Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha



"1. God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment;
2. 'How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah

3. Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
4. Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.'

5. They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk around in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

6. I say, 'You are gods,
children of the Most High, all of you;
7. nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
and fall like any prince.'

8. Rise up, O God, judge the earth;
for all the nations belong to you!"

When we read this psalm we naturally ask the questions, Who are "gods" that are spoken of here? and, What is "the divine council"? They are important questions, but there is a message of the psalm that is even more important than our answers to those questions. That message is God's demand for justice. We will, however, try to study both the questions and the message as we consider the psalm.

" There are many gods and many lords "

Those are the words of the apostle Paul (in 1 Corinthians 8:5), though he said that the many gods whom people worshipped were only "so-called gods". In Bible times and ever since many peoples of the world have thought of there being one supreme God but also other lesser gods, and so they have been able to think of there being a council of gods. Christian people believe that there is only one God, known to us as Father, Lord and Creator of all, known to us in his Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament no less the people of Israel were constantly reminded that there was one God whom they should worship. The Law was summed up in the words, "The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). The people were forbidden to serve the gods of other nations around them.

Yet sometimes Old Testament passages speak of a heavenly council (see 1 Kings 22:19-22, Job 1:6 and 2:1-6, Deuteronomy 33:2-3 and Psalm 89:5), and we are led by such passages to think of spiritual beings such as angels in the presence of God and serving him. The word elohim , normally used for God, can be used for such spiritual beings, and the Book of Daniel (10:13 and 20-21) speaks of heavenly representatives of earthly rulers. This is the way that some would understand the "gods" and the "divine council" in this psalm. Then verses 6-7 would have the meaning that those heavenly beings were condemned to die. On the other hand it is possible to understand the word elohim to mean judges, or rulers, and the link of appearing before "God" and appearing before "judges" in Exodus 21:6 supports this (see also Exodus 22:28 and notes on Psalm 58:1). Then verses 6-7 would mean that though these judges are very important and treated in a special sense as "children of the Most High", they will die like any other human being. What is certainly important about the psalm is God's demand that all people, and especially those with the responsibility of leadership, should act justly.

Justice for all

Judges had to be fair to all, and to be sure that they didn't show "partiality to the wicked". In those days and now the great danger of showing partiality is where bribes are offered and accepted. "A bribe corrupts the heart" says Ecclesiastes 7:7, and Deuteronomy 16:19 says, "a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right." Judges also had a special responsibility to uphold the weak and poor, the widow and the orphan and make sure that they were not oppressed. Verse 5 makes plain that to act unjustly is to act with "neither knowledge nor understanding". There is darkness and not light in the life of a nation where there is injustice, and there are no secure foundations for society. When we are faced with injustice, we should pray the prayer of the last verse of this psalm that God will rise up and judge in every nation. But our part is to be sure that in every way we act justly in our relationships with other people, whether we have little or great power.

Meditation "What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

For further thought and study

a. In what ways is it true that good laws and principles of justice are the foundation of a secure society? b. In your own society who are "the weak and the needy" who are in danger of being neglected or taken advantage of by those who are richer or stronger than they are? What should Christian people do about this?


The words of verse 6 are used by Jesus in John 10:34 in response of the Jews attempt to stone him because of the special way in which he spoke of God as his Father. Jesus was saying that if people, like judges, could be spoken of in the Old Testament using the term "gods", could not "the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world" rightly be called God's Son (John 10:36, New International Version)