We come now to yet another psalm of Asaph. Unlike many psalms, this one is not directed to God. It speaks of Him, but the import of what is said is directed at rulers. This is an Old Testament instance of “teaching and admonishing one another,” although in this case directed at wickedness outside the covenant. But it is a word to be sung horizontally.
“God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; He judgeth among the gods . . . ” (Psalm 82:1-8).
Summary of the Text:
The psalm begins, for us at least, very cryptically. Elohim judges among the elohim (v. 1), doing so in the Council of El. His complaint against them is that they are unjust in their judgments (v. 2). Instead of what they have been doing, they should deliver those who are oppressed (vv. 3-4). When rulers rule wickedly, they blunder on stupidly in the dark, and they put everything out of joint (v. 5). God says that He had declared them gods (v. 6), but that now they will die the way that men do (v. 7). God is then invited to rise up, judge the world, and inherit all the nations (v. 8).
God and Gods:
The word for the one, true Creator God has a plural ending—Elohim. If we were to reproduce the monotheistic confession of Israel in modern English, we would say something like “we believe in one true Gods.” At the same time, the word for the pagan gods is the same word, same ending—elohim. So the first verse here says that “Elohim stands in the congregation of El; He judges among the elohim.”
Throw into this the wild card of Scripture’s acknowledgement that such gods were not non-existent. They were supernatural beings, but they were created, just like we were created. “For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Cor. 8:5–6). Our common name for these divine beings is angels; the pagans thought of them simply as gods.
In this place, the imagery and language has God judging among divine beings (or angels) who have ruled unjustly and wickedly. This is a divine council, the congregation or council of El. As we see in the psalm, their rule has ramifications on earth.
But in John 10, Jesus quotes v. 6 to the Jews, saying that the phrase “you are gods” applied to those to whom the Word of God came (a plain reference to Israel at Sinai). This makes it apply to men, as opposed to angels.
The best way to harmonize this difference is to argue that Asaph was overlapping the imagery of the divine council in order to make the same point about Israel. This would be warranted if the heavenly councils and the earthly councils were somehow linked, which is a reality that we find throughout all Scripture. This helps explain why Deut. 32:8 may be rendered differently in the Masoretic text and in the Septuagint. The former says that God divided up the nations according to the number of the sons of Israel. The LXX says the angels of God or sons of God. This is a difference, but it need not be a conflicting difference.
Going the other way, this also helps explain why earthly rulers can be called gods in Scripture. “Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people” (Ex. 22:28). See also Ex. 21:6 and Ex. 22:8-9. There are two things we are not to render to the elohim—whether divine or human. Those two things are adoration on the one hand, and contempt on the other. In our circles, contempt of civil authority presents a significant temptation.
Judges Shall Be Judged:
We know from Scripture that judging shall be judged (Matt. 7:1), but we also need to learn that judges shall be judged. If God told the heavenly gods that they would die like men, how much more shall men die like men? As Spurgeon put it, “How quickly death unrobes the great.” Expand on Spurgeon’s observation: When God hunts birdWhen God hunts birds, He can shoot them out of the tallest of trees. What? Do you think God’s guns cannot reach the Ninth Circuit? Or the Supreme Court?s, He can shoot them out of the tallest of trees. What? Do you think God’s guns cannot reach the Ninth Circuit? Or the Supreme Court?
Relieve the Afflicted:
You have perhaps heard it said that lotteries are a tax on people who are bad at math. But who runs the lotteries? A great deal of the world’s sorrow is generated by the clevers, by the creatives, by the smart people. We see their true character by what they do, and do not evaluate it on the basis of their intellectual horsepower. They abuse the poor and needy, but remember that they don’t do it under banners that say, “Let’s stick it to the poor and needy.” No, they are all about saving the children . . . except for the ones whose body parts they have for sale.
Out of Course:
They are clever enough to completely fool the poor and needy. They can run roughshod over the afflicted and needy. They know how to abuse orphans, and they know how to distract you if you try to call them on it. They are clever enough for that.
But they are not clever enough to see the reality of what they are actually doing. They know not (v. 5). They do not understand. They walk on blindly into the darkness, and they put the foundations of everything out of kilter. The devil is likely a thousand times smarter than any of us, but he is this kind of fool.
Getting Your Case Heard:
When it comes to our reflections on the judgments of God, there is a great difference between the default imagination of the ancient Jews and the default imagination of Christians. In certain respects, their take is superior to ours, and will not be corrected until we recover psalm singing more fully. When we think of God as judge, we tend to think of criminal court, and ourselves as defendants. This is not necessarily wrong because there is scriptural warrant for it (2 Cor. 5:10). My concern here is emphasis. The Jews thought of unjust judges as the ones you couldn’t get to hear your case. They thought of it as civil court, and of themselves as plaintiffs. The whole point was to get into the court, not out of it.
So whatever you affirm about the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus, make sure you don’t leave this part of it out. Arise, O God, judge the earth. For thou shalt inherit all nations. This judgment is to be understood as the culmination of gospel. The judgment of God coming to earth is to be categorized as good news.