There is today an ongoing discussion revolving around Psalm 83 and whether it is prophetic of some future battle. Many are saying that it is prophetic of a yet future battle, while others say it is not a prophecy. Book and articles have been written and many Christian talk shows have focused on this psalm. The internet is filled with people teaching on Psalm 83. It should be noted that some good people can be found on both sides of this discussion.
The Basic Idea of the Psalm 83 Battle
In Psalm 83, 10 names are mentioned which align themselves against Israel, and declare that they will “wipe out” Israel as a nation and that “the name of Israel will be remembered no more” (Psa. 83:4). The observation is made by those who see this psalm as prophetic that this is what we see today in the middle-east. They also state that the author of the Psalm, Asaph, is called a “seer” (prophet) in 2 Chronicles 29:30 which would qualify this psalm as prophetic, a prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled.
The total removal of Israel from the Land is clearly the goal today of the Palestinians and other Arab nations; and this, it is said, shows the imminence of the Psalm 83 battle. The cry to “drive Israel into the sea” is heard today but it should be noted that this is hardly a new idea. This same spirit predominated the wars in 1948, 1967 and all the rest of the Arab-Israeli conflicts. This is also found frequently in the Prophets. For example, Ezekiel says that the descendants of Ishmael and Esau have an “everlasting enmity” against Israel (Ezek. 35:5), and that because of their anger and envy they will attempt to take Israel’s land through violence and bloodshed (35:10-12; 36:5). Ezekiel sounds very up to date. The fact that this antagonism is “everlasting” lets us know that this attitude is not going away, and will not until the messianic (millennial) age comes with the return of King Jesus. Then He will severely judge all the rebellious gentiles nations (Psa. 2), including those mentioned in Psalm 83.
Concerning the alignment of 10, it is stated that this alignment never had a historical fulfillment, and so, awaits a coming day. Generally, the idea is that this battle of the 10 versus Israel is imminent and will occur just before the Gog/Magog battle discussed by Ezekiel (Ezek. 38-39). In Psalm 83, God is asked by Asaph to show His strength and thoroughly defeat this group of Arabs. Supporters of this view say that God will answer Asaph’s request and He will defeat these 10, thus giving Israel a time of peace; the kind of peace that is mentioned as Israel’s situation in Ezekiel 39:8 and 11. However, this newly achieved peace will be short lived as the defeated Arab nations will call on Russia and other Islamic nations to come and destroy Israel, and thus, the launching of the battle of Gog/Magog. So, it is conjectured that the Psalm 83 battle will likely be located somewhere around the Rapture event, probably just after that event. No dogmatic position is taken on the timing, but it is seen as “soon”.
The Alignment of 10 in Psalm 83
The following is the list of 10 given by Asaph in 83:6-8. All of these are mentioned in the OT prophets as peoples that will eventually be judged by God.
- EDOM – Jordan (southern part)
- ISHMAELITES – Father of Arabs generally
- MOAB – Jordan (central part)
- HAGRITES – Egypt
- GEBAL – Lebanon
- AMMON – Jordan (northern part)
- AMALEK – Sinai area (Egypt)
- PHILISTIA – Gaza area
- TYRE – Lebanon
- ASSYRIA – Parts of Syria and Iraq
While it is always challenging to line up the ancient names with the modern boundaries, the above list generally gives the areas involved with the alignment of 10. Whether it is in Old Testament times or today, these basic groups have had an “everlasting” animosity towards the people of Israel.
Evaluating Psalm 83 as a Prophecy
In evaluating Psalm 83 as a prophecy of a future battle that is to take place, a number of points can be made.
First, assuming for a moment that Psalm 83 is a prophecy, it seems accurate to conclude that there is no OT historical fulfillment of such a battle. As Dr. Merrill Unger states: “there is no such comprehensive anti-Israel alliance…mentioned in the OT.” (Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament, p. 867). These various nations being the subject of coming judgment is found numerous times in the OT prophets, but not packaged as they are here. So Unger and others are likely correct that there is no historical fulfillment when this group of 10 was defeated.
Second, the critical issue is whether or not Psalm 83 is really a prophecy at all. This, of course, goes to the heart of the matter. Psalm 83 is a “lament” psalm, one of many in the Psalter. A lament psalm centers on the sad situation that the psalmist sees and contains a request for God to do something about it; and they always include a confession of trust in the Lord. Psalm 83 contains all of these elements. Asaph complains to the Lord that Judah is in a terrible situation as there is hatred for Israel in the people all around Israel. They want to remove Israel from the land, and so Asaph asks God to deal with this situation; which is typical of a “lament psalm.” But what this Psalm does not include are the tell-tale phrases such as “in the latter days”, or “in those days”, which would immediately point to a prophetic element. There is a request for God to deal severely with these peoples, but it is not framed as a prophecy; that is, that in the last days Jehovah will deal forcefully with these people. Now it is often pointed out that Asaph is called a “seer”; that is a prophet. While that is what 2 Chronicles states, this does not automatically mean that the psalms of Asaph were prophecies or contained prophetic elements. In fact, it is hard to locate that element in his writings. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel are all seen as prophets, but, obviously, that does not mean that everything they wrote was prophetic. Much of what they wrote were exhortations to Israel to return back to faithful obedience to the Law or a record of certain historical incidents. When they spoke prophetically, it was very clear that the matters being spoken of were indeed prophesies. Psalm 83 simply lacks that kind of clarity. And this compels me to say that Psalm 83 is not prophetic.
A third observation has to do with what this view has spawned, which is date setting and colorful prophetic speculations. Dozens and dozens of preachers and teachers, using Psalm 83, speak of this battle taking place “soon” and specifically state that it will most likely take place during this calendar year. While spectacular interpretations garner a lot of attention, they also diminish biblical prophecy when such events do not take place. A lack of solid exegesis of the text of scripture almost always produces this phenomenon.
Fourth, the case for Psalm 83 being the forerunner of the Gog/Magog battle is built on the point that Israel needs to have a time of peace in order for the setting to be right for the Gog/Magog battle. Psalm 83 is said to be that which produces a moment of peace and sets the stage for the Ezekiel 38-39 battle. But is that really true? Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum has a significant contribution to make about the word “securely” found in Ezekiel 39:8. He notes that the Hebrew word batach means “security”. “This is not the security due to a state of peace, but a security due to confidence in their own strength.” (“Footsteps of the Messiah”, p. 121). So the need for “peace” in Israel in order for Gog/Magog to take place is not what is required by the Ezekiel text. And this would remove the need for a preliminary battle of some sort.
For those who insist that this is a prophecy, there is something else to consider. And that something is the 1967 war. Michael Oren in his excellent book “Six Days of War”, speaks of the tremendous impact that this short war had on the world. He stated, “Rarely in modern times has so short and localized a conflict had such prolonged, global consequences.” (Oren, xii). This war made the modern Middle East what it is today. The days that led up to the war, and in the first two days of the war, various Arab leaders were once again making their intentions clear. “Our goal is clear—to wipe Israel off the face of the map. We will, God willing, meet in Tel Aviv and Haifa.” “We have decided that this battle will be one for the final liberation from imperialism and Zionism…We shall meet in Tel Aviv.” (Oren, p. 164, 195)
In great detail Michael Oren shows the participation and military movements of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and even Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In other words, all of the people mentioned in Psalm 83 are covered geographically in the 1967 war.
So for those who are firmly convinced that Psalm 83 speaks of a future conflict, perhaps they should consider that that war has already taken place and it is not a war that is yet future, nor is it connected to the Gog/Magog battle. It is clear that all of the Israel-haters will be dealt with finally and severely when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to this earth and defeats the enemies of Israel in connection with the tribulation. It is during this coming 7 year period that the “everlasting” hatred for Israel will be taken care of once and for all.
Because of the lack of compelling textual evidence that Psalm 83 itself is prophetic, it would seem best to not view it as the prophecy of some battle that has not yet taken place. The evidence that Psalm 83 is actually prophesying a coming battle and that this battle prepares the world for the Gog/Magog battle is very weak. It is best to view it as a lament psalm which asks the Lord God to intervene and to deliver them from a difficult situation, which He ultimately will do.
We should be a little concerned with the many preachers and teachers who are declaring boldly that Psalm 83 will be fulfilled “soon”, or that it is in this calendar year that it will come to pass. What if the year 2023 comes around and Psalm 83 is not “fulfilled”? It would diminish biblical prophecy in the minds of a multitude of people, Christian and non-Christian alike. The view that biblical prophecy is “irrelevant” or “nonsense” would once again be reinforced.