Psalm 82 │Divine Council ? │Who Are the Elohim?
“I Said, ‘You Are gods’“
Expository Bible Studies
1.1 Elohim. 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). At the outset, please understand the spiritual nature of exegesis. God used direct revelation from Himself to His prophets to convey spiritual truths. Evil spiritual forces oppose God’s revelation and attack the inspiration of Scripture. They also adopt pagan theology under the guise of cognate studies of pagan religions and texts.
1.2 The Demon Prophets Problem. As God’s chosen people prepared to enter the promised land inhabited by pagans, God warned them to destroy both the places of pagan worship and to avoid all pagan worship practices. God specifically warned His people not to be ensnared by learning pagan practices and participating in them. God described the pagans as people who commit every abominable act which Yahweh hates; they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods (Deuteronomy 12). Notwithstanding that warning, the people of Israel embraced those foreign gods and suffered the consequences. People today fall into the ancient abominations of the people of Israel. People today who study ancient near eastern religions and claim that the Old Testament authors incorporated theology from the ancient civilizations around them often fall into The Demon Prophets Trap, perhaps unwittingly or perhaps intentionally. The term “Demon Prophets” means humans speaking under the influence of demons. Some people see similar words and similar theology in the Old Testament that corresponds to the theology of pagan religions surrounding Israel. They then conclude that the Old Testament authors brought both those terms and that pagan theology into the Old Testament. At that point, they face serious issues.
1.2.1 The Truth of the Old Testament. The study of comparative religions often leads to people embracing pagan theology. Let me explain. The crucial question centers upon theological truth.
188.8.131.52 Cognate Studies. Some people study ancient religions so that they may learn more about the Old Testament. Cognate words may shed light upon Old Testament words. Cognate grammar and syntax may illuminate Old Testament grammar and syntax. Depending upon the use of those studies. they may help us understand the Old Testament. Even so, fundamental Study Sins must be avoided. Study Sins means that some studies may be proper in themselves, but used to produce abominable conclusions and practices. We know that great are the works of Yahweh, and they are studied by all who delight in them (Psalm 111:2).
184.108.40.206 Ugarit, Ras Shamra, Ebla Tablets. According to some modern archeologists, Ugarit was once a port city in northern Syria, but destroyed about 1190 B.C. In A.D. 1929, it was accidentally discovered and research began into its history and culture, with particular interest in the mound of Ras Shamra. People found clay tablets written in the Ugaritic language. They described Ugaritic pagan practices focusing upon Baal. The temples in Ugarit included places for the worship of Baal (the son of El) and Dagon (the god of fertility and peace). According to the clay tablets, a pantheon of gods controlled the world, and they did not get along. For example, the clay tablets described god Baal Hadad destroying his enemy, god Yam. Some people read the tablets describing the foolish pagan worship of so-called gods Baal, El, and Dagon. Those folks then noticed similarities between the Ugaritic pagans’ ideas about their gods and the Old Testament. With nothing more than some distant similarities between pagan words and doctrines and Old Testament revelation, those people moved liberal people to embrace pagan theology as the basis for Old Testament theology. In essence, some people jumped to the conclusion that the Ugaritic pagan’s view of the unseen cosmos must have infiltrated the Old Testament. According to many people, Psalm 82 presents a description of God judging heavenly beings for their failure to judge the earth. In essence, according to this view, at some point in the past, God ceded his judicial authority to a group of sinful non-humans. Following that view further, God allowed the people on earth to suffer the consequences of their evil judgments. Furthermore, in this upside down view, God intended for the widows, orphans, and poor in the congregation of Israel alive on earth to appeal to absent pagan non-humans for legal protection; in the alternative, their view requires that the non-humans do not directly intervene judicially in the lives of humans at all. In their view, Old Testament authors used the pagan cosmology to describe the living God of Israel. In contrast, the New Testament reveals in detail that the devil rules this world, under the limited grant of authority from God. God holds the devil and his demons accountable, with the revelation that the Lake of Fire was created for the devil and his angels. Baal never receives even a mention by name in the New Testament, except as a single Old Testament quotation in the New Testament (Romans 11:4). The problem of adopting Canaanite theology into the Old Testament becomes very apparent in the New Testament. While revelation is progressive, the truths of theology remain constant over time. They do not change with the culture around them. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. In one astonishing leap, many people concluded that the Old Testament writers adopted terms and theology familiar to them from the popular culture of the Canaanite pagans inhabiting the land around them. Of course, those people leaping into foolishness never grasp the timing problem arising from date of the clay tablets about 1200 B.C., long after many portions of the Old Testament were written. Those people also ignore or minimize the differences between the pagan gods and the Living God of Israel revealed in the Old Testament. Ugarit stoked the fire of pantheistic pagan cosmology. The One God of the Old Testament revealed Himself as the God of loving-kindness and salvation from before creation. Among the various pantheons influencing pagans over time, many liberal people today champion the pagans of Ugarit as the true authors of Psalm 82, claiming one way or another it adopts their pagan cosmology. In fact, Asaph wrote Psalm 82 sometime after 1100 B.C., building upon Old Testament theology dating back to creation itself. Long before 1200 B.C., God had revealed Himself as the One living God, Creator of all things. After creation, man sinned and began worshiping other so-called gods, and ignoring the Creator. Some authors today claim that Psalm 82 is merely a polemic against the Ugaritic, Canaanite gods. Even so, some of those authors tend to embrace the Ugaritic pagan cosmology as truthful reflections of the unseen cosmos. Why believe the doctrine of demons?
220.127.116.11 Fundamental Questions. Does pagan theology undergird Old Testament theology? More fundamentally, people must decide if they believe the Old Testament authors accurately described all aspects of theology they addressed. If you believe that Old Testament authors borrowed theology from pagans, then the pagans had that theological truth before the Old Testament authors. Where did the pagans’ theology come from? Demon Prophets provided that pagan theology to deceive the nations in the past and present.
18.104.22.168 The Divine Council and Pagan Theology. Anyone claiming that the Divine Council has strong ties to pagan religion must avoid the The Demon Prophets Trap. In other words, if you claim that: (a) the Divine Council of pagan religions accurately describes theology; and (b) the Old Testament authors adopted that Divine Council theology into the Bible, then you have fallen into the The Demon Prophets Trap. The Divine Council claims sound similar in essence to the claims about the Enuma Elish claims regarding the Babylonian Epic of Creation. In essence, if your study of pagan theology concerning ancient councils and epics leads you to conclude the Old Testament authors incorporated pagan theology revealed by Demon Prophets, then you are trapped between two choices: (a) the Old Testament does not accurately describe the theology it addressed; or (b) Demon Prophets provided the theological foundation for the Old Testament. Be careful that you do not deny verbal, plenary inspiration or embrace the theology of Demon Prophets. As a side note, Jesus provided divine commentary on Psalm 82 in John 10. In John 10, Jesus responded to a charge that a man (like Himself) cannot be God. Anyone who opines that Psalm 82 concerns Canaanite deities must satisfactorily explain why Jesus allegedly used sinful non-humans (Canaanite deities) to refute a charge that God cannot be a man. Jesus did not appeal to God reproaching non-humans to prove His deity and humanity. See John 10:22-39. The Psalmist did not write on earth to warn absent Canaanite gods, but human judges in the congregation of Israel facing immediate judgment by God Himself.
22.214.171.124 Paul and the Greek Poet. Let me be clear here. Paul quoted a Greek poet, “For we also are His children,” but he did so in a very limited way and explicitly explained why he made the quotation (Acts 17:28). No doubt pagans know great truths about theology, even when they suppress that knowledge, reject God, and suffer the consequences (Romans 1). The issue here centers upon Old Testament authors adopting pagan theology without attribution and proper limits. Paul did not use the Greek Poet to learn theology or adopt that theology, but to show that even a Greek poet knows some truth about God. Please keep in mind I am using the term “theology” in a very broad sense of all things related to God. Another root of the issue concerning the Demon Prophets Trap concerns the doctrines of revelation and inspiration.
1.3 Spiritual Warfare. Exegesis involves intense spiritual warfare. The devil seeks to deceive everyone who studies the Bible. The devil tempted Jesus by misapplying Scripture, but Jesus correctly applied Scripture to refute the devil. Our own reason will never be a reliable guide to understanding the Bible. While we must use logic and analysis to understand the Bible, we build upon the foundation that our thoughts are not Yahweh’s thoughts and our ways are not Yahweh’s ways (Isaiah 55:8). By the wisdom of this world people never knew God (1 Corinthians 1:21). Indeed, the wisdom of this world is earthly, natural and demonic (James 3:14). Every person born again not only sees the kingdom of God, but also has an anointing which teaches us all things and helps us avoid being deceived (1 John 3:26-27). People who distort the Scriptures do so to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:14-18), for God uses His word to bring faith in Christ which leads to salvation (Romans 10:17). Therefore, because of the surpassing value of the Scriptures, we know that the devil will devise schemes to undermine the Scriptures.
1.4 The Revelation and Inspiration of the Old Testament. The devil often attacks the inspiration of the Bible using many schemes. The Bible leaves no doubt that God delivered word-for-word revelation to the prophets (Jeremiah 26:2), because men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke for God (2 Peter 1:21). Therefore, we know that the Old Testament authors produced completely accurate statements about all matters they addressed. Of course, if you find errors in the Old Testament, then you do not believe in the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible, but in human error mixed with God’s truth. The uniform testimony in the Bible is that God breathed out the truth, and guaranteed its veracity by commanding all men to abide by His revelation. God provided inspired Scripture so that people would profit from its teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. In order to profit, people must know and apply God’s revelation. If they accurately apply God’s revelation, then they will be adequate before God, and so equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The devil and his minions completely oppose every good work, and so seek to undermine the Bible, because it provides perfect revelation from God. The moment you believe that humans wrote the Old Testament based upon knowledge they acquired from pagan theology, and so adopted that theology in any form into the Old Testament, you no longer believe that God inspired all of the Old Testament. Instead, you now believe that the Demon Prophets inspired both pagan religion, and by extension, the Old Testament. Repent and turn back to the truth of God inspiring the Bible through human authors moved by the Holy Spirit to speak for God, not demons. Of course the Hebrew of Isaiah sounds different from the Hebrew of Jeremiah, and the Aramaic of Daniel and Ezra reflect different styles. Even so, the words they chose, the grammar they used, and the syntax they employed, were produced by God speaking to them so that the final words, syntax and grammar of the original autographs were breathed out by God with all His perfection. 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” (נִצָּ֥ב–stands Himself to reflect the Niphal particple with a reflexive sense) may mean to stand up, or to stand against. In Numbers 22:31-34, the angel of the LORD stood (נִצָּ֥ב) with sword drawn against Balaam the prophet for his evil behavior. Therefore, we see that the term “takes his stand” 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 (בַּעֲדַת־אֵ֑ל).” 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? 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 (בַּעֲדַת־אֵ֑ל—congregation of El”), 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 (“עֲדַ֣ת יְהוָ֔ה“) 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 (עֲדַ֣ת יְהוָ֗ה).” 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 of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament using a computer program, I did not see any use of the Hebrew term for “congregation” to refer to any humans except the humans of Israel; it does have other uses for non-humans, but they appear unrelated to Psalm 82.
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.
2.9 The Chiastic Structure Argument. Some people argue that Psalm 82:1 contains a chiasm that forces the interpretation that the “elohim” cannot be humans. This argument only works if you assume the conclusion before you examine the chiasm. Let me explain. Some people find an “abba” structure in Psalm 82:1 as follows:
a God takes His Stand
b in the congregation of El
b in the midst of the elohim
a He judges.
Judging from that chiastic analysis, the “a” phrases both describe the activity of God, and the “b” phrases describe the judges. Nothing about that chiasm demands either a human or non-human interpretation of the “b” phrases. The “b” phrases simply relate “the congregation of El” to the “elohim.” The “b” phrases could refer to humans or non-humans, but either would fit the structure. So, if you claim the chiasm definitively settles the issue of humans or non-human judges, then you have begged the question. All the chiasm requires is that both parts of the “b” phrases refer to the same entities: judges are part of the congregation of el and are elohim, but they could be humans or non-humans. The structure does nothing to settle the issue nor compels the interpretation that the second “elohim” be humans or non-humans. Chiastic structural analysis only requires that the “congregation of El” relates to the “elohim.” Even that relationship is not well defined in the “b” phrases, just as the “a” phrases emphasize related, but not identical, activity of God (unless you equate “taking His stand” to be identical with “judges,” which does not capture the differences between the two related activities of God). The identity of the “elohim” remains at issue, even after chiastic analysis. The “congregation of El” certainly included the “elohim,” but having proved that point, it does not resolve the issue of the identity of “the congregation of El” or the “elohim” at issue.
2.10 Human Judges. In Deuteronomy 16:18-20, Yahweh outlined to Moses the procedure for establishing judges and officers in the towns which the “LORD your God” is giving to the people of Israel. Yahweh directed that the people of Israel (humans) appoint for themselves both judges and officers in their own towns, according to their tribes. They must judge with righteous judgment. The text emphasized that humans would appoint humans to judge them. The judges and officers came from the human tribes of Israel. Furthermore, Yahweh ordered them to avoid distorting justice, showing partiality, and taking bribes. God noted that a “bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.” If someone wants to argue that Psalm 82:2-3 excludes human judges in favor of non-human judges, then they must explain why Deuteronomy 16:19 does not apply in Psalm 82. The burden of proof rests upon proponents of the non-human view. The elohim of Psalm 82 render judgments with partiality to the wicked. The evil judges oppress the weak and fatherless.
2.10.1 Problem One: Human Judges. Deuteronomy 16:18-20 presents several problems for anyone seeing non-human judges in Psalm 82. First, the first judges of Israel in the promised land were all humans, appointed by humans and charged by God to judge righteously. Therefore, we know that humans appointed human judges for each tribe, as God commanded. So, if people want to argue that non-human judges are at issue in Psalm 82, they would have to overcome the presumption that human judges are at issue, based upon Deuteronomy 16:18-20.
2.10.2 Problem Two: Bribes. Second, human judges could be bribed by humans, but how would humans bribe non-human judges? At times, the people promoting a view of non-humans ruling Israel appear to overlook some of the Bible passages at odds with their views of Psalm 82. The judges of Psalm 82 appear to be taken to account for the precise deeds of Deuteronomy 16:19. The judges of Psalm 82 judge unrighteously in the ways that fit with Deuteronomy 18:19.
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 (or motherless) 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 (through Asaph) 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” (“υἱοὶ ὑψίστου“) in Luke 6:35 referring to humans.
4.1.2 Psalm 82:6. In Psalm 82:6, the term “Sons of the Most High” (בְנֵ֖י עֶלְיֹ֣ון) 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 the use of the term in other Psalms.
4.2 Psalm 83. Some people argue that the phrase “sons of the Most High” (בְנֵ֖י עֶלְיֹ֣ון) 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” (עֶ֝לְיֹ֗ון) to refer to God standing over the highest humans on earth. 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. They “presuppose” the immortality of the “elohim,” but they “presuppose” from silence in the text. 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, they argue men cannot die like men, because that would be a meaningless adverse comparison.
4.3.1 Circular Reasoning. Some people also argue that based upon the “presupposed” immortality of the “elohim,” God imposes “mortality” upon the “immortal elohim” for their failures as judges. This argument rests upon presupposing the truth, which amounts to circular arguments, and not exegesis. While the “elohim” are indeed “sons of the Most High,” the contrast involves the differences between God and the “elohim.” The identify of the “elohim” would not necessarily affect that contrast, because the “elohim” are not God. On a different level, the contrast also involves exalted “elohim” falling to their death, just like Adam. Therefore, they can be contrasted in multiple ways. If one argues that the immortal become mortal, and that is the contrast, then they would have to prove the “immortality” of the “elohim” at issue, and not merely presuppose it. God condemns many people to death for their actions, even exalted judges of His congregation.
4.3.2 The “Shining Ones” Problem. In passing, some people embracing the divine council view translate the last phrase of Psalm 82:7 (הַשָּׂרִ֣ים) as die like one of the “Shining Ones.” Some people argue that “the Shining Ones” are not humans, despite the fact that the other uses of the exact term “the shining ones” (הַשָּׂרִ֣ים) always refers to humans (“the princes” in New American Standard). To support their claim that “the Shining Ones” are non-humans, some people cite Daniel 10: 13-21 to prove their point; others point to Isaiah 14:12. In that famous Isaiah passage, we read about a star or shining one (הֵילֵ֣ל), the king of Babylon who fell from heaven. The only other use of that exact Hebrew term occurs in Zechariah 11:12. The common Hebrew word for star (כֹּוכָ֜ב) was not used In Psalm 82. Some people link the “Shining One” with Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12-15. Taking all those claims at face value, the contrast would be that just as satan sinned and died, so also the elohim sinned and died. Yet, Jesus explicitly taught that the angels cannot die in the sense of humans dying a physical death (Luke 20:36). So, any claim of “elohim” passing from “immortality” to “mortality” cannot involve any kind of physical death if the “elohim” of Psalm 82 are included by Jesus in Luke 20:36. In the divine council view, if the “elohim” of Psalm 82 cannot physically die, like humans die physically, then spiritual death must be in view. But more telling, if physical death like Adam is in view, then following that view the contrast is between non-human “elohim” dying physically (hard to imagine for non-corporeal beings) from sin just as Adam died from sin and you are back to Hosea 6, dealing with humans dying for their sins.
4.3.3 The Internal Inconsistency Problem. Finally, the internal inconsistency of the divine council view of the adversative qualities of Psalm 82:6 and Psalm 82:7 becomes most apparent in their view of the identity of the princes or “Shining Ones” of Psalm 82:7. Some people first argue that the contrast must be between non-humans and humans. This explanation, however, crumbles with their explanation of “Shining Ones” being non-humans. If the “Shining Ones” of Psalm 82:7 are non-humans, then they see a contrast between non-humans in Psalm 82:6 (they claim the “elohim” are non-humans) and the “Shining Ones” of Psalm 82:7 who are also non-humans. They first rejected a contrast between humans and humans as no contrast at all, but then accepted a contrast between non-humans and non-humans. The internal inconsistency of their position seems apparent. They appear to overlook the fact that Psalm 82:7 describes both “men” and “Shining Ones,” and, according to the divine council view, they are not the same, but contrast with each other. If they contrast with each other in Psalm 82:7, how do they together contrast with the “elohim” of Psalm 82:6? No such internal inconsistency exists if the “elohim” and the “men” and the “princes” are all humans. Internal inconsistencies rupture the logic of any position and must be resolved one way or another. Before we accept any argument about one or more contrasts in Psalm 82:6 and Psalm 82:7, 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 “like man” (כְּאָדָ֣ם) 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 (the same “contrast” of men dying like men). 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 the exalted status of the judges, called “elohim” and “sons of the Most High,” but even with that exalted position and high titles, they sinned and nevertheless suffer the same judgment of death God imposed upon Adam.
4.4.1 God Rules the Nations. Some people find support in Psalm 82:8 for a “divine council” ruling over the world. According to some “divine council” interpretations of Psalm 82, the human judges of Israel were never appointed over all the “nations” and so the “elohim” at issue in Psalm 82 could not be the human judges of Israel.
126.96.36.199 Eschatological Theme. Some people argue that non-humans rule the nations, and so the elohim cannot be humans, because the human rulers of Israel never rule the nations. Before anyone accepts that argument, please notice that the appeal in Psalm 82:8 is for God (“Elohim”) to judge, not a “divine council” to judge, and not even human judges to judge. In Psalm 82:8, Asaph reiterates a very common eschatological theme in the Old Testament: Messiah will come and bring judgment upon the world (1 Samuel 2:10; Isaiah 2:4; 3:13; 16:5; Ezekiel 7:3, 8; Joel 3:12; Micah 3:10-12, 4:3; ). Even before the coming of Messiah, God will bring judgment upon His people (including the judges) for their wicked deeds and scatter them among the nations (Deuteronomy 30:1; Jeremiah 25:12; Daniel 9:1-6; Habakkuk 1:1-13). If the people of Israel called on God to bring justice to the oppressed of their country, would they be prohibited from calling upon God to judge the entire world, as He has promised when Jesus returns to earth to reign (Zechariah 14:1-21; Acts 17:35; Matthew 25:31-46)? The call for God to judge the world picks up a familiar eschatological theme of God’s future judgment of all the earth (e.g., Amos 9:9). Therefore, any claim that the judges of Israel do not judge the “nations” overlooks the theme of God judging the entire earth, beginning with Israel. Likewise, David called upon Yahweh to arise and rage against His adversaries, for Yahweh has appointed judgment (Psalm 7:6; see also other Psalmists making a similar appeal for Yahweh to arise and take action, including judgment (Psalm 9:20; 10:12; Psalm 44:6)). Therefore, nothing in Psalm 82:8 requires the interpretation that the “elohim” (human “rulers”) at issue in Psalm 82:1 judge the nations. Instead, God judges the earth and possesses all the nations. The verse itself presents an appeal for God to take such action, and follows the form and substance of other such appeals in the Old Testament. In 2 Samuel 22, David praised God for delivering him from his enemies. From his distress, David called upon “my God” (“אֱלֹהַ֖י“) for deliverance. The earth shook and quaked, and the foundations of heaven were trembling and were shaken, because God was angry (2 Samuel 22:8; Psalm 18:7–earth and mountains shake; Isaiah 24:10; Ezekiel 26:15; 27:28; 38:20;). God shakes the heavens and earth in anger (Haggai 2:21; Hebrews 12:26). So, nothing in Psalm 82 requires that the judges ruled the nations. In this context, supported by many other references in the Old Testament, God shakes the foundations of the world in anger. God’s righteous indignation burns through Psalm 82 against the unjust judges. The predominant theme of Old Testament eschatology displays the wrath of God against human unrighteousness, including the evil judges of His congregation. When Jesus comes, Jesus will rule the nations with a rod of iron (Psalm 2) and impose perfect judgment upon the nations of the earth. The eschatological theme of Messianic deliverance booms through Psalm 82. Nothing in Psalm 82 would require human judges to judge the nations; in fact, the plain words of the Psalm present Asaph’s appeal for God to judge the nations. Straw men never make good fuel for a lasting fire.
188.8.131.52 Eschatology and Sin. In Psalm 82, the sin of the judges controls the passage. Asaph called upon God to intervene and judge the nations, because the “elohim,” the very “sons of the Most High,” with their exalted position, have sinned like Adam, and so God will judge them as He judged Adam. Nothing in Psalm 82 indicates the “elohim” ruled the nations, but rather Asaph followed the eschatological theme that God will return, judge the entire world ( not just Israel) and establish His rule over all the earth. Hosea used the same phrase “like Adam” in the context of judgment by God to show how Adam died because Adam violated the covenant with God. One could argue that Adam was immortal and then died because of sin and, they claim, Paul made just that argument in Romans 5. Psalm 82 involves the contrast between “God” and the “elohim,” righteous activity and sinful activity, and exalted judges dying like Adam because of their sin. The heights from which the sinners fell provides a stunning contrast to their final demise.
4.4.2 God and Man. The judges in Psalm 82 did not pass from immortality to mortality, as claimed by the divine council view, but the “elohim” certainly received a death sentence. The greater contrast involves the revelation that God called some humans “elohim.” Because they were representatives of God, doing the will of God and applying the law of God, they were exalted members of the congregation of El. Yet, they sinned like Adam and their exalted position did not nothing to stop God from imposing the death penalty upon them for their sin, just like Adam. Because of their sin, they suffered the same judgment God imposed upon Adam, death, as Hosea 6 makes plain. Hosea 6 and the Old Testament provide a far more reliable guide to understanding Psalm 82 than the ancient pagans’ views of their demons. Therefore, the translation of Psalm 82:6 offered above (“die like Adam”) solves any issue related to 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 Himself 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?
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Psalm 82 │ Divine Council? │ Who Are the Elohim?