Psalm 82 comes directly after a Psalm devoted to the topic of hearing and listening to YHWH, and what happens when that does not transpire. In a sense, Psalm 82 is a continuation of this topic by focusing on what it means to be under the Lordship of YHWH as opposed to other things – a reminder that is timeless.
In this case, the other things are ‘the gods’. Various voices have argued over who ‘the gods’ are. Are these gods the gods that the ancient Near Eastern culture was worshipping, or are these gods judges and magistrates over the people – as in kings and queens who’d been set in place? I don’t know that it matters as to which line of reasoning one follows with who the ‘elohiym are, and in the end, perhaps there’s some double-meaning here.
What Psalm 82 is clearly articulating, is how the ‘elohiym contrast to YHWH. In verse two we see that the gods judge unjustly and show partiality. This is articulating a leadership style that is opposite to the foundations of God’s reign in the world as seen in the Jewish tradition. This clearly goes against the Holiness Code of Leviticus 19 where the people of Israel are told by YHWH not to render unjust verdicts or show partiality. So perhaps, this is a jab at the people of Israel themselves who are doing just that?
In contrast to what is mentioned in verse 2, Verses 3-4 are a command to give justice and righteousness. These verses give examples of a few of the people to whom justice and righteousness need to be directed, such as: the orphan, the lowly, the destitute, the weak and the needy. Those in these categories are under oppression and need rescuing from the hands of the wicked.
This way of leadership from the gods suggests that the very foundations of the world are shaken when abuse of power takes place, and darkness is lived into. Elsewhere in the Psalms, like in Psalm 23, darkness is referred to as ‘the valley of the shadow of death’. This is a stark reminder that humanity has the ability to either bring about good, or it’s opposite through the way people govern and participate as citizens, in other words, people can force dark valleys upon others.
Because the governance of the gods is so unjust and shows partiality to the wicked, the gods deserve to die. Like any good word of lament about the way things are in Scripture, the Psalmist ends by turning their eyes to YHWH, who is above all of the cosmos and every nation of the earth. Therefore, YHWH’s justice must be the opposite of the gods. YHWH must be a God of justice, righteousness, mercy, and compassion. The one who will rescue the oppressed.
This is a powerful reminder for us as the Church today. We orient ourselves around the Kingdom of God. We wait with eager anticipation for the complete rule of God which will swallow the injustice and darkness of our world for good. This Psalm is one of faith in YHWH and his rule and reign, even in the middle of chaos and disorder. The Apostle Paul acknowledges the various gods that vie for our attention in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6. In the face of them, we believe in the one monotheistic God who brings life and existence, and in his Son in whom are all things, and in whom we continue to find existence now.
Elsewhere, Paul refers to the powers and authorities who are these so called gods. These rulers and authorities still exist whenever anyone benefits from denying the God-given humanity of others. As long as people and nations “do not see the reign of God as the reality that determines their way and destiny, there will be other gods who play that role.”
As Christians, we believe that there is only One ruler and authority who is on the throne. This God has defeated the other gods, and they are dead. To pursue them only leads to death and darkness. So we pray that God’s Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. We offer compassion and justice in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. We live as an alternate community in a world that is sometimes governed by gods and the people who follow them. And ultimately, we swear our allegiance to our one true King, and live according to this King by the power of the Holy Spirit.