Psalm 83: revenge or prophecy?
November 2, 2007 § Leave a Comment
The more I read the psalms, the more I realize that many of them whistle a familiar tune — one I’d rather not hear. They keep talking about revenge. This psalm continues down that same path, and things get pretty nasty.
Clearly, the author of the psalm is full of anger toward the nations he mentions in the psalm, and it’s understandable. After all, when they’re out to annihilate your own nation, you can’t exactly have warm, fuzzy feelings about them. But it’s important to realize that not every single person of another nation partakes in the general behavior of that nation. You can’t indiscriminately hate all [fill in the blank here] just because some people from that nation have wronged your own nation.
The author of this psalm doesn’t see it that way. He wants these other people “wiped out”. He wants them to “manure the ground” — in other words, to act as fertilizer, to rot in the fields. This isn’t exactly pleasant imagery. Yet, if each of us were to think back on those times when we were angry at others, we’d see our own feelings at those times weren’t far from the general vein of this psalm.
I’m not saying we should continue that sort of behavior. But the Bible was written for our benefit. We are to read it and discern the knowledge inside it. I believe this psalm was left in for certain reasons. For one thing, it serves as a historical document, and for another thing, as thinking, prayerful Christians, we can see that the behavior of the author isn’t entirely Biblical, and I believe God is using his anger to teach us a lesson about our own tempers.
The psalm goes on, citing all sorts of destruction for these other nations through verse 15. In verse 16, the tone changes: “Shame written all over their faces, let them seek your name, Yahweh!” So after wanting them to be wiped out, rotted out, stepped on, blown about by the wind, burned, and driven away, the author regains some of his sense and only wants them to be ashamed and seek God. It’s a bit hard for a corpse to seek God, you know… Religion by violence never did anyone any good. We have history to confirm that.
We can also look at this psalm in another way, in a prophetic sense. Metaphorically speaking, the nations that wanted to destroy Israel are the people that reject God and His true followers. They’ve always existed, and they’ll continue to exist until God’s final judgment. Prophetically speaking, their day will come when they will be utterly destroyed and they’ll receive the sort of treatment described here. At that fateful time, they will indeed seek God’s name, to no avail. They will receive the proper punishment for their sins, and nothing will save them from that fate.
I’m fairly sure that the author didn’t have this meaning in mind when he wrote the psalm. But God used His anger in a prophetic sense, so He could speak to us and to His followers through the ages. Perhaps that’s why this psalm exists in the Bible after all. We won’t know for sure unless we get to make it to heaven, where this, and many others of our questions will be answered. :-)