nations by recalling their common descent.
Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kison:9. Do thou unto them as unto Midian;
As unto Sisera, as unto Jabin, at the torrent of Kishon.
The victory of Gideon over the confederate forces of the Midianites, Amalekites, and Arabians (Judges 7, 8) is referred to by Isaiah as a typical triumph (Isaiah 9:4; Isaiah 10:26). They fell, like Jehoshaphat’s enemies (2 Chronicles 20:23), by one another’s hands. For the rout of the Canaanites see Judges 4, 5. The storm-swollen torrent of the Kishon contributed to the victory (Jdg 5:21).
9–12. Prayer for their destruction as the Canaanites were destroyed by Deborah and Barak, and the Midianites by Gideon.
Which perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth.10. En-dor is not mentioned in the narrative of Judges, but it was situated in the same valley as Taanach and Megiddo, which are named in Jdg 5:19, and is mentioned along with them in Joshua 17:11.
as dung] Omit as. A contemptuous expression for the fate of un-buried corpses. Cp 2 Kings 9:37; Jeremiah 8:2; &c.
Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb: yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna:11. The Psalmist returns to Gideon’s victory. Oreb and Zeeb (‘Raven’ and ‘Wolf’) were the princes, i.e. generals, of the Midianites (Jdg 7:25; Isaiah 10:26); Zebah and Zalmunna were the kings of Midian (Jdg 8:5 ff., Jdg 8:12; Jdg 8:18 ff.).
Who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession.12. Who have said, Let us take for ourselves in possession
The habitations (or, pastures) of God.
Who refers to the present enemies of Israel, not to the Midianites. God’s habitations or pastures are the land which He has given to His people Israel. Cp. 2 Chronicles 20:11. The LXX reads altar, or according to another reading, sanctuary.
O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind.13. make them like a wheel] Rather, like whirling dust or chaff. Anything whirled away before the wind may be meant. Thomson (Land and Book, p. 563) thinks that the globular heads of the wild artichoke may be meant. They are light as a feather, and in the autumn when they break off from the parent stem “thousands of them come scudding over the plain, rolling, leaping, bounding with vast racket, to the dismay both of the horse and rider.” The Arabs, who call it ’akkûb, “derive one of their many forms of cursing from this plant: ‘May you be whirled like the’ akkûb before the wind.’ ”
as the stubble] As stubble. Dry, light, broken straw, whirled away from the threshing floor, which was usually in an exposed situation to catch the wind, is meant. Cp. Isaiah 17:13; Isaiah 29:5; Jeremiah 13:24; Psalm 1:4.
13–18. Renewed prayer for the dispersion and destruction of the enemy expressed by figures from nature. The final end and object of all is that they may acknowledge Jehovah to be supreme.
As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire;14, 15. As fire that consumeth a forest,
And as flame that burneth up mountains;
So shalt thou pursue them with thy tempest,
And dismay them with thy hurricane.
God’s wrath is a fiery blast which at once kindles and fans the flame (Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 30:27; Isaiah 30:30; Isaiah 30:33), and pursues and consumes His enemies like a fire in the forest or on the mountains. “Before the rains came,” says Thomson (Land and Book, p. 341), “this whole mountain side was in a blaze. Thorns and briars grow so luxuriantly here that they must be burned off always before the plough can operate. The peasants watch for a high wind, and then the fire catches easily, and spreads with great rapidity.” Cp. Isaiah 10:16-19; Jeremiah 21:14.
So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm.
Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD.16. Fill their faces with shame] Or, disgrace. Let them be disgraced by defeat and disappointed in their project. But this is only as the means to the higher end, that they may seek Jehovah’s name, recognising in Israel’s God the God of revelation, and submitting themselves to His Will.
Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish:17. Let them be ashamed and dismayed for ever;
Yea, let them be put to confusion and perish:
That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.18. That they may know that thou, whose name is JEHOVAH, even thou alone,
Art the Most High over all the earth.
The primary object of chastisement is conversion (Psalm 83:16); but if they will not acknowledge Israel’s God as the God of revelation, let them be compelled by reiterated judgements to recognise Him as the Almighty Ruler. Cp. Isaiah 37:20; 2 Chronicles 20:29. The ruin with which they threaten God’s people will recoil upon themselves (Psalm 6:10; Psalm 35:4; Psalm 35:26). For ‘know’ see Psalm 59:13 : and generally, cp. Psalm 97:8-9; Isaiah 26:9-11.