I may have heard more confusion, bad preaching, and even heresy based on Psalm 82 than almost any other passage! Most of the confusion comes from just verses 1 and 6, but if we read the entire psalm, I think confusions are quickly cleared up.
The biggest point of confusion is the use of the word “gods.” The Hebrew language doesn’t have capital and lowercase letters like we do. So the word God (with or without a capital “G”) is the same Hebrew word—el (singular) or elohiym (plural)—which means mighty One or mighty ones. Humans can be mighty ones, but only Yahweh is the Mighty One.
Further adding to the confusion for some people is that Yahweh God is sometimes referred to in the plural in Hebrew: elohiym. This is understandable because we believe God is Three-in-One. Not three gods, but one God in three Persons.
Bible translators have to use context clues to determine whether the biblical authors are referring to Yahweh or a pretend deity. Thankfully, English Bible translators have helped us out:
- when the Hebrew word is Yahweh, most Bibles print it LORD
- when the Mighty One is implied in the text it’s God (with a capital “G”), and when it’s just a mighty person it’s typed god/gods (with lowercase a “g”).
- the NIV translators really helped us in Psalm 82 by designating the false deities in quotation marks (“gods”), almost as if they’re saying “the so-called gods.”
When we were looking at the Selah in Psalm 81, I pointed out the importance of remembering that context is king. Clearly, from the context in Psalm 82, these are false gods (lowercase “g” and inside quotation marks).
Asaph only speaks in the first and last verses of this psalm, but notice his commentary that “God presides…He gives judgment.” As in, God gets the final and decisive word. In fact, God does the most speaking in this psalm (in verses 2-7). God indicts wicked people for…
- defending the unjust
- showing partiality to the wicked
- knowing nothing, understanding nothing, walking around in darkness
- and notes “you will die like mere men”
Now notice what the Selah pause connects. This is a pause for us to contrast two things: the righteous way and the wicked way. Or maybe we could say the contrast is between the way of the righteous Mighty One and His followers, and the way of wicked mighty ones.
The Selah really begs an important question, “How long will your pride keep you doing these wicked things?” Notice what God calls on people to do in opposition to what the wicked are doing:
- the wicked defend the unjust vs. the righteous are to defend the weak and fatherless
- the wicked show partiality to the wicked vs. the righteous maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed
- the wicked are concerned only about themselves vs. the righteous rescue the weak and needy from the hand of the wicked
The Selah is intended to prompt us to ask ourselves: “Which are we? What am I doing or not doing?”
The word for rendering a judgment is used four times in Psalm 82:
- God gives judgment on the activities of the “gods”
- the wicked defend the unjust, meaning that they condone their unjust activities
- the righteous defend the weak, meaning they speak up for those being oppressed by the “gods”
- finally, Asaph declares in verse 8 that God renders the final and decisive judgement
God wants us to exercise His righteous judgment on the earth. We have to Selah to examine ourselves first (see Matthew 7:1-5 and this short video), but then we need to act boldly and righteously (see Micah 6:8; Leviticus 5:1; Proverbs 31:8-9).
We can judge like we are “gods,” or we can judge, defend, and speak up like ambassadors of the Mighty One—the Ultimate Judge.
Wicked people are punished for judging like “gods.” Righteous people are rewarded for judging like God.
If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series exploring the Selahs in the Psalms, you can access the full list by clicking here.