George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 3

Psalm 82

1. Title

Asaph once again points to the Hezekiah period.

2. Structure

Messianic king in the midst of Israel’s rulers
His warnings on God’s behalf
The rulers’ reaction
Messiah pronounces judgment
Israel’s appeal to their Messiah

3. Historical commentary

“Israel’s judges have been summoned together by God. The position of the presiding judge is vacant when suddenly the Lord Himself appears and takes His place as President of the Assembly. But who are to be arraigned before this awesome court? When God speaks it is to indict the judges themselves” (L.G. Sargent).

There are plenty of indications in Isaiah of corrupt government by the princes, who should have been able to steer the nation competently when king Hezekiah was laid aside with mortal sickness. Isaiah 3:12-15 is especially close to this psalm:

“As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women shall rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths. The Lord standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people. The Lord will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people, and the princes thereof: for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts.”

For the same background, consider also Isaiah 28:14:

“Wherefore hear the word of the Lord, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.”

And finally, Micah 3:1-3,9-11.

In this psalm we see Isaiah (or possibly Hezekiah) once again taking up the reins of government on God’s behalf.

The idiom of speaking about God’s representatives by the name of God is common in Scripture:

Men and rulers referred to as God: Exodus 7:1; 21:6; 22:8,9,28; 23:20,21; Psalms 58:1(?); 97:7; 138:11; 1 Samuel 2:25; 28:13.

God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods. This Hebrew word “standeth” always has a special religious or royal reference. Here, it has both: a prophet (or possibly a king) in the midst of princes. Thus verse 1 may read: “God (Elohim) standeth in the assembly (eduth) of the mighty; in the midst God (Elohim) judgeth.” (Such a translation does not evade — nor is it intended to evade — the fact that even the wicked rulers of Israel may be called elohim; that is plainly the case in v. 6 and its New Testament quotation. However, this proposed translation does a bit better at preserving the parallelism of the verse.)

Or — and this is a bit more problematic — v. 1 might read: “The elohim (judges) stand (i.e., respectfully) in the congregation of the EL (God Himself); He (i.e., EL) judgeth among the elohim (judges).” Either way, God Himself (or in the person of His special prophet or king, the Messiah) is formally judging the rulers of Israel.
This is all divine accusation and warning against the unworthiness of these rulers. (Verse 5 is inserted as an aside, addressed to the faithful remnant; note the change of pronouns — ‘you’ to ‘they’ — from v. 4 to v. 5.)
How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Mic. 3:11 (already cited above) also refers to this taking of bribes. To “accept the person of” is, literally, to “lift up the face of” — by summoning a man to rise who has prostrated himself before the judgment seat. Compare the similar exhortation in James 2:1-6, warning against showing respect of persons.
Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. There had set in a serious decay in the administration, due to Hezekiah’s loss of control of affairs during the time of his illness. Unscrupulous ambitious princes — men like Shebna (Isa. 22:15-19) — had oppressed the poor and godly.

Needy in vv. 3 and 4 is two different Hebrew words: ruwsh = in want, lacking; ebyon = destitute.
They know not, neither will they understand: they walk on in darkness. But all of God’s appeals to these elohim are in vain. Therefore they — the judges of Israel — are themselves to be judged. This would certainly have happened when Hezekiah recovered.

All the foundations of the earth (Land) are out of course (shaken: RSV, NIV). This is figurative language for misgovernment, but it also may be taken literally. The last phrase means an earthquake: Isa. 29:6; 24:18-20; Psa. 46:3; Joel 3:16, all with reference to Hezekiah’s reign and the great theophany which destroyed Sennacherib’s army (this is not to discount a further Messianic fulfillment, of course). Note also the special significance of the contrast in Isa. 28:16: the sure foundation of God’s altar-stone (Messianically, of God’s Son!) — that shall not be shaken even by the severest earthquake.
I said, with reference to vv. 2-4, now resumed...

Ye are gods. A reminder that to whom much is given, of them is much required. They were judging, not on behalf of men, but of God (Deut. 1:15-17; Num. 11:16-30; 2 Chron. 19:5-7), as His mortal representatives. Thus their designation as elohim .

In like manner, mortal men may also be called “angels” — i.e., messengers or representatives of God — who act and speak, in some degree, with divine authority (Matt. 11:10; Luke 7:24,27; 9:52; James 2:25). When Korah, Dathan, and Abiram presumed to elevate themselves to the positions of priests and rulers in Israel, and were summarily destroyed because of their pride, then they became both “angels that kept not their first estate” (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6; see Ron Abel, Wrested Scriptures, pp. 179-181) and “gods” (elohim) who died like men!

And all of you are children of the most High (Elyon). Those now being denounced were men of great religious privilege. Compare John 1:12 and 1 John 3:1,2.
But ye shall die like men, or like Adam, having failed the test as he did. Or — more precisely — having sought for higher position than God permitted. Likewise, Psa. 49:12-20 — men dying like beasts — (see Par. 3 there) is probably about Shebna (Isa. 22:15-19).

And fall like one of the princes. Shebna again? This would explain the use of “one of”. His pride and seizure of power guaranteed a calamitous crash, which when it came would be known to the entire nation (Isa. 22:17-19). So also it would be with these princes (Isa. 30:16,17).
Arise, O God (Elohim), judge the earth (Land). Hezekiah did this very thing after his sensational recovery. This is reminiscent of Israel’s ancient battle-cry, when the Ark went forth (Num. 10:35).

For thou shalt inherit all nations. A purely Messianic phrase. Yet in a lesser sense true also of Hezekiah:

“And many brought gifts [i.e., tribute] unto the Lord to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah: so that he [God certainly, but also — in some measure — Hezekiah as His agent] was magnified in the sight of all nations from thenceforth” (2 Chron. 32:23).

There are also signs in Isaiah that Hezekiah asserted his authority over some Gentile neighbors (18:7; 49:23; 55:5; 60:1-13; 62:2).

4. Messianic commentary

Application of this psalm to Christ in encounters with his adversaries springs not only from the Hezekiah type but more specifically from the use of this psalm in John 10:33-38 (see Par. 5).

The same idiom of speaking about God’s representatives by the Name of God is equally appropriate when referring to the Messiah:

Messiah referred to as God: Psalm 45:6 (Hebrews 1:8); Isaiah 8:13,14; 9:6,7; 40:3,9; 61:1,6; 64:4 (where “he” = the Almighty, and “thee... O God” = the Messiah); 65:16; Zechariah 12:10; Malachi 3:1; John 14:7-10; 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:16.

“We do not recommend the use in ordinary speech of the word ‘God’ in reference to Jesus; but it is well not to lose sight of such a use occasionally in Scripture, and by so doing fail to grasp the claims made for Jesus Christ our Lord, who has been ‘highly exalted’ by the Father, and ‘given a Name that is above every name’ (Phil. 2:9)” (John Carter, Romans, p. 102; cp. also Psalms Studies, Psa. 45, Par. 4,5).

Psalm 82 was prescribed reading (according to the synagogue “Bible Companion”) for the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (cp. John 7:37 and its context, including ch. 8).

Elohim standeth in the congregation of the EL (see previous note: the verb suggests a religious and/or royal assembly). This is Christ face to face with the evil men of the temple. The one who was being judged had all the bearing and manner of a judge himself — even to the pronouncing of sentence upon his “judges” (Matt. 26:64)!
Ye judge unjustly. The Sanhedrin was doing precisely this — not only against Jesus himself (John 7:47,48; 5:43), but against the common people as well (7:49); for this they earned the rebuke of one of their own number, Nicodemus (v. 51). And so Jesus also reproved them repeatedly:

“Ye judge after the flesh” (8:15; cp. 9:39-41).
Such “judges” are denounced in minutest detail by Christ in Matt. 23.
They know not, neither will they understand. These words are the equivalent of the Greek text of John 10:37,38:

“If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.”

The only difference is that the negative here (i.e., in Psa. 82:5) foretells Christ’s failure to rouse their sleeping consciences.

They walk on in darkness, even while they have the “Light of the world” in their presence (John 8:12). Thus,

“And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind. And some of the Phari-sees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth” (9:39-41; cp. 3:19; 12:35,46).

“But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11).

Also, cp. Prov. 2:13.

All the foundations of the earth (the Land) are out of course. See earlier note on v. 5; this means an earthquake. The immediate effect of Christ’s appeal to the leaders of the nation was a renewal of their efforts to arrest and crucify him (John 10:39). This they shortly accomplished, and the resultant earthquake (Matt. 27:51) was one expression of the wrath of God against them. (Earthquake is often expressive of the wrath of God: cp. context of Psa. 18:7; Job 9:5,6; Isa. 2:19,21; Ezek. 38:18-20; Hag. 2:6,21; Heb. 12:26; Acts 16:25,26.)
I said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. These men were rulers and judges, and above all — in their mistaken pride — sons of Abraham (John 8:33,41), so the terms were not inappropriate.
But ye shall die like men.

“I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (8:24; cp. v. 21).

And fall like one of the princes. Could this be an anticipation of the fate of Judas — who at last abandoned his Lord to cast in his lot with the princes?

“Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out” (Acts 1:18).

An equally disastrous end was foretold for the Jewish rulers who collaborated with him: Psa. 69:25 — quoted by Peter and applied in the singular to Judas in Acts 1:20 — is in fact plural in the original:

“Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents.”
Arise, O God. This is a divine imperative addressed to Jesus. The word in Hebrew, qum (i.e., cumi in Mark 5:41), and in Greek (LXX) — anastas — means resurrection.

Thou shalt inherit all nations. Goyim means Gentiles. Here is a most heartening encouragement to Jesus that his work would not fail, but would gather in Gentiles in place of his own unspiritual nation (John 10:16,40-42; Psa. 2:8).

5. New Testament Citation

A few additional comments on John 10:33-39 bring out the connection with Psalm 82.

The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. Like Adam and Eve, Moses presumed to appropriate God’s prerogative to himself — making himself “equal” with God in the matter of smiting the Rock (Num. 20:10; contrast Exod. 17:4-7). Thus he lost the opportunity to lead Israel into the Land of promise. But Jesus never presumed to any office or position that was not his by right (Phil. 2:5-12), and so he will receive an inheritance that far exceeds that of any one Land or people (Psa. 82:8)!
Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law? This phrase covers not just the Pentateuch, but the entire Old Testament (John 15:25; 12:34; Rom. 3:19; 1 Cor. 14:21).
Ye are gods... if he called them gods... Here the Greek word is without the definite article; thus its meaning is weakened to signify men with responsibility from (and to) God.

Unto whom the word of God came. Here “unto” is used in the sense of “against”: cp. Mark 12:12: “For they knew that he had spoken the parable against them”!
Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, i.e., to fulfill this very psalm!

Thou blasphemest, because I said, I am the Son of God? The psalm rejected these men as sons of God (vv. 2-7), but gave the title, with full rights, to Jesus (vv. 1,8).
If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him. Miracles of healing (v. 32), which were one means of caring for the poor and oppressed (Psa. 82:3,4), were performed by Jesus in abundance. He appeals to his adversaries’ complete knowledge of all this, to condemn their rejection of him as blasphemy, but to no avail...
Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand. And thus — stubbornly walking on in darkness (Psa. 82:5) — they sealed their own fates!
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