Keep not thou silence, O God – See the notes at Psalm 28:1. The prayer here is that in the existing emergency God would not seem to be indifferent to the needs and dangers of his people, and to the purposes of their enemies, but that he would speak with a voice of command, and break up their designs.
Hold not thy peace – That is, Speak. Give commaud. Disperse them by thine own authority.
And be not still, O God – Awake; arouse; be not indifferent to the needs and dangers of thy people. All this is the language of petition; not of command. Its rapidity, its repetition, its tone, all denote that the danger was imminent, and that the necessity for the divine interposition was urgent.
A PLEA FOR GOD TO CONFOUND HIS ENEMIES;
THIS IS THE LAST OF THE ASAPH PSALMS.
There is an extensive list of God’s enemies given in the psalm, but the tragedy is that Israel herself should have been numbered among them. The whole attention of her people should have been in the direction of loyalty to God and a true exhibition of the righteousness which His Law required of them, but, instead, there was this constant plea for God to wreak vengeance and destruction upon their enemies. God indeed eventually did just that very thing, but it also included the judgment and destruction of God’s enemies within Israel herself, only the righteous remnant being spared.
This psalm naturally divides into two parts: (1) a description of the threatening situation confronting Israel (Psalms 83:1-8); and (2) a devout prayer to God for him to destroy his enemies, which were also the enemies of Israel (Psalms 83:9-18).
The world’s scholarship is unable to determine, with any certainty, any particular time in the whole history of Israel that fits the picture revealed here. Briggs gave the occasion as, “During the time of Nehemiah.”Leupold wrote that the occasion was, “That described in 2 Chronicles 20, when Jehoshaphat was attacked by Edom, Moab and Ammon.” Addis thought he had found the occasion in 1 Maccabees 5, “In the year 165 B.C.” Rawlinson selected an occasion in the times of David, described in 2 Samuel 10, and 1 Chronicles 19. “Then only do we find a record of Asher (Assyria) helping the children of Lot (Moab and Ammon).”
The group of nations here listed as enemies of Israel were, “Probably never united for any common end.”The enemies mentioned here did not even exist all at the same time. Assyria, for example was not an effective enemy of Israel till long after the times of David; and in the times of the Maccabees, “Both Amalek and Assyria had long previously been blotted out of the roll of nations.” Whatever degree of probability may exist that any of the four occasions proposed above could be correct appears to this writer as favoring that proposed by Rawlinson; but against that selection is that fact that the majority of the enemies mentioned in this chapter are not even mentioned in any of the wars, invasions, and threatenings that are recorded in the Holy Bible.
Maclaren offered a bold solution to this difficult problem, admitting at the same time that there were weighty objections to it, and also pointing out that there are also weighty objections against every other proposed solution.
“The failure of all attempts to point to a period when all the allies here represented as confederate against Israel were, or even could have been, united in assailing it, inclines one to suppose that the enumeration here is not history, but poetic idealization. The psalm would then be, not the memorial of a fact, but the expression of the standing relation between Israel and the outlying heathendom.”
The very fact that enemies from all four directions are mentioned, enemies of various nationalities, and enemies dating back to the times of Joshua and also in the times of David, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah – all these appear to be a kind of composite including all the enemies Israel ever had.
The picture that emerges then, is that of the entire hostile world, forgetting their differences, and burying their mutual hatreds and animosities, in order to make common cause against “The Israel of God.” Herod and Pilate became friends in their opposition to Christ; and here we find the equivalent of it in the Old Testament, where all the world surrounds the Chosen of God, making common cause against them, hating them with malicious hatred, and determined even to exterminate them and blot out their very name from the face of the earth! This psalm describes a situation that includes all of this.
The only reasonable alternative to Maclaren’s interpretation would be to suppose that at some period, “During the eighth or ninth centuries, Judah was in danger of invasion by such a coalition as that named here.” No such occasion is known; but considering the vast ignorance of all men about countless things that took place in those centuries, there might well indeed have been just such an occasion as that described here. We believe that either this or Maclaren’s interpretation may be accepted without any violation of what the sacred text actually says.
The paragraphing we have chosen is that proposed by Albert Barnes.
PRAYER FOR GOD; NOT TO BE SILENT
“O God, keep not thou silence:
Hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God.”
The repetition here, the rapidity of the appeals, and the whole tone of the passage bespeak the urgency of the situation. The language here is that of petition, not of command; and, “This passage denotes that the danger is imminent, and that the necessity for God’s intervention was urgent.”
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.