The Israel of God were now in danger, and fear, and great distress, and yet their prayer is called, A song or psalm; for singing psalms is not unseasonable, no, not when the harps are hung upon the willow-trees.
I. The psalmist here begs of God to appear on the behalf of his injured threatened people (Ps. 83:1): “Keep not thou silence, O God! but give judgment for us against those that do us an apparent wrong.” Thus Jehoshaphat prayed upon occasion of that invasion (2 Chron. 20:11), Behold, how they reward us, to come to cast us out of thy possession. Sometimes God seems to connive at the unjust treatment which is given to his people; he keeps silence, as one that either did not observe it or did not concern himself in it; he holds his peace, as if he would observe an exact neutrality, and let them fight it out; he is still, and gives not the enemies of his people any disturbance or opposition, but seems to sit by as a man astonished, or as a mighty man that cannot save. Then he gives us leave to call upon him, as here, “Keep not thou silence, O God! Lord, speak to us by the prophets for our encouragement against our fears” (as he did in reference to that invasion, 2 Chron. 20:14-17); “Lord, speak for us by the providence and speak against our enemies; speak deliverance to us and disappointment to them.” God’s speaking is his acting; for with him saying and doing are the same thing.
II. He here gives an account of the grand alliance of the neighbouring nations against Israel, which he begs of God to break, and blast the projects of. Now observe here,
1. Against whom this confederacy is formed; it is against the Israel of God, and so, in effect, against the God of Israel. Thus the psalmist takes care to interest God in their cause, not doubting but that, if it appeared that they were for God, God would make it to appear that he was for them, and then they might set all their enemies at defiance; for whom then could be against them? “Lord,” says he, “they are thy enemies, and they hate thee.” All wicked people are God’s enemies (the carnal mind is enmity against God), but especially wicked persecutors; they hated the religious worshippers of God, because they hated God’s holy religion and the worship of him. This was that which made God’s people so zealous against them—that they fought against God: They are confederate against thee, Ps. 83:5. Were our interest only concerned, we could the better bear it; but, when God himself is struck at, it is time to cry, Help, Lord. Keep not thou silence, O God! He proves that they are confederate against God, for they are so against the people of God, who are near and dear to him, his son, his first-born, his portion, and the lot of his inheritance; he may truly be said to fight against me that endeavours to destroy my children, to root out my family, and to ruin my estate. “Lord,” says the psalmist, “they are thy enemies, for they consult against thy hidden ones.” Note, God’s people are his hidden ones, hidden, (1.) In respect of secresy. Their life is hid with Christ in God; the world knows them not; if they knew them, they would not hate them as they do. (2.) In respect of safety. God takes them under his special protection, hides them in the hollow of his hand; and yet, in defiance of God and his power and promise to secure his people, they will consult to ruin them and cast them down from their excellency (Ps. 62:4), and to make a prey of those whom the Lord has set apart for himself, Ps. 4:3. They resolve to destroy those whom God resolves to preserve.
2. How this confederacy is managed. The devil is at the bottom of it, and therefore it is carried on, (1.) With a great deal of heat and violence: Thy enemies make a tumult, Ps. 83:2. The heathen rage, Ps. 2:1. The nations are angry, Rev. 11:18. They are noisy in their clamours against the people whom they hope to run down with their loud calumnies. This comes in as a reason why God should not keep silence: “The enemies talk big and talk much; Lord, let them not talk all, but do thou speak to them in thy wrath,” Ps. 2:5. (2.) With a great deal of pride and insolence: They have lifted up the head. In confidence of their success, they are so elevated as if they could over-top the Most High and overpower the Almighty. (3.) With a great deal of art and policy: They have taken crafty counsel, Ps. 83:3. The subtlety of the old serpent appears in their management, and they contrive by all possible means, though ever so base, ever so bad, to gain their point. They are profound to make slaughter (Hos. 5:2), as if they could outwit Infinite Wisdom. (4.) With a great deal of unanimity. Whatever separate clashing interest they have among themselves, against the people of God they consult with one consent (Ps. 83:5), nor is Satan’s kingdom divided against itself. To push on this unholy war, they lay their heads together, and their horns, and their hearts too. Fas est et ab hoste doceri—Even an enemy may instruct. Do the enemies of the church act with one consent to destroy it? Are the kings of the earth of one mind to give their power and honour to the beast? And shall not the church’s friends be unanimous in serving her interests? If Herod and Pilate are made friends, that they may join in crucifying Christ, surely Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Peter, will soon be made friends, that they may join in preaching Christ.
3. What it is that is aimed at in this confederacy. They consult not like the Gibeonites to make a league with Israel, that they might strengthen themselves by such a desirable alliance, which would have been their wisdom. They consult, not only to clip the wings of Israel, to recover their new conquests, and check the progress of their victorious arms, not only to keep the balance even between them and Israel, and to prevent their power from growing exorbitant; this will not serve. It is no less than the utter ruin and extirpation of Israel that they design (Ps. 83:4): “Come, let us cut them off from being a nation, as they cut off the seven nations of Canaan; let us leave them neither root nor branch, but lay their country so perfectly waste that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance, no, not in history;” for with them they would destroy their Bibles and burn all their records. Such is the enmity of the serpent’s seed against the seed of the woman. It is the secret wish of many wicked men that the church of God might not have a being in the world, that there might be no such thing as religion among mankind. Having banished the sense of it out of their own hearts, they would gladly see the whole earth as well rid of it, all its laws and ordinances abolished, all its restraints and obligations shaken off, and all that preach, profess, or practise it cut off. This they would bring it to if it were in their power; but he that sits in heaven shall laugh at them.
4. Who they are that are drawn into this confederacy. The nations that entered into this alliance are here mentioned (Ps. 83:6-8); the Edomites and Ishmaelites, both descendants from Abraham, lead the van; for apostates from the church have been its most bitter and spiteful enemies, witness Julian. These were allied to Israel in blood and yet in alliance against Israel. There are no bonds of nature so strong but the spirit of persecution has broken through them. The brother shall betray the brother to death. Moab and Ammon were the children of righteous Lot; but, as an incestuous, so a degenerate race. The Philistines were long a thorn in Israel’s side, and very vexatious. How the inhabitants of Tyre, who in David’s time were Israel’s firm allies, come in among their enemies, I know not; but that Assur (that is, the Assyrian) also is joined with them is not strange, or that (as the word is) they were an arm to the children of Lot. See how numerous the enemies of God’s church have always been. Lord, how are those increased that trouble it! God’s heritage was as a speckled bird; all the birds round about were against her (Jer. 12:9), which highly magnifies the power of God in preserving to himself a church in the world, in spite of the combined force of earth and hell.