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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 82

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



This psalm is misunderstood by some to be, “A denunciation of the angels whom God had put in charge of the earth,”(F1) a position that was advocated by Professor Cheyne, who cited Daniel 10:13-21 and Daniel 12:1 as supporting the notion that angels have charge of earthly affairs. However, in the first reference, Michael the archangel is called, not a ruler, but “a helper”; and Daniel 12:1 says nothing that is inconsistent with the statement in Hebrews that all of God’s angels are “ministering spirits,” that is, serving spirits, “Sent forth to do service for them that shall inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14).

All authority in heaven and upon earth belongs to Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20); and that leaves none at all for angels, except in a very limited and secondary sense, as they are assigned to do many things for the benefit of God’s children. Our commentaries on Daniel and Hebrews, Under the references cited here, carry full discussions of all the questions raised by these passages.

The verse within this psalm which triggers such speculations as that of Cheyne is Psalms 82:6:

“I said, Ye are gods,
And all of you sons of the Most High.” (Psalms 82:6)

The incorrect notion that “sons of God” is a reference to angels is based upon a misinterpretation of Genesis 6:2; but there are no less than seven reasons why the “sons of God,” mentioned in Genesis 6:2 cannot possibly be “angels.” An enumeration of these reasons is given in our commentary on Genesis (Vol. I of the Pentateuchal Series), pp. 98, 99.

Could we be wrong about this? Absolutely not! For Christ himself told us who the “gods” and “sons of God” in Psalms 82:6 really were.

Jesus answered them, Is it not written… I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods unto whom the Word of God came (and the scripture cannot be broken), how say ye of him… whom the Father sent into the world, Thou blasphemest, because I said, I am the Son of God? (John 10:34-36)

Christ in this passage quoted the 6th verse of this psalm (Psalms 82:6), identifying the “gods” and “sons of God” (the Most High) in our passage here as the persons who had received God’s law. They were not angels, but human judges, whose wickedness is so severely denounced in this psalm.

Like Maclaren, we accept our Lord’s reference to Psalms 82:6 in John 10:34 ff “As authoritatively settling both the meaning and the ground of the remarkable name `gods’ for human judges.”(F2) As McCaw stated it, “`Gods’ here means, `you sit in God’s place, exercising judgment.’“(F3)

The gross error of some scholars in not catching on to what “gods” in Psalms 82:6 really means is due to only one thing, namely, their lack of knowledge of the New Testament. As we have frequently noted, nobody can really understand the Old Testament without a thorough knowledge of the New Testament. An apostle said as much in 2 Corinthians 3:12-16.

There are, to be sure, many suggestions as to the date; but Rawlinson’s conclusion is as dependable as any that we know.

The writer of this psalm may well have been the Asaph of David’s time. It consists of an exordium (Psalms 82:1), denunciations (Psalms 82:2-7), and a conclusion (Psalms 82:8).

Verse 1


“God standeth in the congregation of God; He judgeth among the gods.”

“The gods” of this verse are the same as those of Psalms 82:6, below; and “God’s standing in the congregation of God” is a reference to God’s presence among his people on earth, that is, the Israelites, the special purpose of his presence among them being that of warning and denouncing the evil judges, upon whom so much of the blame for the tragedy of Israel rested.

Verses 2-7


“How long will ye judge unjustly, And respect the persons of the wicked? (Selah) Judge the poor and fatherless: Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the poor and needy: Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked. They know not, neither do they understand; They walk to and fro in darkness: All the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, Ye are gods, And all of you sons of the Most High. Nevertheless, ye shall die like men, And fall like one of the princes.”

“How long will ye judge unjustly” “These judges are not evil angels, who in later Judaism were regarded as guardians of the nations.”(F4) Who were they? They were the ones to whom God gave the Law of Moses, i.e. the Israelites (See John 10:34 ff), particularly the wicked judges upon whom this chapter is focused.

“Judge the poor… fatherless… afflicted… destitute, and deliver them out of the hand of the wicked” Many are the Biblical denunciations of Israel’s wicked judges. Zephaniah 3:3 refers to those judges as “evening wolves”; and Amos repeatedly stated that they would sell the poor “for a pair of shoes” (Amos 2:6; Amos 8:6). Furthermore, those prophets were not speaking of “angels” but of the corrupt judges of the chosen people. Those who are familiar with the sordid record cannot be surprised that Jesus founded one of his parables upon the “Unjust Judge.”

“They know not… neither understand… but walk in darkness” This is the statement of God regarding the scandalous judges of Israel. Their ignorance and lack of understanding in view here were in no sense innocent, but willful. As Christ himself explained it, “Their eyes they have closed and their ears they have stopped, lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts, and should turn again and I should heal them” (Acts 18:26-27).

“All the foundations of the earth are shaken” This simply means that with a corrupt judiciary, Israel’s foundation as a nation was already in a very precarious condition. No nation can long survive when the judiciary becomes corrupt.

See the chapter introduction for a full discussion of Psalms 82:6.

“Nevertheless, ye shall die like men, And fall like one of the princes.” (Psalms 82:7)

“Ye shall die like men.” This is an unfortunate rendition, because it seems to say that “the angels” alleged to be spoken of here shall even die like human beings die. “The death here is evidently a penalty impending upon these unjust judges from God himself. Though exalted in their position, they were not divine, but human.”(F5)

To paraphrase this verse, “You shall certainly die just like all other mortals die.”

“This verse contrasts the purely human fate of the unjust judges with the superhuman dignity of their calling.”(F6)

This mention of death to the unjust judges forbids the notion that angels are addressed; because, the angels of God are not subject to death, except in the case of the fallen angels who followed Satan; and that death will be eternal punishment, not ordinary death.

Verse 8


“Arise, O God, judge the earth; For thou shalt inherit all the nations.”

In these words, we have a petition by the psalmist, God’s message to the false judges having been just concluded by the sentence of death pronounced upon them by God, with the strong intimation that their death would be by providential action upon God’s part to remove them.

The psalmist here seems to have been one of those Israelites mentioned by the prophet Amos 5:18-20. Such persons were always calling for God to “Arise and bring on the Judgment Day.” As Amos so thoroughly explained, the Judgment Day would be a day of sorrow rather than a day of joy for the vast majority of mankind.

Many of the ancient Jews, however, believed that the Day of Judgment would be a time when God would suddenly appear, kill all the Gentiles, or reduce them to slavery under the Jews, and commit the management of the whole world to “the chosen people.” Amos did his best to destroy that conception, but, nevertheless, the attitude persisted; and it appears to us that there remains some residue of it in this concluding verse. (See our comment on this in Vol. 1 of the minor prophets Series, under Amos, 5:18.)

It might have been this possible meaning of verse 8 that led Briggs to label the verse as a gloss.(F7) However, there is no necessity whatever to deny the verse as a true statement by the psalmist, regardless of its implications.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 82". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/psalms-82.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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