Psalms 82 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
This Psalm is a vision of judgement. It sets forth, in a highly poetical and imaginative form, the responsibility of earthly judges to the Supreme Judge, Whose representatives they are, and from Whom they derive their authority. The dramatic form, the representation of God as the Judge, and the introduction of God Himself as the speaker, are characteristics common to several of the Asaphic Psalms. See Psalms 50, 75, 81.
God takes His stand as Judge in a solemn assembly: His delegates appear before His tribunal (Psa 82:1).
Sternly He upbraids them for their injustice and partiality, and bids them remember what the duties of their office are (Psa 82:2-4).
But they are incapable of reformation, and the foundations of society are being shaken by their misconduct. Though they bear the lofty title of gods, they shall share the common fate of men (Psa 82:5-7).
The Psalmist concludes with a prayer that God will Himself assume the government of the world (Psa 82:8).
In Psalms 50 the nation of Israel is assembled for judgement: here the authorities of the nation who have abused their trust are put upon their trial. The evil complained of has been common in Oriental countries in all ages, and ancient Israel was no exception. Exhortations to maintain the purity of justice are common in the Law: complaints of its maladministration are frequent in the Prophets. One passage in particular Isa 3:13 ff. presents a close parallel. “Jehovah standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the peoples. Jehovah will enter into judgement with the elders of His people, and the princes thereof: for ye ye have devoured the vineyard: the spoil of the afflicted is in your houses: what mean ye that ye crush my people, and grind the face of the afflicted? saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts.”
The authorities of the nation are called gods ( Psa 82:1 ; Psa 82:6) as being the representatives of God, sons of the Most High ( Psa 82:6) as exercising a power delegated by the supreme Ruler of the world. The judgement which they give is God’s (Deu 1:17). Even if it be held that Elôhîm should be rendered God rather than the judges in Exo 21:6; Exo 22:8-9; Exo 22:28; 1Sa 2:25, it is clear that the administration of justice at the sanctuary by those who were regarded as the representatives of God is meant in these passages, and the direct application of the title Elôhîm to judges in the Psalm is fully intelligible. This interpretation is the oldest, for it is not only given by the Targum, but was that generally current in our Lord’s time, as is clear from His use of the passage in Joh 10:34 ff., and it is the simplest and most natural. Two other explanations however require notice.
(i) Some commentators think that the Psalm refers to foreign rulers, by whom the nation of Israel was being oppressed. The prayer of Psa 82:8, it is said, proves that the reference cannot be merely to the injustice of Israelite judges, for God is entreated to arise and judge the world. But the judgement of Israel is often regarded as part of a universal judgement. See Psa 7:6 ff.: and particularly the passage of Isaiah already referred to, where Jehovah is standing up to judge the peoples; when He summons the elders and princes of Israel to account for oppressing their poor countrymen. The language of Psa 82:2-4 tallies exactly with the language used elsewhere of the oppression of poor and defenceless Israelites by the rich and powerful: there is not the slightest hint that the terms ‘poor’ and ‘afflicted’ are transferred to Israel as a nation. And lastly, though heathen princes claimed divine titles (Eze 28:2; Eze 28:6; Isa 14:14) it is improbable that the Psalmist would acknowledge their right to them as he does.
(ii) Others think that by Elôhîm angels are meant, and hold that the Psalm refers generally to God’s judgement upon unjust judges in heaven and earth; or more particularly to the judgement of the patron-angels of the nations. This view, proposed by Bleek, is adopted by Cheyne, who says, “The charge brought against these patron-angels of the nations (see Daniel 10, 12) is that they have (in the persons of their human subordinates) permitted such gross violence and injustice, that the moral bases of the earth are shaken.” If this view is to be adopted, it is certainly the case that “no Psalm makes a stronger demand than this on the historic imagination of the interpreter.” But (1) as has already been remarked in the note on Psa 58:1 with reference to a similar interpretation of that Psalm, there is nothing in the context to justify the importation of an idea which belongs to the later development of Jewish theology. (2) The idea that angels can be punished with death is startling, and foreign to the O.T. view of angelic nature. (3) There is not the slightest hint that Psa 82:2-4 refer to anything but the oppression of men by men. The language, as has been pointed out above, closely resembles that of the Law and the Prophets, and there is no reason for taking it in a non-natural sense.
There is nothing in the Psalm to fix its date. The evils complained of were constantly recurring, especially of course when the central government was weak.
This Psalm is the Psalm for the third day of the week in the ancient Jewish liturgy. See Introd. p. xxvii.
Consult other comments:
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".