I said, “You are gods”: A Meditation in Psalm 82
Reading: Psalm 82, John 10
God presides in the great assembly (ESV: divine council); he renders judgment among the “gods” (Psalm 82:1)
Psalm 82 begins in a way that seems a bit awkward to our Christian ears. Verse 1 could be rendered, “God stands among the gods, in the midst of the gods He judges.” Who are these “gods” he stands amongst? The context makes rather clear that they are those who stand in leadership over God’s people, those who make judgments that effect the weak, fatherless, poor, and oppressed of God’s people (Psalm 82:1-2).
“How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? (3) Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. (4) Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:2-4)
Why does God refer to them as “gods”? Fair question. These rulers were called to dispense justice on God’s behalf. All authority or rulership over people is delegated from God (Romans 13:1). So the rulers have a responsibility to represent truth and mercy on God’s behalf. In effect, they were to represent God to the people. However, they were failing miserably. Calling them “gods” is a bit “tongue-in-cheek.” Now God was going to render judgment amongst them, and in fact on them.
(5) The “gods” know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. (6) I said, “You are ‘gods’; you are all sons of the Most High.” (7) But you will die like mere mortals; you will fall like every other ruler.” (Psalm 82:5-7)
Then, in the closing verse of the psalm, it almost seems like a new idea is introduced in the conclusion out of left field. But it isn’t out of left field at all.
Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance. (Psalm 82:8)
God rising up and judging is no surprise. It’s the part about “why” he will rise up and judge the earth that may surprise. “For all the nations are your inheritance.” The ESV reads, “for you shall inherit all the nations.” It would have seemed more in keeping with the rest of the psalm if it had read, “Rise up, O God, judge of the earth, for the leaders of the people are oppressing the people.” And certainly, that is the reason which has been given throughout the psalm. But now, at the end of the psalm, it seems as if a new cause is introduced.
But it is not new at all. In fact, it is the very reason for the rest of the psalm. It all began with a promise to Abraham.
“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3)
“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. (5) No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. (6) I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. (Genesis 17:4-6)
These verses introduce and repeat the promise: God called Abraham in order that through him he might bless the nations. God’s plan for one man was the nations of the world. Then, in another place we get a glimpse into how God would reach the nations through him.
For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him. (Genesis 18:19)
How will God bring about this promise? He chose Abraham so that he would direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord. How would they be taught to keep the way of the Lord? “…by doing what is right and just…” Follow the logic. God chose Abraham so he would train his children and household–which eventually becomes the nation of Israel – to keep the Lord’s way. The way they keep the Lord’s way is by doing what is right and just. And when they do this, the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised—bless the world through him.
What does this have to do with Psalm 82? Everything. The leaders of Israel were given the charge, handed down in the covenant with Abraham, to do what is right and just. And if they had done this, showing God’s compassion to the people and dispensing God’s mercy, the nations would have looked on and seen the glory of God. They would be the light of God to the nations (Isaiah 51:4; 60:3). It is through this obedience that the nations could see the true nature of the God who chose Abraham and His mercy. But they failed to do so, and so God must judge them, for God will fulfill His promise and reach the nations.
When one reads Psalm 82 with this understanding, and then turns to the New Testament and reads John 10, it is easy to see why Jesus quoted from this psalm there (John 10:34). There he calls the then current Jewish leaders thieves and robbers who have come to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:8-10). They are just like those in Psalm 82.
Then, Jesus points to Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11). He is the Messiah who “with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth” (Isaiah 11:4). He will truly be the “son” of God in a way that no one else ever could be for He is the Son of God. The promise given to Abraham that all peoples will be blessed through him will be fulfilled through Jesus and His people (the church) walking out His justice and righteousness (love), as the light of the world (Matthew 5:14; Philippians 2:15).
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,