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The council of the gods

Psalm 82:1 (ESV) … “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment…”

The opening sentence of this psalm immediately raises questions for the modern reader. What is going on here? Where is this council being held? Who are these gods?

This psalm picks up on the notion of the “council of the gods” or “divine council,” known from ancient texts outside the Bible as well as from the Bible itself. One of the best examples of this notion is found in Isaiah 6. The prophet indicates that he had a vision of the Lord on a throne (“I saw the Lord …,” Isa. 6:1) and then goes on to describe what he saw and heard in this vision. He saw the Lord, sitting on a throne, with heavenly beings surrounding and waiting on God (Isa. 6:2). These creatures were singing; the thresholds of the temple were shaking; the place was filled with the smoke of incense. Then one of the creatures took a burning coal from the temple altar, touched Isaiah’s mouth, pronounced his sins forgiven, and asked for volunteers for a mission (vv. 6–8). For Isaiah, this was the call to his life’s work as a prophet.

Another biblical example is provided in 1 Kings 22:19–23. This time the prophet Micaiah describes a similar vision of the Lord sitting on a throne, again with heavenly beings, “standing beside him to the right and to the left of him.” The Lord asks for volunteers for a mission, and once again, one of the heavenly beings volunteers.

The story of Job begins with a report of discussions going on among the “heavenly beings” before the Lord (Job 1:6–12; 2:1–6). Finally, Isaiah 3:13–15 reports another look into the heavenly courtroom, where the Lord is standing up to file a legal complaint (see also Jer. 23:18–22).

Psalm 82 is yet another of these vision reports, telling of a court procedure involving God and divine creatures or gods, about to be held in this divine assembly.[1]

Since God is the Lawgiver, He is also the Judge (Isa. 33:22), and the Judge of all the earth does what is right (Gen. 18:25). He presides over the congregation of Israel and over the judges of the nation. The Lord is not sitting at a bench, patiently listening to the presentation of the case, because God is Judge and jury and needs nobody to tell Him the facts. He knows what people are doing on the earth and will execute judgment righteously (11:4–7). In His court, there is no “defense” or “appeal.” He is omniscient and His verdict is final. It is an awesome occasion: He is standing and about to announce His decision (Isa. 3:13–15).

The “gods” (vv. 1, 6) are not the false gods of the heathen, for such nonexistent gods are not Jehovah’s judicial representatives on earth. Nor are these “gods” the holy angels, for angels cannot die (v. 7). These “gods” (elohim) are people who have been given the awesome responsibility of representing the Lord on earth and interpreting and applying His Law (Ex. 18:13–17; 21:6; Deut. 16:18–20; 17:2–13; 19:15–20; 21:2). Jesus made this clear in His quotation of verse 6 in John 10:34–36. It is a great responsibility to represent the Lord on earth (Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:17; 16:19) and seek to execute justice by applying the law correctly. Civil servants are “ministers of the Lord” and will answer to Him for what they have done (Rom. 13).[2]

[1] Limburg, J. (2000). Psalms. (P. D. Miller & D. L. Bartlett, Eds.) (pp. 278–279). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. [2] Wiersbe, W. W. (2004). Be worshipful (1st ed., p. 267). Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries.

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