Psalm 83
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Dismissing from our consideration the probable historical occasion of this psalm (for which see 2 Chronicles 20.), we take it as a vivid representation of the enemies and destroyers of the soul. Now -

I. THERE ARE SUCH. Whoever yet sought to live the Divine life, and to walk with God in faithful obedience, that did not speedily find out that there were enemies of his soul such as are set forth here? For see -


1. Numerous. What a vast horde are named as Israel's foes (vers. 6-8)! And is not this true of our foes? They are not single, or few, or scattered; but they seem arrayed in troops, and meet us at every turn of our lives.

2. And very strong. Read the history and see the dismay which filled the minds of the devout Jehoshaphat and his people at the awful confederacy which had come against them. And the half-despairing soul, often and often, is tempted to throw down his weapons and to abandon a war in which he seems to have no possible hope of victory. The world, the flesh, the devil are, any one of them, too strong for him; how much more when confederate together, as they often are!

3. United. (Ver. 5.) Everything at times seems to be in league against the soul, as were Israel's enemies against them, our Lord's enemies against him. They come from all quarters (see vers: 6-78.); foes from the south and east are first named, then those from the west, and lastly those from the north. Thus was Israel begirt and shut in with foes who, usually hostile to one another, were now one in hatred to Israel.

4. Deadly. It was not a mere raid against Israel, but a fixed purpose to utterly destroy (ver. 4). And none other is the purpose of our soul's adversaries - not merely to annoy or injure, but to destroy (1 Peter 5:8).

5. Subtle. (Ver. 3.) Like "a bolt out of the blue," so often is the assault upon our soul. At an hour when we think not, in ways we never dreamt of, when off our guard, when it seemed not only unlikely but impossible, - so does our crafty foe assail.

III. THEY SEEM SOMETIMES TO BE VICTORIOUS. (Ver. 2.) We seem to hear the "tumult" of their loud exultation, and to see the haughty lifting up of the head. So it seemed to Elijah (1 Kings 19.), so it has seemed to thousands of sore-beset ones since.

IV. GOD APPEARS TO KEEP SILENT AND INACTIVE. (Ver. 1.) He seems to let things go their own way; our cry does not. avail; the bitter agony of our soul does not seem to move him. This is terrible; but the experience of Israel of old is, not unfrequently, that of God's Israel still - but only for a while.


1. That these enemies are confederate not so much against us as against God. They are "thine enemies" (vers. 2, 5, 18). Therefore we may look away from our weakness to the infinite power of God.

2. That God has vindicated his Name in days gone by. (Vers. 9-11.) Oh, it is blessed when in darkness and difficulty to remember God's deliverances of old, how completely our enemies were overthrown, how he made them "like Oreb and like Zeeb"! Memories such as these stay and strengthen the soul.


1. There must be no idea of compromise. Israel desired the complete extermination of their foes. There is a burning ferocity of hate in these verses (9-17), which is utterly alien from the spirit of Christ towards our human foes; it is the spirit of the Old Testament, not that of the New. But in regard to our spiritual foes, the would be spoilers of our soul, we may, we should, we must, cherish a spirit of uncompromising hate.

2. The honour of the Lord's Name must be our motive. For his sake (vers. 16, 18) we are thus to pray. - S.C.

The occasion of the psalm is clearly some time of national peril from a confederacy of foes. The special distress is that, while the national enemies are vigorously active, God, the Defender of Israel, seems to be quiet, and even indifferent. The psalm is full of hope because, even while the fear of indifference on the part of God distresses the writer, he turns to God with importunate entreaties. The occasion may well have been the combination of Moab and Ammon against Israel in the days of Jehoshaphat, which is narrated in 2 Chronicles 20:1-29 (notice the reference to Asaph in ver. 14). The summary of confederated powers need not be regarded as more than a poetical expansion. A poet of Israel could not know with historical exactness the precise constituents of the opposing force. He gathers together all who were regarded as national foes. Bishop Perowne says, "The poet is fully alive to the danger which threatens his nation. Look where he may, the horizon is black with gathering clouds. Judah is alone, and his enemies are compassing him about. The hosts of the invaders are settling like swarms of locusts on the skirts of the land. East, south, and west, they are mustering to the battle. The kindred but ever hostile tribe of Edom on the border, issuing from their mountain fastnesses; the Arab tribes of the desert; the old hereditary foes of Israel, Moab and Ammon; the Philistines; - all are on the march; all, like hunters, are hemming in the lion who holds them at bay." The words used in this verse - "silence," "peace," "still" - involve the Divine refraining from both encouraging message and helpful action. This Divine dealing, though frequent, is always specially trying to faith; but it is designed to be the culture of that patience which is one of the best expressions of faith.

I. THE DIVINE PROMISE OF HELP. This is distinct, clear, full, unlimited. We may be absolutely sure of the Divine help forevery time of need. "God will help, and that right early."

II. THE DIVINE RESTRAINT FROM HELPING. The disposition of the Divine love may be to help at once. The decision of the Divine wisdom may be to withhold help for a while. And as the Divine wisdom and love are in perfect harmony, love supports the decision for restraint. Restraint is not refusal.

III. THE MISSION OF THE RESTRAINT TO ISRAEL'S FOES. It makes them presume, and so involves them in overwhelming calamities. Divine restraint leads the foe into hopeless situations.

IV. THE MISSION OF THE RESTRAINT TO GOD'S PEOPLE. It leads to self-revelation. We find out the imperfectness of our trust in God when we are put to the strain of waiting for his help. - R.T.

The following general truths may be gathered up from this psalm.

I. THAT SOMETIMES THE CHURCH OF GOD IS THREATENED BY A COMBINATION OF MANY DANGERS. As now - by science, philosophy, historical criticism, the spirit of commerce and the spirit of mammon, and what is called a worldly spirit.


1. One in the closest relation. Father and children; Redeemer and redeemed.

2. One in work and purpose.

III. THIS ONENESS GIVES THEM CONFIDENCE THAT GOD WILL SHIELD THEM FROM ALL REAL DANGER. And therefore they cry to him for defence and deliverance in all times of perplexity and danger.

IV. THE PAST EXPERIENCES OF THE CHURCH STRENGTHEN THIS CONFIDENCE. The history of the Church shows that God has been her "Sun and Shield."

V. THAT THE VICTORIES OF THE CHURCH OVER VARIOUS FORMS OF EVIL ARE A REVELATION OF THE NAME OF GOD. (Ver. 18.) God thus makes himself known to wicked men. "The end of all God's judgments, as of all history, is the same - that all should confess that he is One and Supreme. - S.

The psalmist calls the enemies of his nation God's enemies. "Thine enemies make a tumult." But it would not be a matter interesting to us, or one about which we could pray, if they were God's enemies only. The point of importance is that they are God's enemies just because they are ours. We find the best relief from the fear of what they may do, in thinking that God counts them to be his enemies; and if we cannot defend ourselves from them, God can defend us. So this realization that our enemies are God's enemies becomes

(1) a ground of appeal;

(2) a restful consolation; and

(3) a source of strength.

Work this out in relation to the Jewish nation. In a special and representative sense the Jewish nation was Jehovah's nation. So the Church, as a spiritual body - the kingdom of God - is Christ's Church. And as everything related to the Jewish nation was of direct concern to Jehovah, and had his active interference as required, so everything related to the Church is of direct concern to the living Christ; and he, by his presiding Spirit, ever actively interferes, as may be required. Passing within the Church, the truth may be applied to each believer. His foes cannot be exclusively his. Being bound up with Christ, Christ is bound up with all his interests. The believer's friends are Christ's friends; the believer's foes are Christ's foes.

I. THIS RELATION CONNECTS GOD WITH THE NATION'S PROGRESS. This is illustrated in the history. A tribe of slaves came to be an ordered nation, through an experience of good and evil. God was sympathetically and actively present in all the various steps of the national progress Apply to the development of the Christian Church through a variety of hard and anxious experiences. Foes of heresy, persecution, etc.

II. THIS RELATION CONNECTS GOD WITH THE NATION'S DISASTERS. Compare the expression, "In all their affliction he was afflicted." There had been disasters in the Jewish history, but God was in them for recovery and for sanctifying. Apply to the "dark ages" of the Christian history. Since our foes are God's foes, they cannot overwhelm us. - R.T.

This name is especially applicable to Israel because of the geographical position of their country. (Cf. Numbers 23:9, "The people shall dwell alone.") They were away, off the beaten track of the nations, shut in, and, as it were, hidden, by the deserts on the east and south, the sea on the west, and the mountains on the north, from the rest of the world. But the expression in the text is applicable to all God's people everywhere and always. They are his hidden ones. And we note concerning them -


1. Their physical life God often hides from those who would destroy it. Not always does he do this, but often, as Peter from Herod (Acts 12.; and cf. Obadiah's hiding of the prophets, 1 Kings 18:4). And how often God has hidden his servants in wildernesses, glens, mountain heights, catacombs, etc.! The adversary would fain have destroyed them all, as the wolf the sheep; but they have not all been destroyed, the sheep yet outnumber the wolves.

2. Their spiritual life is ever a hidden one. For it resides not in themselves, but in another, as the life of the branches is in the vine (John 15.; Colossians 3:3). The principles that govern it are not known or understood or appreciated by the world. Its law of self-sacrifice, meekness, etc. Except by uncertain conjecture, the world knows nothing of its springs of action and its controlling motives. The practice of this life is also so different from the world's life. It is meek, retiring, not loving notoriety; it pursues a lowly and unnoticed way; it has no eye for worldly pomp, no ear for worldly applause. It is not necessarily identified with any places, or seasons, or forms of worship, or order of men; but whilst generally using more or less of them, is independent of them all.

3. And this condition of God's hidden ones is of their own choice. (Ruth 2:12; Psalm 91:1; Psalm 143:9.) They love to have it so. The hidden life is, in their esteem, the blessed, the secure, the eternal life.

4. It is God who hides them. (Cf. Psalm 31:20; John 10:28.) He does this by his providential care and by keeping them in his own love. And the majority of them he has hidden from men below in his own blessed presence in heaven. The Church on earth is a little flock indeed, not absolutely, but in comparison with the vast flock in the heavenly pastures, and there they are forever hidden from all the malice and might of men or of the devil.


1. Their preciousness in the sight of God. Things common and cheap we do not hide, or those for which we do not care. Jewels are hidden oftentimes, and God calls his hidden ones his jewels (Malachi 3:17). And how could they be other than precious, when we remember their cost! - "redeemed with the precious blood of Christ;" each one was bought with that price. And God deems them precious, also, for their own sakes. They can and will respond, ever more and more perfectly, to that love in the heart of God which, like all love, yearns for response such as they only can give.

2. Their peril. God would not have hidden them as he has were they in no danger (see text). And how perpetually did our Lord bid us "watch and pray"! The world, the flesh, the devil, are ever bent on doing us harm. We are safe only as "our life is hid with Christ in God"

3. Obscurity. The world knows us not, even as it knew him not. See how all but unbroken is the absolute silence of secular history as to the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, and as to the history of his Church, until its marvelous growth and supernatural power compelled its attention. And still, the fame, layout, and honour of the world are things which none of God's hidden ones may seek (John 5:41, 44).

4. Safety. (Psalm 91., the whole psalm.)

5. The love of him whose hidden ones we are.


1. To deep love of God. Whatever God has given you, he has given and he can give nothing like this - numbering you among his hidden ones.

2. To staying where you are. Dwell in the secret place of the Most High.

3. To having done with forebodings, murmurings, and helpless grief. Should such as you be chargeable with such things?

4. To confession of God's love to you before your fellow men.

5. To all holy endeavours to bring others where you are. - S.C.

They have taken crafty counsel against thy people. "They have consulted together with one consent." Prayer book Version reads, "cast their heads together." The Prophet Micah has a striking expression for this confederacy in evil - "And so they wrap it up" (Micah 7:3). Cases of confederacy against God's people, that may be used as illustrations, are such as the following: Chedorlaomer's confederacy against Canaan, which swept away Lot. Combinations of northern nations against Joshua and Israel. Confederacies in times of the Judges; against Asa; and against Jehoshaphat. Schemes of Samaritan parties against rebuilding walls of Jerusalem, in the time of Nehemiah. A combination of surrounding nations, in the time of the Maccabees, when the Jerks restored the altar which Antiochus had polluted. See also Ephesians 6:12 for the combinations against spiritual religion; the confederacy of chief priest, scribe, Pharisee, Sadducee, and traitorous disciple, against Christ; and the gathering together of the enemies of Christ and his Church in the last days (Revelation 20:8, 9). Other and striking illustrations may be taken from Bunyan's 'Holy War,' which pictures various forms of confederacy against Emmanuel and his "Mansoul." The point suggested is, that neither man, nor any combinations of men, can ever get beyond God. Opening this, we may inquire -

I. HAS GOD PROVED HIMSELF ABLE TO DEAL WITH CASES OF CONFEDERACY? All the above instances may be reviewed in order to answer this question; and to them may be added cases from Church history, and from personal experience. Luther's life provides some good examples. Take the principle involved in the saying that "no chain is stronger than its weakest link," and show how God has ever broken up confederations for evil by the simplest agencies. He holds control of the forces that bind men in a common purpose, and can loosen his hand when he pleases. There is no plotting for evil that is beyond Divine permissions. It is strange that we should fear combinations of evil more than individual foes. We need to learn God's superiority to them.

II. ARE CONFEDERATIONS FOR EVIL REALLY AS STRONG AS THEY SEEM TO BE? There is an element of weakness in all human combinations. They are attempts to unite varying wills and dispositions. This weakness is specially felt when combinations of bad men are attempted, to secure bad ends. Self-willed and wrong purposing men find it hard to agree together. Jealousies are sure to arise. Self-interests overmaster the common interests. Elements of confusion are easily introduced. The confederates turn their swords against each other, as the mixed host of Midian did in the days of Gideon. Neither "craftiness" nor "confederacy" is out of the Divine control. - R.T.

Those whom thou hast set apart and guarded as thine own peculiar possession. Those whom thou hast undertaken in a special manner to protect. "Those whom God holds in the hollow of his hand; those to whom he is a wall of fire round about them, that none may do them hurt; those to whom he says, 'He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of mine eye.'" Confidence in the hiding of God is a familiar spirit to the saints of God. "Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me under the shadow of thy wings" (Psalm 17:8); "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); "Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man; thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues" (Psalm 31:20); "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty" (Psalm 91:1); "Your life is hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). This idea - that they are the Lord's hidden ones - ought to be still cherished by God's people as a source of abiding restfulness.

I. THEY ARE "HIDDEN" IN RELATION TO OUTWARD FOES. This is the point presented in the text. It is illustrated historically. There is still a sense in which the Christian may be said to have outward foes. Agents of the evil one are ever at work resisting godly living and serving. It may be said that sometimes the foes reach the "hidden ones" and injure them; but from the high standing ground of faith we can see this distinction. When God permits a seeming foe to reach his "hidden ones," it ceases to be a foe; it becomes God's angel on a ministry of blessing. That foe's work turns out to be a part of the Lord's "hiding."

II. THEY ARE "HIDDEN" IN RELATION TO AFFLICTIVE CIRCUMSTANCES. We might think they should be hidden from all troubles and sufferings; hidden so that no afflictions should reach them. But this would be quite to misapprehend the Lord's hidings. He hides in sorrow, not from sorrow. And that hiding is altogether the more important and precious. God's hiding of a man who is placed in afflictive circumstances is the sweet marvel of Divine love. Illustrated by God's hiding of suffering Job.

III. THEY ARE "HIDDEN" IN RELATION TO PERSONAL FRAILTIES. The Lord's people carry into his "secret place" frailties of disposition and character. These may become evil forces, influencing Christian conduct and relations. So from the "unworthy self" God hides his people. Life gains a high sense of security when we can worthily realize the "Lord's hidings." - R.T.

Do unto them as unto the Midianites. Prayers which apparently express a desire for revenge are often misunderstood. Deliverance from national enemies of necessity involves the discomfiture and destruction of those enemies; and therefore a poet may ask for that discomfiture, not because he is thinking of the harm done to the enemy, but because he wants a figurative way of asking for the deliverance and safety of his people. Revengeful utterances are often no more than poetical forms, which are quite misused when unduly pressed. And again, when we recall historical events, we are free from revengeful feeling, though the calamities of beaten foes may be specially prominent in oar review. The prayer of the psalmist here is for a gracious Divine deliverance from these confederated foes that threaten Israel. He fortifies his prayer with persuasions drawn from the remembrance of God's previous deliverances, and he magnifies his confidence in God's ability to help now, by thinking how overwhelming was the destruction of God's enemies on other occasions. Compare our anxiety to know how many were slain on the field of battle. The two victories specially recalled are those of Deborah and Barak over the host of Sisera, and of Gideon over the mingled hosts of Midianites. The subject suggested is the use we may make of Scripture knowledge; of the experiences of Christ's Church; and of ourselves and our own lives. We stand in the very midst of Divine dealings, Divine interventions, Divine deliverances. They have been abundant in the past, and they have meant the effective mastery of all kinds of foes.

I. WE MAY LEARN THAT NO STRANGE CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUND US. God's people have, over and over again, been in precisely such conditions as we are in now. Our trouble is no surprise to our God.

II. WE MAY FREELY CRY FOR DIVINE HELP, AS THOSE HAVE DONE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE US. They cried; they were encouraged to cry. No limit was ever put on the praying of earnest souls.

III. WE MAY USE THE EXPERIENCE OF OTHERS AS THE PLEA IN OUR PRAYERS. We can always say, "Thou hast helped;" and so we can make a personal plea, and say, "O Lord, the Helper, help me!" Constantly, in Bible prayers, what God has been to his people, and what he has done for them, is brought to his mind.

IV. WE MAY HAVE THE FULLEST CONFIDENCE THAT WHAT GOD HAS BEEN HE STILL WILL BE. Resister of the wicked. Overwhelmer of the proud. Defender of his people. Deliverer of the imperilled saints. - R.T.

O my God, make them as a rolling thing. A striking poetical figure, effective if applied to any light substance that is rolled over, whirled round, and driven forward with a high wind. Dickens has a very elaborate picture of wind-driven leaves in the opening part of 'Martin Chuzzlewit.' The figure may be that of the whirlwind, which catches up the sand and hurls it helplessly along; and this would be a good figure for the fight of a panic-stricken army. But Thomson, in his 'Land and the Book,' gives point to the poet's figure by his description of a very curious plant, known as the "gulgal," or "rolling thing." "It is a wild artichoke. In growing it throws out numerous branches of equal size and length in all directions, forming a sort of sphere or globe a foot or more in diameter. When ripe and dry in autumn, these branches become rigid and light as a feather, the parent stem breaks off at the ground, and the wind carries these vegetable globes whithersoever it pleaseth. At the proper season, thousands of them come scudding over the plain, rolling, leaping, bounding, with vast racket, to the dismay both of the horse and his rider. An Arab proverb addresses this rolling thing thus: 'Ho, 'akkub, where do you put up tonight?' To which it answers as it flies, 'Where the wind puts up.' They also derive one of their many forms of cursing from this plant. 'May you be whirled, like the 'akkub, before the wind, until you are caught in the thorns, or plunged into the sea!' If this is not the 'wheel' of David, I have seen nothing in the country to suggest the comparison." This "rolling thing" is wholly helpless in the strong hand of the wind. And the poet feels that even as helpless his enemies would be, if the hand of God were upon them. The idea of their helplessness interests him, because he is so full of fear concerning their numbers and apparent strength. A good illustration may be found in the case of the Syrians who came to take Elisha, and were helpless in his hands, and actually led by him into the capital city of their foes.



III. MAN WILL HAVE MISERABLY TO FEEL HIS HELPLESSNESS, IF HE ATTEMPTS TO ACT WITHOUT PERMISSION. That which affrights God's people before God arises to help them becomes pitiable in its helplessness when God has arisen. - R.T.

That they may seek thy Name, O Lord. This is a very remarkable qualifying of our idea that psalmists prayed in a revengeful spirit for the destruction of the national enemies. In truth, their supreme idea was the glorifying of God, and they asked for judgments because through judgments would come the honouring of God's Name; and, in this honouring, the higher blessing for the foes themselves. Here the psalmist prays, "Fill their faces with shame;" but he sees in their humiliation the hope that they will be drawn to God.




IV. WE MAY PRAY, IF WE SET. BEFORE OURSELVES THE GLORY OF GOD IN THEIR RECOVERY. It is a sign of triumph over hateful and revengeful feelings if we can pray God to deal with our enemies in the wisdom of his righteous love. It is not befitting that the Christian should ever think of judgments and punishments as merely destructive. To him all judgment is remedial, all punishment is corrective. God will get honour to his Name out of all his dealings. It should be shown that the "forever" and the "perish" of ver. 17 are to be treated as poetical terms. Or ver. 16 may be regarded as the better view, which the psalmist was hardly able to keep to. Ver. 17 falls back upon the harsher view of God's dealing with his foes. Christianity willingly lets pass the harsher view, and sets ever more prominently before us the better and more hopeful view. 'Speaker's Commentary' on ver. 16 says, "This is a feeling altogether peculiar to God's people." The object of all the judgments which the true prophet desires is to bring all nations into subjection to God. Their calamities will be converted into blessings, unless they persist in rebellion. - R.T.

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