Judgment on Abuse of Authority
1 A psalm of Asaph.[b]
God takes his place in the divine council;[c]
in the midst of the gods he pronounces judgment:
2 “How long will you issue unfair judgments
and rule in favor of those who are wicked?[d] Selah
3 [e]“Grant justice to the weak and the orphan;
defend the rights of the lowly and the poor.
4 Rescue the wretched and the needy;
free them from the hand of the wicked.
5 “They neither know nor understand;
they wander around in darkness
while all the foundations of the earth[f] are crumbling.
6 [g]I declare, ‘Although you are gods,
all of you sons of the Most High,
7 you will die as all men do;
like any ruler you will fall.’ ”[h]
8 Rise up, O God, and judge the earth,
for all the nations belong to you.[i]
- Psalm 82:1 The psalmist sets forth a word about just and unjust judges (somewhat similar to Ps 58). He reminds rulers and magistrates that they are earthly members of God’s tribunal, associated in the government of the world, and in this respect “gods” (v. 6). Why then does the cause of the poor find such little regard among them? By establishing injustice rather than justice, these powerful people disturb the very order of the world (v. 5). They themselves will therefore be judged by the great King (see Ps 47) and Judge of all the earth (see Ps 94:2; Gen 18:25; 1 Sam 2:10) who “loves justice” (Ps 99:4) and judges the nations in righteousness (see Pss 9:9; 96:13; 98:9). Furthermore, God’s justice turns human judgments topsy-turvy; the kingdom of God and his justice will overcome the evildoers and the powers of oppression (see Isa 24:21f).
Even in nations that are not concerned with God or openly deny him, rulers and judges receive their powers from God and are bound to exercise them for justice in accord with his will: “[Civil authorities] are . . . God’s representatives for your welfare . . . [and] God’s servants to mete out punishment to wrongdoers” (Rom 13:4). This same truth is proclaimed by 1 Pet 2:13f. See also Ps 2:6-11; Isa 44:28; Jer 27:6; Dan 2:21; 4:14, 28f; 5:18; Jn 19:11; Rom 13:1.
- Psalm 82:1 Asaph: see notes on Pss 73–89.
- Psalm 82:1 Divine council: the psalmist pictures a kind of heavenly assembly (see Ps 89:6; 1 Ki 22:19; Job 1:6; 2:1; Isa 6:1-4) in the Hall of Justice, patterned after the Solomonic one (see 1 Ki 7:7), in which God is dispensing justice. Gods: a word applied to rulers and judges who are “godlike” in their function of establishing justice on the earth (see note on Ps 45:7).
- Psalm 82:2 Like other authors of the Old Testament, the psalmist reproaches those in power with the sin of administering justice inequitably and showing partiality toward the wicked (see Ex 23:6; Lev 19:15; Deut 1:17; 2 Chr 19:7; Prov 18:5; Mic 3:1-12).
- Psalm 82:3 Rulers and judges are exhorted to protect the powerless against exploiters and oppressors (see Ps 72:2, 4, 12-14; Job 29:11f; Prov 31:8f; Isa 11:4; Jer 22:3, 16; Ezek 22:27, 29; Zec 7:9f). Indeed, to see to it that the weak do not fall into the hands of unscrupulous exploiters is one of the most important functions of government. Poor: see note on Ps 34:7.
- Psalm 82:5 When those in authority, instead of sharing in God’s wisdom (see 1 Ki 3:9; Prov 8:14-16; Isa 11:2), have no understanding of their most important duty or of the divine norm and standard and do not walk in the light of the revealed will of the eternal Judge (see Job 21:22), then all the supports upon which a well-ordered State rests will crumble (see Pss 11:3; 75:4). Foundations of the earth: a metaphor for God’s rule on earth (see Pss 11:3; 75:4; 96:10). The Lord has established some order, even in pagan nations, and he condemns the ungodly for undermining that order for their own ends.
- Psalm 82:6 These verses can be interpreted to apply to judges or rulers but also to pagan gods. The Lord pronounces sentence and dethrones such gods. Indeed, his judgment is pronounced upon all manifestations of evil, both in the human world and in the angelic world (see Mt 25:41; Rev 20:10, 14f; 21:8). Gods: see note on verse 1b. This passage is applied by Christ, in an entirely different context, to Jews instructed by the word of God (see Jn 10:34; see also Acts 17:28; 2 Cor 6:18).
- Psalm 82:7 These corrupt rulers will see death like all other human beings and be judged in the same way. Like any ruler you will fall: another possible translation is: “as one man, rulers, you will fall.” God will humble the great of the world as he annihilated the false gods likened to personages of the ancient mythology (see Isa 14:12; Ezek 28:11ff).
- Psalm 82:8 The psalmist prays that God’s just judgment (see Pss 9:21; 10:12-15; 76:10) will come soon. Whenever we encounter injustice, we can fittingly say our Lord’s prayer: “Your kingdom come” (Mt 6:10). This verse can be fittingly applied to Christ, to whom all judgment has been entrusted by the Father (see Jn 5:22).