In the midst of the gods he holds judgment


Psalm 82

Roman ruins and arch at Bosra, Syria.

Roman ruins and arch at Bosra, Syria. (Photo credit: isawnyu)

1 God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
2 “How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?
3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk around in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 I say, “You are gods,
children of the Most High, all of you;
7 nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
and fall like any prince.”

The God of Glory thunders.  Before him are gathered all the gods of the nations, the heavenly embodiment of the earthly kingdoms: “Ashtoreth of the Sidonians, Chemosh of the Moabites, Molek of the Ammonites” (1 Kings 11:33) the gods of Egypt, Babylon and Assyria, the gods of the desert peoples and the sea peoples.  The image is taken from the court: the king surrounded by his nobles.  They are all summoned to account for the governance of their lands.  All are judged, found wanting, and condemned to die as mere mortals.  Their nations have not shown justice, they have not protected the weak and needy, they have not maintained the rights of the poor.  Their wealthy and powerful trample the poor.

We should not be astonished that the poet asserts God’s jurisdiction over all the earth – though it is helpful to remember: God stands above country, not alongside it.  It is not God and country that claims our allegiance, but God then country.

God is Lord of all the nations and peoples.  He is Lord where he is acknowledged and where he is not.  He is Lord where he is given lip service and where such service is true.  He calls nations into being and casts them down.  We should be warned by the fact that every nation will be held accountable for its treatment of the poor and powerless.

But there is also comfort here: all the ideologies and nationalisms that rise up to rule human societies will perish.  They claim ultimacy.  They claim to be the source of blessing.  They demand our service and submission.  They seize our wealth and property.  They take our young men and women for the battlefield.  They serve wealth and power and reach for immortality only to be condemned.  They are mortal.  Only one is eternal – and he has shown his rule in healing, freeing, forgiving, suffering, dying and rising.  He has shown his rule in bread shared, and wine poured out, and the word of peace proclaimed.