Psalm 83, continued
Part 2: Verses 10-19 [9-18]
After the description of the hostile nations in Part 1 (cf. the previous study), with which the Psalmist gives forth a national lament and plea to YHWH, the tone in Part 2 shifts to a prayer for deliverance, asking God to bring judgment upon the nations. This is an early example of the Prophetic theme of the day of YHWH’s collective judgment against all the nations of earth. The concept of a collective judgment is an extension and development of the nation-oracle genre, in which the prophet delivers an oracle of judgment against a particular nation or people. Another example of this development is the Isaian ‘Apocalypse’ (chapters 24-27) that follows the collection of nation-oracles in chaps. 13-23.
“Do to them as (you did to) Midyan, as (to) Sîsera,
(and) as (to) Yabîn at (the) wadi Qîšôn,
(who) were destroyed at (the) Spring of Dôr,
(and) became manure for (the) ground!”
In calling for YHWH to bring judgment on the nations, the Psalmist turns to past historical examples when God delivered his people from oppression and attack. Obviously, these examples indicate that YHWH acted to achieve a military victory for Israel, and, most likely, the Psalmist envisions the judgment on the nations coming in a similar manner. The victory over Midian presumably alludes to the episodes described in Judges 6-7, while those over Sisera and Jabin are narrated in Judges 4-5. There were two different kings of the Canaanite city-state Hazor with the name Jabin (for the other, cf. Joshua 11).
I take verse 11 as a continuation of the example in v. 10, and read the perfect verb forms as past tense narrative verbs. However, Dahood (II, p. 275f) treats the verbs as precative perfects, understanding the couplet to express a separate (or additional) imprecation against the nations—i.e., “Let them be destroyed…, may they become…”.
If verse 11 is truly a continuation of the thought in v. 10, then the (plural) subject of the verbs is almost certainly the pair of leaders Jabin and Sisera, who were defeated near the wadi Qîšôn (Kishon), cf. Judg 4:7, 13ff; 5:21. The location of the “Spring of Dor” (En-Dor, rad) /yu@) in the first line is problematic. There is no mention of this site in Judges 4-5, and, though it is in the general area indicated, it is located some distance north of the Kishon. It may reflect a detail in the historical tradition that has otherwise been lost. Kraus (p. 160) would emend the text to dr)j& /yu@ (“Spring of Harod,” En-Harod), the location of the battle against the Midianites (Judg 7:1). Dahood (II, p. 275f) takes an entirely different approach, which, while alleviating the geographic difficulties, creates certain implausibilities of its own.
“Set their nobles (to be) like ±Oreb and like Ze°eb,
and like Zebaµ and like ‚almunna all their princes,
who said, ‘Let us seize for ourselves
(the) abodes of (the) mighty (one)s!'”
This pair of couplets picks up from the initial mention of Midian in v. 10a, referring to the Gideon narratives in Judges 6-8. The four Midianite leaders mentioned here were among those defeated and killed by Gideon, according to Judg 7:25ff and 8:5-21. Their declaration in v. 13 reflects the wicked and violent ambitions of the foreign rulers, who seek to take possession (vb vr^y`) of the land of Israel. The noun ha*n` is a general term denoting a dwelling or abode, whether human or animal; it can refer to a human home/house, but also to pasture-land for herds, etc. The expression <yh!l)a$ toan+ could be translate “abodes of (the) Mightiest [i.e. God, Elohim]”; in any case, the author is doubtless playing on the double meaning of <yh!l)a$ (“mighty ones” / “Mightiest”), cf. the first word of v. 14. Dahood (II, p. 276) is probably correct in emphasizing the term’s principal significance here as a superlative, viz., the best/finest lands, etc.
“O Mightiest, set them (to be) like the rolling (brush),
like stubble (blown) before (the) face of (the) wind;”
Here, the defeat of the nations is expressed via images from nature. The noun lG~l=G~ denotes something that rolls or is rolling; here it probably refers a rolling tumbleweed (or similar brush) that is blown about by the wind. Describing them as stubble (vq^) suggests an even more feeble and helpless condition in the face of YHWH’s judgment.
“(just) as fire burns (through) a forest,
and as (its) flame consumes (the) hills—”
Syntactically, this couplet continues the thought from v. 14, shifting the imagery, from a windstorm to that of a fire that burns through (and burns up) the forests and wooded hills. The verb ru^B* denotes the actual burning of something, while fj^l* refers to something being consumed (i.e., burned up) by fire.
“so may you pursue them with your windstorm,
and with your tempest terrify them!”
I view this couplet syntactically as the principal clause that completes the thought of vv. 14-16. It calls on YHWH to strike the nations, driving them off (lit. pursuing [vb [d^r*] them) in fear/alarm (vb lh^B*). Two different nouns signifying a powerful storm are used—ru^s^ and hp*Ws. This is part of an ancient poetic storm-theophany tradition, describing the manifest presence of YHWH through the imagery and phenomena of the storm. This reflects YHWH’s control over the forces of nature, but particularly the celestial phenomena related to the rains and the waters above the heavens (cf. my earlier article “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”). The forces of nature fight under YHWH’s command and control, on behalf of His people Israel. The most famous example of this tradition is the event and the Reed Sea (Exodus 14-15), but it is also present in the Song of Deborah (Judg 5:4-5, 20-21); cf. above on the mention of Sisera and Jabin in v. 10.
The verb forms are jussive imperfects, with the force of imperatives.
“Fill (all) their faces (with) dishonor,
and let them seek your name, YHWH.”
This couplet is problematic, as the apparent wish for the nations to seek the name of YHWH seems rather out of place. Dahood’s clever solution (II, p. 277) is worth mentioning. He divides and vocalizes the text in the second line differently from the MT, reading the first two words as ;m=v!W vQ@b^w], with the second w-conjunction having emphatic force: “and let your name (indeed) seek (vengeance)”.
However, if the MT is correct, then a different explanation must be sought. Thematically, it would seem that the two lines of verse 17 represent a seminal form of a juxtaposition that is developed more fully in vv. 18-19. The first line refers to the judgment/punishment of the nations, and corresponds to v. 18; the second line, corresponding to v. 19, refers to the nations’ acknowledgment of YHWH as the one true God and Sovereign over the earth.
“May they be put to shame and alarmed even to (the end)—
indeed, may they be disgraced and may they perish!”
As noted above, this couplet corresponds with the first line of v. 17. The two verbs denoting the experience of shame/disgrace, vWB and rp^j*, essentially carry the same meaning as the idiom in v. 17 (of one’s face being filled with disgrace [/olq*]), and are parallel here. Also parallel is the phrase “let them be alarmed until (the) end” and the verbal form “let them perish” (vb db^a*). The line 1 phrase uses the verb lh^B* (“be alarmed, frightened, disturbed”), as earlier in v. 16 (cf. above), along with the qualifying expression du^ yd@u&. This prepositional expression is difficult to translate; loosely it means something like “for perpetuity”, connoting something going on continually, and yet the parallel with the verb db^a* (“perish”) suggests an end. The intensity of the double du construction is best understood as referring to a severe and prolonged state of fear and suffering that accompanies the nations’ destruction.
“And let them know that you, your name (is) YHWH,
you alone are (the) Highest (One) over all the earth!”
The Psalm closes with this elongated 4-beat (4+4) couplet, developing the theme from the second line of v. 17 (cf. above). The judgment of the nations will cause them (i.e., the nations) to know that YHWH is the supreme God and Sovereign over all Creation. I take hwhy ;m=v! (lit. “your name YHWH”) as a phrase modifying the pronoun hT*a^ (“you”)—i.e., “you, (whose) name (is) YHWH”; that is, the God of Israel, whose name is YHWH.
How does this couplet relate to v. 18? There are three possibilities:
- Both couplets refer to the nations that are judged (and destroyed); in their punishment, they are forced to acknowledge YHWH as the Mightiest (One), the supreme God.
- The verses refer to two different groups of nations—those who are judged/destroyed, and those which remain; the ones remaining recognize Israel’s God, YHWH, as the true God.
- The same nations are referenced in both verses; while they are judged and punished as nations, not all the people are destroyed, and the survivors acknowledge YHWH as God (compare Zech 14:16ff).
The last approach seems to make the best sense of vv. 18-19, and also of the juxtaposed lines in v. 17, where the more positive motif of people seeking (vb vq^B*) YHWH is present.
References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).