They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones. They say, come, “let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”
Psalm 83 was written when God’s people were a nation state. Jesus redefined God’s people to be the church or the disciples of Christ. The psalmist describes a country surrounded by enemy states of one accord in their determination to overcome Israel so that they are not even a memory. v4 In doing so he names nations who not only geographically surround Israel but historically span the time from Joshua to the invasion of the northern kingdom by Assyria. vv 5-11 Antagonism towards Israel did not mean that they were not at various times at war with each other.
The psalm’s geopolitical imagery mirrors the contemporary situation of the modern church. Where the enemies of Christianity are numerous. Whilst divided in their own goals and motivations they share a common objective of destroying the influence and even existence of Christianity. Atheist secular forces are frequently not passive. In western civilization they often attack Christianity with the claim that it is not intellectually credible. Atheist states such as North Korea and China see Christianity as a threat to their authoritarian control. Other authoritarian states think that Christianity’s teaching, that every human is made in the image of God and is precious in his sight, threatens their oppression of their own people. There are theocracies especially in the middle east and sub-Saharan Africa who enshrine in law that conversion to Christianity is illegal and punishable by imprisonment or death. Religious based militias and state forces impose their faith through violence and drive alternative people groups from their land causing mass migration which has led many thousands across the world to live in refugee camps for generations. (Overall in 2020 there are 79.2 million displaced persons and 26 million refugees, Doctors Without Borders.)
The opening prayer of the psalmist then of, ‘O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!’ v1 remains highly relevant. There is much that the modern church can do in practical terms in the face of this level of opposition. In the West the intellectual opposition can be answered in as intellectually credible a manner as those who argue against the faith. The Church could be much more active in equipping its members to do so. The church could also improve its capacity to advocate for persecuted Christians at an international level and in local settings as well as supporting local churches in persecuted settings. There are excellent organizations working in this field including the Bible Society, Barnabas Aid and Open Doors. I recommend looking at the 2021 Open Doors World Watch list, just published, that maps and ranks countries by Christian persecution levels. ( https://www.opendoorsuk.org/ )
However, practical activity, without prayer and the working presence of the Holy Spirit, is worthless. Psalm 83 demonstrates prayer that is a lamenting cry from the persecuted, pleading with God to intervene. It is also a prayer for God’s holy power to overcome the oppressors. However, it is also an insightful prayer that by the grace of God his salvation is for his enemies as well, if they recognize he is the Most High. v18 Humbly the Christian needs to own up that s/he has also been an enemy of God through her/his sin. S/He is now called to pray for their enemies, that they will repent and turn to God for forgiveness. “God’s desire is not to punish for punishment’s sake but to redeem.” (NIV Study Bible 2015) Following Jesus, all Christians are called to live loving sacrificial lives.
Be still my soul – Kari Jobe