Is Psalm 83 a prophecy about an end time war between Israel and its neighbors, or is it something else?
Many people like Joel Rosenberg dismiss it and point instead to the war of God & Magog in Ezekiel 38 and 39 as the next end time prophetic war that will take place in the Middle East. But, there are many other respected Bible prophecy experts who argue strongly that the next end time war prophesied for the Middle East is the one described in Psalm 83.
A major controversy has erupted in recent years among Bible prophecy experts who believe in Premillennialism, the view that Jesus will return to this earth at the end of the Tribulation to reign for a 1,000 years. The controversy centers around Psalm 83.
It began in 2008 with the publication of this book Isralestine by Bill Salus of Prophecy Depot Ministries. The thesis of this book is that Psalm 83 describes an end time war between Israel and the nations that share a common border with it, namely Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Bill Salus theorized that the Israelis would win this war overwhelmingly resulting in peace for their nation, but the peace would be short-lived because the Arab world would turn to Russia. The Russians would come down against Israel with certain specified Muslim allies in what the Bible calls the War of Gog & Magog, described in detail in Ezekiel 38 and 39. Russia's Muslim allies will be made up of an outer ring of nations with no common border with Israel today. The Psalm 83 War on the other hand would be one between Israel and the inner ring of nations that surround it.
So, what about it? Is Psalm 83 a prophecy about an end time war that could occur any moment, or is it describing something else? I contacted Bill Salus and his major critic, Tommy Ice, and asked if they would present their arguments. Both graciously agreed to do so.
Dr. Tommy Ice is the Director of the Pre-Trib Research Center that you can find at pre-trib.org. This website contains a treasure trove of articles about end time Bible prophecy.
We are going to begin with Tommy Ice presenting his objections to Bill's thesis, and then Bill will respond.
Tommy Ice's Response to a Psalm 83 War
My problem with the Psalm 83 theory by Bill Salus is that Psalm 83 first of all does not contain a prophecy. It's an individual lament psalm, or a national lament, written by Asaph.
Asaph was complaining 3,000 years ago about the enemies that surround Israel. I'll admit that when you read it you'd think you are reading about the modern situation in Israel, which shows that in 3,000 years things really haven't changed. It's basic Anti-Semitism.
In some of the lament psalms, like Psalm 79 for example, you have the Lord answering a request. He will then give a prophecy about what He is going to do in response. In Psalm 83, you don't have the Lord answering it. Therefore, there's just an assumption that there's going to be a battle behind Asaph's request. There may or may not be.
Psalm 83 does not contain a prophecy. It just contains the lament or the complaint that Asaph is giving.
Secondly, when you look at the parallel passages (well, they are not really parallel), but those that mention the 10 nations or people groups that wish to destroy Israel that are mentioned in Psalm 83, these are also mentioned by the prophets later on. If you want to look at the development of Old Testament prophecy in any detail relating to Israel, you have to start with the book of Deuteronomy. It has an outline of prophecy. You really don't have much prophecy being given until the prophets come in after the Psalms and they start fleshing out this problem with Israel's enemies.
For example, you have Psalm 2. That is the psalm where it says, "kiss the son less he be angry... why are the nations in an uproar?" Later on in the prophetic books, when we learn the outline of Israel's prophecy, you realize that Psalm 2 which was given 3,000 years ago fits into the idea of the Tribulation. These nations are going up against God and He is going to judge them in the Tribulation.
In the Old Testament, there are what I call "Synoptic Prophets." These are just like the Synoptic Gospels, with synoptic meaning "the same". The Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark and Luke. They are similar, but John has like 93% difference in its gospel account. The same is true in the four Major Prophets — Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Each one of those prophets has a section relating to the judgment of the nations. Most of these nations or people groups that are given in Psalm 83 are included in the judgment of the nations. For example, in Isaiah 13-23, you have a section similar to Jeremiah, I think nine chapters long. You have another section in Ezekiel that is seven chapters long. They say a lot of the similar things. And the context of the judgment of the nations is going to be at Armageddon basically, in other words in conjunction with the Tribulation.
If there's going to be an actual fulfillment of Psalm 83, these other prophetic books talk about the judgment of those people groups in conjunction with the Second Coming, when Jesus is going to judge the nations. That is the very purpose of the Tribulation. In fact, Isaiah 24-26 talks about the judgments of the nations basically for their rejection of God.
We learn from Revelation 3:10 that the Tribulation's purpose is to test the earth dwellers. That phrase "earth dwellers" comes from Isaiah 24-26. That terms used 11 times in the book of Revelation. These are the people who oppose God. And so, the Tribulation is the time in which those nations listed in Psalm 83 will be judged.
Therefore, I think the idea that there's got to be a Psalm 83 War to set up the peace for the Gog & Magog War described in Ezekiel 38 & 39 is built on speculation. The New Testament warns against speculation. A number of times the Apostle Paul warns us about speculation, especially in the Pastoral Epistles.
In truth, we all speculate on Bible prophecy. But, it is one thing to speculate within the framework of clear revelation like the Tribulation or the Millennium and how events are going to play out, because those are settled sequences among literal interpreters of the Bible. We agree that there's going to be a 7-year Tribulation and there's going to be a 1,000 year Millennium. We see the European Union apparently preparing the way for the Revived Roman Empire. We see Israel back in the land, and there are dozens of passages that talk about the Jews returning to the Holy Land. We can speculate within that framework.
I agree with Bill Salus that Ezekiel 38 and 39's Gog & Magog War will probably take place at the beginning or just before the Tribulation. In other words, Gog & Magog will likely occur shortly before the Tribulation, because I believe there will be an interval of time between the Rapture that ends the Church Age and the start of the Tribulation because it will take time for the Antichrist who is being restrained by the Church Age according to 2 Thessalonians 2 to get into place and set up a 10-nation confederacy for his power to arise from among those nations. There's got to be a period of time after the Rapture but before the Tribulation starts. The Tribulation starts as a result of Israel agreeing to or the Antichrist imposing a contract on Israel out of the power of the Revived Roman Empire and by the Beast who is the Antichrist himself. That's all very likely when those events will take place.
I say Bill speculates because he doesn't give a Bible verse or a passage to support based on Psalm 83 a war between Israel and those nations immediately surrounding Israel that will set up a time of peace as required before Gog & Magog can begin. He believes Israel is going to win a war against Israel's neighbors which will set up the basis for the Gog & Magog War.
When you look at the end of Ezekiel 39, I think it is around verse 28 and following, it talks about how the Lord has hidden Himself from the nation of Israel. That appears to refer to the period from the time of Christ to the Tribulation period, because the Old Testament is focused on that 70th Week of Daniel, which is another name for the Tribulation period. I think the Battle of Gog & Magog has to be related to the Tribulation period because it is during that time when Israel is going to come to know Christ and by the end be vindicated at last.
Before the Tribulation, it appears that God is not working directly or prophetically during the Church Age, because the Church Age is a time in which you have general trends and characteristics, but not specific prophecies, that are occurring to set up the Tribulation. When the Church Age began in Acts 2, we did have some of Israel's prophecies that were fulfilled, such as the destruction of Jerusalem, which Jesus foretold in Luke 19. Some of those prophecies transitioned into the Church Age.
Apparently, as we transition out of the Church Age and into the time of Israel for the Tribulation, you are going to have things like Israel returning back to their land again. But, these prophetic events which are talked about in the Old Testament, I believe have to take place either near or in relation to the Tribulation, or be directly in the Tribulation itself. That's why people who believe that prophetic events are going to happen during the Church Age are called historicists, versus people who take prophecy more literally and who believe in the 70th Week of Daniel believe these events will happen in a future to the time of the Church Age.
Since there are no other passages that actually teach what Psalm 83 teaches, then I think the theory is pure speculation. The rational for this given in Bill's book Isralestine is that there needs to be something that happens that brings about peace in Israel which will set up the peace requirement for Ezekiel 38 and 39. That's a speculation built upon a speculation. And yet, when I hear people on the radio or talk to friends who believe in the Psalm 83 theory, they talk about it like it is going to be an actual event. At best it ought to be noted clearly that a Psalm 83 War is pure speculation. It is pure speculation because as I say there is no prophecy behind it and there's nothing else directly related to it.
In the second segment of our study of a potential Psalm 83 War, Bill Salus will offer his response to Dr. Ice's objections.