April 18, 2017

Tom Lowe



A Psalm of Asaph 


Theme: The Psalmist, having exhorted the judges, and reproved their negligence, prayeth God to judge.


Psalm 82 (KJV)

1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.

How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.

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.

They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.

I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.

But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.

Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.


Preface to Psalm 82

This psalm is misunderstood by some to be, "A denunciation of the angels whom God had put in charge of the earth," a position that is advocated by Bible scholars who cite Daniel 10:13-21 and Daniel 12:1 as supporting the notion that angels have charge of earthly affairs. However, Michael the archangel is called, not a ruler, but "a helper"; and Daniel 12:1 says nothing that is inconsistent with the statement in Hebrews that all of God's angels are "ministering spirits," that is, serving spirits, "Sent forth to do service for them that shall inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1:14).


All authority in heaven and upon earth belongs to Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20); and that leaves none at all for angels, except in a very limited and secondary sense, for they are assigned to do many things for the benefit of God's children.


The writer of this psalm may well have been the Asaph of David's time. It consists of an introduction (Psalms 82:1), denunciations (Psalms 82:2-7), and a conclusion (Psalms 82:8).





1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.


“God standeth in the congregation of the mighty”;….

This psalm is a call for justice, and a rebuke of the injustice of the Jewish tribunals; with an appeal to God, the supreme and righteous judge. The courts of justice during Hezekiah's reign were very corrupt: see Isaiah 1:23 where the judges and magistrates are called princes, because of their superiority over the common people; and here they are called gods out of respect for the source of their power, which was the Most High God. In this regard the psalm conveys a useful warning to all ministers of justice; from the Supreme Court Justice, down to the most inferior and petty justice of the peace.


If this Psalm was indeed written by Asaph, then the warning it contains is for either:

1. The chief rulers of Israel, whether judges or kings, or their great council called the Sanhedrim.

2. The rulers of the nations of the world, to whom this word might someday come, which may be concluded, partly from the expressions used here, which are general, and not peculiar to the rulers of Israel, and therefore not rashly and unnecessarily to be curtailed; and partly from the last verse, where he mentions that the whole earth and all nations are concerned with the contents of this Psalm.


“Standeth”: God stands as a judge, diligently observing all that is said and done; and to give sentence accordingly. The Judge sits when he hears cases, but He stands when He gives the sentence. Or standing does not indicate posture at all, but only the presence of a person, as in Isaiah 11:10, Daniel 11:20, and John 3:29; hence, this Hebrew word is rendered present  by some scholarly interpreters and presideth by others, as this word is used in 1 Samuel 19:20, and 22:9.


“Of the mighty,” or, of the gods, as it is explained and expressed in the next clause. By gods,” or “the mighty,” he indicates kings, or other chief rulers, who are called that, because they have their power and commission from God, and act as His agents, in His name and place, and must give an account to Him of all their actions.


“Congregation” does not always signify an assembly of persons meeting together in one place, but sometimes denotes all the particular persons belonging to a body of men, though dispersed in various places, as in Psalms 26:5, I have hated the congregation of evil-doers, i.e. all evil-doers; and as in Proverbs 21:16, he shall remain in the congregation of the dead, i.e. shall be one of that number and state. Some render it as it is in the Hebrew, in the congregation of God, in His own congregation. But the former explanation seems more agreeable, both to the following words, and to the scope and whole body of the Psalm. 


“….he judgeth among the gods.”

The writer envisioned God sitting as Judge over a gathering of human Judges, the judges that lived in every town in Israel. The human judges in Israel served as God’s judicial representatives among His people. The Hebrew word translated "rulers" (NASB) or "gods" (NIV & KJV)is Elohim (lit. strong ones). This word usually describes God in the Old Testament, but sometimes it refers to the strong ones in Israel, namely, the human rulers or authorities (Psalm 45:6; Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8-9). “Gods” does not refer to angels here (Ephesians 6:12) as the Syriac translators thought. This is clear from the context. It does not refer to the gods of the Heathen either (1 Corinthians 10:20)."The gods" of this verse are the same as those of verse 6, below; and "God standeth in the congregation of the mighty" is a reference to God's presence among His people on earth, that is, the Israelites, the special purpose of His presence among them being that of warning and denouncing the evil judges, upon whom so much of the blame for the tragedy of Israel rested.


2 How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.


“How long will ye judge unjustly,....”

These are the words not of the psalmist, but of the divine Person that stands in the congregation of the mighty, and judges among the gods; calling the unjust judges to account, and scolding them for their unrighteous proceedings and perversion of justice, which had gone on over a very long time, thus aggravating their sin. This kind of behavior is very applicable to the rulers and judges of the Jewish nation in the times of Christ, who had long dealt very unjustly with God’s people, and continued to do so. Their judgments were purposely wrong, for they took bribes and catered to the rich and powerful, both in civil and ecclesiastical things. Their judgment was corrupt concerning the law, which they transgressed and made null and void by adhering to the traditions of the elders. They passed an unrighteous judgment on John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, rejecting his baptism, and calling him a devil; and upon Christ himself, sentencing Him to death for crimes He was not guilty of; and upon His followers, whom they cast out of the synagogue.


The character of an unjust judge is found in Luke 18:2: “Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man.” And therefore, according to the Scripture, he should have been disqualified from being a judge, since he was destitute of the fear of God; and seeing he had no regard for men, he could neither have any love for men, nor any share in the affections of men, and such a person is very unfit to be a judge, for he cannot be thought to have any regard for his conscience, and so would not concern himself with justice and equity.


The former of these characteristics is what belongs to every man in a state of unregeneracy; there is no true fear of God before their eyes, or in the heart of any unconverted man; wherever it is, it is put there by the grace of God: this is one of the first things which appears in conversion, and shows itself in hatred of sin. Moreover, he had no regard for the laws of men, any more than the laws of God; but made his own will the rule of his actions, and had no desire to bring about justice between man and man; nor did he care what any man said about him; he had no concern about his reputation and character, since he had nothing to lose.


“….and accept the persons of the wicked?”

He ruled in favor of them, and against the righteous, because they were rich, or he was related to them, or had received bribes from them, contrary to the law in Deuteronomy 16:19,⸺“Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous”⸺so the judges among the Jews, in Christ's time, judged according to appearance, the outward circumstances of men, and not righteous judgment, as our Lord suggests⸺“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).



“Selah,” which some take to be a musical note is only used in this book of Psalms, and in the prayer of Habakkuk, which was set to a tune, and directed to the chief singer. Others understand it as a pause, a full stop for a while; and as a note of attention, either to something that is remarkably bad and distressing; or remarkably good, and a matter for rejoicing, as in Psalm 3:4. Others consider it as an affirmation of the truth of anything, good or bad; and render it "verily", "truly", as, answering to "Amen"; so be it, so it is, or shall be; it is the truth of the thing. But others render it "for ever"; and it is a tradition of the Jews, that wherever it is said, "netzach", "selah", and "ed", there is no ceasing, it is forever and ever; and so then, according to this rule, the sense of David's enemies is, that there was no help for him in God for ever.


3 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.


“Defend the poor and fatherless….”

Literally, judge; that is, pronounce just judgment and see that they are treated fairly. This is repeated many times in the Scriptures. The meaning is not that judgment is to be pronounced in their favor because they are poor, or because they are orphans, for this would be doing the same thing for which they had just been charged which in itself is wrong; that is, making an exception for particular persons; showing favor on account of their condition or rank, rather than on account of a just claim.


 “….do justice to the afflicted and needy.”

See that they receive justice; that they are not wronged by persons of wealth, power, or rank. The idea is, that the “poor and the fatherless,” who have no natural protectors, were likely to be wronged or oppressed; that they had no one to defend them from false allegations; and that magistrates, therefore, should be their protectors, should see that their rights are upheld.


The religion of Jesus Christ as presented in the Bible, teaches that Christians are to take care of those who have no natural guardians. The poor (afflicted) and the needy, the widow and the fatherless, owe to the religion of the Bible a debt which no language can express.


4 Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.


“Deliver the poor (better, “the miserable”) and needy….”

That is, “deliver” them from the power and the shrewdness of those who would oppress and wrong them, and are mightier than they are, and will take them before a corrupt magistrate to obtain a judgment against them, for they cannot defend themselves, and get out of their hands. Delivering them⸺not only when they cry for help, but when their cause requires aid and support⸺would not be showing them partiality; it would be simply a matter of treating them fairly, impartially, and honestly.


The charge given in Psalms 82:3 relates to ordinary suits; this to cases of persecution and oppression. In those they were to pronounce justice; in these snatch the victims of greed and cruelty out of the clutch of their tormentors.


“….rid (rescue) them out of the hand of the wicked.”

Deliver, or Rescue them from their hands; that is, from their attempts to oppress and wrong them.


5 They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.


“They know not,....”

 Some versions add, “to do well.” This has to do with unjust judges and wicked magistrates, who do not know God [know little or nothing about Him], and do not fear Him [do not respect Him]; though He stands in the midst of them, and judges among them; which is the source of their unjust judging and unrighteous proceedings; that is, because they do not know God, nor do they fear him. Therefore, they do not respect men, since they are deemed lower than God. And they do not know themselves⸺for they are called gods, and they think they are gods, and do not take into account that they are merely men; they are the ministers of God, agents under Him, and are accountable to Him. Moreover, they do not know their duty, which is to judge correctly, to know what is right, and what is wrong, so that they may pronounce righteous judgment. But they do not know their duty, at least not enough to practice it: nor did the Jewish rulers know Christ, which was the reason for their unrighteous dealing with Him and with His followers; they put Him and His followers to death, because they did not know Him: “Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8).


“….neither will they understand:….”

Some versions add, by way of explanation, “the law,” the origin and basis of judgment, which judges ought to understand; so the Jewish rulers, Pharisees and Sadducees, were upbraided by Christ for their ignorance and bogus interpretations of the Scriptures, and the law of God. Their ignorance was willful and unashamed; they shut their eyes against light and evidence, especially with respect to Christ. They could discern the face of the sky, but not the signs of the times: “But He [Jesus] replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘The weather will be fair, for the sky is red;’ and in the morning, ‘Today stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know howto interpret the appearance of the sky, but notthe signs of the times!” (Matthew 16:3). Who is as blind as they that will not see? This describes the Jewish rulers: “Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one in covenant with me, blind like the servant of the LORD?” (Isaiah 42:19).


 “….they walk on in darkness;….”

 They chose darkness rather than light, and so, they were blind leaders of the blind, and were willingly so, having their eyes blinded with gifts (Deuteronomy 16:19). They walk on” in ignorance, or in their sinful and unrighteous ways. They are persistent and keep at it: it is not one rash and short-lived act, but their constant course of action, for they are blinded by their preconceived notions and corrupt interests. 


“….all the foundations of the earth are out of course;”

That is, "shaken" or "moved" by the perversion of justice. Towns, cities, commonwealths, kingdoms, and states, are thrown into the greatest disorder and confusion, as the King establishes the land according to His judgment; “The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty” (Proverbs 29:4). So when judgment is not executed, it is unsettled, and thrown into confusion; and though this is the case, yet unjust judges will go on perverting judgment, even though, as at the deluge [the flood], the foundations of the earth were shaken and moved, because of the violence, pillage and plunder, and oppression, the earth was then filled with, which some think is referred to here. And though dissolution of the Jewish sovereignty, civil and ecclesiastical was threatened because of such injustice, God would once more shake the heavens and the earth, and remove their church and civil state. When they ceased to be a nation, their city spoiled, and their temple destroyed, so that not one stone was left upon another; and yet such was the obstinacy of their wicked judges that they would persist in their wicked ways regardless.


6 I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.


“I have said, ye are gods,....”

In the Pentateuch and other holy books written before this psalm, the name aleim, which is the usual name for God Almighty is given sometimes to magistrates, judges, princes, and any of the high powers on earth, since they are the visible representatives of God upon earth. They were so by His appointment and commission; He constituted them judges and magistrates, invested them with such an office, by which they came to have this title (see Romans 13:1); and so our Lord interprets these words, that they were gods "to whom" the word of God came, which gave them a commission and authority to exercise their office [“If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside” (John 10:35)],or rather "against whom" it came, pronouncing the sentence of death on them, as in Psalm 82:7, to which the reference is; declaring, that though they were gods by office, yet were mortal men, and would die.


This psalm teaches them in what sense, and with what limitation, they are allowed to use this name; namely, that though they are allowed to be called aleim (gods), yet they would die like Adam (man); and this verse instructs them, that when they sit in judgment, they should remember, that as they act as masters over other men, so God, their master, the true Aleim, stands over them, and rebukes them when He sees that it is necessary, as in verse 2.


“….and all of you are children of the most High;”

That is to say,Sons of the Most High, corresponding to gods in the preceding clause. The Savior quoted this title and applied it to men holding a divine commission,⸺“Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (John 10:34-36,)⸺and contrasts his own claim, “whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world,” as incomparably greater, even on the principles which the Pharisees themselves profess.


“All of you”; refers not only to the rulers of Israel, but of all other nations; for all powers are ordained by God (Romans 13:1). They are called Children of the Most High,” because they represent His person, and bear both His name and a portion of His majesty and authority, as children bear the name and image of their parents.


7 But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.


“But ye shall die like men”

You are mortal, like other people. Have you forgotten this fact? You have been lifted up with pride, as if you were higher ranking than other people; as if you were not subject to the law which sends all people to the grave. An ancient monarch directed his servant to address him each morning with these words: “Remember, sire, that thou art mortal.” No more beneficial truth can be impressed on the minds of the rich and the great than that they are, in this respect, like other people⸺like the poorest, and the most wretched of the race; that they will die under similar forms of disease; that they will experience the same pain; that they will be subjected to all which is fearful in death; and that in the grave, regardless of whatever pomp and splendor accompanied their burial, or however magnificent the monument which may be raised over the spot where they lie, there will be the same offensive and repulsive process of decay which occurs in the most humble grave in the country churchyard. Why, then⸺oh, why⸺should man be proud?


“And fall like one of the princes”

That is, and die like one of the princes. The idea in the word “fall” may be, perhaps, that they would die a violent death or be cut down in battle, as princes often are. The use of the word “princes” here denotes that they would die as other persons of exalted rank do; that is, that they were as mortal as all people, high and low, are, as common people are, and as princes are. Though they had names that suggested the idea of divinity, yet such labels did not make any real change in their condition as people, and they too are subject to the ordinary laws under which people live. Whatever name they were given, it did not provide any security against death.


Those princes who are also tyrants may hear the Lord say, “Justice shall pursue you, and judgment shall overtake you; and you shall be executed in public like state criminals. You shall not die naturally; but your life shall be brought to an end by a legal sentence, or a particular judgment of God.


8 Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.


“Arise, O God,....”

These are the words of the prophet, or of the church, which he represents, addressing Christ, who is God over all and the Judge of the whole earth, to whom all judgment is committed. Seeing that there was such a corruption and degeneracy in the world and such wretched perversion of justice, the prophet insists that He arise and exert Himself, and show himself strong on the behalf of His people. Take the matter into Your own hands, and see that impartial justice is done everywhere among people. It falls to you as the great Proprietor of the earth to exercise justice; and we have nowhere else to look when men fail to do their duty. It appears from this that the speaker is confident that there is definitely the possibility of securing Divine intervention. Who in their right mind would cry-out to Him if he believed that His assistance was unattainable.


“….and who will judge the world in righteousness:”

For Thou shalt inherit all nations; which He will do in the latter day, when He shall be King over all the earth, and the Heathen shall be given him for His inheritance, for He will inherit all things; and universal justice will not take place in the world till that time comes; and therefore it is to be wished and prayed for, by this prophet and this church.


Those who had been appointed under him to the office of judges had failed, for they had not been faithful to their trust, therefore no confidence could be placed in them. The psalmist calls upon God to interfere, either by appointing other magistrates; or by leading those who were in office to do their duty; or by his own direct judgments, punishing the wicked, and rewarding the righteous.


The need for righteous judgment and the cry for it will continue until Jesus Christ reigns and judges. He will judge at various times in the future. For the Christian, this will take place at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). For Tribulation saints and Old Testament saints it will be just after He returns at His second coming (Revelation 20:4, 6).