Psalm 82 │Seven Reasons Some Elohim Are Humans
“I Said, ‘You Are gods'”
Expository Bible Studies│ Christ Assembly
This article presents a compact version of the longer article on Psalm 82 (click this link). 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? In this summary article, we will focus upon seven reasons that some elohim are human judges. I am not arguing that God does not have a heavenly council, but I am providing some reasons that only humans compose the congregation of El described in Psalm 82. Please keep in mind that God said that 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.
Reason One: The Term “Congregation” Means Humans
In Psalm 82:1 Asaph described God as taking His stand in the congregation of El (“בַּעֲדַת־אֵ֑ל).” The term “congregation” (“עֲדַת”) only described humans in the Old Testament, and is never used of non-humans, except once for bees. See the Chart of the Usage of בַּעֲדַת־אֵ֑ל in the Old Testament.
In Psalm 82:1, 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.” Based upon my review of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament using a computer program, and reviewing several Hebrew Lexicons, I did not see any use of the Hebrew term for “congregation” to refer to any humans except the humans of Israel, with a few exceptions. In Psalm 68:30, “beasts in the reeds,” God used a figure of speech to refer to humans, perhaps not just the people of Israel. In Judges 14:8, God referred to a swarm of bees in a lion’s carcass. In Psalm 1:5, God referred to the assembly of the righteous, which may include humans not from the congregation of Israel nor alive when Psalm 1:5 was written. In Psalm 22:16, the band of evil doers refers to humans who may not be uniformly from the congregation of Israel or alive at the time Psalm 22 was written. In Job 15:34, the congregation of the Godless refers to humans who may not be alive at the time of writing and not of the congregation of Israel. Several Hebrew lexicons displayed their theological bias by suggesting that Psalm 82:1 concerned a congregation of angels; even then, Psalm 82 was their only reference to the term “congregation” meaning angels. Therefore, with the exceptions described above, about 130 uses of the term “congregation” refer to the human congregation of Israel; the term “congregation” is never used of non-humans, except once for bees. See Appendix One below, Chart of the Usage of בַּעֲדַת־אֵ֑ל in the Old Testament. Some people appeal to Psalm 89:5-7 to support their claim that the congregation of El includes non-humans. Yet, a review of the text of Psalm 89 reveals that Psalm 89 used different words and different ideas from those found in Psalm 82.
Some people argue that God has a council located in the clouds (Psalm 89:5-7), and, in their minds, that means that the “congregation” at issue in Psalm 82 must also be in the clouds, for they claim that God only has one such council. Before we accept such a claim, we must examine the text in Psalm 89. In Psalm 89:5, Ethan the Ezrahite used the phrase “in the assembly of the holy ones” (“בִּקְהַ֥ל קְדֹשִֽׁים“), found only there in the Old Testament. The words of Psalm 89:5 are not the same as the “council of El” in Psalm 82:1. Additionally, in Psalm 89:6, the Psalmist questions who in the sky (“בַ֭שַּׁחַק”) is comparable to Yahweh? The text does not state plainly that the “assembly of the holy ones” is in the clouds. Further, in Psalm 89:6-7, the Psalmist also questions who among the sons of elim (“בִּבְנֵ֥י אֵלִים“) is like Yahweh, a God (אֵ֣ל ) greatly feared in the council of holy ones (“בְּסֹוד־קְדֹשִׁ֣ים”). Assuming for the sake of argument that the assembly of the holy ones is in the clouds, and that the sons of God are in the assembly of the holy ones (“בִּקְהַ֥ל קְדֹשִֽׁים“) and in the council of holy ones (“בְּסֹוד־קְדֹשִׁ֣ים”), such declarations seem inconsistent with the fall of some of the sons of God in previous Old Testament passages. Equating “holy ones” (“קְדֹשִֽׁים“) with the “sons of God” (“בִּנֵ֥י אֵלִים”) would also require clear textual support. Psalm 89:7 indicates that Yahweh is greatly feared in the council of holy ones (“בְּסֹוד־קְדֹשִׁ֣ים”), and feared above all those who surround Him (“וְ֝נֹורָ֗א עַל־כָּל־סְבִיבָֽיו”). Questions arise about whether the council of the holy ones and the assembly of the holy ones are part of the group who surround Yahweh. Arguments about poetic structures and parallelism may be helpful at times, but they must be elaborated with convincing textual support.
Finally, Psalm 82 does not use the phrase “sons of God” or the phrase “assembly of holy ones.” The term “holy ones” (“קְדֹשִֽׁים“) occurs many times in the Old Testament, but only in Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2, 20:7, 26; 21:6; and Numbers 15:40, 16:3 does the term clearly apply to humans, and then it refers to the people of Israel. In many instances, the term “holy ones” occurs as most holy (“קֹ֥דֶשׁ קָֽדָשִׁ֖ים”) related to sacrifices and consecration. In Proverbs 9:10, the knowledge of the “Holy One” (“קְדֹשִׁ֣ים”) is understanding; see also the similar use in Proverbs 30:3. In Ezekiel 36:38 the term holy ones (“קְדֹשִׁ֣ים”) was applied to flocks for sacrifice, and then applied to flocks of men in the cities under the judgment of God. In Joshua 24:19 God is described as a holy God (“כִּֽי־אֱלֹהִ֥ים קְדֹשִׁ֖ים ה֑וּא“). In Zechariah 14:5, all holy ones (“כָּל־קְדֹשִׁ֖ים”) will return with Yahweh to the Mount of Olives, but Zechariah did not link those holy ones with a divine council. The Old Testament does not use the term “holy ones” to refer to non-human members of any council, unless it is only in Psalm 89. Instead, we know that believers will return to the clouds of earth with Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) and the armies of heaven (including angels) will accompany Jesus when He returns to earth (Revelation 19:14). It seems hard to imagine that a group of sinful non-humans, condemned in Psalm 82, would return to earth with Christ. If the Nephilim in Genesis 6 were angels, then consider Jude 1:6 and the “angels” (“ἀγγέλους”) described there who did not keep their proper abode are now being kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day. Likewise, 2 Peter 2:4 indicates that God cast angels who sinned into Tartarus and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment (“ἀλλὰ σειραῖς ζόφου ταρταρώσας παρέδωκεν εἰς κρίσιν τηρουμένους”) (see 12.6, The Afterlife). Tartarus and the eternal bonds pose serious issues for any view of Psalm 82 describing evil beings who had previously sinned in Genesis 6 as ruling the world and judging the world .
Therefore, we also know that the term “holy ones” cannot exclude humans. In fact, apart from Psalm 89 (and perhaps Zechariah 14), the term “holy ones” frequently applied to humans, and never to angels or other non-humans. Therefore, any interpretation of “holy ones” in Psalm 89 should be prepared to account for the lack of supporting passages using the phrase “holy ones” to describe a council of non-humans. Psalm 89 is not parallel in the text to Psalm 82, and really to no other passage in the Old Testament if it describes a council of non-humans. Any claim that Psalm 89 helps us understand Psalm 82 must present compelling evidence in the text to dispute the textual evidence described above.
Reason Two: “I Said, You are gods”
God called the human judges of Israel “elohim” in Exodus 22:9 and so the identification of humans judges as “elohim” there fits perfectly with Psalm 82:6. In Exodus 22:9 the plural verb used with term “elohim” identifies those “elohim” as the human judges from the congregation of the sons of Israel who rendered the decision. The background of Exodus 18-22 helps us to understand Psalm 82:6.
In Psalm 82:6, God spoke (through Asaph) in the first Person: “I said, ‘You are gods.'” The exact phrase “I said” (“אֲֽנִי־אָ֭מַרְתִּי“) only occurs five times in the Old Testament. In 1 Chronicles 21:17, David looked back and said that all the blame for the census should fall upon him alone. In Psalm 41:4-5, David, in midst of false friends and wicked attacks, looked back and said he trusted in the grace and healing of the eternal God. In Psalm 116:11, the Psalmist looked back and said in his alarm that all men are liars. In Isaiah 38:10, Hezekiah looked back and said that in the middle of life he would enter Sheol and be deprived of the rest of his years. All the uses of the term (“אֲֽנִי־אָ֭מַרְתִּי“) described actual events that happened on earth and were spoken about humans in the congregation of Israel. Therefore, in Psalm 82:6, the question becomes: when was a previous time that God called the beings in the congregation of El (“בַּעֲדַת־אֵ֑ל”) “gods”? The events described in the five uses of “I said” were all significant events. Notice that the “I said” statement always emphasized an important historical event in the life of the congregation of Israel. Therefore, we may look for a previous time when God called some beings in the congregation of El (“בַּעֲדַת־אֵ֑ל”) “elohim.”
The use of the plural verb with the term “elohim” in Exodus 22:9 shows that God called human judges “elohim” when He appointed them as judges over the congregation of the sons of Israel. Therefore, God called the human judges of Exodus 22:9 “elohim” from the days of Moses. The background to Exodus 22:9 fully supports the conclusion that God called human judges “elohim.” In Exodus 18:16-17, Moses indicated that people of the congregation came to him to inquire of God (“אֱלֹהִֽים”) regarding a dispute. Moses then made known to them the statutes of God (“אֶת־חֻקֵּ֥י הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים“) and His laws (“וְאֶת־תֹּורֹתָֽיו”). Please take notice of the ministerial function of Moses there in applying the statutes and laws of God. Moses decided disputes based upon the revelation from God in the form of statutes and laws. In Exodus 18:19 Jethro told Moses that God (“אֱלֹהִֽים”) would be with Moses and “you be the peoples’ representative before God (“הֱיֵ֧ה אַתָּ֣ה לָעָ֗ם מ֚וּל הָֽאֱלֹהִ֔ים”) and you bring the disputes to God” (“וְהֵבֵאתָ֥ אַתָּ֛ה אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֖ים אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִֽים“). Because God was with Moses, he functioned as the designated member of the congregation of Israel in presenting disputes for God to resolve. Exodus 18:20 provides crucial information: then Moses would teach the congregation of Israel the statutes and the laws (“אֶת־הַחֻקִּ֖ים וְאֶת־הַתֹּורֹ֑ת“) and “make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do.” Notice that Moses played a crucial, dual role in the congregation of Israel regarding the statutes and the laws. As judge and representative of the congregation of Israel, Moses interacted with God and then taught the people of God the statutes and laws revealed by God. The revealed statutes and laws formed the basis for judgment. Moses implemented Jethro’s advice to select out of all the people (“מִכָּל־הָ֠עָם”) individuals meeting the following requirements: able men who: (a) fear God (“אַנְשֵׁי־חַ֜יִל יִרְאֵ֧י אֱלֹהִ֛ים“); and (b) men of truth (“אַנְשֵׁ֥י אֱמֶ֖ת“); and (c) hate unjust gain (“שֹׂ֣נְאֵי בָ֑צַע“). Notice that these judges were selected from the congregation of the sons of Israel. In Exodus 20-21 Moses received revelation from God directly related to the work of the judges. In Exodus 20:22 Yahweh gave Moses specific directions to deliver the message from Yahweh to the sons of Israel (“אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל“). In Exodus 21:1 Yahweh provided specific judgments (“הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים”) for Moses to set before the sons of Israel. In Exodus 22:8 we read that if a thief is not caught, then the owner of the house shall appear before the judges (“אֶל־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֑ים”) to determine guilt or innocence. In Exodus 22:9, both parties must come before the judges (“אֶל־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֑ים”); he whom the judges condemn (“יַרְשִׁיעֻן֙ אֱלֹהִ֔ים“) shall pay double to his neighbor. In this case the “elohim” render judgment (Hiphil third person plural). The plural verb associated with the “elohim” stands in contrast to the singular verbs used to describe the actions of God in Exodus 18:1, 23; 20:1, 19; 22:31. Therefore, the plural verb in connection with “elohim” means they were human judges, because every reference to God as judge occurred with a singular verb. Therefore, any claim that “elohim” never refers to humans must explain satisfactorily why the plain meaning of the Hebrew text In Exodus 22:9 should be ignored.
Reason Three: Sons of the Most High
In Psalm 82:6, God called the “elohim” sons of the Most High (“(בְנֵ֖י עֶלְיֹ֣ון”), not sons of elim (“בְנֵ֥י אֵלִים“). In Luke 6:35 the phrase “sons of the Most High” refers to human believers. Therefore, the only other use of the phrase “sons of the Most High” refers to humans, indicating that same term in Psalm 82:6 refers to humans also. God never equated the sons of the Most High (“בְנֵ֖י עֶלְיֹ֣ון”) with the sons of the God (“בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙“).
The phrase “sons of the God” (“בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙“) does not appear in the Psalms (I made decisions about translating בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙ as “sons of God”, “sons of the God” and “sons of the gods” based in part upon popular usage today.) Yet, similar phrases appear in some Psalms: Psalm 29:1 sons of elim (“בְּנֵ֣י אֵלִ֑ים”); Psalm 89:6 sons of elim (“בְּנֵ֣י אֵלִ֑ים”). In Daniel 3:25 the Aramaic text described a being in the fire “like a son of gods” (“לְבַר־אֱלָהִֽין”), apparently referring to a non-human. A textual variant in Deuteronomy 32:8 has “sons of God” in place of “sons of Israel.” In Hosea 1:10 the people of Israel will be called sons of the living God (“בְּנֵ֥י אֵֽל־חָֽי”), indicating that some humans are called sons of the living God. In Deuteronomy 14:1 the children of Israel are called “the sons to Yahweh your God (“בָּנִ֣ים לַֽיהוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֑ם”). Some proponents of the non-human view of the council of El equate the “sons of the God” (בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙) with the “sons of the Most High” (“בְנֵ֖י עֶלְיֹ֣ון”) in Psalm 82:6.
In the Old Testament the phrase “sons of the God” (“בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙”) only occurs four times. Each occurrence focused upon the actions of some group of “sons of the God,” but we do not know the full size of that group, all the actions of that group, or that group’s relationship to other groups. The phrase “sons of the God” (“בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙”) only occurs in Genesis 6:2,4 and Job 1:6, 2:1. In Genesis 6:2 the “sons of the God” (“בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙”) saw that the daughters of men (“אֶת־בְּנֹ֣ות הָֽאָדָ֔ם”) were beautiful. In Genesis 6:4 the Nephilim were on the earth in those days and the sons of the God (“בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙”) bore children with the daughters of the men (“אֶת־בְּנֹ֣ות הָֽאָדָ֔ם”). In Job 1:6 the sons of the God (“בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙”) presented themselves before Yahweh, and the satan came with them (“וַיָּבֹ֥וא גַֽם־הַשָּׂטָ֖ן בְּתֹוכָֽם”). In Job 2:1 the sons of the God (“בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙”) came to present themselves before Yahweh and, again, satan came also among them to present himself before Yahweh (“וַיָּבֹ֤וא גַֽם־הַשָּׂטָן֙ בְּתֹכָ֔ם לְהִתְיַצֵּ֖ב עַל־יְהוָֽה”). In all those instances in Job, the identity of the “sons of the God” remains indeterminate, because the text does not describe if all the “sons of the God” came to earth, or only some of them. Further, when the “sons of God” came to appear before Yahweh, the purpose for their appearance remains unclear and, again, we do not know if the term “sons of God” was all inclusive here.
Much speculation abounds where the actual evidence seems very limited. Further, just because satan appeared with the group of the “sons of the God” (“בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙”), some people have inferred “sons of the God” (“בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙”) are guilty of sin by association, but that actually amounts to speculation, because satan also appears in heaven with hosts of beings, not all evil. Regarding spirits going to the earth, the seven Spirits of God are sent out into all the earth (Revelation 5:6). The Hebrew text itself never links “sons of Most High” (“בְנֵ֖י עֶלְיֹ֣ון”) with the “sons of the God” (“בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙”). Any attempt to equate the “sons of Most High” (“בְנֵ֖י עֶלְיֹ֣ון”) with the “sons of the God” (“בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙”) would require compelling textual support, because of the very few instances those terms are used in the Old Testament. People tend to speculate when the text evidence does not support their views. In the case of the identity of the “sons of Most High” (“בְנֵ֖י עֶלְיֹ֣ון”) described in Psalm 82:6, we have more evidence to understand their identity in the New Testament.
In Luke 6:35, we read that humans following the commands of Christ will be sons of the Most High (“υἱοὶ ὑψίστου”). 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. Some people might want to argue dispensational, hermeneutical, or economic reasons for distinguishing Luke 6:35, but 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.
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). 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.
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 did 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.
Reason Four: Human Judges Appointed
In Deuteronomy 16:18-20, Yahweh outlined to Moses the procedure for establishing judges and officers in the towns which the “LORD your God” was giving to the people of Israel. Yahweh directed the people of Israel (humans) to appoint for themselves both judges and officers in their own towns, according to their tribes. Therefore, the presumption arises that the judges at issue in Psalm 82 are the human judges of Israel.
If someone wants to argue that some of the elohim in Psalm 82 cannot be human judges, then they must explain why Deuteronomy 16:19, describing human judges of Israel, does not apply in Psalm 82. The burden of proof rests upon proponents of the non-human view. The judges 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.” Some “elohim” in Psalm 82 render judgments with partiality to the wicked. The evil judges oppress the weak and fatherless. Some people also claim that (a) some “elohim” in Psalm 82 rule the nations, therefore (b) because the human judges of Israel never ruled or judged the nations, then (c) those “elohim” cannot be human judges of Israel.
Before anyone accepts the claim that the human judges of Israel cannot be some of the “elohim” at issue in Psalm 82 because the human judges of Israel never ruled the nations, 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. Some people may interpret Psalm 82 to mean that some “elohim” rule the nations, but Asaph did not explicitly say that some “elohim” rule the world. In Psalm 82:5 Asaph did write that the foundations of the world “are shaken.” The exact phrase “all the foundations of the earth” (“כָּל־מֹ֥וסְדֵי אָֽרֶץ“) occurs only in Psalm 82:5. Several other passages described the foundations of the earth (“מֹ֥וסְדֵי אָֽרֶץ“): Proverbs 8:29, Isaiah 24:18, and Jeremiah 31:37. Other passages describe God’s anger over the sin of Israel. In Deuteronomy 32:22, Yahweh described His anger over the idolatry of Israel as setting on fire the foundations of the mountains (“וַתְּלַהֵ֖ט מֹוסְדֵ֥י הָרִֽים“). In 2 Samuel 22:8 David described the anger of Yahweh: “the earth shook and quaked, the foundations of heaven were trembling, and were shaken, because He was angry” (“וַתְגָּעַשׁ וַתִּרְעַשׁ֙ הָאָ֔רֶץ מֹוסְדֹ֥ות הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם יִרְגָּ֑זוּ וַיִּֽתְגָּעֲשׁ֖וּ כִּֽי־חָ֥רָה לֹֽו”) (see also Psalm 18:7). Those passages provide proof that the sin of the humans of Israel produced anger in Yahweh that shook the earth (see also Haggai 2:21 and Hebrews 12:27). Therefore, the shaking of the foundations of the earth has a direct link to the anger of Yahweh over the sin of the people of Israel, invalidating any claim that the shaking of the earth necessarily excludes humans from being some of the “elohim” at issue in Psalm 82.
Some people claim that some “elohim” in Psalm 82 rule the nations. Asaph never made that explicit statement in Psalm 82. In fact, in Psalm 82:8, Asaph reiterated 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 17:31; 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). 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. One 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. Therefore, anyone claiming that the judges of Israel do not judge the “nations” must not overlook the theme of God judging the entire earth, beginning with Israel, and how that eschatology plays into Psalm 82:5-8.
Reason Five: Like Adam
In Psalm 82:6 God condemned some “elohim” to die like Adam (“כְּאָדָ֣ם”), indicating those “elohim” were, in fact, human judges of the “congregation of El.” Asaph described the fall of those “elohim” from their exalted positions in the “congregation of El” to death, just as the first man, Adam, died for his sin. The Hebrew text of Psalm 82:6 may be translated: “Nevertheless you will die like Adam and fall like one of the princes.”
God sentenced some “elohim” in Psalm 82 to die like Adam because they sinned against God. Because of the term “like Adam” (“כְּאָדָ֣ם”) in Psalm 82, we could well translate the verse “Nevertheless you will die like Adam and fall like any one of the princes.” 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.
The term “the princes” (“הַשָּׂרִ֣ים”) used in Psalm 82:7 always described human princes in the Old Testament, except Daniel’s description of “the prince of the kingdom of Persia stood opposite me,” referring to Michael, a chief prince (Daniel 10:13). The death of the prince of the kingdom of Persia is not at issue. In fact, we only know of the death of “princes” from all the other occurrences of the term “princes” in the Old Testament. Therefore, the comparison in Psalm 82:8 is death like one of the human princes of Israel. The main point is that the “elohim” die like human princes die, and the only princes who die in the Old Testament are humans, not non-humans like those in Daniel 10:13. Asaph appealed to humans like Adam, the first man, and the princes in their exalted positions, to describe the fall and death of the “elohim” in the congregation of El. The deaths of non-humans princes are not found in the Old Testament, which describes in detail the fall and death of many human princes for their sins. God holds humans in the highest positions fully accountable for their acts.
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.
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 Versions 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, such a translation perfectly fits the context of Psalm 82 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 that God imposed upon Adam and they fell like the princes.
Reason Six: The Demon Prophets Trap
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 and Pagan Theology. Anyone claiming that the Divine Council has strong ties to pagan religion must avoid the the demon prophets trap. The term “demon prophets” means humans speaking under the influence of demons. 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. 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.
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. Some people see similar words and similar theology in the Old Testament that correspond 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. Just as God commanded the people of Israel during the time of Moses to avoid embracing the religion and practices of the Canaanites, so also today we must avoid embracing the evils of Canaanite religion today. Do not let anyone mislead you into believing the ancient deceptions of the evil one. Search the Bible to examine the truth. Hold on to what is good.
Reason Seven: The Incarnation in John 10
People frequently misunderstand John 10. Jesus responded to a precise charge the Jews made against Him: “you, being a man, make yourself out to be God.” In responding to that precise indictment, Jesus did far more than prove He was God and One with the Father. Jesus also proved He was God like the Father and God took flesh and became a real man with real flesh, blood and bones, while remaining fully God. In short, Jesus proved and explained the incarnation of God. Jesus also revealed Trinitarian theology because He did not claim that the Father took flesh and dwelt among men, but Jesus the Son of God, One with God, took flesh and dwelt among men. At the same time, Jesus was really God like His Father, and really man with real flesh, bones and blood (without sin) like the people in the crowd around Him. Therefore, Jesus appealed to Psalm 82, “I said ‘You are gods,'” to prove His incarnation, not just to assert His deity. On the one hand, Jesus showed from Psalm 82 that God called some men “elohim,” but Jesus used that phrase to prove He was God who called those men “elohim.” On the other hand, Jesus also explained that the Father sanctified Jesus and sent Him into the world to take flesh and dwell among men. As Jesus dwelt among men, He lived in the glory of God, and His disciples saw His glory, the unique Son of God, full of grace and truth. Therefore, we may have closer a look at John 10 and the angry crowd.
In John 10:22-39, we see Jesus walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. There Jesus interacted with Jews and they requested that Jesus openly declare whether He was the Messiah. Jesus said He had already told them, and they did not believe. Jesus then explained that those Jews did not believe Him because they were not His sheep and could not hear His voice. Jesus revealed that He gave His sheep eternal life, and protected them with His hand. Then God the Father protected the sheep with His hand.
In John 10:30, Jesus declared to the crowd: “I and My Father are One.” Hearing that response, the Jewish crowd took up rocks to stone Him. Jesus had a marvelous way of dealing with life-threatening situations. Here, He asked a question to the crowd about to stone Him to death. The answer to that question framed a very clear exposition from Jesus Himself about the incarnation. Jesus also provided His own, divinely authoritative, interpretation of Psalm 82. Jesus told the crowd why they should drop their rocks to the ground and stop their attack upon His life. Yet, His words did not allay the fervor of the crowd to stone Him. Actually, He revealed truths to the angry crowd that only inflamed them further. Now we can look closely at that conversation Jesus had while the rock-holding crowd, already angered over His words, listened intently. The answers the Jews gave to the question of Jesus provided the vehicle for Him to reveal how God can be man. That incarnational truth explained Jesus Christ as Messiah.
In order to understand what Jesus said in John 10, you must first understand the Jewish indictment against Jesus. The Jews had no problems with the works of Jesus. The Jews charged Jesus with blasphemy because Jesus, “being a man, make yourself out to be God.” Jesus faced a mob bristling with anger, clutching stones, and ready to hurl them at Him with deadly intent. What would you say to that blood-thirsty crowd? Jesus had already revealed to them that He and His Father were One. Many people today misunderstand John 10, thinking that Jesus was only trying to prove His deity, that He is God and equal with the Father. Of course, Jesus is God, but Jesus had another great truth for the angry mob. Jesus used Psalm 82 to prove that God become flesh and brought the love of God, in full glory, to live among men.
This charge of blasphemy controls the passage here. We need to examine it more carefully. In the minds of those Jews, Jesus, being a man, ipso facto (because of that very fact), could not be God. So, those Jews thought Jesus blasphemed when He proclaimed that He was divine. Therefore, they focused their objection on His claim that He was God, and not on His works. Before we proceed, we must understand the binary problem at work in the hearts and minds of the Jews. These Jews were working from a binary (mutually exclusive) view: you are either God or man, but you cannot be both. Notice the phrase in John 10:33: “. . . You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” Please notice further that the Jews had just asked Jesus to tell them plainly if He claimed to be the Christ. Jesus replied that He had already told them (John 10:25). Jesus had begun to explain to this audience the truth that Messiah was both fully man and fully God, and that He was Messiah, the Son of God. In order to understand the true Messiah, these Jews must overcome their binary thinking about God and man.
In order to answer and refute their charge of blasphemy, Jesus quoted their own Scripture to them to prove He had not blasphemed by calling Himself One with the Father. In John 10:34, Jesus cited their own Law, “I SAID, ‘YOU ARE GODS’” (Psalm 82). In that Psalm, Elohim takes His stand in the midst of His congregation, and confronts the judges (“elohim”) of that congregation. The human judges of His congregation have been acting wickedly and God calls them to account. Then, God says in the first person, “I said, you are gods.” So, Jesus quoted the Psalm to prove the point that God called some men “elohim” (gods).
In John 10:35, Jesus explained that this statement “I said, you are gods” is Scripture, and Scripture cannot be broken. Therefore, Jesus declared that the “you” of that phrase “You are gods” were, in fact, “elohim.” At this point, Jesus had provided proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that men could be called “elohim,” and so He should not be stoned on the basis of their own Law (Psalm 82).
Jesus demonstrated to them that not only does the Scripture, which cannot be broken, prove that some men become gods (little “g” means men can be called “gods” (“elohim” in Psalm 82) not like Yahweh and in no sense divine), but God can become Man (big “M” means divine as Yahweh clothed with the real human flesh, while maintaining both a human nature and a divine nature, with neither nature commingled or confused).
In John 10:35, Jesus also indicated that the word of God came to the “gods” of Psalm 82 and John 10:34. Jesus also identified the Scripture as the word of God in John 10:35, referring back to “your Law” in John 10:34. Therefore, we know that the “gods” at issue in John 10:34 received the Law from God, which amounted to Scripture which cannot be broken. The Law was given to humans, the people of Israel, and it was intended for humans, to expose their sin, and their need for a Savior. God did not give help to angels, but to Christ, the descendant of Abraham (Hebrews 2:16). Therefore, John 10:36 identifies human Israel as the recipients of the “word of God,” “the Scripture which cannot be broken” (John 10:34) and such exegesis fits perfectly with Jesus describing “your Law” in John 10:34, also referring to human Israel as the recipients of “your Law.” In the alternative, some people may claim that Jesus limited the term “word of God” to the single phrase in Psalm 82 (“I SAID, YOU ARE GODS), as quoted by Jesus. Such a limit seems artificial in light of the phrase “your Law” in John 10:34 and the use of the term Scripture in John 10:35.
Jesus demonstrated to the Jews that the Most High God used the term “elohim” to describe some men whom God called “gods” and those men could call God their Father. Then, Jesus metaphorically turned the coin over and showed that not only can men be called “elohim,” but God had become Man, meaning the eternal God took true, mortal flesh and dwelt among men. (I understand that coin analogy has many imperfections). Jesus never intended to show that both sides of the coin are equal. Actually, Jesus showed that some men became “elohim” when Yahweh invested them to serve as His judges. God also called them sons of the Most High God. With this background of Psalm 82 now explained to the Jews standing before Him, Jesus then began to reveal the foreground of incarnational theology.
In the alternative to the “divine council” view of Psalm 82, the “elohim” in Psalm 82 are humans who served God as human judges, judging others in God’s human congregation (His people, the Jews), working the divine will, and so God declared them to be “elohim.” This interpretation drives straight to the heart of the objection of the Jews: you cannot be God and man. According to those Jews, you must be one or the other. Jesus just proved to them that God called some humans “elohim,” and those Jews must accept God’s own pronouncement concerning those humans, because the Word of God, the Scripture, the Law, cannot be broken. Moreover, in John 10:29, 30, 32, Jesus had referred to God as His Father. By doing so Jesus significantly alluded to the relationship of the “elohim” of Psalm 82 whom Asaph described as sons of the Most High. Therefore, Jesus has demonstrated that in Psalm 82 God calls some men “elohim” and then refers to those “elohim” as sons of the Most High. So, the “elohim” of Psalm 82 have a basis for referring to God as Father. Therefore, Jesus has just proven from the divine authority (the Law) of those Jews that they are incorrect to believe that you must be God or man–a man cannot be God. Jesus resolved their objection: “See Psalm 82. God called men ‘elohim.’” But, Jesus did not stop there. Jesus had a greater point to make.
Jesus proclaimed that God sent His Son (Jesus) into the world to take on flesh and live among men. God became a man, in contrast to how some men became “elohim.” Jesus had already proved from the word of God that some men became “elohim.” Jesus then showed how God become a Man. Jesus disclosed that the Father sanctified Jesus and sent Jesus into the world, as God in the flesh. Jesus described Himself as “Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, . . . ” (John 10:36).
Jesus explained incarnational theology here. I use the term “incarnational” to mean that God took flesh and eternal God became fully man, with both a divine nature and a human nature. Jesus was very God and very man at the same time. Jesus explained how God became a man. God first sanctified His Son, and then sent His Son into the world to take flesh, be a man, and live among men, just as the Jews standing before Him knew Jesus was truly a man. According to their binary, mutually exclusive view, Jesus was no doubt a real man, and, in their minds, that single fact that he was a man absolutely precluded Him from being God.
The crowd grew more angry over the revelations from Jesus and they still wanted to stone Him on the spot. Because His hour had not yet come, Jesus escaped the crowd. He left them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He had warned them to stop opposing Him as Messiah and encouraged them to understand He was truly God in the flesh. He proved those everlasting truths from Palm 82.
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?
Click Here: John 10:22-39
Psalm 82 │ Divine Council? │ Who Are the Elohim?
“I Said, ‘You Are Gods‘”