War has repeatedly defined life in Israel. The small country existed at the crossroads between mighty nations vying for control over smaller countries. Psalm 83 has two parts, each with a distinctive call: For God to pay attention to the sorrows Israel faces from scheming coalitions of foes and to take decisive action as Creator: “Pursue them with Your tempest.”
This Psalm cites ten of Israel’s dangerous neighbors. Scholars differ as to whether this is an early Psalm written even before King David during the time of the Judges or is as late as the Hasmoneans in the Greek period. Those scholarly dates span a thousand-year period.
Like most Psalms, the poem combines opposites: God being deaf to the clamor of enemies and who has the power to know all; a God who has a relationship with a particular people and is universal; enemies who are self-elevated with hubris and those brought low with shame. In sum, the words provide a heartfelt expression of fear of harm and hope of safety that transcend any one place or time.
Psalm 83 prompts review of Israel’s Biblical battles and evokes the question: What is the hoped trajectory of history? The closing line of the Psalm is “and may they know for You: Your name is Adonai; You alone are Most High over all the earth.” A key phrase is “for You.” The Psalmist will emphasize that the enemy who sought to defeat Israel so as to shame God will come to recognize the unity of creation and the need for abiding justice. May it be so.
Psalm 83 is dedicated to Hal Levitt.