06. April 2022
Lent 5 Midweek
“Do not keep silent, O God! Do not hold Your peace, And do not be still, O God! For behold, Your enemies make a tumult; And those who hate You have lifted up their head. They have taken crafty counsel against Your people, And consulted together against Your sheltered ones. They have said, “Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation, That the name of Israel may be remembered no more.”
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
Throughout the Book of Psalms is the constant mention of enemies. Indeed, it may occasionally cross one’s mind that about half of the psalms are prayed against somebody or another, an impression that may be pretty close to accurate. There is a lot of strife in the Psalter.
Nonetheless, though the psalms make almost ubiquitous references to enemies, these are seldom identified very specifically. Those enemies are abstract, non-specific. It makes it easy for us to insert those who attack us, whether physically in this life or the spiritual forces of darkness. Psalm 83 is an exception to the rule. Here, at least, the psalm points its finger and actually names the foes. Asaph, the Psalmist, gives us permission to be very specific in our prayers, even naming our enemies as we pray against them.
And just who are these enemies? Well, take your pick: “The tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon, and Amalek, and Philistia with the citizens of Tyre. For Assyria too has joined with them; they have come to the aid of the sons of Lot.” If you know your Bible history, this covers almost all the immediate threats to ancient Israel. But it’s worse yet, in the Psalm. “They have consulted together with one consent; They form a confederacy against You.”
And taken all together, this list would describe a pretty impressive coalition of adversaries. Such a confederacy, in fact, never really came together against Israel. Moreover, at no point in Israel’s history did all of these forces even exist simultaneously. Instead, our psalm is describing an ongoing general situation, not a specific historical event. These are the collective enemies, a specific and yet representative population of those who seek Israel’s hurt and harm. Whomever the enemy happens to be at the moment, the servants of God live under constant threat of incursion. “Deliver us from the evil one” is always a fitting petition for the Christian to pray.
In most of these names, we recognize Israel’s real military enemies, such as Moab, Ammon, and Amalek of our Old Testament reading (Judg. 3:12-30). The first two of these are likewise identical to “the sons of Lot.” Gebal was a city of the Philistines, against whom Israel famously fought in many battles. (cf. 1 Kin. 5:18)
The Edomites are remembered in Holy Scripture for their participation in the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. Of them, Obadiah’s vision of judgment says, “When foreigners entered his gates And cast lots for Jerusalem—Even you were as one of them… For the day of the Lord upon all the nations is near; As you have done, it shall be done to you; Your reprisal shall return upon your own head.” (Obadiah 11)
Hagar being the mother of Ishmael, the Hagrites and the Ishmaelites are apparently the same people, who lives east of Gilead. Both Saul on one occasion and the sons of Reuben and half of Manasseh on another waged war against them and God delivered them into Israel’s hands. (1 Chr. 5:10, 18-22)
Assyria, finally, was one of the cruelest and most loathed of Israel’s ancient foes. Its capital Ninevah is well-known for it’s evil and debauchery. The prophet Nahum preaches against it. “God is jealous, and the Lord avenges; The Lord avenges and is furious. The Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies; The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, And will not at all acquit the wicked.” (Nahum 1:2-3)
And the prophet says, “Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs… There is a multitude of slain, A great number of bodies, Countless corpses—They stumble over the corpses—Because of the multitude of harlotries of the seductive harlot, The mistress of sorceries, Who sells nations through her harlotries, And families through her sorceries. “Behold, I am against you,” says the Lord of hosts; “I will lift your skirts over your face, I will show the nations your nakedness, And the kingdoms your shame. I will cast abominable filth upon you, Make you vile, And make you a spectacle. It shall come to pass that all who look upon you Will flee from you, and say, ‘Nineveh is laid waste! Who will bemoan her?’ Where shall I seek comforters for you?” (Nahum 3)
Nonetheless, a unique feature of this list indicates that the enmity involved is more than simply military. That element is the mention of the Phoenician capital of Tyre. Although Israel’s relationship with the Phoenicians may sometimes have been strained, we have no evidence of any military hostility between them. You might recall the tension between Solomon and Hiram the king of Tyre who had supplied cedar and cypress and gold for the building of the temple. He wasn’t satisfied with Solomon’s payment of twenty cities in Galilee, so Hiram called them Kabul, “good for nothing,” in spite. (cf. I Kin. 9:1-14) That might explain in part why the Judea’s thought of Galileans as worthless. “Can anything good come from Galilee?”
Nevertheless, from another and more spiritual perspective, it may be the case that Phoenicia, with its capitals at Tyre and Sidon, was the worst enemy that Israel ever had. It was through the various economic and political alliances with the Phoenicians that Israel learned ever anew the ways of infidelity to God. Solomon’s early pacts with this nation paved the avenue by which the likes of Jezebel and Athaliah traveled south to teach Israel to sin, and opposition to Phoenician influence was a sustained feature of the prophetic message, from Elijah’s encounter with the servants of Baal (cf. I Kin. 18), through Amos’s condemnation of the Phoenician slave trade (cf. Amos 1:9), to Ezekiel’s lengthy tirade against their great economic empire (Ezek. 26–28).
Therefore, the introduction of Tyre into our psalm’s list of foes shows that the threatened enmity is more than physical and military. Whether with hostility on the battlefield or along the subtler paths of syncretism, materialism, idolatry, and cultural compromise, there is more than one way for the people of God to be destroyed. And the danger of destruction is the very theme and meat of this psalm.
The real threat to God’s people, then, is one of the Spirit because “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). The real attack is ultimately and always faith in God. Whether the destruction of the people God has established (church) or the attacks on the well-being of God’s people (material), the enemies of God always seek to undermine the trust that God is with them, protecting them, providing for them and ultimately will rescue them.
So we also pray that God will renew the wonders He worked of old. We cry out in lament against our enemies, whether physical or spiritual. We plead to God to overcome these enemies by name and for the sake of faith. Smite afresh; we implore the forces of Jabin and Sisera (cf. Judg. 4). Give us Gideon again, we plead, to crush those Midianites. Let Oreb and Zeb, Zebah, and Zalmunna fall anew in defeat (cf. Judg. 7; 8). May their blood blemish the streams of Kishon, and their bodies lie once more on the dung heap at Endor. Against these demonic enemies of God and His people, we pray with the warrior’s fervor, anger, and zeal.
Don’t be afraid to speak directly and clearly to God in prayer. Name your enemies. And if you’re wrong and they will be converted, thanks be to God. Pray God to defeat them and repent them. And if not, pray that He destroy them. Your life and faith depend on Him ending the foul reign of enemies physically and spiritually.
As we approach Holy Week, we see God the Father destroy that what separates us from Him. We witness Him avenge all the wrongs committed against his people. The guilt of your sin, your enemy’s sin, and the sin of the world were put on Jesus. In Jesus’ death, the guilt of sin has been put away. And He creates repentant faith to turn even the most hardened enemies of the Gospel to faith and gives them escape from His wrath. Think of the chief of sinners and greatest enemy of the church, Saul, whom Jesus converts into the boldest and most prolific Apostle Paul!
“So pursue them with Your tempest, And frighten them with Your storm. Fill their faces with shame, That they may seek Your name, O Lord. Let them be confounded and dismayed forever; Yes, let them be put to shame and perish, That they may know that You, whose name alone is the Lord, Are the Most High over all the earth.”
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin