16 Fill their faces with shame,
that they may seek your name, O Yahweh.
17 Let them be ashamed and terrified forever,
and let them be humiliated and perish
18 that they may know that you,
whose name is Yahweh, you alone,
are the Most High over the whole earth.
Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible (Ps 83:16–18). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
16 The confidence of the nations will be shaken by God’s sovereign presence. The nations had boastfully claimed that they would rid themselves of the “name” of Israel forever (v. 4). Instead, the psalmist prays for the Lord to change their pride and boasting to “shame.” But he shows a deep awareness of God’s gracious nature as he opens a door to those among the nations who will seek the “name” of Yahweh. This thought is repeated in v. 18. God’s mighty acts in judgment must lead to the recognition that Yahweh alone is God (vv. 17–18)!
16–18 Notice, however, that even as they cry for the enemies’ destruction, their fate is not to be one of eternal damnation. Verses 16 and 18 state that one of the reasons for God’s acts is so the enemy will seek and know God. This may seem as offensive as the violence in these verses. How can God’s action against the enemy be for their ultimate salvation? This is complex theology, because what it ultimately declares is that what God desires is for all of God’s acts to lead humans toward salvation and redemption. The shame of a defeated enemy is an opportunity for the world to be more at peace, for God to settle another human fight.
But this psalm also ends without this resolution. The wishes for God to handle the enemy close these Asaph psalms. The nation sits, waiting for God’s aid. Their plight is dire, and God remains silent. The full picture of these eleven psalms is not a pretty one. Several things have dominated them. First, this is clearly a serious and chaotic period, as Psalms 74, 79, 80 and 83 declare. In addition, this collection calls for a reassessment of life through questions and reflections. It calls for a reassessment of the relationship between the community and God (Psalms 77 and 78) by means of the psalms that tell God’s side of the issues at hand in Psalms 78, 81, and 82. Here is a great deal to digest, and it stresses an important point about this poetry. It takes work and reflection and time to absorb and understand its message.
Violence and vengeance are difficult issues in today’s world, and this psalm speaks to the heart of these difficult issues. First is the cry for help in a very fearful time when the nation turns to God for aid. Very few reading this book have known what it is like to be pressed in from all sides. Wars and mass violence happen far from us, and we live in countries protected by massive military power. We do not know what it is to be powerless. This psalm reminds us that our dependence on human power is, in part, folly.
Second, this prayer tells that when God is in charge, the purpose of violence is not retribution or vengeance, but God’s gracious will for all. The ultimate purpose of God is so that all will know God and God’s name. It may seem like a pipe dream in the world today, but it is the hope to which all Christians cling, that the powers and violence of this world pass away and a new world established by God will come to fruition. Violence and hate are real, if not to us, then to millions of others who live in dangerous places. We need to hear their cries and understand the parts we may play in their oppression, and we need to pray for their lives and ours to be transformed.
83:16–18 / The final petitions (vv. 16–18) appear to show the same restraint. While a request is made that they perish in disgrace, this does not denote their deaths but simply their defeat, because the petitions both before and after seek to bring them to shame with the ultimate purpose of bringing them to the knowledge that the Lord … alone is the Most High. One of these petitions also echoes an earlier lament: they who plotted to destroy the memory of the name of Israel (v. 4) must seek your name, O Lord (v. 16).
83:16–18. Counterbalancing the imprecation in this psalm (as also, even if implicitly, in any other imprecatory psalm or statement in Scripture) is God’s final and greatest promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that through them all nations of the earth will be blessed (cf. Gn 12:3; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). This promise was here explicitly affirmed by Asaph, who implored God to fill the faces of Israel’s enemies with dishonor, with the goal that they may seek God’s name (v. 16) and know that it is He alone, whose name is the Lord, is the Most High (cf. 14:19) over all the earth (v. 18; cf. Gn 11:4; 12:2; Pss 20:5; 23:3; Mal 1:11).
83:16–18 Shame is the opposite of dignity, an attribute of the righteous (25:2; 97:7). seek Your name: Asaph’s first call for God to shame Israel’s enemies is redemptive—that the nations might hear, feel shame, repent, and seek the face of the Lord. Yet if they continued in their wicked path, they would face further confounding and would one day face God in judgment. The title Most High is often used in the Psalms to speak of God’s control over all the nations of the world (47:2; 78:35; 97:9).
83:16–18 Three Hebrew terms for shame in these verses reinforce the extent of the Lord’s judgment and his complete humiliation of the oppressors, culminating in the annihilation of hostile peoples. The fate the adversaries sought to inflict on God’s people (v. 4) will be exacted on them (see note at 7:14–16). Only then would the nations recognize the Lord as sovereign King.
 Tanner, B. (2014). Book Three of the Psalter: Psalms 73–89. In E. J. Young, R. K. Harrison, & R. L. Hubbard Jr. (Eds.), The Book of Psalms (pp. 648–649). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.