Psalm 83

‘Gasping for God’              Poor Bishop Hooper

Biblical scholar Michael Fox has what you might call a typical 20th century Jewish background.  At the beginning of that century his grandfather had a narrow escape from the pogroms in Russia that killed thousands of Jews.  Thus, Fox was born in the U.S.A. and escaped the reach of Nazi power in the 1940s.  Fox has written a commentary on the book of Esther in which he reflects on what that story means to him in light of the history of his family and his people.  He comments that God seems to be hidden in the Esther story, as God has been ‘so often, so inexplicably, so unforgivably, throughout history.’   [1]

‘God, don’t shut me out;
    don’t give me the silent treatment, O God.’    [MESSAGE]

Our psalmist is struggling with the silence of God.  God seems hidden, mute, silent, inactive when God’s people need Him most.  She is not embarrassed to challenge God boldly. She  knows how God has responded in the past – why not now?  In effect, she psalmist prays, ‘You acted decisively to deliver in the past and we need You to do so again.’  And she does so with a certain confidence: note that God is the first and last word in this petition (v.1).

The psalmist is clear: our enemies are your enemies, God: 

‘Your enemies are out there whooping it up,
    the God-haters are living it up;
They’re plotting to do your people in,
    conspiring to rob you of your precious ones.’    [MESSAGE]

Our psalmist takes consolation in Israel’s remembered history – a litany of God’s deliverance of God’s people in the past.  Most of the examples are taken from the book of Judges, where God continually intervenes to save his stubborn and often disobedient people.  

One memorable example is Gideon (Judges 6-8) who in the story is clearly not in charge.  It is God’s leadership that saves the day, not Gideon’s military skills or great wisdom.

So why is God silent?  Maybe God is giving the oppressors a chance to repent.  Vs. 16 suggests that when God humiliates them they will turn to God.  The psalm suggests a number of possibilities for the destiny of Israel’s attackers: It could be death or escape, humiliation and/or submission, or recognition of God as ultimate Sovereign over the earth.  The nation’s decision decides their fate!

This prayer, sometimes shocking in its language gives us as Christians several points to ponder:

  • God is clearly the Deliverer. Israel is helpless without God’s intervention.
  • The language is violent; it illustrates how persons are likely to respond when they have been victimized.
  • Christians, like our psalmist, recognize that God’s will for justice and righteousness may not go unopposed. Oppressors will not give up without a fight.  See examples like Pharaoh, slave owners in U.S.A., and the white minority government in S. Africa.
  • In our world of violence and oppression we still pray as Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as in heaven’   (Matthew 6.10).
  • Salvation is possible, even for evildoers:

Knock the breath right out of them, so they’re gasping
    for breath, gasping, “God.”
Bring them to the end of their rope,
    and leave them there dangling, helpless.
Then they’ll learn your name: “God,”
    the one and only High God on earth.     [MESSAGE]


[1] Michael Fox – Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther.