PSALM 83: CONCERNING EVIL IN THE WORLD

The superscription of Psalm 83 reads:

A song. A psalm of Asaph.

In fact, this is the very last psalm of Asaph, and it is a curious one. Scholars have a difficult time fitting Psalm 83 into the flow of Hebrew history. We really don’t know exactly why it was written or when it was written. What we do know is this: it is a national lament in which Asaph prays for God’s intervention against the evil forces arrayed against God’s people.

Evil is a fact. On the subject of evil, Ayn Rand once wrote,

The spread of evil is the symptom of a vacuum. Whenever evil wins, it is only by default: by the moral failure of those who evade the fact that there can be no compromise on basic principles.

Whatever else Ms. Rand may have meant, she is fundamentally correct when she asserts that evil is the symptom of a vacuum and it is the default position of humanity. The vacuum where evil is allowed to spread is a moral and ethical one, but its roots are to be found in the world of the spirit. Human beings without God are incapable of adhering consistently to any so-called basic principles. That’s why a society cannot educate or legislate evil from its midst. There will always be lawbreakers and workers of death and destruction among us no matter how many laws are passed or voices silenced. The cure for evil is a new heart, and only God can put a new heart in a person.

In this psalm, some ten enemies are listed by the writer, among them nations like Assyria, Edom, Moab, and others that had, at various times over the past and in the present, visited all manner of evil upon Israel. Of course, there were far more than just ten nations “troubling” Israel, so we might consider these ten as symbolic of all the enemies of God’s people.

Just who was this man, Asaph? He wrote a dozen psalms or songs, grouped together as Psalms 73—83. Psalm 50, not part of that group, was also written by him. He was the chief Temple musician under Kind David.

1. Confronting evil, verses 1—8

O God, do not remain silent; do not turn a deaf ear, do not stand aloof, O God. (verse 1)

Before the author gets into a description of Israel’s foes, he implores God to intervene on behalf of His people. The repetition of “O God” is meant to convey the the theological conviction that there is but one God, none other than Jehovah. With that unshakable conviction in his mind, the writer prays that God would rouse Himself and help His people.

The question some might reasonably ask is this: Can God ever be silent and afar off from His people? For believers, the answer must be “no.” We have the promise of Christ’s abiding presence among His people as long as His people are walking in His presence. If you find yourself in sin and not seeking God, you will naturally feel as though God has left you. In fact, it is you who have left God. But for the true, faithful believer, God could never leave you any more than your shadow can walk away from you on a sunny day. Verse one is written from a man’s perspective. The nation, being threatened by a vast coalition of evil forces, caused Asaph, and undoubtedly others, to feel as though God was deaf and aloof. And so he began His prayer—his song, really—almost begging God to come near and listen to His prayer.

The occasion for this prayer was an apparent uprising of those who were both enemies of God and of God’s people. And those enemies were vast, indeed. They must have seemed as vast as a horde of insects in the sky or waves upon the sea. Sometimes that’s how evil appears; it’s all around us. Sometimes it seems as though we can never get far enough away from the evil that so pervades the world. Verse three is instructive in how evil works:

With cunning they conspire against your people; they plot against those you cherish. (verse 3)

That’s very poetic language, but from our perspective this is an apt description of our “bad days.” If you’re honest, that’s how you feel some days; you feel as though “everybody is against me,” or “I just can’t get ahead…” or “I can’t seem to make so-and-so happy…” But life is what it is; life is not your enemy even though it may feel like your enemy sometimes. What Asaph is writing about is a real, tangible enemy or enemies. And you have those, too. Remember the words of Paul:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

Verse two puts some perspective on Asaph’s thoughts. The enemies are said to be “rearing their heads,” which is a way to describe the hostility and confidence of the enemy. Israel’s enemies were real and threatening and your spiritual enemies are also real and threatening, even though you can’t see them. Personally you have spiritual enemies and the Church as an institution has spiritual enemies and if you believe the book of Revelation, countries have spiritual enemies. When you see unspeakable acts of evil taking place all around you for no apparent reason, it begs the question: What is behind them? Asaph, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saw into the spirit world and saw things clearly. Even though all these nations were marshalling their troops against Israel, they were, in fact, not Israel’s enemy but God’s. When a child of God is under is opposed and oppressed by satanic evil, it is really God who is under attack.

That evil may take many forms. In this psalm, it has taken the form of nations and armies. Sometimes in our experiences satanic evil can take the form of a person or a group of people. But at its core, evil is spiritual in origin.

2. Praying against evil, verses 9—18

This section of the psalm involves an “imprecation.” That’s a word that means “pronouncing or praying for a curse upon some one.” These verses present a believer in God imploring God to do harm to the enemy:

As fire consumes the forest or a flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm. (verses 14, 15)

Is this something believers should be doing today? Should we be praying against our enemies or against those who do harm to others? If this is something you believe, then you have to deal with what Jesus said:

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)

Obviously, Christians shouldn’t run around pronouncing curses on bad people, nor should we be eager to be walked all over by those bad people. If we look at what Asaph wrote and how he wrote it, then it makes perfect sense. First, Asaph’s imprecation is written in the context of God’s judgment, both past and present. Asaph recalls how God judged Israel’s enemies in the past and he is simply asking God to do it again in the present. There is a Biblical precedent at work here:

People reap what they sow. (Galatians 6:7b)

The psalmist is merely asking for this to happen.

Second, we need to take notice of verse 16:

Cover their faces with shame, LORD, so that they will seek your name.

So while Asaph was asking God to punish the enemy, that punishment has an aim: he wants the enemy “shamed” and he wants God’s gracious nature to be seen. His hope is that the enemy will be brought to their knees with the ultimate goal of having them find God or acknowledge Him. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when He encouraged His followers to “pray for their enemies.” Pray for them, that God would have His way with them but also that might they repent and find the same forgiveness you found.

May they ever be ashamed and dismayed; may they perish in disgrace. Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD—that you alone are the Most High over all the earth. (verses 17, 18)

It is better for an enemy to face the wrath of God on earth while he as time to change his ways than to face that wrath at death and have to chance. God’s wrath is not arbitrary. The enemies of God and His people are slow to learn that lesson. When a person chooses to go against the grain of God’s unchangeable nature, he will end up with blisters and splinters!

One of the greatest lessons a believer can learn is that whenever God answers our prayers or blesses us, it’s never just about us, but it is always about Him. Asaph’s amazing psalm paints the picture of people desperately seeking deliverance, and in finding that deliverance, it is God who is glorified and His grace made known to all. Perhaps that is one explanation of why evil is allowed to exist in the world.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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