This psalm, last of the songs by Asaph, is a historically informed (that’s Asaph for you) prayer for action against evil. Well, it’s actually against Israel’s enemies; but it’s hard to take a prayer for violent destruction of opponents too literally in the politically correct twenty-first century. It’s just as hard not to look at it as unreconstructed in the face of the new commandments of love. After many verses of indignant anger, Asaph in verse 16 takes a missionary turn and trusts that enemies will eventually acknowledge God — a rule of love, a peaceful world and such?
For these reasons, Psalm 83 is a skip (not in the Lectionary) and why I’d skip it too. Why find tuneful ways to string together seventeen names of people and tribes from millenia ago, the character and significance of which are largely irrelevant to most of us?
Settings both classical and contemporary are few and far between — surprise! One musical interpretation appears in Psalms for All Seasons. Even then the notes say: ‘Sing angrily’ — and it is quite true that we should be angry against injustice and inaction.