March 13, 2014

Psalm 83

O God do not keep silence; do not hold thy peace or be still, O God!
For lo, thy enemies are in tumult; those who hate thee have raised their heads.
They lay crafty plans against thy people…
They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”
(Psalm 83:1-4)

Like many of the Psalms, this one was originally a very concrete prayer for deliverance from real national enemies. The psalmist desired that God would act in real and violent terms to destroy these oppressors just as heros of the past had done to persecutors of Israel. Gideon with his own hands put to death Zebah and Zalmunna. Oreb and Zeeb had their heads cut off. And most famously, a Jewish housewife, Jael, used a mallet to pound a tent peg through the head of the sleeping Canaanite general Sisera (Judges 4:21).

Unfortunately—because they are so influential politically —there are millions of evangelical “Christian Zionists” who read such texts literally, because they see them as biblical prophecy of the “End Times.” The modern state of Israel is thus a fulfillment of those prophecies, as is the defeat of Israel’s contemporary enemies. The aspirations of the modern Canaanites—read Palestinians, many of them Orthodox Christians—have no place in this view. Here is a typical comment, and it includes Psalm 83 in its vision: 

Current Mideast rumblings have many… revisiting a prophetic psalm vastly overlooked. This is Psalm 83, which discusses the formation of a ten member, predominately Arab, confederacy destined to someday seek the utter destruction of the nation Israel. Psalm 83 has recently popped up on the prophetic radar screen because many of Israel’s most observable enemies today, like the Palestinians, Hezbollah, and Hamas, appear to be enlisted among the ten-member coalition. Thus an increasing number of end time’s experts are attempting to gain greater understanding of the psalm and its timeline placement.

Father Georges Florovsky said that everything we read in the Old Testament needs to be interpreted through the later and full divine revelation we received in Jesus Christ.  Passages like Psalm 83 that originally presupposed an earthly kingdom must be seen in light of an eternal kingdom that is not of this world. Thus, in the third century AD when Origen as a Christian commented on the book of Judges, he assumed that it should be reinterpreted in spiritual terms. It was profitable to Christians as a story about defeat of spiritual enemies and passions. He dismissed out of hand any literal reading and application of such texts as an abomination for anyone who was a follower of Christ.

At Saint Tikhon’s

St Tikhon's
St Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery

It’s a cold, blustery morning at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery. I stepped out early for a brisk walk and to take in a little part of matins before getting ready to meet OCA students for breakfast with Father Eric Tosi.  We’ll meet with them as a group and then individually throughout the day. Last night we took the opportunity of being in the area to have supper with Bishop Mark (the diocesan office is a few yards from the seminary and monastery.) At their meeting this coming week, the Holy Synod will consider his election as Bishop of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania.