In the next chapter, I will explain why getting the Gog-Magog war timing wrong could play into the hands of the Antichrist. But before I do that, I need to discuss the so-called Psalm 83 war, because believing that this war will take place is just as dangerous as believing false views about the Gog-Magog war for many of the same reasons.
Psalm 83 is a prayer of Asaph that describes many of Israel’s closest neighbors plotting against it. Asaph is praying for God to destroy the nations that are scheming against Israel. In times past, this psalm has been seen simply as a prayer of Asaph that asks God to help Israel by dealing with its many enemies during Asaph’s day. However, recently, a new doctrine has come about, chiefly through Arnold Fruchtenbaum and Bill Salus, that suggests that the prayer of Asaph in Psalm 83 should be seen as a prophecy, because, they say, such a war has never occurred in Israel’s history and therefore must be seen as a future event.
I will be arguing against this theory by making the following points:
A plain reading of Psalm 83 suggests nothing more than that a number of nations in Asaph’s day had recently been making political alliances against Israel; they never actually attacked anyone. The phrases used to describe their actions include: “They have taken crafty counsel,” “They have said,” “For they have consulted together,” and, “They form a confederacy.” The phrases describing what these nations are doing show them simply making alliances and plans; nothing in the text describes these nations doing anything more than that. The whole point of Asaph’s prayer is to ask God to prevent these nations from doing anything more than simply planning to attack. And if God answered Asaph’s prayer, then there is no reason to go looking for this war in history or the future, because God prevented it from happening as per Asaph’s request. I challenge anyone to show evidence of a war in Psalm 83—it cannot be done.
No language in Psalm 83 suggests that it is prophetic. In other prophecies of future wars or judgments upon nations, the prophet often declares that he is speaking a prophecy by saying something like, “The Lord said that in the latter years such and such will happen,” as in the case of Ezekiel 38:8, or, “At the time of the end, so and so will attack,” as in Daniel 11:40. In addition, prophecies in the Psalms often describe events in the Messianic Age to signify that a prophecy is being made, or there is some sort of response from God, or some clear reference to Jesus in the psalm. These are certainly not the only ways we can tell if a passage is prophetic, but they are by far the most common. Psalm 83 has none of these elements, and as we will see the reasons that Bill Salus says Psalm 83 is prophetic are not at all convincing. Asaph never says he is seeing something that will take place in the future; in fact, every indication from the text we have suggests that he is describing the political situation of his own day.
The political situation that Asaph describes in Psalm 83 is perfectly consistent with events in his day (around 950 BC), and there is no reason to see this psalm as requiring future fulfillment. The nations he mentions conspiring together, such as Edom, Moab, Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon, Amalek, Philistia, Tyre, Assyria, and Lot, were all very close neighbors to Israel (mostly in Jordan and Lebanon). The picture painted by Asaph is a perfect fit with what we know from Scripture and history about the political situation of the time. Bill Salus would disagree with this point, and I will deal with his arguments in the final section of this chapter.
On several occasions in the Psalms, we see the psalmist complaining to God about the surrounding nations that wanted to see Israel destroyed. The psalmists often plead with God to destroy these enemies. Anyone who has spent much time reading the Psalms will know that this is a consistent if not prevalent theme throughout the book. Therefore, without any direct reason to do otherwise in the text, we should assume that Psalm 83 is like all the other prayers for deliverance from enemies of the day that were not prophetic.
In a recent debate with Thomas Ice, Bill Salus was challenged with many of the points I have brought up in this chapter. I will list his responses to Ice’s criticisms, with my comments. In response to Ice’s suggestion that there is no prophecy in Psalm 83, Salus made the following points:
1. Salus said that Asaph was called a “seer” in 2 Chronicles 29:30 and so should be considered a prophet.
This is true. But establishing Asaph as a prophet has nothing to do with whether Psalm 83 is a prophecy. David was a prophet, but very few aspects of his psalms are considered prophecies. Daniel was a prophet, but plenty of his writings are not prophetic (his account of being thrown into the lion’s den, etc.). Just because a prophet is a prophet does not mean that every word he wrote was prophetic.
2. Salus claims that Assyria and Gebal, both mentioned in Psalm 83, were not “in the picture” or “in the fray” during the time of Asaph, therefore, Psalm 83 must be a prophecy.
By Asaph’s day, Assyria had been in existence for more than one thousand years. Even the Middle Kingdom of Assyria, the kingdom in question, was established nearly four hundred years prior to Asaph. In addition we know of Assyria/Israel relations at least as far back as 871–850 BC because of Assyrian inscriptions that mention King Ahab and Jehu of Israel, which would have been only seventy-five to one hundred years after Asaph wrote.
Considering what Assyria was doing as a part of the coalition in Psalm 83—namely, helping the Ammonites and Moabites, which probably means supplying soldiers or other types of aid to them—we can be more certain that this fits with what we know of the political situation of the day. During the reign of David, who wrote many of the psalms, the Ammonites had procured soldiers from Syria to defend itself against King David, according to 2 Samuel 10:6:
When the people of Ammon saw that they had made themselves repulsive to David, the people of Ammon sent and hired the Syrians of Beth Rehob and the Syrians of Zoba, twenty thousand foot soldiers; and from the king of Maacah one thousand men, and from Ish-Tob twelve thousand men. (2 Samuel 10:6)
This is significant for two reasons: First, it shows that what Psalm 83 said Ammon and Moab were doing—getting help from countries to the north to fight Israel—was something they had done only a few years before Asaph wrote. Second, the Syrians, the country that 2 Samuel said they were getting soldiers from in David’s day, was on the border with Assyria and by 911 BC would become an official vassal state of the Assyrian empire. That means that if Ammon did the same thing they did in 2 Samuel a few years later, they would be getting help from Assyria.
The motive for Assyria to help Ammon and Moab is obvious, because in 950 BC, trade routes such as the King’s Highway, which was always a source of wars between Trans-Jordan and Israel (see Numbers 20:17–21), was more important than ever. The recent expansion of Israel during the reign of David and Solomon had severely threatened access to these routes, which were a lifeline to the Assyrian Empire. If Ammon and Moab, along with their allies, could conquer even a small amount of land to secure these routes, the financial benefits to Assyria would be vast. Ammon and Moab had a unique relationship with Assyria. In the late eighth century, they were allies with Assyria, paying it regular tribute, as opposed to being conquered by Assyria, as many of its neighbors.1
Bill Salus says that Psalm 83 has to be a prophecy, because Assyria was not “in the picture” at the time; yet, everything we know from archeological finds suggests that it was very much in the picture.
Salus says that Gebal wasn’t “in the fray” during Asaph’s day, but this is untrue. Gebal, or modern-day Byblos, in Lebanon is considered the oldest continually inhabited city in the world, with a history going back thousands of years before Asaph. Gebal is even mentioned in 1 Kings 5:18,2 which would put it having relations with Israel during the time in question. In addition, we know that Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser I (1114–1076 BC) visited Gebal to secure trade routes there,3 which might explain why Lebanon and Jordan were banding together with Assyrian support in Psalm 83: to secure trade routes to Assyria that flowed from Lebanon to the King’s Highway, which were being hampered by Israel’s expansion.
3. Salus says the phrase “tents of Edom” must refer to the modern-day Palestinians.
Salus says the word “tents” in Psalm 83:6 suggests a “habitation condition,” and, since, in his view, the people of Edom “have ethnical representation in the Palestinians today,” this phrase must be seen as a prophecy.
Salus is trying to use the reference to “tents” as a technical term that applies to the current Palestinian refugee conditions, but this is absurd, and ignores the reason the phrase “tents of Edom” was used. The Edomites were semi-nomadic, pastoral people who really did dwell in tents. One archeologist notes that “Moab, and especially Edom, should be considered mainly as ‘tented kingdoms,’ likewise, in at any rate the 13th to perhaps the 9th centuries BC, as a result.”4
Since the people of Edom dwelled in tents, Asaph refers to them as “the tents of Edom” It’s as simple as that.
In addition, Edom was located south of the Red Sea, mostly in modern-day Jordan. It was directly below the kingdom of Moab in the east and below the kingdom of Judah in the west. Today, there are no Palestinian territories in what was ancient Edom. Salus is saying that the Palestinians today have Edomite blood, even though they don’t dwell in Edom anymore. I can’t imagine how one could prove that claim unless a comprehensive study of the migration of the Palestinians was done alongside a massive genetic testing campaign. Even if we assumed Salus’ assertion was true, notice how inconsistent his hermeneutic is. In all other cases in Psalm 83, Salus is looking at the geographic areas mentioned and matching them with their modern equivalents. For example, when the psalm mentions Gebal in Lebanon, Salus is looking to that area in Lebanon and trying to match it with people living in that location. In that case, it doesn’t seem to matter to him who carries modern Gebal blood. But, in the case of Edom, he doesn’t seem to care who dwells in the land of Edom; he is only interested in the bloodline of the people who lived there in Asaph’s day. One can argue which method of interpretation is correct, but we can’t have it both ways without major inconsistencies and contradictions.
The point is that Salus takes something very simple, the phrase “tents of Edom,” a reference to the tent-dwelling people of Edom, and says that it can only refer to modern-day Palestinians refugees, even though they don’t dwell in Edom!
The Psalm 83 war is a brand-new doctrine, which, to quote Thomas Ice, is “utter speculation.” In Psalm 83, Asaph is praying for God to deal with various enemies around Israel who are making political alliances that might one day lead them to attack Israel. There are no descriptions of a war or an attack of any kind in Psalm 83, nor is there any language that suggests Asaph is making a prophecy. Asaph’s prayer is almost identical to other prayers in the Psalms where the writer asks God to stop various enemies who are plotting against Israel. From everything we can tell in Scripture and in history, the political alliances being made are consistent with Asaph’s time. I dealt with Bill Salus’ responses to Thomas Ice’s critiques of his theory and showed that both Assyria and Gebal were “in the fray” during the time in question, as well as showed that the phrase “tents of Edom” simply refers to those who dwell in Edom.