17 May 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
17 May 2022 (Psalm 83)

‘O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!’ (Psalm 83: 1) … the War Memorial on Hills Road, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this season of Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 83:

Psalm 83 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 82.

This is the last of the ‘Psalms of Asaph’ and the last of the ‘Elohist’ collection (Psalms 42-83), in which one of God’s titles, Elohim, is mainly used.  The Psalms of Asaph are the 12 psalms numbered 50 and 73 to 83 in the Masoretic text and 49 and 72-82 in the Septuagint. Each psalm has a separate meaning, and these psalms cannot be summarised easily as a whole.

But throughout these 12 psalms is the shared theme of the judgment of God and how the people must follow God’s law.

The superscription of this psalm reads: ‘A Psalm of Asaph.’ The attribution of a psalm to Asaph could mean that it was part of a collection from the Asaphites, identified as Temple singers, or that the psalm was performed in a style associated with Asaph, who was said to be the author or transcriber of these psalms.

Asaph who is identified with these psalms was a Levite, the son of Berechiah and descendant of Gershon, and he was the ancestor of the Asaphites, one the guilds of musicians in the first Temple in Jerusalem.

Asaph served both David and Solomon, and performed at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (see II Chronicles 5: 12). His complaint against corruption among the rich and influential, recorded in Psalm 73, for example, might have been directed against some of court officials. The words used to describe the wicked come from words used by officials of the cult or sacrificial system.

Several of the Psalms of Asaph are categorised as communal laments because they are concerned for the well-being of the whole community. Many of these psalms forecast destruction or devastation in the future, but are balanced with God’s mercy and saving power for the people.

Psalm 83 It is generally seen as a national lament provoked by the threat of an invasion of Israel by its neighbours.

This psalm has been seen by some commentators as being purely cultic in nature. Others say the specific naming of particular nations indicates that it refers to a specific historical period, although the prayer itself would be offered in the Temple in Jerusalem.

The dating of the composition of Psalm 83 is debated, but the reference in verse 9 to Assyria is seen by many commentators as an indication that the Psalm was written during the time of Assyrian ascendancy, the ninth to seventh centuries BCE. Others have dated the psalm from the time of Saul onwards, up to the age of the Maccabees, suggested by Theodore of Mopsuestia.

Psalm 83 can be divided into these sections:

1, verse 1 (‘O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!’):

The specific meaning of this verse is disputed. The verb can be translated to refer to either speech (‘be not silent’) or motion (‘be not inactive’). The fact that the verse requests the assistance of God three times emphasises the urgency of the situation and of the people’s prayer.

2, verses 2-5:

Throughout verses 2 to 5, the speaker makes the assumption that individuals who plot against the nation of Israel must inherently be enemies of God. He also ascribes to them the intention of the complete extinction of the people of Israel, as that is the meaning of verse 4, which indicates that the name of Israel will be obliterated or remembered no more.

3, verses 6-8:

These verses list the names of the ten nations that have evidently formed a coalition against Israel, the Edomites, the Ishmaelites, Moab, the Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon, Amalek, the Philistines, Tyre and Assyria.

4, verses 9-12:

The narrator goes on to assume that God himself will fight on Israel’s side in the upcoming battle, based on the stories contained in Judges 4-8, citing individual actions attributed to God in that book.

5, verses 13-17:

In these verses, the narrator specifically requests that God make the opponents of Israel suffer and experience shame and die in disgrace for opposing Israel, and, by extension, God himself. The specifics mentioned, including chaff, fire and storm, are references to the Sirocco.

6, verse 18:

In this verse, the narrator states that he wishes God perform these various acts so that all might know that God is the most powerful entity and has sway over all the Earth. This verse, with verse 16, indicates that, although the bulk of the psalm is a prayer for the destruction of the enemies of Israel, there is some positive hope that the enemies of Israel might come to acknowledge the God of Israel.

‘Let us take the pastures of God for our own possession’ (Psalm 83: 12) … sheep grazing near Newbridge, Co Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 83 (NRSVA):

A Song. A Psalm of Asaph.

1 O God, do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
2 Even now your enemies are in tumult;
those who hate you have raised their heads.
3 They lay crafty plans against your people;
they consult together against those you protect.
4 They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
let the name of Israel be remembered no more.’
5 They conspire with one accord;
against you they make a covenant—
6 the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
Moab and the Hagrites, 7 Gebal and Ammon and Amalek,
Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;
8 Assyria also has joined them;
they are the strong arm of the children of Lot.

9 Do to them as you did to Midian,
as to Sisera and Jabin at the Wadi Kishon,
10 who were destroyed at En-dor,
who became dung for the ground.
11 Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb,
all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna,
12 who said, ‘Let us take the pastures of God
for our own possession.’

13 O my God, make them like whirling dust,
like chaff before the wind.
14 As fire consumes the forest,
as the flame sets the mountains ablaze,
15 so pursue them with your tempest
and terrify them with your hurricane.
16 Fill their faces with shame,
so that they may seek your name, O Lord.
17 Let them be put to shame and dismayed for ever;
let them perish in disgrace.
18 Let them know that you alone,
whose name is the Lord,
are the Most High over all the earth.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Advocacy in Brazil.’

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (17 May 2022) invites us to pray:

We pray for human rights activists around the world. May we do our best to uphold and respect each other’s dignity as children of God.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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