Psalm 83 brings to an end a brief string of psalms (79–83) whose focus is the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC. In these psalms, the people have cried out to God in despair, asking why and how long. The Lord answered those questions in Psalm 81. They had invited the oppression through their disobedience and it would last until they repented.
We might wonder why the people asked these questions when the answer was so obvious. One reason, I think, is because their prayers arose less out of disinformation and more out of despair. Even as they acknowledged that they deserved divine judgement, they lamented at the oppression that their enemies levelled against them. God had appointed the instruments of judgement, but that did not give those instruments free reign to oppress as they wished. The Lord did not approve of oppression and his people knew that they could appeal to him for justice. They knew that God cares deeply about justice (see Psalm 82) and thus confidently appealed to him for justice even as they acknowledged that they had brought the oppression on themselves.
One of the devotional directions in which we can take our consideration of this psalm is in the direction of praying for oppressed and persecuted Christians. In their commentary on Psalm 83, Tucker and Grant suggest three lessons we can learn from this psalm in terms of our prayers for the persecuted.
First, we learn the need to inform ourselves of persecution. While we don’t deny that persecution can take verbal and nonviolent forms (Matthew 5:11–12), we who live in the relative comfort of Western civilisation often forget that violent persecution is not a thing of the past. Christians around the world today face the very real threat of physical and violent persecution. We must be aware. The psalmist was aware that the enemies were plotting to violently destroy God’s people. The Babylonians were raising their heads against Judah and laying crafty plans against God’s treasured ones in order to wipe them out (vv. 1–4). We do well to inform ourselves of the fact that God’s enemies still wish to “wipe out” God’s people and many Christians around the world face violent, physical threat against their lives. We must be informed if we will intelligently pray.
Second, we must intercede. Sceptics often mock the “thoughts and prayers” of God’s people in times of hardship, but Christians recognise that there is power in prayer. We pray to a living God who is sovereign over all. If we really believe the power of God, how can we not pray to him when we see his people suffering? As we are informed of suffering Christians around the world, we have no option but to intercede on their behalf and cry for justice. We should pray for justice for persecuted Christians as the psalmist prayed: “O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so may you pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane!” (vv. 13–15).
Third, we must allow God to work in whatever way he wants in response to our prayers. While the psalmist wanted justice, his prayer, ultimately, was that the persecutors would “know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth” (v. 18). There is an interesting parallel with this language to Daniel 4, where Nebuchadnezzar seems to have come to faith in the living God.
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honoured him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
In the case of Nebuchadnezzar, God saw fit to glorify his name through grace. Persecution is sometimes ended through God’s judgement on the persecutor and sometimes through God’s grace to the persecutor. We must learn to pray that God’s name will be magnified and leave it to God to determine how that will happen best.
Do you take the time to consider your brothers and sisters around the world who, even now, face violent persecution for their faith? Do you pray for them? Do you trust God to glorify his name in whatever way he sees fit? Let Psalm 83 teach you these lessons.