Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
God's Judgment upon the Gods of the Earth
As in Ps 81, so also in this Psalm (according to the Talmud the Tuesday Psalm of the Temple liturgy) God is introduced as speaking after the manner of the prophets. Psa 58:1-11 and 94 are similar, but more especially Isa 3:13-15. Asaph the seer beholds how God, reproving, correcting, and threatening, appears against the chiefs of the congregation of His people, who have perverted the splendour of majesty which He has put upon them into tyranny. It is perfectly characteristic of Asaph (Ps 50; Psa 75:1-10; Ps 81) to plunge himself into the contemplation of the divine judgment, and to introduce God as speaking. There is nothing to militate against the Psalm being written by Asaph, David's contemporary, except the determination not to allow to the לאסף of the inscription its most natural sense. Hupfeld, understanding "angels" by the elohim, as Bleek has done before him, inscribes the Psalm: "God's judgment upon unjust judges in heaven and upon earth." But the angels as such are nowhere called elohim in the Old Testament, although they might be so called; and their being judged here on account of unjust judging, Hupfeld himself says, is "an obscure point that is still to be cleared up." An interpretation which, like this, abandons the usage of the language in order to bring into existence a riddle that it cannot solve, condemns itself. At the same time the assertion of Hupfeld (of Knobel, Graf, and others), that in Exo 21:5; Exo 22:7., Ex 27,
(Note: In the English authorized version, Exo 21:6; Exo 22:8. ("judges"), Ex 28 ("gods," margin "judges") . - Tr.)
אלהים denotes God Himself, and not directly the authorities of the nation as being His earthly representatives, finds its most forcible refutation in the so-called and mortal elohim of this Psalm (cf. also Psa 45:7; Psa 58:2).
By reference to this Psalm Jesus proves to the Jews (Joh 10:34-36) that when He calls Himself the Son of God, He does not blaspheme God, by an argumentatio a minori ad majus. If the Law, so He argues, calls even those gods who are officially invested with this name by a declaration of the divine will promulgated in time (and the Scripture cannot surely, as in general, so also in this instance, be made invalid), then it cannot surely be blasphemy if He calls Himself the Son of God, whom not merely a divine utterance in this present time has called to this or to that worldly office after the image of God, but who with His whole life is ministering to the accomplishment of a work to which the Father had already sanctified Him when He came into the world. In connection with ἡγίασε one is reminded of the fact that those who are called elohim in the Psalm are censured on account of the unholiness of their conduct. The name does not originally belong to them, nor do they show themselves to be morally worthy of it. With ἡγίασε καὶ ἀπέστειλεν Jesus contrasts His divine sonship, prior to time, with theirs, which began only in this present time.
God comes forward and makes Himself heard first of all as censuring and admonishing. The "congregation of God" is, as in Num 27:17; Num 31:16; Jos 22:16., "the congregation of (the sons of) Israel," which God has purchased from among the nations (Psa 74:2), and upon which as its Lawgiver He has set His divine impress. The psalmist and seer sees Elohim standing in this congregation of God. The part. Niph. (as in Isa 3:13) denotes not so much the suddenness and unpreparedness, as, rather, the statue-like immobility and terrifying designfulness of His appearance. Within the range of the congregation of God this holds good of the elohim. The right over life and death, with which the administration of justice cannot dispense, is a prerogative of God. From the time of Gen 9:6, however, He has transferred the execution of this prerogative to mankind, and instituted in mankind an office wielding the sword of justice, which also exists in His theocratic congregation, but here has His positive law as the basis of its continuance and as the rule of its action. Everywhere among men, but here pre-eminently, those in authority are God's delegates and the bearers of His image, and therefore as His representatives are also themselves called elohim, "gods" (which the lxx in Exo 21:6 renders τὸ κριτήριον τοῦ Θεοῦ, and the Targums here, as in Exo 22:7-8, Exo 22:27 uniformly, דּיּניּא). The God who has conferred this exercise of power upon these subordinate elohim, without their resigning it of themselves, now sits in judgment in their midst. ישׁפּט of that which takes place before the mind's eye of the psalmist. How long, He asks, will ye judge unjustly? שׁפט עול is equivalent to עשׂה עול בּמּשׁפּט, Lev 19:15, Lev 19:35 (the opposite is שׁפט מישׁרים, Psa 58:2). How long will ye accept the countenance of the wicked, i.e., incline to accept, regard, favour the person of the wicked? The music, which here becomes forte, gives intensity to the terrible sternness (das Niederdonnernde) of the divine question, which seeks to bring the "gods" of the earth to their right mind. Then follow admonitions to do that which they have hitherto left undone. They are to cause the benefit of the administration of justice to tend to the advantage of the defenceless, of the destitute, and of the helpless, upon whom God the Lawgiver especially keeps His eye. The word רשׁ (ראשׁ), of which there is no evidence until within the time of David and Solomon, is synonymous with אביון. דל with ויתום is pointed דל, and with ואביון, on account of the closer notional union, דל (as in Psa 72:13). They are words which are frequently repeated in the prophets, foremost in Isaiah (Isa 1:17), with which is enjoined upon those invested with the dignity of the law, and with jurisdiction, justice towards those who cannot and will not themselves obtain their rights by violence.
What now follows in Psa 82:5 is not a parenthetical assertion of the inefficiency with which the divine correction rebounds from the judges and rulers. In connection with this way of taking Psa 82:5, the manner in which the divine language is continued in Psa 82:6 is harsh and unadjusted. God Himself speaks in Psa 82:5 of the judges, but reluctantly alienated from them; and confident of the futility of all attempts to make them better, He tells them their sentence in Psa 82:6. The verbs in Psa 82:5 are designedly without any object: complaint of the widest compass is made over their want of reason and understanding; and ידעו takes the perfect form in like manner to ἐγνώκασι, noverunt, cf. Psa 14:1; Isa 44:18. Thus, then, no result is to be expected from the divine admonition: they still go their ways in this state of mental darkness, and that, as the Hithpa. implies, stalking on in carnal security and self-complacency. The commands, however, which they transgress are the foundations (cf. Psa 11:3), as it were the shafts and pillars (Psa 75:4, cf. Pro 29:4), upon which rests the permanence of all earthly relationships with are appointed by creation and regulated by the Tτra. Their transgression makes the land, the earth, to totter physically and morally, and is the prelude of its overthrow. When the celestial Lord of the domain thinks upon this destruction which injustice and tyranny are bringing upon the earth, His wrath kindles, and He reminds the judges and rulers that it is His own free declaratory act which has clothed them with the god-like dignity which they bear. They are actually elohim, but not possessed of the right of self-government; there is a Most High (עליון) to whom they as sons are responsible. The idea that the appellation elohim, which they have given to themselves, is only sarcastically given back to them in Psa 82:1 (Ewald, Olshausen), is refuted by Psa 82:6, according to which they are really elohim by the grace of God. But if their practice is not an Amen to this name, then they shall be divested of the majesty which they have forfeited; they shall be divested of the prerogative of Israel, whose vocation and destiny they have belied. They shall die off כּאדם, like common men not rising in any degree above the mass (cf. בּני אדם, opp. בּני אישׁ, Psa 4:3; Psa 49:3); they shall fall like any one (Jdg 16:7, Oba 1:11) of the princes who in the course of history have been cast down by the judgment of God (Hos 7:7). Their divine office will not protect them. For although justitia civilis is far from being the righteousness that avails before God, yet injustitia civilis is in His sight the vilest abomination.
The poet closes with the prayer for the realization of that which he has beheld in spirit. He implored God Himself to sit in judgment (שׁפטה as in Lam 3:59), since judgment is so badly exercised upon the earth. All peoples are indeed His נחלה, He has an hereditary and proprietary right among (lxx and Vulgate according to Num 18:20, and frequently), or rather in (בּ as in משׁל בּ, instead of the accusative of the object, Zac 2:11), all nations (ἔθνη) - may He then be pleased to maintain it judicially. The inference drawn from this point backwards, that the Psalm is directed against the possessors of power among the Gentiles, is erroneous. Israel itself, in so far as it acts inconsistently with its theocratic character, belies its sanctified nationality, is a גוי like the גוים, and is put into the same category with these. The judgment over the world is also a judgment over the Israel that is become conformed to the world, and its God-estranged chiefs.