“War, children: it’s just a shot away.”
The Rolling Stones’ song ‘Gimme Shelter’ was written during the violent era of the Vietnam War, when pillage and burning were on TV screens daily. Mick Jagger commented that as well as being an end-of-the-world song it was also personal, “a very moody piece about the world closing in on you a bit.”
Psalm 83 references an historical threat for the nation of Israel, when a group of enemies committed to Israel’s destruction joined together and surrounded them (v3-8). It also evokes the feeling of threat when we’re hemmed in by the world around us. Where can I find shelter, a safe space to hide?
Those who experience war are no strangers to the longings of v9-18: that their enemies be as useless as tumble-weed, consumed, terrified, covered with shame, that they may perish in disgrace. However, victims of war also know the feeling of being helpless, unable to fight back, not knowing where to turn for strength.
If God exists, we want him to know what’s going on, to speak, to act. This Psalm asks him this precisely (v1) and promises his protection and his judgment. The 16th Century pastor John Calvin once wrote that this protection is available to all who would renounce dependence on their own strength and flee to him. Conscious of our own weakness, the best thing for our safety is to take shelter under his wing. God is bigger than all the threats of the world (v18), and he cares for you, so you can cast all your anxiety on him (1 Peter 5:7).
PRAYER “Do not remain silent! Do not turn a deaf ear! Do not stand aloof, O God!” Help me today. The world hems me in and I long for my enemies to perish. Please bring justice, comfort, safety, healing. Help me to cast my anxieties on you, knowing that you care for me. Amen.
A song. A psalm of Asaph.
1 O God, do not remain silent; do not turn a deaf ear, do not stand aloof, O God.
2 See how your enemies growl, how your foes rear their heads.
3 With cunning they conspire against your people; they plot against those you cherish.
4 ‘Come,’ they say, ‘let us destroy them as a nation, so that Israel’s name is remembered no more.’
5 With one mind they plot together; they form an alliance against you –
6 the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, of Moab and the Hagrites,
7 Byblos, Ammon and Amalek, Philistia, with the people of Tyre.
8 Even Assyria has joined them to reinforce Lot’s descendants.
9 Do to them as you did to Midian, as you did to Sisera and Jabin at the River Kishon,
10 who perished at Endor and became like dung on the ground.
11 Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna,
12 who said, ‘Let us take possession of the pasture-lands of God.’
13 Make them like tumble-weed, my God, like chaff before the wind.
14 As fire consumes the forest or a flame sets the mountains ablaze,
15 so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm.
16 Cover their faces with shame, Lord, so that they will seek your name.
17 May they ever be ashamed and dismayed; may they perish in disgrace.
18 Let them know that you, whose name is the Lord – that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.