Theme: Preservation in the Midst of Persecution
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
In all the annals of recorded history there has never been a people so encircled by foes or as persecuted as the Jews have been. Yet surprisingly, the Jews have prospered. In 1836 a world census indicated that there were then three million Jews living in many countries. A century later, in 1936, in spite of severe persecutions in which many Jews were killed, particularly in Russia, a second census indicated that the Jewish world population had risen to sixteen million, an increase of thirteen million in a century. The Nazis killed more than six million Jews, as indicated above. But today there are more Jews in the world than before the Nazi era. The only explanation for this growth is that the hand of God has been on this people and that he has blessed them.
Why has there been so much hatred? The Egyptians feared and hated the Jews because of their numbers. Europeans hated them because they were prosperous, because they were different, and because of warped religious sentiments. Hitler hated them because they were not of Arian stock, and because he needed an enemy to focus the aggressive passions of his people.
Yet these are not adequate explanations in themselves. The ultimate and only full explanation must be found in God’s words to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, when he said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Satan hates the Jews because God promised to send the Messiah through them, which is why he stirred up Pharaoh and his court and why he caused Herod to strike out against the Jewish babies at the time of Christ’s birth. In the face of such hatred, the preservation of the Jews throughout history, in spite of their persecutions and scattering, has been both a mystery and a miracle.
We should notice that this section of the psalm ends with a selah, or pause (v. 8). We cannot always tell why these selahs occur where they do, but this is an example of a pause well placed, for it is important for us to reflect on the terrible persecutions of these ancient people of God before going on to the prayer that God might judge their enemies.
The outline of Psalm 83 is easy. It consists in two main parts, the first describing thedesperate situation in which the Jews found themselves (vv. 1-8), and the second an impassioned appeal to God to overthrow and destroy their enemies (vv. 9-17). If we want to be particular, it is possible that the first and last verses should be separated out, the first as an introduction and the last as a conclusion.
It is the second part, the appeal to God to overthrow and destroy the people’s enemies that bothers us, of course. And the reason is obvious. It is because the prayer is so vindictive, and also because we have been taught to forgive our enemies rather than call down judgment on them. Most of us think of ourselves as being too nice to have such thoughts or to utter such a prayer, even though we are probably not actually that nice and often do wish for vengeance even though we may not actually pray for it openly.
According to Genesis 3:15, why have the Jews been persecuted?
How have the Jews survived persecution through the ages?
What are the two parts to this psalm? Describe the second part of the psalm and why it is troublesome.
Observation: Understanding the historical context of the Psalms helps us to bring both meaning to the text and application to today.
Reflection: Take time now to reflect on persecutions we have seen in our day. Where such persecution occurs because of one’s profession of faith in Christ, do we pray for our fellow believers as we ought?
For Further Study: To learn more about the Israelites as the covenant people, download and listen for free to James Boice’s message from the book of Joshua, “The Covenant People and the Covenant Sign.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)