Psalm 82: Unjust Judges!

As a young girl, Friday’s that my mom and dad went to the local ELKs for dinner were the best. My brothers and sisters and I would feast on bologna sandwiches, potato chips and pop while watching a movie. Since my oldest brother was in charge, the movie was always an action adventure (though back then there was no VCR, DVR, blue-ray or Net-Flicks so our choice was limited by what was on the three networks).

We saw an array of Tarzan, Hercules and sons of Hercules movies. I hid behind the couch each time Tarzan wrestled an alligator, which was pretty much every movie. Whenever I hear mention of “gods” sitting around heaven talking about what’s happening on earth, I’m reminded of the Hercules movies which often featured Zeus and Hera in their heavenly court, betting on the outcome of earthly struggles and interfering at times.

Psalm 82 brought those images to mind. It starts with God taking his place of leadership in a divine council, “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.” (1) Even though Hebrews embraced one God, they were aware that there were other gods worshiped by neighboring nations. Perhaps these were the lesser gods the psalm refers to. Or perhaps the psalmist was referring to the legion of angels under God’s commands.

Yet another interpretation is that the writer was referring to people who considered themselves “mini-gods”, or among the mighty. The King James version of the opening verse is “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.” Judges can be like mini-gods in the power that they wield in their courtroom. They were considered as being among the mighty.

More important though than who these “gods” are, is God’s instruction to them. God is angry at them for they have not been judging rightly, “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” (2) God goes on to instruct them how they are to behave, “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (2-4)

This psalm is a prophetic psalm, echoing the words of the prophet to care for the widowed, orphaned and poor. God is telling the judges that their first concern is for those who are most vulnerable in the land. Because they did not follow God’s commands, their powers will be taken from them, “I say, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless you shall die like men, and fall like any prince.’” (6-7)

The psalm ends with God, the one true judge, “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for to you belong all the nations!” Judgment belongs to God.

Judges held a prominent position in the early Hebrew community. They were the leaders of the community before there were kings. They led their people in battle and arbitrated disputes. They had power and the responsibility that comes with that power. This psalm is a good reminder to all who have positions of power and responsibility: power is to be used for the greater good, not for selfish purposes; those who abuse power will lose it.

Both of my brothers are now lawyers and familiar with our earth-bound court system which can at times seem as fickle as the court of gods in the Hercules movies and represented in this psalm. Judges are human, like the rest of us, and so fallible, not mini-gods. In that today’s judges are following the mandates to care for those who are most vulnerable in society, they are in line with God, the one true judge.

God’s word is not just for judges, but for all who exercise power in this world. This psalm is a reminder, we will be judged by how we treat the least among us.

Remember, we will be judged by our God. Are we using the power we have for good?

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