The Book of Psalms

Thursday: The Encircling Foe


Theme: Appealing for God’s Judgment
From this week’s lessons, we see that when we are wrongly attacked, we are not to seek vengeance, but instead are to entrust ourselves and the situation to God.
Scripture: Psalm 83:1-18
We are sometimes bothered by the second part of Psalm 83, which is an appeal to God to overthrow and destroy the people’s enemies. What are we to say about this? The first thing is an observation on the psalm itself, and it is that God had destroyed Israel’s enemies in this way from time to time in the past. Thus, whatever else the psalmist may be doing, he is at least appealing to an historical precedent. Two of these judgments are referred to in verses 9-12.
1. A victory over Midian recorded in Judges 6-8. The psalmist refers to this victory in verse 9 and amplifies on it in verse 11, where four of the Midianite rulers are mentioned: Oreb, Zeeb, Zabah and Zalmunna. This was a striking victory, because it was won by Gideon and only three hundred eager men. The Midianites had been pillaging the land and carrying off the harvests and were at this time encamped in large numbers in a nearby valley. Gideon started out with thirty-two thousand soldiers.
God said these were too many for him to use to defeat the Midianite armies. So Gideon told all who were afraid to go home. Twenty-two of the thirty-two thousand went back, which left Gideon with only ten thousand men. God said this was still too many. So the numbers were pared down even further to only three hundred, “Gideon’s band.” With these fearless men Gideon then surrounded the Midianite camp by night, had each of his men blow a trumpet and suddenly expose a torch that had been hidden in an earthen jar, and shout, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon.” The enemy soldiers were so startled and so frightened that they jumped up in the darkness and fled for their lives, drawing their swords and killing thousands of their own men in the rout. Thus the soldiers that had encircled Israel were themselves encircled by the three hundred daring men and were destroyed.
2. The victory over Sisera recorded in Judges 4, 5. The second example of a sudden and thorough judgment on Israel’s enemies referred to by the psalmist is the victory over Sisera, recorded in the preceding two chapters of Judges, that is, chapters 4 and 5. Sisera was the commander of an army fortified by nine hundred iron chariots, and he had terrorized the land for twenty years. The Israelite commander was Barak, who defeated his army with ten thousand of the men of Israel.
In the rout Sisera was forced to abandon his chariot and flee on foot. He came to the tent of a man named Heber whose wife was Jael. Sisera was exhausted and asked to be taken in so he could rest. While he was sleeping, Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and a mallet, went to where he was lying and drove it through Sisera’s temple into the ground so he died. Thus, Israel was delivered by the armies of Barak and by a courageous woman. The triumphs of Barak and Jael are celebrated in the “Song of Deborah,” the prophetess, in Judges 5. The “Song of Deborah” ends, “So may all your enemies perish, O LORD! But may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength” (v. 31).
Clearly, Asaph was drawing on this and other victory stories of Israel when he composed his psalm. He was saying, “O LORD, as you have delivered us in the past, so deliver us again. Show yourself to be as powerful in our day as you have been for the generations that have preceded us.” We may not pray exactly this way ourselves, but we can understand and sympathize with the prayer when we remember it in the context of Israel’s many and bitter persecutions throughout history. Would we not pray for the destruction of our enemies ourselves in such circumstances?
Study Questions:

What is the historical precedent for Asaph’s request?
What do the two accounts cited of victories over enemies have in common?
How can we rightly pray like Asaph for God to deliver us again?

Reflection: Have there been times in your life when God’s way seemed unworkable? What did you learn?
Application: How do your current circumstances affect your prayers?
Prayer: Thank God for his protection in time of trouble.

Study Questions
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