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Psalm 82

A Plea for Justice

A Psalm of Asaph.


God has taken his place in the divine council;

in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:


“How long will you judge unjustly

and show partiality to the wicked? Selah


Give justice to the weak and the orphan;

maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.


Rescue the weak and the needy;

deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”



They have neither knowledge nor understanding,

they walk around in darkness;

all the foundations of the earth are shaken.



I say, “You are gods,

children of the Most High, all of you;


nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,

and fall like any prince.”



Rise up, O God, judge the earth;

for all the nations belong to you!

1 God sitteth in the assembly of God. 424424     Horsley translates the first verse thus: —
   “God standeth in the assembly;
God, in the midst of the gods, giveth sentence.”

   On which he has the following note: — “In what assembly? The assembly of his holy angels. The Psalmist, I think, poetically imagines the celestial court assembled for the business of this review of the proceedings of the earth’s judges, and God, in the midst of his angels, taxing their iniquity, and awarding their punishment.”
It is unquestionably a very unbecoming thing for those whom God has been pleased to invest with the government of mankind for the common good, not to acknowledge the end for which they have been exalted above others, nor yet by whose blessing they have been placed in so elevated a station; but instead of doing this, contemning every principle of equity, to rule just as their own unbridled passions dictate. So infatuated are they by their own splendor and magnificence, as to imagine that the whole world was made only for them. Besides, they think that it would derogate from their elevated rank were they to be governed by moderate counsels; and although their own folly is more than enough to urge them on in their reckless career, they, notwithstanding, seek for flatterers to soothe and applaud them in their vices. To correct this arrogance, the psalm opens by asserting, that although men occupy thrones and judgment-seats, God nevertheless continues to hold the office of supreme ruler. God has made even a heathen and licentious poet bear testimony to this truth in the following lines: —

Regum timendorum in proprios greges,
Reges in ipsos imperium est Jovis,
Clari giganteo triumpho,
Cuncta supercilio moventis
Horatii, Carm. Liber in Ode i.

“Kings rule their subject flocks; great Jove
O’er kings themselves his reign extends,
Who hurl’d the rebel giants from above;
At whose majestic nod all nature bends.”
Boscawen’s Translation.

That the potentates of this world may not arrogate to themselves more than belongs to them, the prophet here erects a throne for God, from which he judges them all, and represses their pride; a thing which is highly necessary. They may, indeed, admit that they owe their elevation to royal power to the favor of God, and they may worship him by outward ceremonies, but their greatness so infatuates them that they are chargeable with expelling and casting him to a distance from their assembly, by their vain imaginations; for they cannot bear to be subject to reason and laws. Thus the design of the prophet was to deride the madness by which the princes of this world are bewitched, in leaving God no place in their assembly. The more effectually to overthrow this irrational self-confidence with which they are intoxicated, civil order is termed the assembly of God; for although the divine glory shines forth in every part of the world, yet when lawful government flourishes among men, it is reflected therefrom with pre-eminent lustre. I indeed grant that it is quite common for the Hebrews to adorn with the title of God whatever is rare and excellent. But here it would appear, from the scope of the passage, that this name of the Divine Being is applied to those who occupy the exalted station of princes, in which there is afforded a peculiar manifestation of the majesty of God; even as Solomon, in Proverbs 2:17, calls marriage “the covenant of God,” from the peculiar sanctity by which that relation is distinguished.

In the second clause of the verse, it is not material whether we read, He will judge in the midst of the gods, or, He will judge the gods in the midst. The first construction, however, is the most easy and natural, That however much the rulers of the world may exalt themselves, they cannot in the least impair the authority of God, by divesting him of his sovereignty over them and of the government of all things, which he will ever retain as his inalienable prerogative. But here, as also a little after, the name gods is to be understood of judges, on whom God has impressed special marks of his glory. To apply it to angels is a fancy too strained to admit of serious consideration.

2 How long will ye judge unjustly? Many suppose that God is here introduced speaking, and that these are the words which he utters from his throne of judgment. But I would rather consider the prophet himself as the speaker, who, in order to prepare the way for administering a rebuke, had spoken in the manner in which he did in the first verse. Kings may lift up their heads above the clouds, but they, as well as the rest of mankind, are under the government of God; and such being the case, it is in vain for them arrogantly to struggle to obtain exemption from the obligations of reason. Yet this is what they do. Although tyrants are amongst the basest of men, and occupy their exalted station by detestable treason, yet if any servant of God has the fortitude to open his mouth against them, they immediately attempt to shelter themselves by appealing to the sacred name of God, as if great wrong had been done to them. Thus, whilst they persuade themselves that they are privileged with exemption from the law to which the rest of mankind are subject, they endeavor to deprive the common people of divine truth and its ministers. In short, they think that there can be no sovereignty unless where uncontrolled license is enjoyed. But let this principle be once established, “That God rules among them,” and then a way is opened up for the admission of divine truth. Accordingly, the prophet, after having thus laid a foundation for his authority, freely inveighs against princes, and reproves the very gross vice of selling themselves to those who unrighteously oppress the poor, and of being gained by bribes to pervert in their administration every principle of justice. He expressly names the wicked; for good men will never attempt to corrupt judges. Moreover, there is a certain devilish frenzy which infatuates the princes of the world, and leads them voluntarily to pay greater respect to wicked men than to the simple and innocent. Even supposing that the wicked continue inactive, and use no endeavors to obtain for themselves favor either by flattery, fraud, bribery, or other artifices; yet those who bear rule are for the most part inclined of themselves to the bad side. The reason why the prophet upbraids them is, that wicked men find more favor at their hands than the good and conscientious.

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