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Psalm 82

Demoting earth’s blind guides

Behind all the voices clamoring for our loyalty stand the spiritual powers that rule earth’s peoples. Those authorities side with the powerful against the weak. But thankfully, God remains the judge of all.

An Asaph psalm.

1 God takes the floor in the divine assembly
to pronounce his judgment on the gods:

2 “How long will you judge unjustly
and rule in favor of the wicked?
3 Defend the vulnerable and the orphan
vindicate the destitute and afflicted.
4 Rescue the poor and needy
free them from the clutches of the wicked.
5 Ignorant and undiscerning
they wander about in the dark
while the earth is shaken to its foundations.
6 I declare that, though you are gods
all of you ruling like sons of the Most High
7 you’ll die like mere mortals
and fall like every other ruler does.”

8 Come and judge the earth, O God
for all the nations belong to you!

The Canaanites believed their high god El kept all the other gods in line by presiding over an annual council of the gods. The psalmist counters this assertion by picturing Israel’s God not just presiding over all the gods, but also turning the scene into a courtroom and demoting them to the level of mere humans.

While the Hebrew scriptures insist that YHWH alone deserves our worship, they don’t deny the existence of the surrounding nations’ gods, which the New Testament refers to as demonic powers and authorities. God’s judgment here also relates to the self-seeking human judges and leaders following the lead of these gods.

Acting as both prosecutor and judge, God indicts the offenders for siding with powerful oppressors against their victims. With skewed moral compasses, they withhold justice from the weak and vulnerable. They wander in the dark, as lost as the peoples they rule. Israel’s God alone challenges their honor-shame bias against the downtrodden. Destroying human community, the gods’ rampant injustice shakes earth to its foundations. Thus, God’s verdict is that these offenders will all fall from power and die like mere mortals.

Finding talk of demonic powers unpalatable, many Christians in the secular West accept the biblical teaching in theory but feel remote from it in practice. Yet the invisible battle is just as real as the visible one.

Our ongoing fight against evil is a desperate one because it’s a winner-takes-all contest. But its final outcome is already determined because, in his passion, Jesus disarmed the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Col. 2:15) to regain all the authority Adam lost. So, while we must fight with courage and stamina, we must also fight with faith in the one who fights for us, confident that he will yet reign over all the earth.

Thank you, Jesus, that you disarmed the evil powers bent on destroying your creation. I now fight in full confidence that I’m on the winning side, provided I follow your lead and fight in defence of the weak and the vulnerable. Give me your heart for the oppressed, Lord, I pray. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray this:

Come and judge the earth, O God
for all the nations belong to you!


Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.