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The Psalm 83 War: When?
Another popular but misguided teaching these days says this: Psalm 83 is a prophecy about an End Time war against the nation of Israel.
In fact, this psalm, along with other closely related psalms, speaks about a past event that took place in 485 B.C. In that year, the newly-crowned Emperor Xerxes of Persia, dealing with rebellions throughout the empire at the death of his father Darius, allowed the neighboring enemies of the rebellious province of Judah to punish the Jews for him. (Xerxes had more pressing concerns: an ongoing rebellion in his much more important province of Egypt, and a brewing rebellion in Babylon.)
Nothing in Psalm 83 speaks of its events as taking place in the future of Asaph’s days. On the contrary, they speak of events that he experienced:
Psalm 83 A Song. A Psalm of Asaph. 1 Do not keep silent, O God: do not hold not your peace, and do not be still, O God. 2 For behold, your enemies make an uproar, and those who hate you have lifted up their head. …They have said, “Come and let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more. 5 …They form a confederacy against you: …Edom and the Ismaelites, 6 Moab and the Hagrites 7 Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, the Philistines…Tyre, 8 Assyria…
Other Psalms written by Asaph make clear that he was writing about events of his own day. In Psalm 74, he wrote:
Psalm 74:1 …of Asaph. O God, why have you cast [us] off for ever? [why] does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? ... 3 Lift up your feet unto the perpetual desolations: all [that] the enemy has done wickedly [or, destroyed] in the sanctuary. ...6 ...they break down the carved work thereof at once with axes and hammers. 7 They have cast fire into your sanctuary, they have defiled the dwelling place of your name to the ground. 8 They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them together: they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land.
Synagogues/meeting places were an institution begun during the Babylonian captivity, and brought back to the Holy Land with Zerubbabel’s emigration in 537 B.C.
Psalm 80 …of Asaph. 4…O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry against the prayer of your people? 5 You have caused them to eat the bread of tears, and caused them to drink tears in great measure. 6 You have made us a strife unto our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves.
All of these things Asaph was experiencing. There is no indication at all that he was prophesying about some far-distant future.
The Book of Lamentations, despite its non-verifiable attribution to Jeremiah, was probably also written by Asaph, or at least by a contemporary. That book begins,
Lamentations 1:1 How isolated sits the city, [that was] full of people! She has become as a widow! She [that was] great among the nations, princess among the provinces, she has become a tributary! 2 …all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. ...10 The adversary has spread out his hand upon all her desirable things: for she has seen the heathen entered into her sanctuary, whom you did command [that] they should not enter into your congregation.
The mention of Jerusalem as being “princess among the provinces” discloses that this book was written during the era of the Persian Empire, when Judah was truly a province. During the era of the Babylonian Empire, Judah was a vassal kingdom before becoming desolate, never a province.
The few Jews left (briefly) in Judah after Nebuchadnezzar had carried off captives to Babylon–which captives included all the priests that he had not killed–had plenty of “wine and summer fruit and oil” left for them to harvest. Jer. 40:10 Now contrast that time with this one in Lamentations:
Lam. 4:9 [Those] slain of the sword are better of than [these] slain of hunger: for these pine away, stricken through for [want of] the fruits of the field.
One more point, among many similar points of evidence. Lamentations 4:20 reads,
The breath of our nostrils, the anointed one of the LORD, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, “Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen.”
Now, can you see Jeremiah (or any other righteous chronicler of his day) calling the weak and vacillating King Zedekiah “the breath of our nostrils”?? Hardly. (Ezekiel called Zedekiah a “profane, wicked prince.” Ezek. 21:25)
This “anointed one”–whom the Jews had crowned king over Judah in defiance of the Persian Emperor, inciting him to send his allies against Judah–is spoken of in yet another Psalm of this era:
Psalm 89:39 You [God] have renounced the covenant of your servant, you have profaned his crown to the ground. … 51 …your enemies…have reproached the footsteps of your anointed one/messiah.
God allowed this reproach, because the Jews didn’t have his permission to anoint another king over his people prior to the coming of the Messiah of the house of David. The Jews had been presumptuous, thinking that the prophecies of Isaiah about a Messiah were to be fulfilled in their own day. Therefore, God permitted their enemies to spank them, and depose their false messiah.
About 28 years after this time, Ezra spoke in 457 B.C. about the “captivity, pillage, and humiliation” of Judah “at the hand of the kings of the lands…as it is this day.” Ezra 9:7 In 444 B.C., Nehemiah wept because Jerusalem’s walls had been broken down, its gates burned, and “the remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach;” and later testified to Artaxerxes that Jerusalem “lies waste. Neh. 1:3; 2:3
In stark contrast with this, the Jews and Jerusalem had previously “prospered” under guidance of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and Zerubbabel the governor, around 519 B.C. Ezra 6:14 So clearly, sometime after this time of prosperity, the province of Judah suffered an extended period of “captivity, pillage, and humiliation” –exactly what Asaph and others said had begun in their days.
To cut this short and sum up: there is plenty of biblical, historical, and grammatical evidence to show that in Psalm 83 and related texts, Asaph and others were bearing witness about events of their own day, ca. 485 B.C., that they experienced. Neither the verb tenses, nor any other indication or description, suggest that Psalm 83 is prophesying about a future war in the End Times.