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Monday, February 19, 2007

Notes on Psalm 82 (responding to christian interpertations)

Random notes/thoughts on Psalm 82 Here is the text, (Revised Standard Version):

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? [Selah]
3: Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted 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 about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6: I say, "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you;
7: nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince."
8: Arise, O God, judge the earth; for to thee belong all the nations

Psalms are always a little tricky for me because it seems that they only make sense if viewed as man's expression to God, rather than God's commandment to man. Not the word of God so much as the yearning of man. Here's what I know about Psalm 82 based on Rashi's commentary (I am using the Judacia Press translation) and my reading of Sarna (sp?)'s book on the Psalms:


Psalm 82 should be called the lawyer's pslam. THe opening verse sets the Courtroom motif: "God stands in the divine assembly; among the divine beings He pronounces judgment."

The Hebrew uses the same term for God and "divine beings." "Elohim" is used as a general term for supernatural beings. Psalms 42-83 are known as the "Elohistic Psalter." They use Elohim much more often than YHVH. The rest of the pslams use YHVH more than Elohim. Why? Who knows. But it is clear the the opening of Pslam 82 refers to "the Lord."

We see God standing in the middle of a celestial assembly.

Why is God standing? Judges are traditionally represented as sitting. Jethro finds Moses seated when he's judging. Deborah would sit under a plam tree when she judged. Isaiah 28:6 refers to the one who "sits in judgment." etc. So why is GOd standing in this psalm?

Because the psalm takes place after the legal proceedings are over. After the judging has been done and only sentencing remains. God stands (or rises) to pronounce the sentence because His word is self-fullfilling. The Hebrew words for standing or rising express imminent action. This is why God is often called to "arise" -- i.e., execute judgment.

What is the situation in the Psalm that requires divine judgment?

"How long will you judge perversely, showing favor to the wicked?
Judge the wretched and the orphan,
vindicate the lwoly and the poor,
rescue the wretched and the needy;
save them from the hand of the wicked."

The corrupt judicial system and decline of morality in society require God to intervene with the celestial court.


The first line: A song of Asaph. God stands in the congregation of God; in the midst of the judges He will judge.
God stands in the congregation of God to see whether the judges judge fairly

2 How long will you judge unjustly and favor the wicked forever?
(This is God asking the question)

3 Judge the poor and orphan; justify the humble and the impoverished.
(if the poor man is right, don't rule against him in order to favor the wicked/more powerful)

4 Release the poor and the needy; save [them] from the hands of [the] wicked.

5 They did not know and they do not understand [that] they will walk in darkness; all the foundations of the earth will totter.

(The judges who pervert justice do not understand that because of this iniquity, they will walk in the dark (See Exod. 23:8 regarding "bribery blinds"), The perversion of justice is such a serious offense that it will cause all the foundations of the earth will totter.
This is a central belief of Judaism -- that the world is sustained by Justice).


6 I said, "You are angelic creatures, and all of you are angels of the Most High."
(God is saying "When I gave you the Torah, I gave it to you on the condition that the Angel of Death should not rule over you.")

7 Indeed, as man, you will die, and as one of the princes, you will fall.
(Indeed, like Adam, you will die since you corrupted your deeds as he did. And as one of the princes the first princes, who died, so will you fall.)

8 Arise, O God, judge the earth, for You inherit all the nations.
(Here Asaph commences to pray that God rise and cut off the corrupt judges from Israel. For everyone is in God's hands to judge.

the word Elohim, the root of which is used in this psalm, can be used for Gods, angels, judges, princes, etc. Even if one interperts it to mean "gods" in Psalm 82, I would think that a jewish reading of the Pslam would simply mean that we are all "gods" a/k/a all God's children. But my understanding is that the word is meant to refer to Judges.

If you look at the song Moses led the people in when the crossed the sea of reeds, the same root word is used: "Mi Kamocha B'aylim Hashem" - Who is like You among the Elim, God.

It not asking who is like you among the the Gods. Rather, it means Mighty, Powerful. "Who is like You amongst the Mighty"?

when used to refer to God, "Elohim" means Almighty, or
the Judge of all.

When used to refer to Judges, the same word simply means mighty as in powerful.

In Hebrew, it is common to use the plural of a word when using it as a title of respect.