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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 9–18
Verses 9–18

The psalmist here, in the name of the church, prays for the destruction of those confederate forces, and, in God’s name, foretels it; for this prayer that it might be so amounts to a prophecy that it shall be so, and this prophecy reaches to all the enemies of the gospel-church; whoever they be that oppose the kingdom of Christ, here they may read their doom. The prayer is, in short, that these enemies, who were confederate against Israel, might be defeated in all their attempts, and that they might prove their own ruin, and so God’s Israel might be preserved and perpetuated. Now this is here illustrated,

I. By some precedents. Let that be their punishment which has been the fate of others who have formerly set themselves against God’s Israel. The defeat and discomfiture of former combinations may be pleaded in prayer to God and improved for the encouragement of our own faith and hope, because God is the same still that ever he was, the same to his people and the same against his and their enemies; with him is no variableness. 1. He prays that their armies might be destroyed as the armies of former enemies had been (Ps. 83:9, 10): Do to them as to the Midianites; let them be routed by their own fears, for so the Midianites were, more than by Gideon’s 300 men. Do to them as to the army under the command of Sisera (who was general under Jabin king of Canaan) which God discomfited (Jdg. 4:15) at the brook Kishon, near to which was Endor. They became as dung on the earth; their dead bodies were thrown like dung laid in heaps, or spread, to fatten the ground; they were trodden to dirt by Barak’s small but victorious army; and this was fitly made a precedent here, because Deborah made it so to aftertimes when it was fresh. Jdg. 5:31; So let all thy enemies perish, O Lord! that is, So they shall perish. 2. He prays that their leaders might be destroyed as they had been formerly. The common people would not have been so mischievous if their princes had not set them on, and therefore they are particularly prayed against, Ps. 83:11, 12. Observe, (1.) What their malice was against the Israel of God. They said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession (Ps. 83:12), the pleasant places of God (so the word is), by which we may understand the land of Canaan, which was a pleasant land and was Immanuel’s land, or the temple, which was indeed God’s pleasant place (Isa. 64:11), or (as Dr. Hammond suggests) the pleasant pastures, which these Arabians, who traded in cattle, did in a particular manner seek after. The princes and nobles aimed to enrich themselves by this war; and their armies must be made as dung for the earth, to serve their covetousness and their ambition. (2.) What their lot should be. They shall be made like Oreb and Zeeb (two princes of the Midianites, who, when their forces were routed, were taken in their flight by the Ephraimites and slain, Jdg. 7:25), and like Zeba and Zalmunna, whom Gideon himself slew, Jdg. 8:21. “Let these enemies of ours be made as easy a prey to us as they were to the conquerors then.” We may not prescribe to God, but we may pray to God that he will deal with the enemies of his church in our days as he did with those in the days of our fathers.

II. He illustrates it by some similitudes, and prays, 1. That God would make them like a wheel (Ps. 83:13), that they might be in continual motion, unquiet, unsettled, and giddy in all their counsels and resolves, that they might roll down easily and speedily to their own ruin. Or, as some think, that they might be broken by the judgments of God, as the corn is broken, or beaten out, by the wheel which was then used in threshing. Thus, when a wise king scatters the wicked, he is said to bring the wheel over them, Prov. 20:26. Those that trust in God have their hearts fixed; those that fight against him are unfixed, like a wheel. 2. That they might be chased as stubble, or chaff, before the fierce wind. “The wheel, though it continually turn round, is fixed on its own axis; but let them have no more fixation than the light stubble has, which the wind hurries away, and nobody desires to save it, but is willing it should go,” Ps. 1:4. Thus shall the wicked be driven away in his wickedness, and chased out of the world. 3. That they might be consumed, as wood by the fire, or as briers and thorns, as fern or furze, upon the mountains, by the flames, Ps. 83:14. When the stubble is driven by the wind it will rest, at last, under some hedge, in some ditch or other; but he prays that they might not only be driven away as stubble, but burnt up as stubble. And this will be the end of wicked men (Heb. 6:8) and particularly of all the enemies of God’s church. The application of these comparisons we have (Ps. 83:15): So persecute them with thy tempest, persecute them to their utter ruin, and make them afraid with thy storm. See how sinners are made miserable; the storm of God’s wrath raises terrors in their own hearts, and so they are made completely miserable. God can deal with the proudest and most daring sinner that has bidden defiance to his justice, and can make him afraid as a grasshopper. It is the torment of devils that they tremble.

III. He illustrates it by the good consequences of their confusion, Ps. 83:16-18. He prays here that God, having filled their hearts with terror, would thereby fill their faces with shame, that they might be ashamed of their enmity to the people of God (Isa. 26:11), ashamed of their folly in acting both against Omnipotence itself and their own true interest. They did what they could to put God’s people to shame, but the shame will at length return upon themselves. Now, 1. The beginning of this shame might be a means of their conversion: “Let them be broken and baffled in their attempts, that they may seek thy name, O Lord! Let them be put to a stand, that they may have both leisure and reason to pause a little, and consider who it is that they are fighting against and what an unequal match they are for him, and may therefore humble and submit themselves and desire conditions of peace. Let them be made to fear thy name, and perhaps that will bring them to seek thy name.” Note, That which we should earnestly desire and beg of God for our enemies and persecutors is that God would bring them to repentance, and we should desire their abasement in order to this, no other confusion to them than what may be a step towards their conversion. 2. If it did not prove a means of their conversion, the perfecting of it would redound greatly to the honour of God. If they will not be ashamed and repent, let them be put to shame and perish; if they will not be troubled and turned, which would soon put an end to all their trouble, a happy end, let them be troubled for ever, and never have peace: this will be for God’s glory (Ps. 83:18), that other men may know and own, if they themselves will not, that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH (that incommunicable, though not ineffable name) art the Most High over all the earth. God’s triumphs over his and his church’s enemies will be incontestable proofs, (1.) That he is, according to his name JEHOVAH, a self-existent self-sufficient Being, that has all power and perfection in himself. (2.) That he is the most high God, sovereign Lord of all, above all gods, above all kings, above all that exalt themselves and pretend to be high. (3.) That he is so, not only over the land of Israel, but over all the earth, even those nations of the earth that do not know him or own him; for his kingdom rules over all. These are great and unquestionable truths, but men will hardly be persuaded to know and believe them; therefore the psalmist prays that the destruction of some might be the conviction of others. The final ruin of all God’s enemies, in the great day, will be the effectual proof of this, before angels and men, when the everlasting shame and contempt to which sinners shall rise (Dan. 12:2) shall redound to the everlasting honour and praise of that God to whom vengeance belongs.