This psalm was written in response to a threatened invasion of Israel by an alliance of several nations (vv. 4-8). Why were they united in this evil covenant? The psalmist gives the answer in verse 2: they hate God, and since they cannot touch him they are prepared to attack his people and destroy them. The situation was one which required prayer, and this is what the psalmist did. But how did he pray in such a threatening situation?
First, although the nation faced attack by powerful enemies, the psalmist realised that was not the biggest danger facing his people. More threatening was the possibility that God would remain silent and ignore their prayers (vv. 1-2). Therefore he implores the Lord to take action. The psalmist could not be content with a silent God! Can we?
Second, he reminded the Lord about his relationships with Israel – she was his people and his treasured ones (v. 3). God had initiated the relationship; indeed had valued it so highly that he had delivered them from captivity in Egypt in order that they would be his people. Of course, the good thing is that, whatever happens, the Lord will lose none of his treasured people.
Third, he went into precise detail about who constituted God’s enemies. In verses 5-8 he specifically mentions the names of the threatening nations. He is not doing this to inform God; after all, the Lord knew more about the opponents than the Psalmist did. Instead he is naming the various enemies because he wants all of them to be dealt with individually by God. Similarly, we should inform God about particular difficulties or problems that we are facing.
Fourth, the psalmist used his knowledge of history in prayer (vv. 9-12). He referred God back to incidents recorded in the Book of Judges that described his victory over his opponents (Judg. 4—8). In doing this, the psalmist is saying to the Lord, ‘Do it again.’ One of the best stimulus for effective prayer is knowing what God is capable of doing. The best area for discovering this is to read about what he did in the past. When we read about God’s actions in spiritual revivals of the past, we will say to him, ‘Do it again!’ One of the saddest of people is an individual who is aware of what God has done in the past but who does not ask him, ‘Do it again.’
Fifth, he likens God to the most powerful physical phenomena he knows about – whirlwind, fire and a hurricane (vv. 13-15). The psalmist wants God to display his power in a dramatic manner and overwhelm the enemy armies. Yet the reason why he wants this divine display is not only for Israel’s deliverance; he also wants his enemies to start seeking the Lord (v. 16).
Asaph wants sufficient display of divine power that would cause his enemies to start seeking the Lord. They were Asaph’s enemies, but he was not their enemy. He wanted their spiritual good.
Sixth, above all he wants the name of God to be magnified (vv. 17-20). If his enemies would not seek the Lord, the only option is divine judgement. Asaph was realistic when he prayed. He knew that a person was either for the Lord or against him. Therefore, he prayed that God would do what is right in order that his name would be exalted.