Verse of the Day 10.20.17 — Psalm 83:16
Cover their faces with shame, LORD,
so that they will seek your name.1
17 מַלֵּ֣א פְנֵיהֶ֣ם קָל֑וֹן וִֽיבַקְשׁ֖וּ שִׁמְךָ֣ יְהוָֽה׃2
Fill up their faces with shame,
O LORD, let them seek your name
In the Old Testament the “name” ( שֵׁם | šēm) of the LORD (YHWH) often “signifies the whole self-disclosure of God in his holiness and truth.”5 Though “name” can also simply signify someone’s name, in addition to their reputation or fame, it frequently denotes a given person’s characteristics, personality and/or essence.7 is written in the jussive — a 3rd person command or expression of desire (e.g., “let him worship!”; “let them worship!”; “let it worship!”).8
A more literal translation would read, “let them seek your name — of the LORD” or “let them seek your name of the LORD.” “Name” has a second person, masculine singular pronoun (your) attached. Admittedly, since the pronoun clarifies whose name is to be sought after, I, like the NIV, moved the “O LORD” in front of the jussive. I am not sure of the NIV’s reason, but I just wanted the Psalm to rhyme in English (lol).9
Context & Commentary
Apparently Psalm 83 is an imprecatory Psalm — one that entails cursing. Cursing, which was quite common in the Ancient Near East, can be understood, at least biblically, as the opposite of blessing.10
Aren’t Christians supposed to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Mt 5:44)? Are we not to bless those who curse us (Lk 6:28; Rom 12:14)?11
Though the ways in which it is appropriate to appropriate imprecation as Christians probably warrants a post of its own, it may be wise to mention a few things. (1) Imprecation, whether it sits well with us or not, can be found throughout Scripture (Psalm 58, 79, 83, 94, 109, 137, 139 etc.; Mk 11:12-14, 20-25; Mt 21:18-22; 1 Cor 16:22; Rev 6:10, etc.).12 Memorably, Paul tells the Galatians that if anyone preaches to them a gospel other than the one he preached to them, “let him be accursed!” (Gal 1:8-9)13
(2) What made a curse permissible or not was not the process of cursing itself, but the object of the curse. For instance, one could not curse one’s mother or father (Ex 21:17; Lev 20:9; cf. Deut 27:16).14 Moreover, while cursing someone who was innocent was forbidden; cursing someone who was evil was justifiable. In fact, the third commandment, which forbids using the LORD’s name in vain, may be “a prohibition of the use of the name YHWH in unjustifiable imprecations.”15
(3) Biblically, curses have no power without the LORD; there are no magic words to bring about harm to someone. (4) Imprecatory psalms are not pleas for vengeance against the enemies of the supplicant, but pleas for divine justice against the enemies of God. (5) We must remember that these psalms are prayerful calls for divine, just actions — not just wrathful calls for human, retributive action. (6) Imprecatory psalms demonstrate the wide range of honest emotions found in the Psalms. Channeling these very real feelings to God in prayer may be “the only acceptable place where such thoughts may be entertained or uttered.”16
In the context of Psalm 83, the LORD’s enemies are portrayed as “growling” and “rearing their heads” as they conspire and plot to destroy the nation of God (Ps 83:1-5). Various enemies of Israel from various regions are mentioned as if they were a coalition (Ps 83:5-8). The psalmist then prays to God that they suffer the same deadly fate as the Midianites who opposed Gideon (Judg 7:1-812) and Sisera who opposed Deborah and Barak (Judg 4-5).17
One can argue that the praying for the filling up or “covering” of their faces with shame is instrumental — so that they will seek the name of the LORD, that they may know that He alone is “the Most High over all the earth” (Ps 83:18, NIV). The supplicant wants the downfall of the enemies of God to be an object lesson.18 As one scholar writes:
“If [the enemies of God] refuse to recognize the Lord, then they must perish. In this he is saying no more than God himself has said; again this is a prayer based on the word. But if dismay leads to shame, shame may lead even these hostile people to seek and finally to know the Lord.”19
When we see many of the atrocities that litter newspapers and News Feeds, I suspect it would be dishonest to say that prayers for the forgiveness of the perpetrators are the first things that pop into our minds. That being said, I would be very cautious with incorporating imprecation into our prayers today. If the repercussions of the evil actions of people prove to be instrumental in bringing them to a knowledge of the LORD, so be it. But, in my view, it is always safest to pray as Jesus did: not my will but Thy will be done (Mt 26:39, 42).
Memorize Psalm 83:16 after watching a brief video tutorial demonstrating the How to Memorize Any Bible Verse in Less Than Five Minutes method below:
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ps 83:16.
- Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: With Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit Morphology; Bible. O.T. Hebrew. Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit. (Logos Bible Software, 2006), Ps 83:17.
- Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 885.
- Leonard J. Coppes, “2024 קָלָה,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 799.
- Walter C. Kaiser, “2405 שֵׁם,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 934.
- Willem VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 147-8.
The word translated “seek” (בָּקַשׁ | bāqaš; “to seek, require, desire”)6Leonard J. Coppes, “276 בָּקַשׁ,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 126.
- Michael S. Heiser and Vincent M. Setterholm, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology (Lexham Press, 2013; 2013).
- I used to fancy myself a rapper.
- B. A. Strawn, “Imprecation,” ed. Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 316.
- Ibid, 3:17
- Strawn, 316-319
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ga 1:9.
- Ibid, 316.
- H. C. Brichto, The Problem of “Curse” in the Hebrew Bible (SBLMS 13; Philadelphia: Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, 1963) cited in B. A. Strawn, “Imprecation,” ed. Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 316.
- B. A. Strawn, “Imprecation,” ed. Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 316-18 (quote from 318).
- Russell H. Dilday Jr. and J. Hardee Kennedy, “Psalms,” in The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, ed. H. Franklin Paschall and Herschel H. Hobbs (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1972), 327.
- Michael Wilcock, The Message of Psalms: Songs for the People of God, ed. J. A. Motyer, vol. 2, The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001), 46.
- Michael Wilcock, The Message of Psalms: Songs for the People of God, ed. J. A. Motyer, vol. 2, The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001), 46–47.