It’s only paranoia if your fears are not based in reality. Are the fears expressed in Psalm 83 real or paranoia? What do you do when God appears to be silent? Do you imagine the worst?
Psalm 83 starts with the people calling to God, trying to wake him up. The people are in danger yet God is silent. “O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God! For lo, your enemies are in tumult; those who hate you have raised their heads. They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your protected ones.” (1-3) They are threatening to destroy the Israelite nation entirely, “They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!” (4) Their enemies are conspiring against them, “Yes, they conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant.” (5)
The writer lists the names of neighbors who have joined forces against them, Edom, Ishmaelites, Moab, Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon, Amalek, Philistines and Assyria (7-9). An impressive force, however there is no evidence that the writer is describing an actual situation. Most likely he is exaggerating for emphasis. The chances that such a disparate group of tribes would unite together to attack the Hebrews was unlikely.
The writer goes on to recall the events at Midian, where Gideon triumphed with only 300 men. Such is the power of their God. He goes on to ask God to use this power to destroy their enemies, using formidable images from nature. “O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so do you pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane!” (14-15) This is considered a means to convert them, “Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek your name, O Lord.” (16)
The psalm ends with reminding the enemies just who God is, “Let them know that you alone, whose name is the Lord, are the Most High over all the earth.” (18)
This psalm is considered one of the least religious of all the Psalms, because of the writer’s vindictiveness. It reflects none of God’s compassion. Is there any wonder why God was silent? Was the writer being paranoid or were his fears founded in reality?
The history of the Jewish people has been marked by violence. Israel was a sovereign nation for only a short period of history before being overrun by conquering troops. The Babylonians took many Hebrew leaders captive; during Jesus’ time the country was under the rule of Rome. Theirs is a history of pogroms, including the massive destruction of Jewish life during Hitler’s regime as Hitler sought to wipe them off the face of the earth. Perhaps this psalm was prophetic in predicting what the Israelites were to experience in the future?
Paranoia is a psychosis marked by delusion and irrational suspicions. It is an extreme form of fear. Few of us would be clinically diagnosed with paranoia, however all of us at some time have experienced fear and anxiety not based in reality. Someone fails to return our call or respond to our email in a timely fashion and we think they are avoiding us or angry when in reality they were busy. We see co-workers whispering together and assume they are talking about us. We experience a series of life set-backs and start to think that “the stars” are against us, or, that God is against us. When dealing with such crazy assertions, sometimes silence is the best recourse.
If God appears to be silent, perhaps it is because we are so wrapped up in our anxieties that we aren’t listening. We don’t have to beg or plead with our God to get him to hear us. We do need to quiet our minds to hear what God has to say.
Was the writer of this psalm paranoid or prophetic? Food for thought.
What might God be saying to you today through this psalm? Are you listening?