Psalm 82 is a short psalm, but one that is debated as to its exact meaning. I’ll provide two summary explanations, the first as we traditionally view this psalm, and the second how the original readers would have likely understood this psalm. I intend later to do a more in depth analysis of this psalm and its implications on how we read the Bible, but today will serve simply to get us thinking.
The traditional reading of Psalm 82 goes something like this:
- V. 1 states that God is present when his people gather together (“divine assembly”), and that he passes judgement upon false gods or idols (v. 1).
- Vv. 2-4 scold the assembly for not pursuing justice in the world.
- Verse 5 talks about the foolishness of idolatry…afterall, didn’t Paul tell us that idols aren’t anything anyway, sort of like what we read here?
- V. 6-7 show that humans and false gods, or those who claim to be divine, will die like anyone else.
- V. 8 calls for God to bring his judgement and acknowledges that God is over all nations, not idols.
There are variations to this view of Psalm 82, but this pretty much gives the gist of what is going on with this view. And I will say that nothing stated above is Scripturally inaccurate. God is the God of all…no idols or false gods compare. Our God will judge all. Israel failed time and again to bring about justice in the ways they dealt with others. Nothing said above is Scripturally inaccurate. What may be inaccurate is what we are missing by reading this psalm out of context with the worldview of ancient Israel, and the rest of Scripture.
If you are unfamiliar with the concept of the “Divine Council,” then this next section may really stretch your wineskins. I’m going to recommend a book up front, Unseen Realm by Dr. Michael Heiser, and you would also benefit from listening to a series of podcasts by The Bible Project called the God Series. There’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 24 hours worth of audio study and reflection on this concept. Again much more could, should, and has been said about this psalm in light of the Divine Council view. For now, I’m just cracking the door to a whole other way of seeing the Scriptures through the eyes of the ancients.
We need to lay a bit of understanding about this passage first. The Hebrew word elohim is a class of spiritual being. When you see “God” or “gods” in the text, it’s the same Hebrew word. This is a view of one elohim passing judgement upon other elohim. “God” is not a name, it’s a class of spiritual being. We tend to capitalize the “g” in God when we are referring to the God of the Bible, Yahweh (often notated in your bible as LORD).
The Divine Council helped Yahweh rule the nations. Yahweh is the God of Israel, but there was also a god of Babylon, a god of Canaan, etc. In other words, the nations and ruling bodies on earth have a spiritual elohim behind them. Read Genesis 6 with these eyes and see what you think. Again, this deserves much more than I am going to give here, but here is a brief summary of the Divine Council view of Psalm 82.
- V. 1 shows our God (the divine name appears nowhere in this psalm), the supreme God among all gods (heavenly beings who have authority to rule portions of the earth). He pronounces judgement against their actions.
- Vv. 2-4 recounts all of the failings that these governing gods have done. They haven’t promoted what the supreme God has commanded. The very things that Yahweh stands for in the Scriptures are being opposed by these gods.
- V. 5 shows those who are oppressed and neglected by the gods have no direction…nobody to care for them. This lack of divine leadership has shaken the very foundations of the earth.
- Vv. 6-7 show the Most High’s sentence against these guilty gods. They are all offspring of the Most High (Jesus being the only unique (begotten) Son – Jn. 3:16), yet they will die just like any other ruler. The same consequences for the rebellion of mankind now will fall upon the rebellion of the guilty in the Divine Council.
- V. 8 is a call for our God, the supreme God, to bring this jugement to pass and rule over all nations.
The first response to the Divine Council reading of Scripture seems to be confusion about our God. “I thought there was only one God?” And Scripture contains verses like this:
Give thanks to the God of gods.Psalm 136:2 CSB
His faithful love endures forever.
For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth—AS THERE ARE MANY “GODS” and many “lords”— YET FOR US THERE IS ONE GOD, the Father. All things are from him, and we exist for him. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ. All things are through him, and we exist through him.1 Corinthians 8:5-6 CSB – emphasis added
Even Scripture acknowledges there are other elohim/gods. But to us, there is only one God…or in other words, we only follow one elohim. The Elohim of elohim. We follow Yahweh alone.
So if you’ve stuck with me this far, I want to hear your take on this. Are you familiar with the concept of the Divine Council? Have you read Heiser’s book? What do you think of this understanding of Psalm 82, as well as Genesis 6? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
But whatever your take is, I hope this will at least get you to spend some time in God’s WOrd. Blessings to you today!