Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha



"1. O God, do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
2. Even now your enemies are in tumult;
those who hate you have raised their heads.
3. They lay crafty plans against your people;
they consult together against those you protect.
4. They say, 'Come let us wipe them out as a nation;
let the name of Israel be remembered no more.'
5. They conspire with one accord;
against you they make a covenant -
6. the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
Moab and the Hagrites,
7. Gebal and Ammon and Amalek,
Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;
8. Assyria also has joined them;
they are the strong arm of the children of Lot. Selah

9. Do to them as you did to Midian,
as to Sisera and Jabin at the Wadi Kishon,
10. who were destroyed at En-dor,
who became dung for the ground.
11. Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb,
all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna,
12. who said, 'Let us take the pastures of God
for our own possession.'

13. O my God, make them like whirling dust,
like chaff before the wind.
14. As fire consumes the forest,
as the flame sets the mountains ablaze,
15. so pursue them with your tempest
and terrify them with your hurricane.
16. Fill their faces with shame,
so that they may seek your name, O LORD.
17. Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever,
let them perish in disgrace.
18. Let them know that you alone,
whose name is the LORD,
are the Most High over all the earth."

This psalm is a prayer, an urgent prayer, again not just of an individual in need, but of the nation. They were so threatened by enemies that if God were silent and did not speak and act to defend them they would be in deep trouble. This explains the cry of the first verse, "O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace ---." As so often in such prayers in the Psalms, we find three things: the present situation is brought to God, there is a recalling of what God has done in the past, and there is a desire for the future.

The present situation

Enemies threatening, enemies making plans together, plotting even to wipe out Israel from being a nation at all - that was the situation. But the people pleaded with God, they are not just our enemies, they are " your enemies", "those who hate you ", planning "against your people". God's name and God's purposes were threatened.
It is hard to be sure just what was the occasion in the life of Israel. The peoples mentioned include "Edom" and the "Ishmaelites" or Midianites to the south, and Moab to the south-east. The Hagrites (perhaps descended from Hagar, wife of Abraham) are only mentioned otherwise in the Old Testament in 1 Chronicles 5:19-20, where it is clear that they lived east of the Jordan river. Gebal (if it is the same as that in Joshua 13:5) was in the north. Ammon and Amalek often threatened Israel raiding them from east and south, as did the Philistines from the south-west, while Tyre was powerful in the north. Assyria was the great power in the time of Isaiah and Hezekiah, and overwhelmed the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C.
There were alliances of various peoples against Judah in the time of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:1-4) and of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:6-8), and later in the time of Nehemiah, but in none of these cases as far as we know were all these peoples linked together. The psalm may list them together because at different times in their history Israel had had to face the opposition of all these nations. Their only hope was in God whenever such enemies plotted together against their national life.
They could have such a hope because they were convinced that those who attacked or hated them were God's enemies. This attitude helped them in two ways. It kept them from despair (verse 2 and 18). It helped them to exercise self-restraint. In the face of injustice and persecution, it is easy to lash out to vindicate ourselves. But when we think of unjust and oppressive people as God's enemies, we learn not to avenge ourselves, but "leave room for the wrath of God" (see Romans 12:17-21).

The past remembered

When they prayed in their need, the people could always remember the past. We have seen how a number of the psalms call to mind how God brought them to freedom from slavery in Egypt and led them to possess their land. Here it was the victories in the days of the judges that were recalled. Under Gideon the Midianites were conquered with their captains Oreb and Zeeb and their princes Zebah and Zalmunna (Judges 6-8). Under Deborah and Barak, Sisera and Jabin were defeated at En-dor and by the river Kishon in the north (Judges 4-5). The people believed that God protected Israel then and helped them conquer their enemies. 'Do it again,' was their prayer. We do well to keep a record of God's special interventions in our lives. When we find ourselves in difficult situations, faith is strengthened when we remember how God has helped us in the past.

Hopes for the future

Their enemies - God's enemies - the people hoped would have no more power than dust that is swept away before the wind. They wanted those enemies to be terrified by the power of the Lord, as people are by a raging forest fire or by a frightening storm. They wanted them to be ashamed of their aggression and "perish in disgrace". We have read a good many prayers in the psalms like this one, and have realised that, as men and women who have experienced God's grace and forgiveness in Christ, we must pray for the conversion of those who have opposed the purposes of God and the people of God, and not for their destruction. But here in this psalm we should notice that the highest prayer is that these people of the nations who have opposed themselves may seek the Lord (verse 16), and know that He is "the Most High over all the earth". That is a prayer that we always can pray and should pray for others.

Meditation Jesus in his prayer (in John 17:3) said, "this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."

For further thought and study

a. What can we learn from the prayer in Acts 4:23-31 of a true attitude for Christians facing opposition and persecution?

b. Enemies united in their opposition to Jesus (Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians) and similarly enemies have often united in their opposition to Christians. What can we learn from what the apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:27-30 about Christians being united as they face opposition?