The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Psalm 82

Psa 82:1


HISTORICAL ALLUSION: "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" (LGS). Indications in Isa of corrupt government by the princes, who should have been able to steer the nation competently when Hezekiah was laid aside with mortal sickness. See Isa 3:12-15: esp close to this psalm. For the same background, consider also Isa 28:14 and finally, Mic 3:1-3,9-11. In this psalm we see Isa (or poss 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: Exo 7:1; 21:6; 22:8,9,28; 23:20,21; Psa 58:1(?); 97:7; 138:11; 1Sa 2:25; 28:13.

MESSIANIC: 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 Joh 10:33-38. The same idiom of speaking about God's representatives by the Name of God is equally appropriate when referring to the Messiah: Psa 45:6 (Heb 1:8); Isa 8:13,14; 9:6,7; 40:3,9; 61:1,6; 64:4 (where "he" = the Almighty, and "thee... O God" = the Messiah); Isa 65:16; Zec 12:10; Mal 3:1; Joh 14:7-10; 20:28; 1Ti 3:16. "We do not recommend the use in ordinary speech of the word 'God' in ref 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' (Phi 2:9)" (CRom 102; cp also Psalms 1:258,262).

Psa 82 was prescribed reading (according to the synagogue "Bible Companion") for the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (cp Joh 7:37 and its context, including Joh 8).

V 1: "God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods" (AV). This Heb word "standeth" always has a special religious or royal reference. Here, it has both: a prophet (or poss a king) in the midst of princes. Thus v 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 NT quotation. However, this proposed translation does a bit better at preserving the // of the v.)

Or -- less likely -- v 1 might read: "The elohim (judges) stand (ie respectfully) in the congregation of the EL (God Himself); He (ie 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.

(NT) 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" (Mat 26:64)!

Psa 82:2

Mic 3:11 (already cited in v 1) also refs this taking of bribes. To "accept the person of" is, lit, "to lift up the face of" -- by summoning a man to rise who has prostrated himself before the judgment seat. Cp the similar exhortation in Jam 2:1-6, warning against showing respect of persons.

(NT) The Sanhedrin was doing precisely this -- not only against Jesus himself (Joh 7:47,48; 5:43), but against the common people as well (Joh 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" (Joh 8:15; cp Joh 9:39-41).

See Lesson, Selah.

Psa 82:3

Vv 3,4: 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.

Psa 82:5

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.

THEY KNOW NOTHING, THEY UNDERSTAND NOTHING: (NT) These words are the equivalent of the Greek text of Joh 10:37,38. The only difference is that the negative here (ie in Psa 82:5) foretells Christ's failure to rouse their sleeping consciences.

THEY WALK ABOUT IN DARKNESS: Even while they have the "Light of the world" in their presence (Joh 8:12). See Jesus in Joh 9:39-41; cp Joh 3:19; 12:35,46; 1Jo 2:11). Also, cp Pro 2:13.

ALL THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE EARTH ARE SHAKEN: 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; Joe 3:16, all with ref 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 ct 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.

(NT) 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 (Joh 10:39). This they shortly accomplished, and the resultant earthquake (Mat 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; Eze 38:18-20; Hag 2:6,21; Heb 12:26; Act 16:25,26.)

Psa 82:6

YOU 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 (Deu 1:15-17; Num 11:16-30; 2Ch 19:5-7), as His mortal representatives. Thus their designation as "elohim". In like manner, mortal men may also be called "angels" -- ie messengers or representatives of God -- who act and speak, in some degree, with divine authority (Mat 11:10; Luk 7:24,27; 9:52; Jam 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" (2Pe 2:4; Jud 1:6; see WS 179-181) and "gods" (elohim) who died like men!

(NT) These men were rulers and judges, and above all -- in their mistaken pride -- sons of Abraham (Joh 8:33,41), so the terms were appropriate.

YOU ARE ALL SONS OF THE MOST HIGH: Those now being denounced were men of great religious privilege. Cp Joh 1:12 and 1Jo 3:1,2.

Psa 82:7

BUT YOU WILL DIE LIKE MERE 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 -- is probably about Shebna (Isa 22:15-19).

(NT) "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" (Joh 8:24; cp v 21).

YOU WILL FALL LIKE EVERY OTHER RULER: 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).

(NT) 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" (Act 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 Act 1:20 -- is in fact plural in the original: "Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents."

Psa 82:8

RISE UP, O GOD, JUDGE THE EARTH: Or Land. Hezekiah did this very thing after his sensational recovery. Reminiscent of Israel's ancient battle-cry, when the Ark went forth (Num 10:35).

FOR ALL THE NATIONS ARE YOUR INHERITANCE: A purely Messianic phrase. Yet in a lesser sense true also of Hezekiah: "And many brought gifts [ie, 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" (2Ch 32:23). There are also signs in Isa that Hezekiah asserted his authority over some Gentile neighbors (Isa 18:7; 49:23; 55:5; 60:1-13; 62:2).
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