Psalm 83 – Prayer at the Attack of the Enemy & Curses and Imprecations

A Song or Psalm of Asaph.

1 Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God.

2 For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.

3 They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.

4 They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.

5 For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee:

6 The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes;

7 Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre;

8 Assur also is joined with them: they have holden the children of Lot. Selah.

9 Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kison:

10Which perished at En-dor: they became as dung for the earth.

11 Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb: yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna:

12 Who said, Let us take to ourselves the ho
uses of God in possession.

13 O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind.

14 As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire;

15 So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm.

16 Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD.

17 Let them be confounded and troubled forever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish:

18 That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.

The soul aspires after heaven; rejoicing in the meantime, in being in the communion of God’s church upon earth.  Letting God Himself deal with and  shame the enemies of the church.

Curses and Imprecations 

Curse Tablet
A fiery ancient curse inscribed on two sides of a thin lead tablet was meant to afflict, not a king or pharaoh, but a simple greengrocer selling fruits and vegetables some 1,700 years ago in the city of Antioch, researchers find.

Written in Greek, the tablet holding the curse was dropped into a well in Antioch, then one of the Roman Empire’s biggest cities in the East, today part of southeast Turkey, near the border with Syria.

The curse calls upon Iao, the Greek name for Yahweh, the god of the Old Testament, to afflict a man named Babylas who is identified as being a greengrocer.

The tablet lists his mother’s name as Dionysia, “also known as Hesykhia” it reads.

The text was translated by Alexander Hollmann of the University of Washington.

The artifact, which is now in the Princeton University Art Museum, was discovered in the 1930s by an archaeological team but had not previously been fully translated.

The translation is detailed in the most recent edition of the journal Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik.

To pray for someone else’s well being is to make intercession for that person, but to pray for someone’s destruction is to make an imprecation.

The Bible contains a number of examples of imprecations; one of the clearest is Ps 83.  Here the psalmist called on God to take action against his enemies (vv 1-2), the Gentile nations all around (vv 6-8) who were platting harm against Israel (vv 3-5).  The prayer minces no words; the psalmist asked God to destroy them (vv 9-18).

A woman makes a cursing ritual ceremony, by Hokusai.

Prayers and rituals meant to bring about the destruction of enemies (whether personal or national) were common in the ancient world:

Egyptians practiced an execration rite whereby they would inscribe names or figures of their adversaries on terra-cotta or pottery, after which they would pronounce a curse upon the enemy and ritually smash the pottery. 

Execration texts with lists of names of cities in Syria-Palestine have been located; the Egyptians who created these texts wished to call down destruction upon such places as Ashkelon, Byblos, and Damascus.

Mesopotamian tablets contain rituals meant to call down destruction upon enemies.

From the Greco-Roman world archaeologists have discovered magical papyri that called down curses upon all kinds of enemies.

For example, there are texts that invoke curses against adversarial parties in lawsuits, as well as those that curse business competitors.

Are the imprecations in the Bible any different from these curses from pagan sources?  Obviously there are similarities.  Psalm 83, like the execration texts, delineates a list of the foes the psalmist wanted God to punish.  Several factors, however, set Biblical imprecations apart:

Ancient Greek curse written on a lead sheet, 4th century BC, Kerameikos Archaeological Museum, Athens.

Biblical imprecations have no tie to magic.  In magic, a person seeks to manipulate supernatural powers with ritual words and actions in order to achieve his or her desire.   The Bible provides no rituals to bring about the destruction of enemies.  God’s people could only call upon the Lord to punish the enemy and then leave it to Him to decide whether or not to act.

Biblical imprecations were based upon belief in the righteousness of God.  When making an imprecation, a psalmist appealed to God’s justice in a tacit acknowledgment that God punishes only because it is the right thing to do – not simply in response to a psalmist’s anger.  By contrast, in magic-based rituals justice was not an issue.

Biblical imprecations were never used for personal jealousies and ambitions.

Biblical imprecations ultimately sought to give glory to God.  Verse 16 prays for the destruction of the wicked “so that men will seek your name, O LORD.”  God’s honor – not Israel’s – was to be maintained.