Psalm 82

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2006-04-17 11:04.

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This psalm is attributed to Asaph. This could be understood to mean the Asaph who was a contemporary of King David (1 Chronicles. 25:1-6; 2 Chronicles. 29:30) or a member of the Levitical family descended from him. The strong condemnation of the judges suggests that conditions are descriptive of a period later than David’s reign and, therefore, the composer likely was a descendant of Asaph.

The psalmist represents YHWH as having taken his place in the assembly of God, probably signifying one which he has called. His purpose is to render judgment. The assembled ones are human judges, called “gods” in view of their position. Their decisions involved matters of life and death. Moreover, in their capacity as judges, they were to judge according to what God had decreed in the Mosaic law and so were to act for him. (Deuteronomy 1:17)

Instead of upholding God’s law in their decisions, these judges rendered unjust verdicts, siding with the lawless ones who had probably given them substantial bribes. The question as to “how long” such judicial injustices would continue suggests that this was not a recent development but a long-standing situation. (See the Notes section regarding selah.)

The corrupt judges are urged to change their course, to hand down just decisions for the insignificant ones and the orphans, and to uphold the rights of the downtrodden and the destitute. They were to rescue the insignificant ones and the needy from merciless exploiters.

In being described as having neither knowledge nor understanding, the judges are exposed as persons who did not seek to adhere to the principles of godly justice (as if they had absolutely no knowledge of such) and acted without giving any evidence of understanding their responsibilities before God and to fellow humans who were being mistreated. The actions of these judges revealed that they were in mental and moral darkness, completely unfit for their responsible office.

As a consequence of the judicial corruption, the psalmist refers to the “foundations of the earth” as tottering or being shaken. This is because justice, law and order constitute the very foundation of a stable society. Judicial corruption, however, undermines that vital foundation.

Because of the tremendous power they wielded as judges, these corrupt men are addressed as “gods.” For the same reason, they are called “sons of the Most High.” Yet, despite their powerful position that raised them to the level of “gods” and “sons of the Most High,” they would die as mere earthlings, falling as do princes against whom God expresses adverse judgment.

Apparently these judges came to have an exalted view of themselves, proudly disregarding their obligation to uphold the law of the Supreme Judge and their accountability to him. This is doubtless the reason for their being told that they would die as mortals, earthlings.

Likely because human judges had failed miserably in discharging their office, the psalmist petitioned YHWH to judge. By reason of his creatorship, God is the possessor of all the nations and, therefore, their rightful judge.

Jesus Christ referred to this psalm in countering the words of faithless ones who claimed that he was making himself God. “Jesus said to them, ‘By the Father’s power I have done many good deeds before your eyes; for which of these are you stoning me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any good deed,’ the Jews replied, ‘but for blasphemy: you, a man, are claiming to be God.’ Jesus answered, ‘Is it not written in your law, “I said: You are gods”? It is those to whom God’s word came who are called gods — and scripture cannot be set aside. Then why do you charge me with blasphemy for saying, “I am God’s son,” I whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world?’” (John 10:32-36, REB)


Regarding the divine name, see Psalm 1.

Verse 2 ends with “selah.” The meaning of this transliterated Hebrew term is uncertain. In the Septuagint, the word is rendered diápsalma, considered to mean “pause” or “musical interlude.”