Psalm 83 has been a focus for some prophetic teachers who claim that there will be a future battle that will take place before the Gog-Magog battle, near the time of the Rapture. Psalm 83 has been presented as evidence that the end times will begin very soon. It is good for us to review this Psalm because it comes up frequently in sermons and on the internet. The chart illustrates the position.
The Basic Idea of Psalm 83
In Psalm 83, ten peoples 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). In this Psalm, the author Asaph asks God to show His strength and thoroughly defeat these enemies of Israel. Asaph points out that Judah is in a terrible situation as the hatred for Israel is intense and God needs to intervene. In the past, God has brought about some tremendous victories on behalf of Israel and He needs to do so again.
The Basic Idea of Psalm 83 Being a Still Future Battle
Those who see this Psalm as prophetic, see it as speaking of a future battle just before the well-known “Gog-Magog” war. First, they note that the hateful attitude found in Psalm 83 is exactly what is seen today in the middle-east. The constant cry today from Israel’s enemies is to “drive Israel into the sea” and it is said this shows that the Psalm 83 battle is probably quite close.
Second, 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, and one that has yet to be fulfilled. This psalm is part of the ministry of the prophet Asaph.
Third, concerning the alignment of the ten peoples/nations, it is stated that this alignment never has had an historical fulfillment, and so must await a coming day. The idea is that this battle of the Ten versus Israel is imminent and will occur just before the Gog/Magog battle (discussed in Ezekiel 38-39). In Psalm 83, God is asked to thoroughly defeat this group of enemies, something God will do, thus giving Israel a time of peace. This is the peace that is mentioned as Israel’s condition 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 Islamic nations to come and destroy Israel, which then triggers the Gog/Magog battle. No dogmatic position is taken on the timing of the battle, but it is viewed as near the Rapture and therefore “soon”.
|(1) EDOM – Jordan (southern part)
|(6) AMMON – Jordan (northern part)
|(2) ISHMAELITES – Father of Arabs
|(7) AMALEK – Sinai area (Egypt)
|(3) MOAB – Jordan (central part)
|(8) PHILISTIA – Gaza area
|(4) HAGRITES – Egypt
|(9) TYRE – Lebanon
|(5) GEBAL – Lebanon
|(1O) ASSYRIA – Parts of Iraq & Syria
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 the Ten. Whether it was in O. T. times or today, these same groups have had an “everlasting” animosity towards the people of Israel.
Is Psalm 83 a Prophecy or Not?
In evaluating Psalm 83 as a prophecy of a future battle, several points can be made. First, 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). That these nations were the subject of coming judgment is found often in the OT prophets, but not packaged as they are here. So, Unger is likely correct that there is no historical fulfillment when this group of Ten was defeated.
Second, in evaluating Psalm 83, it should be noted that a deep hatred for Israel is hardly a new thing. This same spirit predominated the wars in 1948, 1967 and all the rest of the Arab-Israeli conflicts. This hatred is 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 2023. The fact that this antagonism is “everlasting” lets us know that this attitude is not going away any time soon. However, it will at the return of King Jesus. Then all the rebellious gentile nations will be judged severely (Psa. 2), including those mentioned in Psalm 83. But because Psalm 83 speaks of a hatred for Israel does not automatically put this psalm into life in the middle-east in 2023.
Third, the critical issue is whether 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. Lament psalms always include a statement of trust in the Lord. Psalm 83 contains all these elements. Asaph complains to the Lord that Judah is in a sad situation and there is hatred for Israel and a desire to do them harm. 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 that day”, 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. For example, it does not say that “in the last days Jehovah will judge these people”. Now it is 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 and others are all seen as prophets, but not everything they wrote was prophetic. Much of what they wrote were exhortations to obey the Lord Israel and return to keeping the Law. 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 these facts point to Psalm 83 as not being prophetic.
A fourth observation has to do with what this view has spawned, which is date setting and colorful prophetic speculations. Preachers and teachers, using Psalm 83, speak of this battle taking place “soon” and often 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.
Fifth, 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 for the setting to be right for the Gog/Magog battle. Psalm 83 is said to be that which produces that needed moment of peace. But is that 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). Therefore, the need for “peace” in Israel 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.
Sixth, for those who insist that this is a prophecy, there is something else to consider. And that something is Israel’s 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. In the first days of that 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 chronicles both the participation and military movements of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and even Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In other words, all the people mentioned in Psalm 83 are covered geographically in the 1967 war. The 1967 war did indeed help prepare for end time events. For those who teach that Psalm 83 speaks of a future conflict, perhaps they should consider that the war has already taken place and it is not a future war. Ultimately, all those who hate Israel will be dealt with when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to this earth. This will take place at the end of the coming 7-year period of Tribulation and then that “everlasting” hatred for Israel will end. Asaph’s request will be answered.
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 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.
And while we applaud those who take biblical prophecy seriously and teach it, we should be a little concerned with those 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 2026 or 2031 comes around and Psalm 83 is still 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.