Psalm 82 – Earthly Judges Before the Great Judge
This psalm is titled A Psalm of Asaph. The author Asaph was probably the great singer and musician of David and Solomon’s era (1 Chronicles 15:17-19, 16:5-7, 25:6). 1 Chronicles 25:1 and 2 Chronicles 29:30 add that Asaph was a prophet in his musical compositions.
“It takes us in a few words behind and beyond our present wrongs, to portray God’s unbounded jurisdiction, his delegation of power, his diagnosis of our condition and his drastic intentions.” (Derek Kidner)
A. God summons the judges.
1. (1-2) God questions the unjust judges.
God stands in the congregation of the mighty;
He judges among the gods.
How long will you judge unjustly,
And show partiality to the wicked? Selah
a. God stands in the congregation of the mighty: Asaph gives us the picture of God in the midst of the mighty, standing in authority.
i. “Standeth, as a judge, diligently to observe all that is said or done there; and to give sentence accordingly. The judge sits when he heareth causes, but standeth up when he giveth sentence.” (Poole)
b. He judges among the gods: God’s standing in the midst of these mighty ones is to bring judgment among them. The word gods here is Elohim, the plural for the generic word for god in Hebrew. The idea of God judging gods has led to several suggestions regarding the identity of these elohim, these gods.
· Elohim is often used to describe the true God, Yahweh. It is in the plural to describe both the majesty of His person, and to be a hint of the triune nature of God, being One God in Three Persons.
· Elohim is sometimes used as the plural of pagan deities, the false gods of the nations.
· Elohim is sometimes used in reference to angelic beings.
· Elohim is here best taken as a reference to human judges, who stand in the place of God in their ability to determine the fate of others.
i. “Gathered around Him is an assembly of judges who are called elohim, because they are His delegates; they administer His will; they are His executive agents.” (Morgan)
ii. “The judges and magistrates are compared in this psalm to God, because they exercise something of His power in the right ordering of human society.” (Meyer)
iii. Martin Luther “pointed out that Psalm 82:1, 6 both establishes and limits the authority of princes. It establishes it, because it is God who appoints the authorities; it is he who calls them ‘gods.’ It limits their authority because they are accountable to him, as the psalm shows.” (Boice)
iv. “Earthly judicatories are the appointment of God. All magistrates act in his name, and by virtue of his commission. He is invisibly present at their assemblies, and superintends their proceedings. He receives appeals from their wrongful decisions; he will one day re-hear all causes at his own tribunal, and reverse every iniquitous sentence, before the great congregation of men and angels.” (Horne)
v. “Our Lord’s reference to Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34-38 is, by the present writer, accepted as authoritatively settling both the meaning and the ground of the remarkable name of ‘gods’ for human judges.” (Maclaren)
c. How long will you judge unjustly? As God calls together this assembly of judges, He did not do it to compliment them or pay them honor. He did it to confront them for judging unjustly and for showing partiality to the wicked. This confrontation shows that God Himself is the Judge at the ultimate Supreme Court.
i. “The judges in mind have erred in that they have shown respect for the persons of the wicked, and thus departed from that strict justice which ever characterises the dealings of God to Whom they are all responsible.” (Morgan)
ii. “Will ye represent and express God to the world as a corrupt, crooked, and unrighteous judge?” (Trapp)
iii. “Our village squires and country magistrates would do well to remember this. Some of them had need go to school to Asaph till they have mastered this psalm. Their harsh decisions and strange judgments are made in the presence of him who will surely visit them for every unseemly act, for he has no respect unto the person of any, and is the champion of the poor and needy.” (Spurgeon)
d. Selah: The idea of God calling the judges of the earth into special judgment is worthy of sober reflection.
i. Selah: “This gives the offenders pause for consideration and confession.” (Spurgeon)
2. (3-4) God commands the unjust judges.
Defend the poor and fatherless;
Do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Deliver the poor and needy;
Free them from the hand of the wicked.
a. Defend the poor and fatherless: God’s instruction to the judges of this earth is to do their duty in defending those who are often treated unjustly. In Asaph’s day the poor and the fatherless were often the targets of unfair treatment. It was the job of the judges to defend them and to do justice to the afflicted and needy.
i. “You [judges] are their natural protectors under God. They are oppressed: punish their oppressors, however rich or powerful: and deliver them.” (Clarke)
ii. “These…three verses, indeed the whole psalm, every prince should have painted on the wall of his chamber, on his bed, over his table, and on his garments. For here they find what lofty, princely, noble virtues their estate can practice, so that temporal government, next to the preaching office, is the highest service to God and the most useful office on earth.” (Luther, cited in Boice)
b. Free them from the hand of the wicked: One characteristic of the wicked is that they prey upon the poor and needy. It was the divinely directed duty of judges to free the vulnerable from those who oppressed them.
i. “Law has too often been an instrument for vengeance in the hand of unscrupulous men, an instrument as deadly as poison or the dagger. It is for the judge to prevent such villainy.” (Spurgeon)
ii. King Jehoshaphat of Judah gave similar wise instruction to judges in 2 Chronicles 19:6-7: And said to the judges, “Take heed to what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment. Now therefore, let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take care and do it, for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, no partiality, nor taking of bribes.”
iii. “It is said of Francis the First, of France, that when a woman kneeled to him to beg justice, he bade her stand up; for, said he, Woman, it is justice that I owe thee, and justice thou shalt have; if thou beg anything of me, let it be mercy.” (Price, cited in Spurgeon)
3. (5) God exposes the weakness of the unjust judges.
They do not know, nor do they understand;
They walk about in darkness;
All the foundations of the earth are unstable.
a. They do not know, nor do they understand: This should best be understood as a reference to the unjust judges themselves. Despite their high standing and higher opinion of themselves, they are often ignorant and easily overestimate their own understanding.
i. “They know not, to wit, the truth and right of the cause, nor the duty of their place. Men are oft said in Scripture not to know what they do not love and practise.” (Poole)
ii. Adam Clarke had a much better opinion of the judges of his own time (1822), but he understood the application to the judges in Asaph’s day: “They are ignorant and do not wish to be instructed. They will not learn; they cannot teach. Happy England! How different from Judea…in the days of Jehoshaphat! All thy judges are learned, righteous, and impartial. Never did greater men in their profession dignify any land or country.” (Clarke)
b. All the foundations of the earth are unstable: When judges walk in the darkness of their arrogant pride, the lives of everyday people are uncertain and unstable, as if the ground that should be firm under their feet is shaking.
i. Boice mentioned three perils that are the destined doom for governments that forget God:
· Ignorance (they do not know).
· Inept action (they walk about in darkness).
· A society shaken (all the foundations of the earth are unstable).
ii. “There is nothing the world needs today more than the administration of strict and impartial justice.” (Morgan)
iii. “When peasants may be horsewhipped by farmers with impunity, and a pretty bird is thought more precious than poor men, the foundations of the earth are indeed sinking like rotten piles unable to bear up the structures built upon them.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “A community, whether ecclesiastical or civil, consisteth of great numbers; but its well-being dependeth on a few, in whose hands the administration is placed.” (Horne)
B. God sentences the judges.
1. (6-7) God pronounces judgment on the unjust judges.
I said, “You are gods,
And all of you are children of the Most High.
But you shall die like men,
And fall like one of the princes.”
a. You are gods: These human judges stood in the place of the gods above other people. They had the opportunity and the authority to change people’s lives with a word, or sometimes even to end a life.
i. In John 10:34-39 Jesus quoted verse 6 in a debate with religious leaders when they accused Him of claiming to be God in a sinful, wrong way. Jesus reasoned, “If God gave these unjust judges the title ‘gods’ because of their office, why do you consider it blasphemy that I call Myself the ‘Son of God’ in light of the testimony of Me and My works?”
ii. Exodus 21:6 and 22:8-9 are other passages where God called earthly judges gods. In verse 6, gods translates the Hebrew word elohim. In Exodus 21:6 and 22:8-9 the same word elohim is translated “judges.”
iii. “There must be some government among men, and as angels are not sent to dispense it, God allows men to rule over men, and endorses their office.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “In his Lex Rex, Rutherford argues from this psalm that judges are not the creatures of kings, to execute their pleasure, and do not derive their power from the monarch, but are authorized by God himself as much as the king, and are therefore bound to execute justice whether the monarch desires it or no.” (Spurgeon)
b. And all of you are children of the Most High: In still speaking to Israel’s earthly judges, God reminded them that they – and all of humanity – are children of the Most High. This is true in the sense that every human being is made in the image of God and can be thought of as the offspring of God (Acts 17:28-29).
i. When these unjust judges denied protection and justice to the poor, fatherless, afflicted, and needy, the judges treated them as less than fully humans made in the image of God who should be regarded as God’s creation, His offspring. The judges needed to remember this.
ii. There is another sense in which it cannot be said that all people are children of God. Some are children of God and others are children of their father the devil (John 8:44).
c. You shall die like men: The unjust judges of Israel needed to remember that others were greater than the judges thought, and they themselves were less than they thought. They were like gods only in a symbolic sense; they themselves would die like men and face judgment before the Judge of all the earth.
i. “Like men; or, like ordinary men, as the Hebrew word adam sometimes signifies, as it does in Psalm 49:12.” (Poole)
ii. You shall die like men: “Ye shall wax old like others, then ye shall fall sick like others, then ye shall die like others, then ye shall be buried like others, then ye shall be consumed like others, then ye shall be judged like others, even like the beggars which cry at your gates.” (Smith, cited in Spurgeon)
iii. Fall like one of the princes: “Our Henry VIII was told on his death bed that he should go to the place of princes; which was no great comfort, if the old proverb be true, that hell is paved with the crowns of princes and helmets of soldiers.” (Trapp)
2. (8) A prayer for God to exercise His perfect judgment.
Arise, O God, judge the earth;
For You shall inherit all nations.
a. Arise, O God, judge the earth: Asaph closed the psalm with a plea to God to take His place as the ultimate Judge. The unjust judges of Israel had their own area of authority, but God’s authority is over all the earth.
i. This prayer called upon God to do what the earthly judges would not do: properly judge the earth. Human judges had failed, so Asaph asked God to take judgment into His own hands.
b. You shall inherit all nations: This inheritance shows the greatness of God as judge. Earthly judges have their own greatness, but it is nothing compared to the Great Judge. This inheritance ultimately belongs to Jesus Messiah.
i. For You shall inherit all nations: “Does not this last verse contain a prophecy of our Lord, the calling of the Gentiles, and the prevalence of Christianity over the earth? Thus several of the fathers have understood the passage. It is only by the universal spread of Christianity over the world, that the reign of righteousness and justice is to be established: and of whom can it be said that he shall inherit all nations, but of Jesus Christ?” (Clarke)
ii. “The last days shall see him enthroned, and all unrighteous potentates broken like potter’s vessels by his potent sceptre. The second advent is still earth’s brightest hope. Come quickly, even so, come, Lord Jesus.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “It is great encouragement in missionary work to know that every nation is by right of gift and inheritance our Lord’s. He sold His all to purchase it…. It is ours to make it His in fact.” (Meyer)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org