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Psalm 82

Demoting earth’s blind guides

Behind all the voices clamoring for our loyalty stand the spiritual powers and authorities that rule earth’s peoples. In total defiance of what God wants done, they side with the powerful against the weak and poor.

An Asaph psalm.

1 God takes the floor in the divine assembly
to pronounce his judgment on the gods:

2 “How long will you judge unjustly
and rule in favor of the wicked?
3 Defend the vulnerable and the orphan
vindicate the destitute and afflicted.
4 Rescue the poor and needy
free them from the clutches of the wicked.[1]
5 Ignorant and undiscerning
they wander about in the dark
while the earth is shaken to its foundations.
6 I declare: Although you are gods
all of you ruling like sons of the Most High
7 you’ll die like mere mortals
and fall like every other ruler does.”

8 Come and judge the earth, O God
for all the nations belong to you!

The Canaanites believed their high god El kept all the other gods in line by presiding over an annual council of the gods. The psalmist counters this assertion by picturing Israel’s God not just presiding over all the gods, but also turning the scene into a courtroom and demoting them to the level of mere humans.[2]

Acting as both prosecutor and judge, God indicts the gods for siding with their nations’ powerful oppressors against their victims. With skewed moral compasses, they withhold justice from the weak and vulnerable. They wander in the dark, just as lost as the peoples they rule. Israel’s God alone challenges the culture’s honor-shame bias against the downtrodden. The gods’ rampant injustice shakes earth to its foundations since it destroys human community as God intends it. Thus, his verdict is that the gods will all fall from power and die like mere mortals.

The New Testament says it was on his cross that Jesus in fact disarmed all such gods—referred to as the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” Since the downfall of these demon rulers is assured and the nations are now incontestably God’s to rule as he chooses, we can join the psalmist in praying for and confidently awaiting God’s glorious reign on earth.[3]

Why do I so easily think ill of the destitute, God, as if they just get what they deserve? Forgive me for blaming the victim, whose story and struggles I don’t know. Help me not to wander blindly in the dark, but to judge as you do, with justice for all. Come, Lord, and reign on earth, I pray. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray this:

Come and judge the earth, O God
for all the nations belong to you!


[1] Compare Psalm 72.

[2] Some translators sanitize the text by making these gods human judges. But while the Hebrew scriptures stress that none but Yahveh deserves our worship, they never deny the existence of the surrounding nations’ gods. Nevertheless, this misinterpretation of the psalm still has some merit since a similar divine judgment would apply to the self-seeking human judges and leaders under these gods.

[3] Col. 2:15, Eph. 3:10. 1 Cor. 10:14, 19-22 unpacks this by explaining that demons, worshipped as gods, rule over their worshippers.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.