Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The array of proper names in this poem seems, at first sight, to promise an easy identification with some definite historical event. But our records nowhere speak of a confederation composed of all the tribes enumerated here; so that if we are to be governed by literal exactness, it is impossible to refer the psalm to any known period of Israelite history.
We must therefore, in any case, refer the mention of so many hostile tribes as combined in one confederacy to poetical exaggeration, and look for other indications which may guide us to the event most probable as the origin of the poem. This is the period of which we have a detailed and graphic account in 1 Maccabees 5. Before this there is no period at which, even poetically, Tyre could be enumerated among the active enemies of Israel, while the first words of this chapter are just a prose statement of what we have here poetically described. In the fact, too, that after his victorious progress Judas Maccabæus reviewed his troops in the great plain which had witnessed the slaughter of Sisera’s host, and in the comparison drawn between the conduct of the city of Ephron (1 Maccabees 5:46-49) with that of Succoth and Penuel, towards Gideon (Judges 8:4-9), we have enough to account for the selection of examples from the times of the judges rather than from later history. The difficulty of the mention of Assyria, in Psalm 83:8, as occupying a subordinate part in a confederacy with Moab and Ammon, is no greater if the psalm is referred to this period than to any other. Syria (even if we discard the derivation of the name by abbreviation from Assyria) might yet poetically bear the name of the older power, and “auxiliaries out of Syria,” of whom Josephus speaks in connection with the Maccabæan wars, would be not unnaturally in poetry described as “Assur, an arm to the children of Lot.” The poem has a regular rhythmic form.
Title.—See title, Psalms 48, 50.
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 thou silence, O God.—Literally, God, not silence to thee. (Comp. Isaiah 62:7; and see Note, Psalm 28:1.)
For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.(2) Make a tumult.—Literally, roar like the sea. So (correctly) LXX. and Vulg. (See Psalm 46:3.)
They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.(3) They have taken crafty counsel.—Literally, They have made their plot crafty; or, as we say, “They have laid a deep plot.”
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) For this attack against, not only the independence, but even the continued existence of Israel as a nation, compare Esther 3:6; Esther 3:9; Jeremiah 11:19; Jeremiah 31:36; Jeremiah 48:2; Isaiah 7:8.
For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee:(5) They are confederate.—Literally, they have cut a covenant, from the custom described in Genesis 15:17. (Comp. the Greek δρκια τέμνειν.)
Against thee.—God and “His hidden ones” are one, a truth preparing the way for that grander truth of the identification of the Son of man with all needing help or pity in Matthew 25
The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes;(6-8) In the enumeration of the confederate powers, the psalmist seems to follow a geographical order. He first glances southwards and eastwards, then turns to the west, and, finally, to the north.
(6) The tabernacles—i.e., the tents of the nomad tribes.
Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre;(7) Gebal.—If this is a noun, as generally supposed, and as printed in the text, we must take it as a synonym of Edom (the Gebalene of Eusebius). The Gebal of Ezekiel 27:9 is not to be thought of; but it is most likely a verb:
“Both Ammon and Amalek are joined together,
The Philistines (are joined) with the men of Tyre.”
Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah.(8) Assur.—For the more usual Ashur, Assyria. Some, however, think the Syria is here intended, that name being, in the view of the Greek writers, a corruption of Assyria. (“The Greeks call them Syrians, but the Barbarians Assyrians.”—Herod, vii., 63.) And even if etymologically incorrect, the error of the Greeks may have been consciously or unconsciously shared by the Jews, and the kingdom of the Seleucidæ be honoured by the name of the grander and more ancient power.
They have holpen.—See margin. And for the importance of the form of the statement see Introduction.
Children of Lot.—Ammon and Moab, who thus appear as the leaders of the confederacy.
Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kison:(9-12) For the historical allusion see references in margin. The splendid victories of Barak and Gideon were the constant theme of poets and prophets when trying to encourage their own generation by the examples of the past. (See Isaiah 9:4; Isaiah 10:26; Habakkuk 3:7.)
Which perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth.(10) En-dor.—This place, for which see 1 Samuel 28, is not mentioned in Judges 4, but is in the battle-field not far from the Taanach and Megiddo of Deborah’s song. (Robinson, iii. 224)
Who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession.(12) Houses.—Rather, pastures. (See Psalm 79:7.)
O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind.(13) A wheel.—Heb., galgal. (See Note, Psalm 77:18, and comp. Isaiah 17:13, where the Authorised Ver sion has literally rolling thing, the margin “thistle down,” and the LXX., “dust of a wheel.”) Sir G. Grove (Smith’s Bibl. Dict., art. Oreb) says, “like the spherical masses of dry weeds which course over the plains of Esdraelon and Philistia.” He possibly refers to the wild artichoke, which struck Mr. Thomson so forcibly as the origin of the psalmist’s figure. He describes them as vegetable globes, light as a feather, which, when the parent stem breaks, become the sport of the wind. “At the proper season thousands of them come suddenly over the plain, rolling, leaping, bounding with vast racket, to the dismay both of the horse and rider.” To this day the Arabs, who call it ‘akhûb, employ it in the same figurative way:—
“May you be whirled like ‘akhûb before the wind!”
THOMSON: Land and Book, 563.
As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire;(14, 15) These verses are rightly taken together. The figure occurs in Isaiah 10:17-18 (comp. Zechariah 12:6), but there as a metaphor; here as a simile. “Before the rains came the 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” (Thomson, Land and Book, p. 341). The mountains are pre-eminently the pastures. (Comp. Psalm 50:10; Psalm 147:8.)
Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD.(16) Thy name, O Lord.—Rather, thy name (which is) Jehovah. The nations were to seek Him not only as God, but as Jehovah God of Israel. This is proved by Psalm 83:18. No doubt the thought uppermost in the verse is the submission of the heathen to Jehovah’s power. But we may, looking back, read in it a nobler wish and a grander hope—the prophetic hope of a union of nations in a belief in the common fatherhood of God.