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Psalm of Tuesday: Psalm 82: The Celestial Court, Part One

A Psalm of Asaph.


The Lord

stands in the divine assembly;


among the divine beings

He pronounces judgment.

How long will you judge perversely,

showing favor to the wicked?

Judge the wretched and the orphan,

vindicate the lonely and the poor,

rescue the wretched and the needy;

save them from the hand of the wicked.

They neither know nor understand,

they go about in darkness;

all the foundations of the earth totter.

I had taken you for divine beings,

sons of the Most High, all of you;

but you shall die as men do,

fall like any Prince.

Arise, O Lord, judge the earth,

for all the nations are Your possession.

This Psalm is a vision of a celestial scene, much like that of the sixth chapter of Isaiah in which the prophet beheld the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne surrounded by angelic beings. It is a courtroom scene. The opening verse sets the tone:

“The Lord stands in the divine assembly;

among the divine beings He pronounces judgment.”

It is strange that the Hebrew employs the same term. “Elo-him” for “Lord” as for “divine beings.”

God is “standing” amidst a celestial assembly. The prophet Micaiah, sees, “God seated upon Hiss throne, with all the host of heaven standing in attendance to the right and to the left of Him (I Kings 22:19).” The Book of Job features two such heavenly sessions when, “the divine beings presented themselves before God.” In that same book, Eliphaz the Temanite, one of the hero’s friends, asks Job, “Have you listened in on the counsel of the Lord?” Jeremiah similarly refers to standing “in the counsel of God.” In Psalm 89 there is mention of “the Council of holy beings.” It is clear that King David pictures to himself, in this Psalm, an assembly of heavenly beings presided over by God.

There is another strange aspect of the opening verse: God is represented as standing, whereas judges are always described as sitting. When Jethro, the Midianite priest, observes Moshe acting in the capacity of magistrate, he found him seated; Deborah used to sit under a palm tree administering justice; Isaiah refers to “the One Who sits in judgment”; Joel declares that in the future time God “will sit in judgment on all the nations”; King David has God “seated on a throne as righteous judge,” for “He has set up His throne for judgment,” and he declares that the thrones of judgment of the house of David are placed in Jerusalem; finally, the Book of Proverbs speaks of the “the king seated on the throne of judgment.”

If the sitting posture is the norm for a judge, why does our Psalm portray God in a standing position? The answer must be that as the Psalm opens, it is after the legal proceedings are over, and it remains only to pronounce the sentence. God “stands” or “rises” to do this because His word inherently carries with it the absolute certainty of fulfillment, and the terms of “standing up” or “rising” express imminent action. That is why in the Psalms God is so frequently called upon “to arise,” that is, to execute judgment, as here in verse eight.

The corruption of the judicial system and the decay of social morality prompt God to intervene and convoke the celestial court.

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