Thursday, 22 November 2012

Psalm 83 in a time of war

J.P. vd Giessen considers Psalm 83 in a time of war. He links also to a study he did on this Psalm in past years.

How do we deal with war and enemies? This is a theme in my new book on the Psalms, Seeing the Psalter. Here is a sample chapter extracted from the database, one of 50 chapters that note this theme of enemies.

Psalm 83 - A psalm of Asaph, no, not silence.

מִזְמוֹר לְאָסָף
1A song
A psalm of Asaph
אֱלֹהִים אַל דֳּמִי לָךְ
אַל תֶּחֱרַשׁ
וְאַל תִּשְׁקֹט אֵל
2O God not mute for you
do not be silent
do not be quiet O God
כִּי הִנֵּה אוֹיְבֶיךָ יֶהֱמָיוּן
וּמְשַׂנְאֶיךָ נָשְׂאוּ רֹאשׁ
3for behold your enemies snarl
and those hating you lift up a head
עַל עַמְּךָ יַעֲרִימוּ סוֹד
וְיִתְיָעֲצוּ עַל צְפוּנֶיךָ
4over your people they craft secret counsel
and they conspire against your treasure

אָמְרוּ לְכוּ וְנַכְחִידֵם מִגּוֹי
וְלֹא יִזָּכֵר שֵׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל עוֹד
5they have said, come now and let us conceal them as a nation
and the name of Israel will not be remembered ever
כִּי נוֹעֲצוּ לֵב יַחְדָּו
עָלֶיךָ בְּרִית יִכְרֹתוּ
6for they conspire as one heart
over you they cut a covenant

אָהֳלֵי אֱדוֹם וְיִשְׁמְעֵאלִים
מוֹאָב וְהַגְרִים
7the tents of Edom and Ishmaelites
Moab and Hagarites
גְּבָל וְעַמּוֹן וַעֲמָלֵק
פְּלֶשֶׁת עִם יֹשְׁבֵי צוֹר
8Gebal and Amon and Amalek
Philistines with those sitting in Tyre
גַּם אַשּׁוּר נִלְוָה עִמָּם
הָיוּ זְרוֹעַ לִבְנֵי לוֹט
9Even Ashur is allied with them
they have become the arm of the children of Lot

עֲשֵׂה לָהֶם כְּמִדְיָן
כְּסִיסְרָא כְיָבִין בְּנַחַל קִישׁוֹן
10Do to them as Midian
as Sisera to Jabin in the torrent of Kishon
נִשְׁמְדוּ בְעֵין דֹּאר
הָיוּ דֹּמֶן לָאֲדָמָה
11they were exterminated at Endor
they became compost for the ground

שִׁיתֵמוֹ נְדִיבֵימוֹ כְּעֹרֵב
וְכִזְאֵב וּכְזֶבַח
וּכְצַלְמֻנָּע כָּל נְסִיכֵימוֹ
12set their princes like Oreb
and like Zeeb and like Zebah
and like Tsalmuna all their libations
אֲשֶׁר אָמְרוּ
נִירְשָׁה לָּנוּ
אֵת נְאוֹת אֱלֹהִים
13who said
let us dispossess for ourselves
even the loveliness of God

אֱלֹהַי שִׁיתֵמוֹ כַגַּלְגַּל
כְּקַשׁ לִפְנֵי רוּחַ
14My God set them as a whirl
as stubble in the face of the wind
כְּאֵשׁ תִּבְעַר יָעַר
וּכְלֶהָבָה תְּלַהֵט הָרִים
15as fire kindling wood
and as a flame blazing the hills
כֵּן תִּרְדְּפֵם בְּסַעֲרֶךָ
וּבְסוּפָתְךָ תְבַהֲלֵם
16so persecute them in your tempest
and with your storm-wind vex them

מַלֵּא פְנֵיהֶם קָלוֹן
וִיבַקְשׁוּ שִׁמְךָ יְהוָה
17fill their faces with disgrace
so they will seek your name יהוה
עֲדֵי עַד
וְיַחְפְּרוּ וְיֹאבֵדוּ
18They will be ashamed
and they will be vexed
for ever and ever
and they will be disappointed and will perish
כִּי אַתָּה
שִׁמְךָ יְהוָה
עֶלְיוֹן עַל כָּל הָאָרֶץ
19and they will know
that you
your name יהוה
you only
are Most High over all the earth
Hebrew words: 130. Percentage of Hebrew words that recur in this psalm: 29%. Average recurring words per verse: 2.

5come now ילך (ylk) lit. walk, compare 80:3.
14whirl גלגל (glgl) DCH suggests tumbleweed.
17disgrace, קלה (qlh) only here and in 38:8. Note that the poet admits disgrace and yet is healed. Why should he not wish it upon his enemies?
Selected recurring words
Word and gloss * first usage1234567891012VsRoot
כי for
עמך your people
* ויתיעצו and they conspire
אמרו they have said
שׁם the name of
כי for
* נועצו they conspire
עם with
עמם with them
היו they have become
היו they became
שׁיתמו set
כל all
אמרו said
שׁיתמו set them
לפני in the face of
תבהלם vex them
פניהם their faces with
שׁמך your name
יהוה יהוה
ויבהלו and they will be vexed
עדי for ever
עד and ever
כי that
שׁמך your name
יהוה יהוה
כל all

Psalm 83 begins with a direct plea for whatever is considered not to be silence. The threefold plea is reminiscent of Psalm 28. Of the 5 requests, 4 different words are used (hence 4 different words representing quiet, silent, becalmed, mute, are required in English). Verses 3 and 4 give the reason for the request, and it is different here from Psalm 28. Verses 5 and 6 extend the explanation for the prayer. Verses 7 to 9 name the adversaries. The second half of the poem spells out the action that God should do. The request for vexation for enemies recalls the opening psalms of David especially Psalm 6 where the poet recognizes his own sin. So the prayer for the enemies turns into a plea for their salvation. This is spelled out in verses 17 to 19.

The poem splits into 2 sections: verses 1 to 11, verses 12 to 19. These two halves are linked by what the enemies 'said'.

This poem pushes back the history rehearsed in Psalm 78 to the children of Lot. These are the Moabites as noted in Ruth. The impact of these generations on the history of the world has not yet been completed. Not only are they enemies but they were among the progenitors of the Messiah! Perhaps our impact is more than we imagine.

That the enemy should perish and then know God is an indication that the poet prays beyond simple vengeance. Do we ever pray for our enemies recognizing that shame, disgrace, and repentance are good? There seems to me always to be a knife edge of self-sufficiency in this possibility. I think this must be part of the prayer for enemies, but it is not the whole prayer. When we can restore life, perhaps then we can wish its destruction. Pending such an improbable situation, we can pray for the consecration of our enemies in the sufficiency such as is displayed in the death of Jesus. For such a purification will be to their good and ours.

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