Psalm 82 │Divine Council ? │Who Are the Elohim?
“I Said, ‘You Are gods’“
Expository Bible Studies
In Psalm 82, Asaph wrote that God takes His stand in His own congregation, confronts the “elohim” and demands justice from the “elohim.” Who are those elohim? Are they Gods (like Yahweh)? Are they gods (like angels)? Are they humans, serving God as judges on earth? As we look briefly through the Psalm, we will see the flow of the passage and gain insight into the elohim of Psalm 82. Please keep in mind that I believe the Bible when it says the very words of the original autographs were breathed out by God, and so the very words matter (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Jeremiah 26:2; John 14:26; Galatians 3:15-16). Psalm 82 │ Divine Council? │ Who Are the Elohim?
2. God Stands and Judges.
2.1 Takes His Stand. In Psalm 82:1, God takes His stand in His congregation. This term “takes His stand” may mean to stand up, or to stand against. In Numbers 22:31-34, the angel of the LORD stood with sword drawn against Balaam the prophet for his evil behavior. Therefore, we see that the term “take his stand (or to reflect the niphal participle–“taking his stand”–in the masculine singular) in His own congregation may mean God stands as an adversary. So, the question becomes, God opposes whom here? Before we answer that question from the text, we may benefit from a review of the phrase “His own congregation.”
2.2 His Own Congregation. The phrase “his own congregation” literally means “in the congregation of el.” This exact phrase only occurs in Psalm 82. The feminine noun “congregation” stands in relationship with the masculine noun absolute “el.” So, “elohim” (God) takes His stand in the congregation of el. “Elohim” has a plural ending, and “el” appears singular. From the first verse of Genesis, the term “elohim” can be translated as “God,” as God created the heavens and the earth. Although the word “elohim” has a plural ending, it is translated in Psalm 82:1 (New American Standard Bible) as a singular “God” and then, later in the same verse, “elohim” is translated as “rulers.” How can we distinguish the different meanings of the same term in the same verse? We can start by comparing Scripture with Scripture.
2.3 Elohim. In other parts of the Old Testament, the term “elohim” may refer to beings other than God Himself. Likewise, the term “el” may refer to beings other than God Himself. In any case, in Daniel 11:36, we learn that God is the God (“El”) of gods (“elohim”). Furthermore, in Jeremiah 23:18, 22, Jeremiah wrote that God does have a council (“sod”), but a different Hebrew word appears there. Likewise, the term “council” (“sod”) is used in Psalm 89:7 referring to a council of “holy ones,” but the next verse references the Lord of Hosts. The host there likely included non-humans. Therefore, Psalm 89:7 is not exactly parallel in the use of Hebrew terms. Even so, based upon those verses, God certainly had a place where He spoke and announced His words to His people, apparently in front of many beings. The Scripture contains numerous passages indicating that God has many beings around His throne in heaven.
2.4 Divine Beings? The question here turns upon who are the beings of “His own congregation” in Psalm 82:1? Please do not misunderstand. I am not a Hebrew scholar and so I must rely upon others for my basic understandings of Hebrew syntax, grammar and morphology. Therefore, based upon the use of the term “congregation” elsewhere in the Old Testament, we would expect the phrase “His own congregation” to refer to the general meaning of the term “congregation” in the Old Testament.
2.5 Congregation. Regarding “His own congregation,” the people of Israel are frequently called the congregation of the sons of Israel. The term “congregation” has a very interesting meaning in Numbers 27:17. There, Moses asked the God of the spirits of all flesh to appoint a man over the congregation to go out and come in before them, so that the “congregation of the Lord (“Yahweh”)” will not be like sheep which have no shepherd. Notice the phrase “congregation of the Lord” still refers to the congregation of human Israel, and, in that context, emphasized the close connection of the congregation to Yahweh. They were the sheep of Yahweh and deserved a man with the Spirit of God within him to lead the sheep of Yahweh.
2.6 Congregation of Yahweh. In Joshua 22:16, we read about “the congregation of the LORD.” This phrase “the congregation of the LORD” refers to the people of Israel alive on earth and obviously humans. Therefore, we see the predominate usage of the term “congregation” generally refers to the congregation of the people of Israel. Likewise, the term “the congregation of the LORD” also refers to the people of Israel. Based upon my review (remember that I am no Hebrew scholar and I may have missed something there), I did not see any use of the Hebrew term for “congregation” to refer to anyone except humans.
2.7 Host of Heaven. Terms other than “congregation” may refer to non-human beings in the Old Testament. For example, the term “host of heaven” certainly refers to a group of beings standing before the throne of Yahweh, and that group includes various spirits which are not human, but may enter humans and influence or control them (1 Kings 22:19-23). Furthermore, Exodus 15:11 demonstrates that among the gods, no one is like Yahweh. So, I am not dismissing the clear teaching of Scripture that heaven has many beings.
2.8 Humans. The “congregation,” however, at issue in Psalm 82:1, based upon the Old Testament usage of the Hebrew word used there for “congregation,” does not appear to be composed of anything other than humans. Therefore, when God takes His stand in His own congregation, He appears to be standing in the midst of the people of Israel. Moreover, He judges in the midst of the “elohim.” Now we know that when God judges in the midst of the “elohim,” those “elohim” were part of His congregation, and that only humans composed His congregation, and more precisely that congregation consisted of the people of Israel. Therefore, because only humans compose the entire congregation, we know that the “elohim” must be a subset of His congregation which refers to the people of Israel. So, God judges in the midst of humans (“elohim”). Therefore, a good translation of “elohim” at the end of Psalm 82:1 would be some form of humans. We would have to look at the entire context of Psalm 82 to narrow down the translation. The “elohim” of Psalm 82:1 are the same beings at issue in Psalm 82:2-8. The rest of the Psalm deals with the failure of judges exercising jurisdiction upon the earth. As a subset of the human congregation, the judges (“elohim”) appear to be humans also (see also Exodus 22:8, where human judges are called “elohim.”) Therefore, any notion of a divine council composed of non-humans seems misplaced in Psalm 82. Now we can trace through God’s message to those judges.
3. The Charge: Judges Judging Unjustly.
The problem at issue in Psalm 82 concerns the acts of the judges. They are judging the people of Israel unjustly and deserve to be taken to account. Among their wicked errors, they show partiality and fail to vindicate the weak and fatherless and do justice to the afflicted and destitute. They must rescue the weak and needy and deliver them from the hand of the wicked. They do not know nor do they understand. They walk about in darkness and all the foundations of the earth are shaken. These judges act wickedly, forsaking their commission from God to render judgments from Him and for His name. Therefore, we see that Psalm 82 focused upon the failures of judges to obey the code of judicial ethics established by God. God will certainly pronounce an appropriate judgment upon them.
4. The Verdict and the Death Penalty.
4.1 Sons of the Most High. In Psalm 82:6, the perspective changes and God speaks in the first Person: “I said, ‘You are gods.'” This phrase may well be a reference to the time of their investiture as judges, where God appointed humans to serve as judges. As we have seen, in Psalm 82:1, above, the term “gods” (“elohim”) apparently refers to human judges. Now God calls those “elohim” sons of the Most High. While the terms “sons of God” always, or virtually always, refers to angels or non-humans in the Old Testament, God called the “elohim” sons of the Most High. Some would argue based upon the Hebrew usage of the phrase “sons of God” that God must be referring to non-human beings in Psalm 82:6.
4.1.1 Luke 6:35. In Luke 6:35, however, we read that humans following the commands of Christ will be sons of the Most High. So, because of the unity of Scriptures with one God writing the entire Bible, humans can be included in the class of sons of the Most High. I understand that some people might want to argue dispensational, hermeneutical, or economic reasons for distinguishing Luke 6:35, but I believe it clearly opens the door to Psalm 82:6 referring to humans. Any argument about “sons of God” must account for both: (1) the difference between “sons of God” and the “sons of the Most High” and (2) the use of the term “sons of the Most High” in Luke 6:35 referring to humans.
4.1.2 Psalm 82:6. In Psalm 82:6, the term “Sons of the Most High” seems significant because God never applied the terms “sons of the Most High” to any non-humans, unless it is only in Psalm 82:6. In some other contexts, the “Most High” stands as the Redeemer of Israel (Psalm 78:35). I also find it interesting that Asaph described the “Most High” as the LORD over all the earth (Psalm 83:18). In Psalm 83, Asaph ascribed to the “Most High” absolute sovereignty over the human nations, human princes and human nobles who oppose God. Therefore, Asaph clearly used the same term “Most High” to emphasize God’s power and sovereignty over high-ranking humans in Psalm 83. So, any argument that the phrase “sons of the Most High” cannot refer to humans must deal with Luke 6:35.
4.2 Psalm 83. Some people argue that the phrase “sons of the Most High” refers to non-human “elohim.” They argue that Psalm 82:7 serves as a strong adversative because the non-human “elohim” die. Normally, non-humans like angels and demons do not appear to undergo physical death, because they are by nature non-corporeal beings. So, if God imposes death upon members of the “divine council” composed of non-humans, that would be a very great judgment. That argument runs counter to the Most High acting against humans who die a physical death in Psalm 83. Asaph used the term “Most High” to refer to God standing over the highest humans. Asaph in Psalm 83 does not use the term “Most High” to refer to God as the highest among non-humans or a council of non-humans. Therefore, the term “Most High” cannot be limited in meaning to the superlative rank of God above other elohim in Psalm 82:6. Asaph dispelled such a notion in his use of the same term “Most High” in Psalm 83 to refer to God’s sovereignty over humans. Now we can turn to a more detailed discussion of the relationship of Psalm 82:7 to Psalm 82:6 and the rest of the Psalm.
4.3 Strong Adversative. Some people argue that Psalm 82:7 presents a strong adversative to the “I said” statement of Psalm 82:6. They argue further that the “elohim” of Psalm 82 must be non-humans, because they will be condemned to death like men. Some try to explain how non-humans (“elohim”) die in Psalm 82:7 by describing a spiritual death. So, the argument goes that (1) because men cannot be like men, (2) the verse only makes sense if non-humans (“elohim”) die like humans. One class of beings must be opposed to a different class of beings for the comparative to make sense. In other words, men cannot die like men, because that would be a meaningless adverse comparison. Before we accept that argument, the Hebrew term translated “like men” bears further investigation.
4.4 Hosea 6:6-11. In Hosea 6:6-11, God speaks of His judgment going forth like light upon Ephraim and Judah. In that passage, Hosea used the same Hebrew term which Asaph used in Psalm 82:7. The New American Standard Bible translated that same Hebrew term in those passages differently. In Hosea 6:6, we see another “I” statement followed by the same Hebrew term “like man,” but the term is translated in New American Standard and English Standard Version as “like Adam.” In fact, the only other place where the exact same Hebrew term “like man” is used is in Job 31:33, and it also appears in translation there as “like Adam.” Similarities abound between Hosea 6 and Psalm 82. In Hosea 6, God spoke of coming judgment upon the evil workers of Gilead, Israel and Judah. God promised those evil humans that they will die like Adam. Therefore, in Psalm 82:6, we could well translate the verse “Nevertheless you will die like Adam and fall like any one of the princes.” Such a translation perfectly fits the context and would be consistent with the same usage in Hosea 6. So, the objection that the contrast of men with men resolves because the adversative is between Adam and his human offspring, just as Hosea used the same term to make the same contrast. Therefore, the translation of Psalm 82:6 offered above (“die like Adam”) solves any issue related the adversative qualities of Psalm 82:6 and Psalm 82:7. Furthermore, the reference back to Adam fits well with the death of the first man because Adam disobeyed the commands of God and died, just as the human judges of Psalm 82 disobeyed the commands of God regarding judging His congregation and so the human judges died.
5. The Call for God To Judge the Earth
Psalm 82 ends with a call for God to judge the earth! God possesses all the nations, and so He must act as Judge. In 2 Chronicles 19:6, God commanded the judges to consider that they do not judge for men, but for the LORD who is with them when they render judgment. Therefore, we know that God appointed human judges, but they must always be aware that they render their judgment for God, and that He must be with them when they judge. In Psalm 82, the judges have departed from justice, embraced wickedness, and left the weak and needy lacking the full protection of law the judges must provide to them. Yet, Asaph prayed that God would arise and take all judicial matters into His own hands, because the Most High possesses all the nations. We can rejoice in knowing that God cares about justice for the weakest and most oppressed.
Psalm 82 │ Divine Council? │ Who Are the Elohim?
Click Here: John 10:22-39
Psalm 82 │ Divine Council? │ Who Are the Elohim?