Psalms 83 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The vision of the judgement of unjust rulers who oppress God’s people within the nation is followed by a prayer for the judgement of the nations which threaten to destroy God’s people as a nation from without. The nations around are represented as joining in an unhallowed confederacy against Israel. Their aim is nothing less than to frustrate the counsel of God, and blot the very name of Israel out of remembrance. The ancient enemies of Israel, the Moabites and Ammonites, are the leaders of the coalition; with them are united the Edomites, Amalekites, and Arabian tribes from the desert: Philistia, Tyre, and even Assyria, appear as their auxiliaries.
In spite of the apparent definiteness of the historical circumstances, it is impossible to fix the occasion of the Psalm with any certainty.
(i) Many commentators connect it with the events related in 1 Maccabees 5. Provoked by the success of Judas in restoring the Temple, “the nations round about” … “took counsel to destroy the generation of Jacob that was among them, and thereupon they began to slay and destroy the people.” Judas accordingly turned his arms against them, and of the tribes and nations named in the Psalm, the Edomites, Ammonites, Philistines, and Tyrians are mentioned among the enemies whom he defeated. The Ishmaelites and perhaps Gebal and the Hagarenes might be included among the Arabians ( 1Ma 5:39); but the Moabites no longer existed as an independent nation, and the Amalekites had long been destroyed (1Ch 4:42 f.). It is assumed that the names of ancient enemies are vaguely used for the tribes inhabiting the territories which formerly belonged to them, or are introduced to heighten the effect. Assyria is supposed to mean Syria, or possibly the Samaritans. But (1) the narrative of 1 Macc. does not speak, as the Psalm does, of a confederacy. (2) The prominence of “the children of Lot” in the Psalm does not suit a time when Moab had ceased to exist. (3) While it is possible that Asshur might mean Syria, it is hardly possible that the most bitter enemies of the Jews could be mentioned merely as the auxiliaries of less important nations.
(ii) Other commentators think that the Psalm refers to the coalition against Jehoshaphat described in 2 Chronicles 20. Upon that occasion the Moabites and Ammonites took the leading part: they were joined by Arabians  and Edomites, and the combined forces made their rendezvous in Edom  before invading Judah. The aim of the invaders (2Ch 20:11) corresponds to that described in the Psalm, and the result of the victory ( 2Ch 20:29) is the confession of Jehovah’s power for which the Psalmist prays; while the prominent part taken by the Asaphite Levite Jahaziel gives a link of connexion with an Asaphite Psalm. But of the nations named in the Psalm the Ishmaelites and Hagarenes, Gebal and Amalek, Philistia, Tyre, and Assyria, are not mentioned in Chronicles. Even if we could suppose that the Ishmaelites, Hagarenes and Gebal correspond to the Meunites, and that Amalek is included in Edom (Gen 36:12), there is no hint that the coalition against Jehoshaphat was supported by the Philistines and Phoenicians, though we learn from Amo 1:6; Amo 1:9, that they were in alliance with Edom against Judah at an early date; while the mention of Assyria at this period, even as an auxiliary, is isolated and perplexing.
 For the corrupt reading of the Mass. Text in Psa 83:1 some of the Ammonites we should probably read with the LXX some of the Meûnîm (1Ch 4:41; 2Ch 26:7). Josephus ( Ant. ix. 1, 2) says that the Moabites and Ammonites took with them a great body of Arabians.
 For Aram (Syria) in Psa 83:2 Edom must certainly be read.
(iii) Others again refer the Psalm to the Persian period, and connect it with the opposition to the rebuilding of the city described in Neh 4:1 ff., Neh 4:7 ff., where Arabians, Ammonites, and Ashdodites are mentioned among the enemies of Judah. In this case Asshur must stand for Persia, as in Ezr 6:22. Robertson Smith ( Old Test. in Jawish Ch. ed. 2, p. 439) refers it to the time of Artaxerxes Ochus, c. 350 b.c., or later. But the circumstances of the first occasion present no really close correspondence to the situation described in the Psalm; and of the details of the time of Ochus we are wholly ignorant.
In fact history records no one single occasion upon which the nations and tribes mentioned in the Psalm were united in a confederacy against Israel. On the whole, the invasion recorded in 2 Chronicles 20 offers the closest parallel and the best illustration, and the Psalm may have been written with reference to it. It is possible that nations which did not actually join the confederacy may have threatened to do so; or enemies of Israel, actual and possible, past and present, are enumerated in order to heighten the effect, and forcibly represent the formidable nature of the danger. Poetry is not history, and as Bishop Perowne observes, “divine inspiration does not change the laws of the imagination, though it may control them for certain ends.”
It is of course possible that the Psalm refers to some episode in Jewish history of which no record has been preserved; nor must the possibility be excluded that the Psalm is not historical but, so to speak, ideal. A poet, pondering on such a passage as Mic 4:11-13, at a time when neighbouring nations were menacing Judah, might expand that prophecy in a concrete form into the prayer of this Psalm, that, though enemies from every side should conspire to destroy Israel, Jehovah would frustrate their schemes, and make their malice an occasion for the exhibition of His own supremacy.
The Psalm falls into two main divisions.
i. The Psalmist prays that God will not remain an inert and indifferent spectator, while enemies close in upon His people from every side with intent to destroy them utterly (Psa 83:1-8).
ii. May He discomfit them as He discomfited the Midianites and Canaanites of old, till they yield Him homage; or if they will not submit, may He disperse and destroy them till they are forced to acknowledge His supremacy (Psa 83:9-18).
Consult other comments:
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".