Psalm 82(ESV) — A Psalm of Asaph. God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!
In the Bible we read that God said to Job,
Job 38:6-7 (CSB) — What supports [the earth’s] foundations? Or who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars sangtogether and all the sons of God shoutedfor joy?
This is a story about the beginning when God created everything. The Lord said that whileHe was creating everything, there were mornings stars who sang and songs of God who shouted for joy.
Who do you think the morning stars and the sons of God are?
Sons of God and Morning Stars are both references to angels and other divine beings. Obviously sons of God can’t mean humans, because this happened during creation, before humans were made.
It’s not that God was alone when he created the world. He had a first creation; a divine creation. And those divine beings watched in awe and wonder as God created all things.
Can you imagine there being absolute nothing? It would be like being in the darkest part of space with no stars or suns. Can you imagine how amazing it would be to watch God make the world and the stars and the sun and the moon and all the things that God made on the earth? These angels and other beings got to see that.
This is the picture of creation. God has hosts—or multitudes—of spiritual creatures who live with him in the heavens.
Who are these divine beings though?
Dr. Mike Heiser explains:
We might think of them as angels, but that wouldn’t be quite correct. The unseen world has a hierarchy, something reflected in such terms as archangelversus angel.
That hierarchy is sometimes difficult for us to discern in the Old Testament, since we aren’t accustomed to viewing the unseen world like a dynastic household, as an Israelite would have processed certain terms used to describe the hierarchy. In the ancient Semitic world, sons of Godis a phrase used to identify divine beings with higher-level responsibilities or jurisdictions. The term angeldescribes an important but still lesser task: delivering messages.
There is a hierarchy set for the divine beings, much like a military would have generals, commanders, and so on.
So, it’s no surprise that the divine beings are often referred to as the heavenly hostand God is often referred to as the Lord of hostsin the scriptures. The word host is an kind of an old word that means either multitudes or armies. God has a heavenly army and He is the Lord of armies. He is at the top of the hierarchy of His divine creation.
So, let’s go to our passage for today. We’re just going to work through each of four primary statement in the text. The Psalmist wrote,
God, the all-mighty creator of the universe, who is the commander of the heavenly armies, takes his place in the divine council.
What, in the heavens, is a Divine Council?—pun intended
It was common in the ancient world for Kings to have advisory councils that help the King to make decisions. There are so many decisions that have to be made in a Kingdom that it is impossible for a King to do all of the research and all of the consideration himself.
So, he employs a council that convenes to consider the best course of action for the Kingdom. Then that council goes to the King and says, “Here’s what we think we should do.” And then the King signs off on their decision or decides on something else. He makes the ultimate decision.
So, when it says that God takes His place in the divine council, the Psalmist is saying that God is the King, that’s His place, but God has a council that convenes to help God make decisions—although in this case they are meeting for another reason.
One of the clearest divine council images comes from the book of Kings. The divine council met to determine how to end a war between the nations of Israel and Aram. Here’s the story:
1 Kings 22:19–22 (CSB) — …I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and the whole heavenly army was standing by him at his right hand and at his left hand. And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to march up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ So one was saying this and another was saying that. “Then a spirit came forward, stood in the Lord’s presence, and said, ‘I will entice him.’ “The Lord asked him, ‘How?’ “He said, ‘I will go and become a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ “Then he said, ‘You will certainly entice him and prevail. Go and do that.’
You can see clearly in this passage that the Lord allowed the divine council to help make this decision.
The idea of a divine council sounded really weird to me the first time I considered it.
Why does God need a council? Isn’t he God? Can’t he handle the workload as an infinitely powerful and wise being?
We will talk about that more in the end, but the answer is yes. God can, however, he chooses to work through the beings He created—both divine and human—rather than do everything Himself. It’s part of His plan and His purposes.
So, our passage today gives us another setting of the divine council where it appears there are only top tier rulers present. It’s not like the story in Kings where the whole army was there; it’s just the top guys.
The Psalmist continued,
I want to talk about gods for a moment. We’re used to reading the Bible and when we come across the word gods, we read it as if there is an asterisk next to it that says, “Not a real god.” But, if you read the Bible it’s pretty clear that the ancient reader certainly did believe in many gods.
Consider this passage. Moses wrote,
Deuteronomy 10:17 (CSB) —The Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awe-inspiring God.
It’s completely meaningless to say that God is a God of gods if there are no other gods to compare Him to. He is not the a better God than nothing. He is a better God than all other gods and a better Lord than all other lords. That’s the only way this statement makes sense.
But, wait? Haven’t we always been told that there is only one god?
What’s interesting is that if you were to go back in time and ask an ancient Israelite if they believe there was one God, they would say yes. There is one God. But, if you then asked them if they believed in other gods, they would decidedly have answered, yes, as well. In the mind of the ancient Israelite—at least a faithful one—there are gods that the nations worship. But, none is like their God, none is like the Lord. He is the God of gods. There are gods, but the gods of the nations are not like the one true God.
So, if the gods are not like the one true God, then who and what are they?
I think the next verse is telling. The Psalmist wrote,
Psalm 82:2 (ESV) —“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?
God is sitting in His divine council with the ‘gods’ around him and he is concerned about two behaviors.
First, they are judging unjustly. And second, they are showing partiality to the wicked.
Notice the inferences. God has given these so-called gods the authority to judge, but they are not judging justly. Further, God has given these gods the power to bless and to curse, but they choose to bless the wicked not the righteous. They have power and authority, but they are not representing God well with it.
But, where did these gods come from?
Deuteronomy 32 is helpful on this point.
Deuteronomy 32:8 (ESV) —When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.
This is a reference to the tower of Babel, when God divided the people into nations and confused their languages so that they would spread across the globe, God, the Most High, divided the lands of the earth according to the number of the sons of God, who we already said are the divine beings, the gods. In other words, God appointed these divine beings as gods at the time that he established the nations. And He did so to oversee them, that they would rule justly.
If you go to the tower of Babel story in Genesis 9 and 10, you can count the nations of the world and see that there were 70 nations at that time, which means—to catch you up—on God’s divine counsel there are 70 gods.
These gods had power over their nations much like a governor. They were suppose to be overseers or watchers as they are referred to in the book of Daniel, chapter 4. But, that’s not what they did; they didn’t watch over the nations on behalf of God. Instead, they set themselves up as supreme gods over the nations and, as Jewish tradition holds, they began to accept worship for themselves and thus brought themselves under the judgment of the Most High God.
If you’re like me, you are very uncomfortable with this conversation at this point. You always believed there was only one God and here you see pretty clearly that the scriptures speak of other gods that are not just empty idols, but very real divine beings. Still, you can’t miss that these gods are not gods like God is God.
I think the concern lies in the interpretation of the Hebrew word for God.
In the Hebrew language, the word for God is elohim. Elohim can be translated as God (capitial G) or gods (lower-case g), but can also be translated a number of other ways: goddess, judge, shrine, idol.
In it’s most common usage, it seems that the word elohimis a term used to identify any spiritual or divine being. That would include God, but could mean any other part of God’s divine creation. Jesus said,
John 4:24 (ESV) —God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
God is spirit so elohim can be used for God. But, God is not the only spiritual being. As we already discussed, there are multitudes of other spiritual beings that God created and elohimcan refer to those beings as well. So it’s a bit of a broad term.
The concern is that it sounds like we are saying there are many gods in the sense of polytheistic religions. We get a picture of Greek mythology in which any god could fight to the top and become the supreme god. But, if you understand what the word elohim means, you can believe that there are many elohim in the world and still maintain that there is only one True God, one Most High God. In other words, we can believe in spiritual beings that rule on the earth as gods without worshipping them as the Most High.
That is actually what the Apostle Paul tells us in the New Testament where he referenced Psalm 82, our passage for today.
1 Corinthians 8:5–6 (NASB95) — For even if there are so-called godswhether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.
Paul picks up on the weirdness of calling these spiritual beings gods. That’s why he calls them so-called gods. He knows they are not the Most High God even though God has given them responsibility to rule the nations. But, Paul doesn’t want you to believe that these gods are not significant powers or that they are not in some ways still gods. That’s why he says, ‘indeed there are many gods.’
He then continues to clarify that ‘for us there is only one God; it is the God who created all things and the God we exist to serve.’
So, there are gods. We need to use that term because that’s the term that comes through in the translation of the scriptures. But, we are not polytheists, because we do not worship these gods, nor do we recognize them as being gods in the same way that God is God. There is only one God who existed before all things and that is the God we worship. We don’t worship the lowercase-g gods that were created to watch over the nations.
The Psalmist borrowed some language from Moses who calls these beings the sons of God. He continues,
This text makes it very clear that, at least in some sense, these divine beings who rule over the nations of the earth, and who are gathered in God’s divine council, are gods. It just doesn’t get any clearer than, ‘You are gods.’ I think we need to take that statement for what it is, especially with what we just read in 1 Corinthians, ‘Indeed there are many gods.’
Also, the sons of god reference becomes clear here. He clearly ties the gods of the nations to the phrase sons of God, although he says it a little different. I actually like what the Psalmist does with this. He knew how confusing it was to talk about God and gods, so he clarified by calling God the Most High. He builds a contrast into the passage so that we understand that the Psalmist in no way intends to convey the idea that there are gods who are equal with God. No, there are gods, but there is none like our God; He is the most High God.
The gods are not gods in the same way that God is God, because they are sons. They came after God. They are part of His creation, designed to perform God’s works in the world. But these gods, as we already saw, they didn’t rule in justice and they favored wicked people and wicked behaviors. We will talk about the fallout of their rulership next week, but for now, let’s look at the punishment they recieved for their failure to rule justly on God’s behalf.
Concluding our text, the Lord said,
This is the judgment that the gods undergo because they didn’t watch over the nations, but instead ruled unjustly and favored the wicked.
There’s a couple of really interesting things that this verse says. First of all it suggests that divine beings don’t die in the same sense that humans do. But, it also tells us the reason that we don’t seem to have gods over nations today. It seems that those who were placed over the nations, no longer have authority over those nations because they have fallen.
So, what does it mean that they will die like humans? How exactly do humans die?
Humans are flesh and spirit. We have two parts. The gods are just spirit. So, to answer this question, we need to look back to the Old Testament. They believed that when a person died, the body went into the grave and the Spirit went to the realm where God is—the unseen realm. And that could be a good or a bad thing depending on if you were in God’s favor or not. So, what this is referring to, when it says they will die like men, is the consequence that follows death. These gods will have to deal with immanent judgment—again we will talk about what that judgment is next week.
The second part of this is that they will fall like princes.
How do princes fall?
Princes fall by losing their power over their Kingdoms. That’s probably the reason that we don’t perceive the gods over the nations any longer. They no longer have power. They have fallen like princes and have no authority on the earth any longer.
If I could recap all that I just said, I would simply say this. The gods of the ancient world are very real gods that were created to watch over the nations, but were disobedient to God. Those gods and other divine beings made up a divine council that God uses to make decisions upon the earth—again, not because He has to, but because He wants to. That’s all there in this text.
And this is all fun Bible geek stuff to talk about, but…
Who cares? Why believe in the gods? Why believe that God has a divine council? How can these concepts possibly help my faith in Jesus and my understanding of God’s purposes?
Well, believe it or not, these concepts are a huge part of New Testament theology. God chooses to rule through divine beings. But, God chooses to rule through human beings as well. Remember the charge given to Adam in the Garden,
Genesis 1:28 (ESV) —And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, andhave dominionover the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Dominion is ruling language. The original purpose of humans was to be builders and watchers or overseers of God’s creation.
Did God need us?
No, but He decided to use us as humans.
In the New Testament the rulership language comes through clear also.
Side note: the angels referred to there are the sons of God we have been talking about this whole time.
The New Testament affirms that the purpose of humanity is to rule and to judge with Christ on behalf of God the Father, the Most High. Like the gods failed to rule faithfully as members of God’s divine council, we will eternally rule under God in righteousness. The church is the future of God’s divine council.
But, if you think about it, because we didn’t do anything to deserve any of that. We deserve eternity in the abyss with the gods of the nations.
And that’s where Jesus comes into play.
Remember the gods were called sons of God. The first sons of God failed to direct the nations to worship the Most High God. But, Jesus came and perfectly fulfilled the will of the Most High. In every way Jesus honored His Father in heaven. In every way Jesus was obedient, never to sin, never to commit any act of injustice; always healing, always feeding, always building up.
Jesus is the greater son of God and through Jesus, we also receive the right to be called sons of God.
John 1:12 (ESV) —But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
If you believe in Jesus, the son of God and if you have recieved Him, then you are a child of God. You too are sons of God, members of the divine family. The original sons of God failed, but in Christ you persevere to the end as sons of God.
And that means that you are princes in God’s eternal Kingdom.
The gods had to die like men—which meant eternal judgment. But, Jesus died so that we don’t have to die. And again that doesn’t mean physical death. It means eternal judgment. We escape the wrath of God that the gods of the nations have to receive because Jesus has taken that judgment on our behalf.
If you were here last week you will remember this verse:
Jude 6 (ESV) — And the angels [sons of God] who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.
This is about the gods. They are chained in gloomy darkness because they failed to rule as God required them to rule (and they did other things too, but that’s next week.) Because of sin, humans are doomed to the same exact penalty—exile to gloomy darkness. But, if you have recieved Christ and believe in His name, then you don’t fear the gloomy darkness. Jesus already went there on your behalf. The Apostle Peter said,
1 Peter 3:18–20 (ESV) — For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits [sons of God] in prison, because they formerly did not obey…
When Jesus died he descended to the abyss, the gloomy darkness where the gods who disobeyed were in prison. Jesus did that so that we do not have to go there. He went on our behalf. In a sense, Jesus went to hell so that we don’t have to if we believe in Him, if we are faithful to Him.
And the gods fell like princes. Jesus stepped down from His position of authority (Philippians 2) in order to die for us a death we will never die, but then God raised Him up again and now because of Christ we are children of God.
I said last week that the Gospel is intrinsically supernatural. The story of the Bible is not precisely about our sins as individuals. It’s about human rebellion against God. We have responsibility for our sins as individuals, but we make a huge mistake when we make the whole of the scriptures about our personal sins.
If all that is needed to be near to God is to be a better person, then there are plenty of self-help gurus in the world who can help you act like a better person. But, who is going to help you with your spiritual problem? Who is going to win the war in the unseen realm? Who is going to direct humanity when we are allegiant to the prince of this world and to the gods of this world and to the pleasures of this world to return to the worship of the Most High?
The Gospel willhelp you with your behavior and with sin. It will. But, it’s bigger than that. The Gospel heals your rift with God in the supernatural world. Faith in Jesus takes you out of hell and puts you in heaven; it takes you out of the grave and puts you into eternal life; it takes you out of this broken world and places you in God’s eternal Kingdom. The gloomy darkness is a place of weeping and bitterness, but God’s Kingdom is a place of incomprehensible joy and never-ending peace.
As we come to the Lord’s table, I want you to be aware of what we are doing. This table is for you if you believe in Jesus, if you are faithful to Him and you believe that there is no name that is greater than His name, that Jesus Christ is the Most High. This table is for those of you who worship Jesus alone and not the so-called gods of this world.
1 Corinthians 11:23–26 (ESV) — For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
The bread represents the body of Christ that was broken to heal every brokenness in you, every brokenness in this world, and every broken part of the unseen world. And the cup represents the blood of Jesus that was poured out for you, the death Jesus died so that you don’t suffer condemnation. It reminds us that Jesus went the way of the sons of God so that we need not suffer eternally in gloomy darkness.
So, if you know that you are covered by the blood of Christ and that to reign with Christ is your eternal inheritance, then as the ushers pass the plates please take the elements. Hold them and we will partake together at the end.