From Charles Glenn
Psalm 83 is one of those that we’d rather skip over. The psalmist calls upon God to have revenge upon his enemies for their evil intentions against his people, and gets down to nitty-gritty specifics, the Internet headlines of the day.
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 pasturelands of God.”
13 Make them like tumbleweed, my God,
like chaff before the wind.
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.
We are rightly cautious about asserting “God is on our side” in the conflicts between our nation and others around the world, or in the political struggles within our own country. We tell ourselves that we should try to be on God’s side, not seek to enlist him in our causes, and we are right.
But Psalm 83 is a reminder that there are important issues at stake in our society and in our world, and that Christians are not free to react passively to injustice, to violence, to oppression, to misery. It is not that any of us can aspire to take on the whole range of evils that confront us in the news, on the street, or in our work, nor should we assume that we understand the whole reality about any of those evils, but that does not excuse withdrawal from the public square where these evils must be confronted. Psalm 83 is a powerful reminder that God is at work in the sphere of public policy, and with very public consequences.
Political scientist William Galston expressed concern, a few years ago, about a generation of Americans who “understand why it matters to feed a hungry person at a soup kitchen; [but] they do not understand why it matters where government sets eligibility levels for food stamps or payment levels for the Earned Income Tax Credit. They have confidence in personalized acts with consequences they can see for themselves; they have less confidence in collective actions (especially those undertaken through public institutions), whose consequences they see as remote, opaque, and impossible to control.”
This is not to say that we should neglect personal acts of love and care, but we should not limit ourselves to them. As Jesus said in another context, “You should do the one, and not neglect the other!” (MT 23:23). As we enter the season of presidential primaries, Psalm 83 is a reminder that there is no sphere of human life (or of the rest of Creation) over which God does not exercise sovereignty and summon us to be his faithful witnesses. Public policy matters to our Lord, and it should matter to us.
I teach comparative educational policy and history at Boston University, with focus on equity for minority groups and on educational freedom. My current research is on Islamic schools in the U.S..