This psalm, also called a song, is attributed to Asaph. This likely refers to a descendant of the prominent Levite musician in David’s time or a member of his house.
A serious enemy threat prompted the psalmist to make his appeal, “O God, be not silent, be not speechless, and be not quiet, O God.” Or, according to the extant Septuagint text, “O God, who shall be compared to you? Be not silent nor be calmed, O God.” The basic sense is that the Most High is being petitioned to act, not remaining like one who does not speak out and who is quiet, totally uninvolved.
God’s enemies were in uproar. They were his foes because of their hatred for his people. These enemies would have been noisily assembling their forces to attack. The words about the lifting up of the head by those who hated God (being haters of his people) express arrogant enemy defiance.
These enemies formulated their crafty scheme against God’s people or his “treasured,” “hidden,” “protected,” or “holy ones” (LXX). The plural participial form of the Hebrew word tsaphán (hide, treasure up) may be describing the Israelites as being under his protection or as people whom he treasured or cherished.
Consulting together, the enemies determined to destroy the Israelites as a nation. So completely did they want to wipe out God’s people that the very name of Israel would no longer be remembered.
Although these enemies included various nations or peoples, they were unified in their conspiracy. With one “heart,” mind, or accord, they concluded a covenant or made an alliance against Israel and, therefore, against God.
The foes included “the tents of Edom [descendants of Jacob’s twin brother Esau] and the Ishmaelites [descendants of Isaac’s half brother Ishmael], Moab [descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham], and Hagrites [a people dwelling east of Gilead; their linkage to Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, is uncertain], Gebal [likely a region either to the south or the east of the Dead Sea and applying to the tribe or people that lived there], Ammon [descendants of Lot], Amalek [descendants of Esau’s son Amalek], Philistia [the coastal region the Philistines occupied, a people with whom the Israelites were in repeated conflicts], with the inhabitants of Tyre [the prominent Phoenician seaport that lay outside the borders of Israel but is listed in the boundary description of Asher’s tribal territory].” Assyria joined the nations surrounding the Israelites, serving as the “arm of the sons of Lot” (Moab and Ammon) or their strong support. (See the Notes section regarding verses 6, 7, and 8.)
The psalmist petitioned God to defeat the enemies as he had done to Midian and, at the Wadi Kishon, to the forces of Jabin under the command of Sisera.
Canaanite king Jabin reigned from the city of Hazor in northern Canaan and oppressed Israel for twenty years. In her role as a prophetess in Israel, Deborah called upon Barak to assemble a military force and march up to Mount Tabor. News about this development prompted Sisera to move his troops and chariots to the plain along the Kishon, positioning them for military action. A tremendous downpour turned the ground to mud and transformed the Kishon into a raging torrent, rendering Sisera’s chariots useless. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus adds the tradition that the wind drove the rain into the faces of the Canaanites. With their vision impaired, they were unable to use their slings and bows effectively, and the penetrating cold made it difficult for them to use their swords. This gave the Israelites, though poorly equipped with weapons by comparison, the needed advantage, as the rain was not being blown into their faces. They succeeded in completely defeating the oppressor’s terrified forces who, in desperation, had resorted to flight. (Antiquities, V, v, 4; Judges 4:2-16; 5:21) Many of the enemy appear to have perished at En-dor, their carcasses becoming like dung for the ground.
With a small force, Gideon, through a surprise stratagem in the night, confused the camp of the Midianites, resulting in many of them mistakenly slaughtering one another, and the survivors fled in panic. Gideon sent messengers to the Ephraimites, requesting that they cut off the escape route along the Jordan where the Midianites would have been able to cross. The Ephraimites captured and killed Oreb and Zeeb. Gideon and his men pursued the Midianite forces who had succeeded in crossing the Jordan and captured Zebah and Zalmunna. He directed his oldest son Jether to kill them. Being young and inexperienced, Jether was afraid and could not bring himself to do it, and so Gideon put them to death. (Judges 7:15-25; 8:4, 10-12, 20, 21)
In the time of the psalmist, the nobles and other leaders among the enemy peoples and nations wanted to seize Israelite territory for their own. For these enemy rulers to become like Oreb, Zeeb, Zebah, and Zalmunna would have meant for them to perish. The expression “pastures of God” applies to the Promised Land, for the Israelites were God’s people and he had given the land to them. Extant manuscripts of the Septuagint, however, read either “sanctuary of God” or “altar of God.”
The psalmist prayed that the enemies would be reduced to nothingness, with God making them like something whirling in the wind or like chaff the wind blows away. (See the Notes section for verse 13.)
God’s destructive act should be like a fire that burns a forest and flames that scorch the hills. He should pursue them as with a powerful storm, terrifying them.
With their schemes having been frustrated, the enemies would be disgraced, their faces filled with shame. Witnessing the defeat of the enemy alliance, other people would be prompted to “seek” God’s name,” suggesting that they would repent of any past opposition and humbly submit to YHWH as the God deserving unqualified obedience. (For an explanation of verses 16 through 18 [17 through 19] that does not require interpreting verse 16 to apply to the enemies and then to those witnessing their defeat, see the Notes section.)
As for the enemies, they should be embarrassed and become horrified, deeply troubled, or dismayed for all time to come. With their objective having failed, they should suffer shame and perish, never to rise up again against God’s people.
His action to deliver the Israelites should cause all other tribes and nations to “know” or recognize that he alone, whose name is YHWH, is the Most High, the rightful Sovereign, over all the earth.
In verse 1(2), the Masoretic Text first uses the plural of excellence for “God” (’elohím) and then the singular designation (’el).
A Dead Sea scroll reading of verse 6(7) is, “the gods of Edom” (not the “tents of Edom”).
In the Septuagint (verse 7), the term for Philistia is allóphyloi (those of another tribe).
Verse 8(9) concludes with “selah,” a transliterated Hebrew term the meaning of which is uncertain. The Septuagint rendering is diápsalma, thought to mean “pause” or “musical interlude.”
The Hebrew word galgál (verse 13) basically means “wheel,” as does the corresponding Greek term trochós in the Septuagint. The reference could be to a rolling mass of dry thistles broken off from the roots or just the whirling calyx of a dead thistle blown about by the wind.
In verse 16(17), nothing in the wording suggests that the text does not apply to the same enemies. So the meaning could be that the shame the enemies would experience had as its objective to motivate them to abandon their former hostility and to submit to YHWH as the rightful Sovereign. The next verse then could be interpreted to mean that a failure on their part to submit to YHWH would result in their doom. They would perish. Finally, as the last verse indicates, YHWH’s action in defense of his people would force people everywhere to “know” or recognize that he is the “Most High over all the earth.”