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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Psalms 82

 

 

Verses 1-8

Psalm 82

A Psalm of Asaph

1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty;

He judgeth among the gods.

2 How long will ye judge unjustly,

And accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.

3 Defend the poor and fatherless:

Do justice to the afflicted and needy.

4 Deliver the poor and needy:

Rid them out of the hand of the wicked.

5 They know not, neither will they understand;

They walk on in darkness:

All the foundations of the earth are out of course.

6 I have said, Ye are gods;

And all of you are children of the Most High.

7 But ye shall die like men,

And fall like one of the princes.

8 Arise, O God, judge the earth:

For thou shalt inherit all nations.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Contents and Composition.—The last verse, with its Messianic coloring, shows that this Psalm does not present as a warning, in poetical dress, the general truth that unrighteous judges and princes are worthy of punishment, but that the Psalmist implores the actual fulfilment of that Divine judgment, whose certainty as a Divine decree Hebrews, as a prophet, beheld in spirit, and which he announces as a revelation from God. The strong emphasis given to the person of the speaker in Psalm 82:6, leads to the supposition that in that place it is not the Psalmist that speaks (Calvin, Hitzig) but that God continues, and that His words beginning with Psalm 82:2 are not interrupted in Psalm 82:5 by a remark inserted by the poet as to the fruitlessness of the Divine warning and admonition (Dathe). In that verse God’s own opinion (that Isaiah, His estimate of the real conduct of the judges) is declared with a significant change in the mode of address, and this estimate is distinguished from the declaration given in the words which follow, that their final destiny will not all correspond to the exalted position assigned them by Him. The text contains no threatening of any particular punishment whether of a sudden and violent or early and dishonorable death (Hengstenb. and others), or that the penalty of death would be inflicted on beings who previously were not subject to death (Hupfeld). It only says that the lot of mortal men, and the fate of ruined princes should overtake all those who had borne nothing but the name and title of that dignified and exalted position conferred upon them by a commission from God. Most regard this authorization on the part of God to be the declaration of Scripture, Exodus 22:8 (comp. Exodus 21:6, but less Exodus 22:27) which appears to describe the rulers of Israel in their judicial capacity as God’s representatives by applying to them the name Elohim.[FN6] We must assume that these are meant here also, and not foreign kings (Gesenius and many of the more recent expositors) nor angels (Bleek in Rosenmüller’s bibl. Repertorium, I:86 ff, and Hupfeld). For foreign princes are never designated “sons of God” in the Old Testament. The word has a theocratic idea at its basis ( Exodus 4:22) and a Messianic reference ( Psalm 2:6; Psalm 89:27) when mankind are spoken of Angels are indeed called sons of God (see on Psalm 29.) but never Elohim. Gradations of rank, also, like those of an army, are mentioned with reference to angels ( Joshua 5:14 f.; comp. Ephesians 3:10); likewise a judgment of God upon “the host of the high place on high” ( Isaiah 24:21 f.), and upon the idols of Egypt as inflicted upon their kings ( Jeremiah 45:25 f.). Also in later times two classes of angels are mentioned; one consisting of protecting angels over the several nations, through whom God carries on the government of the world ( Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:20 f.; Daniel 12:1; Sept. in Deuteronomy 32:8), the other of those who, in the name of God, pass judgment upon men ( Zechariah 3:1 f.) and execute the Divine sentence ( Daniel 4:14; Daniel 4:20), and who yet are themselves not pure before God ( Job 4:18; Job 25:5). But all these statements and allusions do not, as Hupfeld himself confesses, explain the description before us in Psalm 82:2 ff, which relates indisputably to an administration of justice on earth, which is unrighteous and contrary to the very idea of justice. Psalm 58. and94. are closely allied to this Psalm, but especially so is Isaiah 3:13; Isaiah 3:15. John 10:34-36 also favors this view, when Jesus argues e concessis with the Jews for His divinity, and draws a conclusion a minori ad majus. In this case the utterance of God in Psalm 82:7 is not the declaration of creative power as in Genesis 2:7 (Hupfeld) nor an ironical turn given to the discourse = I thought ye were gods (Ewald), but a clear setting forth of the want of correspondence before indicated. On the ground of the authority of God’s word, and not in accordance with heathen conceptions, 2 Maccabees 11:23 (Hitzig) does the Psalmist in Psalm 82:1 designate by the term Elohim with equal severity those whom God, in Psalm 82:7, addresses by the same title. Psalm 82:1 therefore does not refer to God’s sitting as Judge in the midst of His heavenly court, 1 Kings 22:19 (De Wette), which might be regarded as an image and poetical mode of representation, replete with anthropomorphic expressions of the desired judgment upon the administration of justice on earth (Hupfeld). Nor is it a theophany that is here presented as in Psalm 1. (Hengstenberg). There is presented, it is true, a special act of God’s judicial government. But this act is in the first instance only described as in conception, in a poetico-prophetical mode of presentation. Upon this, then, the prayer is based and uttered that God would bring to universal realization what He had granted to His servant to behold in the Spirit, and that in accordance with its universal significance in the world’s history.

In these representations there is contained nothing which can compel us to pass over the age of Asaph and seek the composition of the Psalm in the later times of oppression generally (Hupfeld), or in those of the dispersion specially (Ewald) or of the Maccabees (Hitzig). But the history of Israel has here a typical significance (Stier); and God’s judgments are not confined to one special case or single cycle, but only begin at the house of God in actual execution ( 1 Peter 4:17). This justifies the application of this Psalm to analogous conditions.

Psalm 82:1. Assembly of God [E. V, Congregation of the mighty].—This cannot mean: assembly of gods (Sept.). In that case we would have had אֵלִים. This expression certainly does not denote an assembly convoked and conducted by God, which He appoints, and over which He presides (De Wette) in which He himself appears (Hitzig). Least of all can it be one connected with God, standing in essential relation to Him; more definitely, one invested with a Divine character (comp. Ewald, § 287 f.). It prepares the way for the following statement, that this assembly consists of persons who are designated gods. We are not to assume that the word relates to angels (Syrian V.) Compare the explanations given above. Even if in Psalm 82:7, כְּאָדָם could be rendered: like Adam ( Job 31:33; Hosea 6:7), a transition from immortality to mortality would not be indicated. It is certainly not to be translated: like other men (most), or: inasmuch as ye are men, but simply: like men, that Isaiah, after the manner of men. It stands parallel to the following כְאַחַד הַשָּׂרִים that is: just as one of the princes. There is no occasion for a change of pointing in order to obtain the sense: all at once, O ye princes! (Ewald). That would describe the suddenness and completeness of the Messianic judgment; but according to the connection in which the words stand, the usual reading is more suitable as alluding to the warning example of fallen princes recorded in history. The expression sarim suggests directly the idea that it is not kings precisely, nor simply members of the Church, but influential persons, invested with magisterial, especially judicial authority, that are addressed, which, as representing God, could be designated by the name Elohim. Since now these Elohim in Psalm 82:1 b are not distinguished in so many words as objects (Sept.) of the Divine judgments, but yet are identical with those who are censured, and since it is said, further, that God holds judgment in the midst of them, it is more natural to understand the assembly of God Psalm 82:1 a, to be the assembly of those persons clothed with Divine authority (Geier, Hitzig), than that they are the congregation of Israel, ( Numbers 27:17; Numbers 31:16; Isaiah 22:16) which God had purchased for Himself from the midst of the nations, Psalm 84:2 (Hengst, Delitzsch). [All the English expositors whom I have consulted agree that the first clause of Psalm 82:1 refers to the congregation of Israel. The rendering “mighty,” given to אֵל in E. V, and retained by most of those expositors, is without meaning as applied to the Israelites. The rendering “God” should be adopted. Dr. Moll’s view of the meaning of the clause seems to me to be the most tenable. Most agree that the second clause refers to the judges. On this point Alexander says: “The parallel expression, in the midst of the gods, superadds to the idea an allusion to a singular usage of the Pentateuch, according to which the theocratic magistrates as representatives of God’s judicial sovereignty, are expressly called Elohim, the plural form of which is peculiarly well suited to this double application. Even reverence to old age seems to be required upon this principle ( Leviticus 19:32) and obedience to parents in the fifth commandment ( Exodus 20:12) which really applies to all the offices and powers of the patriarchal system, a system founded upon natural relations, and originating in a simple extension of domestic or parental government, in which the human head represents the original and universal parent or progenitor.” And on Psalm 82:2 : “The combination usually rendered respect persons in the English Bible, and applied to judicial partiality means, literally, to take up faces. Some suppose this to mean the raising of the countenance, or causing to look up from deep dejection. But the highest philological authorities are now agreed that the primary idea is that of accepting one man’s face or person rather than another’s, the precise form of expression, though obscure, being probably derived from the practice of admitting suitors to confer with governors or rulers face to face, a privilege which sometimes can only be obtained by bribes, especially though not exclusively in oriental courts.”—J. F. M.]

In Psalm 82:1 a observe the use of the Niphal participle; the use of the Hithpael in Psalm 82:5 b; and in Psalm 82:2 a, the frequent expression “judge unrighteousness” [E. V, judge unjustly] instead of “exercise unrighteousness in judging,” ( Leviticus 19:15; Leviticus 19:35; comp. Psalm 48:2).—The foundations of the earth or of the land in Psalm 82:5 b, are not the persons of the judges (Aben Ezra), whose moral vacillation would then be rebuked; nor merely the foundations of the State (Knapp, Stier) on which the prosperity of the land depends. They are, in general, the fundamental conditions of the preservation of the entire order of things in the world ( Psalm 11:3; Psalm 60:4; Psalm 75:4; Job 9:6; Ezekiel 30:4; Proverbs 29:4) and their being out of course is the prelude and harbinger of the Messianic judgment.—All nations, Psalm 82:8, are not mentioned as the place where, that Isaiah, those amongst whom (Sept, Vulg.), but as the object to which God has the right of inheritance and possession, and this claim He is called upon to make good.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. God, while conferring upon rulers the right of sovereignty, and investing them with full power to speak righteousness on earth in His name, has not withdrawn Himself from the government of the world, nor resigned its supreme control. He rather exercises personally, as the Highest Majesty, His Divine power in His government, and that to the fullest extent. And He makes known His efficiency as supreme and impartial Judges, by not merely taking oversight of the administration of justice, but also by calling to account those entrusted with it, and dealing with them according to their conduct. He awakes and maintains in the Church through the mouth of His prophets and servants a due sense of this relation.

2. The magisterial and judicial functions, which possess a legal power over even the life and liberty as well as over the reputation and property of men, should be discharged not only under the authority but also after the example of God, and therefore especially in righteousness and mercy. For they have been invested with the prerogatives of their high positions not for oppression, self-aggrandizement or illegal practices, but that they may execute, further, and defend justice, and all this from the favor of God.

3. The greater the power committed to rulers and judges the more blessed is its righteous employment for the restraint and punishment of the unrighteous, as well as for the defence and encouragement of those, who either have no means of aiding themselves, or scorn to redress their injuries by violent means. But the more dreadful and destructive is its abuse, for it shakes the foundations of the order of human affairs established by God and thereby imperils the existence of the whole world.

4. Yet since God alone is really God, He can deprive unrighteous judges and princes of the power, which is only lent by Him, if they allow to pass unheeded the warnings and exhortations, which He sends before punishment, and neither understand nor lay to heart the tokens of the coming judgment. When this judgment breaks forth upon them, then no earthly power can give them succor.

[Perowne: Men cannot see God with the bodily eye, but He is present with the king on his throne (hence Solomon’s throne is called the throne of Jehovah, 1 Chronicles 29:23), with the judge on the judgment-seat, and with all who hold authority delegated to them by Him—J. F. M.]

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

Those who misuse the name of God, cannot use it as their protection; He will condemn them all the more surely for it.—God’s judgment may begin when and where it will, it always bears and retains the character of a judgment upon the world.—Prince and people are bound together by a sacred tie, namely, the law of God with the mutual rights and obligations springing there from.—He who lays claim to the title: by the grace of God, must perform the duties of his position according to God’s word and will.—He who would judge rightly must decide (1) according to God’s law, (2) without respect of persons, (3) as God’s servant.—Rulers have their power from God that they may further righteousness, but no privilege to aim at power.—Conscientiousness is as indispensable for the intervention of official power in behalf of the oppressed, as fidelity to duty Isaiah, against the temptations to abuse power against justice.—Violence and injustice disturb the order of the world, and thereby the divinely established conditions of prosperity; but God by His judgment sets them right again.—God can cast down him, whom He has raised on high; let the mighty therefore fear God and those in high places humble themselves beneath His powerful hand.—Let princes consider that they also are but men, and therefore let them so fill their high office that they need have no fear of death, but be ever mindful of their responsiblity to God, and be ready to present their account before Him.

Luther: When the rulers are rebuked as well as the people, and the people as well as the rulers, as is done by the prophets, neither party can upbraid the other, but must suffer mutually, and take it in good part, and be at peace with one another.—The office of preacher is neither a court-minister, nor a farm servant; it is God’s minister and servant, and its commission reaches to both masters and servants.—Not according to our own likes or dislikes, but according to the law of right, that Isaiah, according to God’s word, which makes no difference between or respect of persons.—My command and word (saith the Lord) constitute and ordain you gods, and maintain you as such, not your word, wisdom or power. Ye are gods made according to my word like all creatures, and not essentially divine or gods by nature as I am.—Christ rightly exercises the three god-like virtues (of a true king and ruler): He sends forth the divine word and its preachers; He creates and maintains justice for the poor, and defends and delivers the distressed; He punishes the wicked and tyrants.—So we see that besides earthly justice, wisdom and power, though these are Divine works, another kingdom still is necessary, wherein we may find another kind of justice, wisdom and power.

Starke: If God honors magistrates with His own name, they should rightly consider their duties, and perform them in His fear with great circumspectness.—A ruler must have two arms; the one to help those who suffer injustice, the other to restrain those who commit deeds of violence.—The heart of a man becomes vain of his advancement quite too easily; what is then more necessary than that he even when raised to the highest dignity, should remember that he is man?—Since unrighteousness in these last times is gaining mightily the upper hand, let pious hearts pray, that Christ as Judge of the quick and the dead would hasten His coming.—Selnecker: Love and friendship make many a flaw and breach in justice.—Menzel: To be called “the Church of God” is a sure consolation to subjects in two ways; first, they know who acts in their behalf; and secondly, they know that he who sits under God’s rule has the privilege of serving Him.—Rieger: How we are to view the ways of God with rulers, and take heart over the government of the world and be still.—Tholuck: Death, which makes all alike, is the sermon which still produces the strongest effect on the powerful of the world.—Guenther: Every act of injustice in a Judges, a ruler, or any person in power, is a nail in the coffin of State.—Let not the sacred profession defend wicked officers.—Diedrich: The unrighteousness which is done by the great and under the name of justice, brings the world to ruin.—Taube: Only with conversion do a judge and all rulers receive discernment and understanding to discharge their duties according to God’s design and will.—The examples of punishment which God makes of those who bear His name and office, are visible proofs that He still holds at all times and in all places the office of Magistrate and Guardian and Protector, and that He still abides in His Church.—L. Harms: Unrighteous rulers dig their own graves.—Pray for the king and magistrates that God would grant a pious king and pious magistrates, and then for the people that they may be converted and become pious.

Footnotes:

FN#6 - These passages are not decisive, for it is perhaps more correct to understand there God Himself, as deciding through the court. In Exodus 22:8, indeed, this is necessary from the absence of the article. In Exodus 21:6, although the article is used, it might very well be regarded as indicating the κριτήριον, as the Sept. renders, “the place where judgment is given in the name of God.”—J. F. M.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 82:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/psalms-82.html. 1857-84.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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