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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Psalms 82

 

 

Introduction

LXXXII.

This psalm represents the conviction which was so profoundly fixed in the Hebrew mind, that Justice is the fundamental virtue of society, and that its corruption implies total disorganisation and ruin. The mode in which this conviction is presented is also distinctively Hebrew. We have here once more a vision of judgment. But it is not the whole nation of the Jews, or the nations of the world generally, that are here arraigned before the Divine tribunal; nor are there introduced any of those elements of grandeur and awe which generally accompany a theophany. God is not here driving across the heavens on His storm - chariot, and calling on the mountains to bear evidence of earth’s sin. But with a calm dignity, which is by contrast the more striking, the Divine arbiter comes to take His place as presiding Judge among the magistrates themselves, and depose them. In a few incisive words He pronounces them indifferent to justice, neglectful of their duties, venal, and unscrupulous, and warns them of the ruin they are bringing on society, and of their own certain downfall, however secure and inviolable their position appears.

Then the poet himself, with a wider sweep of view, that takes in not only the administrators of law, but the political situation of his nation, makes appeal to the “judge of all the earth,” who in the conviction of Israel must do right.

The date of such a poem, if it could be recovered, would crown its interest; but it is in vain to discuss the conjectures, which range from the Davidic to the Macedonian age. The histories do not reveal anything in the early monarchy to indicate such abuses in the judicature as the psalm describes. The poetical form is irregular.

Title.—See title, Psalms 1.


Verse 1

(1) Standeth.—In the Hebrew a participle, with an official ring about it. (See Isaiah 3:13.) It is used to designate departmental officers (1 Kings 4:5; 1 Kings 4:7; 1 Kings 4:27; 1 Kings 9:23. Comp. 1 Samuel 22:9; Ruth 2:5-6). Thus the psalm opens with the solemn statement that God had taken His official place as president of the bench of judges.

Congregation of the mighty.—Rather, assembly of God, or divine assembly; elsewhere, “the congregation of Jehovah” (Numbers 27:17; Numbers 31:16; Joshua 22:16-18), i.e., “Israel in its religious character.”

He judgeth among the gods—i.e., He is among the judges as presiding judge. For “gods,” applied to men delegated with office from God, see Exodus 21:6, and, possibly, Exodus 22:8-9. (See also Note, Psalms 8:5, and comp. Exodus 4:16; Exodus 7:1.) The custom of designating God’s vicegerents by the Divine name was a very natural one. The whole point of Psalms 82:6 lies in the double meaning the word can bear. (See Note.)


Verse 2

(2) How long?—What a terrible severity in this Divine Quousque tandem!

“The gods

Grow angry with your patience; this their care,

And must be yours, that guilty men escape not;

As crimes do grow, justice should rouse itself.”

BEN JONSON.

Judge unjustly.—Literally, judge iniquity. For the opposite expression see Psalms 58:1. Leviticus 19:15, which lays down the great principle of strictly fair and unbribable justice is evidently in the poet’s mind, as is shown by the use of the next clause.

Accept the persons.—Literally, lift up the faces. An expression arising from the Eastern custom of prostration before a king or judge. The accepted suitor is commanded to “lift up his face,” i.e., to arise. (Comp. Proverbs 18:5, and Jehoshaphat’s address to the judges, 2 Chronicles 19:7.) This fine sense of the majesty of incorruptible justice attended Israel throughout its history. (See Sirach 7:6.)


Verses 2-4

(2-4) These verses contain the rebuke addressed by the supreme judge to those abusing the judicial office and function.


Verse 3

(3) Poor.—Rather, miserable. (See Psalms 41:1.) This verse recalls the solemn curse in Deuteronomy 27:19.


Verse 4

(4) The poor and needy.—Better, The miserable (as in Psalms 82:8) and poor, a different word from “needy” in Psalms 82:3.


Verse 5

Verse 6

(6) I have said.—Again the Divine voice breaks the silence with an emphatic I. “From me comes your office and your honoured title, gods; now from me hear your doom. Princes though ye be, ye will die as other men: yea, altogether will ye princes perish.” (For the rendering “altogether,” literally, like one man, see Ezra 2:64; Ezra 3:9, &c.)

It is interesting to notice that Psalms 82:1; Psalms 82:6 were quoted by Constantine at the opening of the council of Nicæa, to remind the bishops that their high office should raise them above jealousy and party feeling. (For the interest gained by the passage from our Lord’s use of it to rebut the charge of blasphemy brought against Him by the scribes, see Note, New Testament Commentary, John 10:34.)


Verse 8

(8) Arise.—The psalm would have been incomplete had not the poet here resumed in his own person, with an appeal to the Supreme Judge to carry His decrees into effect against the oppressors of Israel. Here, at least, if not all through it, the affliction of the community, and the perversion of justice by foreign rulers, are the motives of the song. It is as if, despairing of the amendment of the corrupt magistrates, the poet, pleading for Israel, takes his case out of their hands, as Cranmer in the play takes his case out of the hands of the council, and entrusts it to the Great Judge of the world, to whom, as a special inheritance, Israel belonged, but who was also to show His claim to the submission and obedience of all nations.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 82:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/psalms-82.html. 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, January 28th, 2020
the Third Week after Epiphany
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