Psalm 82 – “Oracle/Petition”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
God censures the assembly of gods and the psalmist asks God to judge the earth.

II. Photo
God judges the gods: “I had taken you for divine beings, sons of the Most High, all of you; but you shall die as men do, fall like any prince.” (vv. 6-7)

III. Select Verses    
1b: God stands in the divine assembly; among the divine beings He pronounces judgment.
2-4: How long will you judge perversely, showing favor to the wicked? Selah.  Judge the wretched and the orphan, vindicate the lowly and the poor, rescue the wretched and the needy; save them from the hand of the wicked.
6-7: I had taken you for divine beings, sons of the Most High, all of you; but you shall die as men do, fall like any prince.
8: Arise, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are Your possession.

IV. Outline

1a. Superscription
1b. Description/praise of God
2-7. Oracle
    2. Accusation of other gods
    3-4. Command to other gods
    5. Description/disparagement
    6-7. Realization = sentence
8. Petition

V. Comment
Psalm 82, which describes God standing among the other gods, has generated a vast amount of scholarly literature. Tate writes that “it is sui generis in the Psalter; there is no other psalm like it.” (334) There are, however, other biblical passages that describe God relating with other divine powers:

  • 1 Kings 22:19-23: But [Micaiah] said, “I call upon you to hear the word of the LORD! I saw the LORD seated upon His throne, with all the host of heaven standing in attendance to the right and to the left of Him. The LORD asked, ‘Who will entice Ahab so that he will march and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ Then one said thus and another said thus,  until a certain spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’ ‘How?’ the LORD asked him. And he replied, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You will entice and you will prevail. Go out and do it.’ So the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours; for the LORD has decreed disaster upon you.”
  • Job 1:6-2:6: One day the divine beings presented themselves before the LORD, and the Adversary came along with them.  The LORD said to the Adversary, “Where have you been?” The Adversary answered the LORD, “I have been roaming all over the earth.” The LORD said to the Adversary, “Have you noticed My servant Job? There is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and shuns evil!” The Adversary answered the LORD, “Does Job not have good reason to fear God? Why, it is You who have fenced him round, him and his household and all that he has. You have blessed his efforts so that his possessions spread out in the land. But lay Your hand upon all that he has and he will surely blaspheme You to Your face.” The LORD replied to the Adversary, “See, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on him.” The Adversary departed from the presence of the LORD. One day the divine beings presented themselves before the LORD. The Adversary came along with them to present himself before the LORD. The LORD said to the Adversary, “Where have you been?” The Adversary answered the LORD, “I have been roaming all over the earth.” The LORD said to the Adversary, “Have you noticed My servant Job? There is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and shuns evil. He still keeps his integrity; so you have incited Me against him to destroy him for no good reason.” The Adversary answered the LORD, “Skin for skin — all that a man has he will give up for his life. But lay a hand on his bones and his flesh, and he will surely blaspheme You to Your face.” So the LORD said to the Adversary, “See, he is in your power; only spare his life.”
  • Zech. 1:7-17: On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month of the second year of Darius — the month of Shebat — this word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah son of Iddo: In the night, I had a vision. I saw a man, mounted on a bay horse, standing among the myrtles in the Deep, and behind him were bay, sorrel, and white horses. I asked, “What are those, my lord?” And the angel who talked with me answered, “I will let you know what they are.”  Then the man who was standing among the myrtles spoke up and said, “These were sent out by the LORD to roam the earth.”  And in fact, they reported to the angel of the LORD who was standing among the myrtles, “We have roamed the earth, and have found all the earth dwelling in tranquility.” Thereupon the angel of the LORD exclaimed, “O LORD of Hosts! How long will You withhold pardon from Jerusalem and the towns of Judah, which You placed under a curse seventy years ago?” The LORD replied with kind, comforting words to the angel who talked with me. Then the angel who talked with me said to me: “Proclaim! Thus said the LORD of Hosts: I am very jealous for Jerusalem — for Zion — and I am very angry with those nations that are at ease; for I was only angry a little, but they overdid the punishment.  Assuredly, thus said the LORD: I graciously return to Jerusalem. My House shall be built in her — declares the LORD of Hosts — the measuring line is being applied to Jerusalem. Proclaim further: Thus said the LORD of Hosts: My towns shall yet overflow with bounty. For the LORD will again comfort Zion; He will choose Jerusalem again.”
  • Is. 6:1-5: In the year that King Uzziah died, I beheld my Lord seated on a high and lofty throne; and the skirts of His robe filled the Temple. Seraphs stood in attendance on Him. Each of them had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his legs, and with two he would fly. And one would call to the other, “Holy, holy, holy! The LORD of Hosts! His presence fills all the earth!” The doorposts would shake at the sound of the one who called, and the House kept filling with smoke. I cried, “Woe is me; I am lost! For I am a man of unclean lips And I live among a people Of unclean lips; Yet my own eyes have beheld The King LORD of Hosts.”

Gerstenberger notes in regards to God’s address in Psalm 82: “Hardly in any other passage, however, is the lack of social justice made the central point of accusation. Partly for this reason, modern exegetes have been mesmerized by the problem whether Ps 82 is talking about foreign gods or about dominant political powers acting in the name of their deities. Niehr is probably right when he evaluates this whole controversy as a ‘false alternative.’ Wherever justice was at stake in the [ancient Near East] the deities played an important role, but those humans in charge were always involved with the execution of the law.”

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. “Psalms Part 1 with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry” Forms of Old Testament Literature (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1988).
Tate, Marvin. “Psalms 51-100” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 20 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1990).
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