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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 82

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Psalms 82:0


Unjust Judgment RebukedMT IntroA Psalm of AsaphA Plea For JusticeLiturgy of the Lord's Judgment on pagan godsGod the Supreme RulerAgainst the Judge of the Nations
Psalms 82:1-4Psalms 82:1-4Psalms 82:1-4Psalms 82:1-4Psalms 82:1
Psalms 82:2-3
Psalms 82:4
Psalms 82:5-8Psalms 82:5Psalms 82:5Psalms 82:5-7Psalms 82:5-7
Psalms 82:6-7Psalms 82:6-7
Psalms 82:8Psalms 82:8Psalms 82:8Psalms 82:8

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. The real question about this Psalm is “to whom is it addressed”?

1. Israeli judges (Elohim used of Israeli judges, Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8-9; also note Targums and possibly Psalms 58:1)

2. pagan judges (NRSV and NJB readings possibly alluded to in Psalms 81:8) or pagan kings (NASB Study Bible, p. 825)

3. pagan gods (NET Bible, p. 953; AB, p. 268, using Ezekiel 28:1-10 as a parallel; and NIDOTTE, vol. 4, p. 216)

4. national angels (cf. Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 32:8, angels of the nations, cf. Daniel 10:13)

5. angels of the heavenly council (i.e., “sons of Elohim, cf. Psalms 8:5; Psalms 95:3; Psalms 96:4; Psalms 97:7; Psalms 138:1; Job 1:6; Job 38:7

B. The judgments of Elohim (i.e., the One) are contrasted with the judgments of elohim (i.e., judges or the angels). Psalms 82:7 demands angels!

C. Jesus uses this Psalm in John 10:31-38, in which He sees it as referring to human judges. I think Jesus is quoting Psalms 82:0 but alluding to Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8-9. His point is that “elohim” can be used in several senses!

The NASB Study Bible asserts that Jesus is using a known rabbinical interpretation to confound the charges against Him (p. 825).

D. It seems that the imagery of a Canaanite pantheon, which included an angelic assembly, is being used to assert YHWH's

1. moral character

2. universal reign

The OT often uses imagery from the ANE to communicate truth without affirming the reality of pagan mythology (i.e., [1] defeat of chaos, watery monsters, [2] tree of life; [3] actions and titles of Ba'al, etc.). Imagery communicates reality in ways so that fallen mankind can grasp the central truths! YHWH is much greater than humans can imagine and separation from Him is much worse!

It is difficult to know for sure what is ANE imagery and what is biblical, doctrinal truth. Westerners tend to be literalists whereas the Bible has a literary quality. Literal does not always adequately or accurately convey the original author's intent.

Verses 1-4

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 82:1-4 1God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers. 2How long will you judge unjustly And show partiality to the wicked? Selah. 3Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. 4Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.

Psalms 82:1 “God” This is the title Elohim (BDB 43, see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY). It is used twice in this verse and again in Psalms 82:6 and 8.

The general term El (BDB 42) is the common name for deity in the ANE.

“takes His stand” Here, this term (BDB 662, KB 714, Niphal participle) is used of Elohim (the One, using singular participle) taking the authoritative position (same term is used in the sense of “presiding over” in 1 Samuel 19:20) in “the congregation of El.” This refers to the heavenly council (cf. 1 Kings 22:19; 2 Chronicles 18:18; Job 1:6; Job 2:1), possibly made up of

1. worshiping angels

2. national angels, Deuteronomy 32:8; Psalms 89:5-8; Isaiah 6:1; Isaiah 24:19

3. servant angels, Job 38:7; Daniel 7:9-10

Psalms 82:2-4 these verses represent YHWH's revealed will in the Pentateuch (i.e., Genesis - Deuteronomy). YHWH is the speaker in Psalms 82:2-4.

1. show no partiality to the wicked (cf. Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17; Deuteronomy 16:19; this is because YHWH judges impartially, Deuteronomy 10:17)

2. vindicate the weak - BDB 1047, KB 1622, Qal imperative

3. vindicate the fatherless (implied imperative from #2, cf. Deuteronomy 24:17)

4. do justice to the afflicted - BDB 842, KB 1003, Hiphil imperative

5. do justice to the destitute - implied imperative from #4

6. rescue the weak - BDB 812, KB 930, Piel imperative

7. rescue the needy - implied imperative from #6

8. deliver them out of the hand of the wicked (ties back to Psalms 82:2b) - BDB 664, KB 717, Hiphil imperative

Human judges, even Israel's judges, acted unfairly in their judgments. Apparently they are influenced by the angelic rebellion and fall. Psalms 82:5-7 refers to inappropriate angelic actions and God's judgment of them (cf. Psalms 82:7a).

Psalms 82:2 There is an obvious contrast set up between the Elohim (i.e., the one true God) and the plural elohim (i.e., the angelic council). This implies that the national angels also ignored YHWH's covenant revelations to Israel, especially the powerless and needy of society. God loves human beings made in His image, all human beings!

“show partiality” This verb (BDB 669, KB 724, Qal imperfect) is literally “to lift the face.” It was a way to see if you recognized a person and accepted them (cf. Genesis 32:20; Job 42:8-9). However, for a judge it became an act of showing favor or partiality and was condemned (cf. Deuteronomy 1:17; Deuteronomy 16:19; Leviticus 19:15; Job 13:8; Job 32:21; Job 34:19; Proverbs 17:15; Proverbs 18:5; Proverbs 24:23; Proverbs 28:21).

“Selah” See notes at Psalms 3:2.

Verses 5-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 82:5-8 5They do not know nor do they understand; They walk about in darkness; All the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6I said, “You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. 7Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like any one of the princes.” 8Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations.

Psalms 82:5-8 This strophe cannot refer to humans but must refer to angels.

1. “all the foundations of the earth are shaken”

2. You are gods (i.e., elohim)

3. sons of the Most High (see Special Topic: The Sons of God [Genesis 6:0])

4. you will die like men

5. fall like one of the princes (“princes” used of national angels in Daniel 10:5, Daniel 10:20; but humans in Isaiah 3:13-14)

6. judge the earth. . .possess all the nations

Psalms 82:5 Those addressed by the Psalm are characterized as

1. they do not know

2. they do not understand

3. they walk in darkness

These, like Psalms 82:2-4, can refer to Israelis. This is why some commentators take “elohim” in Psalms 82:1b and 6a to refer to human judges (cf. Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8-9). I think the evidence of the Psalm as a whole points to national angels.

If Psalms 82:2-4 shows YHWH speaking, who is speaking in Psalms 82:5-7? It must be the psalmist himself as the first words of Psalms 82:6, Psalms 82:7, and 8 as a whole, seem to demand. However, it must be admitted that they could also reflect the words of YHWH Himself (UBS Handbook, p. 730).

“They walk about in darkness” The verb “walk about” (BDB 229, KB 246, Hithpael imperfect) denotes lifestyle action.

The “darkness” is a metaphor for evil or rejection of God's revelation. The concept is expressed in several idioms.

1. ways of darkness - Proverbs 2:13; Proverbs 4:19; Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 50:10; John 3:19-20

2. works of darkness - Job 24:13-17; Jeremiah 23:12

3. grope in darkness - Deuteronomy 28:29; Job 5:14; Job 12:25; Isaiah 59:9-10

4. call light darkness - Job 17:12; Isaiah 5:20

Spiritual, intentional blindness is a terrible thing. Both angels and humans purposefully choose not to see (cf. Isaiah 24:21)! They put out their own spiritual eyes!

“the foundations of the earth are shaken” This could be taken in two senses.

1. the moral foundations, cf. Psalms 11:3; Isaiah 24:7-13, esp. Isaiah 24:18

2. the physical foundations, cf. Psalms 93:1; Psalms 96:10; Psalms 104:5

Psalms 82:6 “sons of the Most High” See the Special Topic: The Sons of God, where I discuss the phrase in Genesis 6:0. I think it refers to angels there also.


Psalms 82:7 “fall” AB asserts this refers to falling into Sheol and uses Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:1-10 as examples (p. 270). Again, notice the confusion between an angel (i.e., Satan) and humans (i.e., king of Babylon and king of Tyre). There is mystery here! The OT is using imagery, analogy, and idioms in ways moderns do not fully understand. In the ANE there was no division between the spiritual realm and the physical realm.

Psalms 82:8 These last two Qal imperatives (“arise” and “judge”) have a universal focus. God is not only creator but also judge. He reigns over all creation (cf. Psalms 2:8; Revelation 11:15).

As Jesus functioned as YHWH's agent in creation (cf. John 1:3, John 1:10; Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2), He is also YHWH's agent in judgment (cf. John 5:22-23, John 5:27; John 9:39; Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5).

The last verb is a Qal imperfect, not a Qal imperative. It asserts that YHWH does possess, not should possess. It is a statement of truth!

If the angelic interpretation is true (and there is some doubt because of Jesus' usage in John 10:0), then the psalmist is praying that YHWH would defeat the pagan gods or national angels and set up His righteous system on all the earth as He originally intended in Eden (before the Fall, the flood and/or the tower of Babel). One day it will be so (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24-28)!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Explain the concept of a heavenly council. Is it made up of righteous or wicked angels?

2. Explain the two different usages of “elohim.”

3. List the elements in this Psalm that point toward “humans” and those that point toward “angels.”

4. What do we mean when we say God created a moral universe?

5. Do the psalmist and Jesus use Psalms 82:6 in the same way?

6. Who are “the princes” of Psalms 82:7?

7. Explain how the universal thrust of Psalms 82:8 fits the rest of the Psalm.

8. Does Scripture use ANE imagery and mythology?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Psalms 82". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/psalms-82.html. 2021.
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