Psalm 83 is a difficult psalm. It is angry, a psalm of lament. It speaks of violence and curses whole nations, begging of God to condemn enemies through cruel acts.
Psalm 83 is also not alone in the canon of psalms that are "imprecatory" (invoking evil) or vengeful, angry, lamenting psalms. Psalm 83, along with the other major imprecatory psalms (Psalms 58, 69, and 109) and a host of less violent but still disturbing psalms (Psalms 5-6, 11-12, 35, 37, 44, 52, 56, 58, 79, 137, 143), are nowhere to be found in the Christian lectionary, the three-year cycle of Scripture for Sunday readings. There are four imprecatory psalms that are in the lectionary (Psalms 37, 40, 54, 139), but the cursing or lamenting verses are absent.
Why is this so? Is it because of the violent nature of these poems? Does it counter how we think of God as merciful and loving? Does it thwart our solace in God born among us as our peaceful and healing Savior Jesus Christ? Songs sung from the depths of Ancient Israel’s communal heart are not confined to tunes about shepherds and mountains and harps, as the lectionary partly suggests. While these are beautiful and crucial to our relationship with God and Holy Writ, what are we missing when we skip the psalms of vengeance and violence? Are we stifling the breadth of human experience that we choose to share with a God who sees all and waits for us to comment upon it?
Preaching Psalm 83 or any of the imprecatory psalms is difficult, too, but it is a challenge I hope you’ll join me in taking today. It is my prayer and hope that through Psalm 83, we might together expand our understanding of how God works and calls us to covenant life in this broken world.
For further reading, I suggest A God of Vengeance: Understanding the Psalms of Divine Wrath by Erich Zenger. A short and informative text, Zenger explores several imprecatory psalms in-depth.