a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

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!

6 I have said, ye are gods. God has invested judges with a sacred character and title. This the prophet concedes; but he, at the same time, shows that this will afford no support and protection to wicked judges. He does not introduce them as speaking of the dignity of their office; but anticipating the style of reasoning which they would be disposed to adopt, he replies, “If you appeal to your dignity as an argument to shield you, this boasting will avail you nothing; yea, rather you are deceiving yourselves by your foolish confidence; for God, in appointing you his substitutes, has not divested himself of his own sovereignty as supreme ruler. Again, he would have you to remember your own frailty as a means of stirring you up to execute with fear and trembling the office intrusted to you.” This verse may also be viewed as addressed by God himself to rulers, and as intimating, that, in addition to his clothing them with authority, he has bestowed upon them his name. This interpretation seems to agree with the language of Christ in John 10:34, where he speaks of those as called gods to whom the word of God came. The passage, however, may be appropriately resolved thus: I grant that ye are gods, and the sons of the Most High 427427     “Ye are all the children of the Most High, an Hebrew idiom, signifying men of the highest rank and power. Comp. Psalm 29:1; 89:7.” — Cresswell. But this does not materially alter the meaning. The object is simply to teach that the dignity with which judges are invested can form no excuse or plea why they should escape the punishment which their wickedness deserves. The government of the world has been committed to them upon the distinct understanding that they themselves also must one day appear at the judgment-seat of heaven to render up an account. The dignity, therefore, with which they are clothed is only temporary, and will pass away with the fashion of the world. Accordingly, it is added in the 7th verse, But ye shall die as men. You are armed with power, as if he had said, to govern the world; but you have not on that account ceased to be men, so as to be no longer subject to mortality. The last clause of the verse is translated by some expositors, Ye shall fall like one of the princes; 428428     This is the reading in our English Bible, on which Archbishop Secker remarks, “It seems needless to say that these princes shall fall like one of the princes.” He thinks with Bishop Hare that the true reading is not השרים, hassarim, the princes, as in our present copies, but הרשים, harsaim, the poor The translation, however, given by Calvin, who takes השרים in the vocative case, O ye princes! and who, after the word כאחד, cheachad, for as one of, supplies the people, makes any alteration of the text unnecessary. Gataker also considers השרים, to be in the vocative case, which is approved by Horsley, Berlin, and others. Dathe takes השרים in the sense of tyrants, but brings no authority to prove that the word has this sense. Le Clerc, in the latter part of the verse, after like one of, supplies the many, reading, “And fall, O ye princes! like one of the many.” but in my opinion improperly. They think that it contains a threatening of the violent death which would befall these unrighteous judges, corresponding to the sentiment of these lines of a heathen poet: —

Ad generum Cereris sine caede et sanguine pauci,
Descendunt reges, et sicca morte tyranni

“Few kings and tyrants go down to Pluto, the son-in-law of Ceres, without being put to a violent death, before they have completed the ordinary term allotted to the life of mortal man.” 429429     This is the translation given of these lines in the French version. That translation being forced, and not such as the words naturally suggest, I have no doubt that princes are here compared to the obscure and common class of mankind. The word one signifies any of the common people. Forgetting themselves to be men, the great ones of the earth may flatter themselves with visionary hopes of immortality; but they are here taught that they will be compelled to encounter death as well as other men. Christ, with the view of rebutting the calumny with which the Pharisees loaded him, quoted this text, John 10:34, 35, “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the Scripture cannot be broken; say ye of him whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” By these words Christ did not mean to place himself among the order of judges; but he argues from the less to the greater, that if the name of God is applied to God’s officers, it with much more propriety belongs to his only begotten Son, who is the express image of the Father, in whom the Father’s majesty shines forth, and in whom the whole fullness of the Godhead dwells.

8 Arise, O God! judge the earth. The reason why this psalm concludes with a prayer has been already stated at the commencement. The prophet, finding that his admonitions and remonstrances were ineffectual, and that princes, inflated with pride, treated with contempt all instruction on the principles of equity, addresses himself to God, and calls upon Him to repress their insolence. By this means, the Holy Spirit furnishes us with ground of comfort whenever we are cruelly treated by tyrants. We may perceive no power on earth to restrain their excesses; but it becomes us to lift up our eyes to heaven, and to seek redress from Him whose office it is to judge the world, and who does not claim this office to himself in vain. It is therefore our bounden duty to beseech him to restore to order what is embroiled in confusion. The reason of this which immediately follows — for thou shalt inherit all nations — is understood by some as a prophecy concerning the kingdom of Christ, by whom God has brought all nations in subjection to himself. But it is to be viewed in a more extensive sense, as implying that God has a rightful claim to the obedience of all nations, and that tyrants are chargeable with wickedly and unjustly wresting from him his prerogative of bearing rule, when they set at nought his authority, and confound good and evil, right and wrong. We ought therefore to beseech him to restore to order the confusions of the world, and thus to recover the rightful dominion which he has over it.

VIEWNAME is study