Does Psalm 82 acknowledge that there are other deities with whom the Lord works and over whom He presides and rules?
Let me quote the two verses you seem to have in mind: “God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgments among the ‘gods’ ” (verse 1); * “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’ But you will die as mere men” (verse 6). The New International Version puts quotation marks around the word “gods” in order to distinguish them from the true God. Identifying those addressed by the Lord helps in gaining a better understanding of this psalm. Let’s look at the key issues.
1. The court is in session: Psalm 82 describes a judgment scene, and God is the presiding judge. The existence of a divine council where God sits in judgment and where decisions impact the lives of other creatures is biblical, as indicated by the stories of Micaiah (1 Kings 22:19-23) and Job (Job 1; 2; cf. Rev. 4; 5). This idea was also common among other ancient Near Eastern religions. In this psalm God is the judge (verse 8), and He is bringing to court the “gods” over whom He has unquestionable authority.
2. Legal charges are made: The “gods,” whoever they might be, are accused of two serious charges. First, they have not fulfilled their responsibility in preserving social justice but have rather protected the wicked and condemned the innocent (verse 2). Second, they are accused of blindness, that is, they lack the knowledge and wisdom to distinguish between what is right and wrong (verse 5). Consequently they are creating cosmic dissonance and instability (“All the foundations of the earth are shaken” [verse 5]).
3. Characteristics of the “gods”: Based on this psalm itself, we can say one thing about these powers: they are evil. They exist in the realm of darkness and lack true knowledge. Notice the phrase “They walk about in darkness” (verse), which expresses the idea of a permanent way of life. They exist in a state of rebellion against God’s established social order. Their lack of knowledge is not based on ignorance because the Lord told them what was expected from them (verses 3, 4); these “gods” are controlled by a spirit of rebellion.
Since the charges against the “gods” are of a social nature, one could conclude that in the subversion of justice they are working through the social institutions and through those placed there to enforce the laws. We have here a description of the powers who work behind the scenes in the social evils of our society and in the perversion of the legal system.
4. The use of the word “gods”: Now, back to the basic question—who are these “gods”? The word is used in the Old Testament in a variety of ways and not just to designate the true Israelite God or the gods of the pagan nations. Two of these usages are important in this case. First, it is used to refer to a representative of God. Moses stands in God’s place before Aaron and Pharaoh (Ex. 4:16; 7:1), and King David represents the Lord, who is the true king of Israel, before the people (Ps. 45:7). The judges of Israel also represented God as the one who, through them, judged the Israelites (e.g., Ex. 18:19; 1 Sam. 2:25; cf. Ps. 138:1; John 10:34-36).
The word is also used to designate spiritual powers from the underworld, the realm of the demonic. The spirit who came from the earth pretending to be Samuel is called a god by the sorcerer (1 Sam. 28:13; cf. Isa. 8:19). In the New Testament Paul seems to have these powers in mind when he says, “There are many ‘gods’ ” (1 Cor. 8:5), and in his use of the phrase “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4).
Psalm 82 is a vivid description of spiritual and human powers who now operate through our social institutions to pervert justice and oppress the poor and the innocent. In the heavenly council the evidence against the wicked and the wicked one will be presented, and they will be convicted by this majestic court (verse 6). The divine social and cosmic order will one day be reinstated.*Scripture references in this article are from the New International Version.