This Psalm, like so many others, is not just a narrative about the past, only for ancient days; it is very much a modern message. Christians today should call upon God just as Asaph does, to rid us of enemies and unbelieving opponents, and thus to show them that our God is real and acting in our lives.
[A Psalm of Asaph.] God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.
This is another psalm written by the Chief Musician’s son, Asaph. He rightly places God in central position in the land. He “standeth in the congregation of the mighty”, those who sub-ruled Israel. In this particular text God is addressed as ‘elohiym rather than Jehovah, but it is not used in a lesser sense. Rather, Asaph is pointing to the great and mighty Lord, the one true supreme God. Note that this noun as the plural of ‘elowahh, denotes the triune nature of God. (Or, to be more precise at this juncture, two or more Persons).
This same Almighty Lord stands amidst the congregation of the mighty. That is, He is firm and upright, the owner of all He surveys; He stands as ruler in the congregation or company/assembly of the great and mighty. This is not so straightforward. Does it mean He stands head and shoulders above all other mighty persons? Or, does it mean He is equal to them? Is this why He “judgeth among the gods” as ‘equal’ to all other gods?
This is where the wordage becomes interesting, for the word ‘el is used for “mighty”. It was commonly used at that time for any ruler, king or champion warrior, but also of false gods. It was probably used because of this commonality, known at the time to the nations. ‘el is a shortened form of ‘ayil, which can refer to anything mighty – tall trees, warriors, door lintels, oaks, etc., with an indirect reference to twisting (to make cords strong), ‘uwl. It is likely the allusion is to rulers of Israel (and other nations).
Added to this is the word ‘gods’, which is, again, ‘elohiym. Perhaps you can now see why I asked what the interpretation really was. Is Asaph saying Jehovah stands amongst other gods/rulers as their equal? This is where biblical logic enters the scene, for we know immediately that Asaph did not mean Jehovah was equal to other gods/rulers. Therefore, the meaning MUST be something else.
No, Jehovah, if you wish, walks into the middle of those other gods which, being false, do not exist anyway! That is, Jehovah is not just superior to the other gods, but He is the ONLY God – all others being an illusion, unworthy to be mentioned. Thus, He ‘judgeth’ or drives inwards to the very heart by dismissing the false gods simply by His existence. There ARE no other gods; and even their illusion is spat on by the one true Lord! Asaph was, then, being both factual and scornful about the gods.
(Note: Some, including Matthew Henry, think this text only refers to human magistrates. It is a projection to say so, but worthy, as all true magistrates – believers or not - must think, speak and act as would the God Who places them in office. However, the primary meaning is that of Jehovah as chief justice, from Whom ALL true justice comes).
How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.
Then, we come to another odd statement by Asaph: that God judges unjustly. This does not mean what modern men think it means, for God cannot be called ‘unjust’. The problem is that modern readers place a modern meaning onto an ancient text. Is Asaph really accusing God of judging unjustly? This is important, because the word ‘unjustly’, ‘evel, means wickedness, perverseness, unrighteousness. Once again we must think outside the modern rationale. God CANNOT be unrighteous! Therefore, it must mean something other than what our modern minds devise.
Asaph is asking if God will maintain His distance at that time. How long will You hold back Your vengeance? How long before You condemn the enemy? When will You execute Your will upon them? Thus, he is asking when God will at last put down those who are wicked. God never accepts the wicked, but He does delay His punishment at times.
The word “accept”, nasa’, explains it. It means in this text to bear or allow. It can also mean to respect and forgive, or even to exalt. But, in this context these possible meanings cannot be used. Asaph is speaking of the unjust and the wicked, who God condemns. To put Asaph’s query in our modern terms, he is asking ‘How much longer will you allow the wicked to live?’. He then puts a musical pause at the end of the query, selah, and finishes his brief plea before starting on special requests...
Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.
Asaph now pleads with God to do what Jesus Himself demanded in His earthly day – to defend widows, orphans, and those in dire need. This is not a mere social agenda, or just for rulers, but a prayer for God to remove the shackles imposed by enemies and all kinds of bad circumstances from the ankles of God’s own people.
The word ‘defend’ is strong and does not only mean to protect against someone; it also means to avenge them of wrongdoing, to execute judgment, to condemn. Modern Christians are very good and calling for believers to ‘love’ others, but very short on demanding justice where it is most needed... often wanting ‘justice’ for those who should not receive it. Asaph is asking God to protect Israel, even those least able to look after themselves, and to vindicate their trust in Him. ‘defend’, shaphat, is a very strong word! Much stronger than effete Christians without backbone.
Asaph also wants God to deliver the people, palat – to give a way of escape, to keep safe, to give security. In the New Testament we are taught that God always gives a way to escape temptation, before it turns a man to sin. In the same way, God can help us avoid the worst of damage and attack, if not all of its effect.
‘Justice’, tsadaq, too, is more than doing what is fair. It also means to cleanse and be righteous. Both aspects are required of all people, not just those in need. We must be cleansed* of our sin and holy before we dare to call upon the Lord for help! In His mercy He might help anyway – but He will expect post-help holiness at least. (*we cannot ever be fully free of sin, but God requires us to aim for such freedom).
Please Lord, says Asaph, pluck your people from the grasping hands of the wicked, the rasha, the ungodly, guilty before God of spiritual and other crimes, including hating Jehovah. Do modern Christians call out to God for this kind of justice? No, many prefer to ‘roll-over’ to be harmed, wrongfully assuming it is ‘more Christian’ to bare one’s neck to the enemy! Not so... it is just cowardice and ignorance.
Who are the “they” at the start of verse 5? Those who need God’s help? Or, the wicked who oppress them? It must refer to the wicked, for this verse is the opposite of the previous two. They are the antithesis of those needing protection. I suggest this because ‘they’ follows immediately from ‘the wicked’. Also, God says of the wicked that they have no understanding because their hearts and minds are in darkness, chashekah... the people, and the godly, cannot be thus classed
God’s people often acted darkly, but He does not say they are thus full of darkness - they are simply sinning; otherwise their overall walk is good (being a walk with God). Because the wicked despise and ignore God’s laws, the “foundations of the earth are out of course”, mowt, failing and shaken. This is what sin does, and this is what unsaved sinner do – they radically try to remove the foundations of everything set in place by God. Asaph is pointing out this fact, though it is obvious to God even before it happens, that wicked men subdue and oppress God’s people.
I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.
Asaph then repeats what God has said: “I have said, Ye are gods”. This is a text misquoted by charismatic leaders such as Kenneth Copeland. He and they make out that this means men are themselves like God, if not equal to Him. No, it does not mean that in this text! It means that God made us to judge (repeated in the New Testament), to be great and mighty and to be ‘God-ward’; indeed, being Godward results in being great and mighty. These are also contained in the word ‘gods’, ‘elohiym.
This has to be the interpretation, because the very next statement is that we are “children of the most High”. Or, ‘the people of God’. Jesus Christ is the Son of the Father, but we are sons of Christ, adopted by Him through salvation, grafted into Him as a gift by grace.
But, says the Lord, though I chose you to be my children/sub-rulers you will die in an unseemly manner; you will die just like the earthly princes, for your lack of obedience. The text infers a battle, and the word muwth implies such a death.
Then, God’s words lead on to those of Asaph, who continues to plead for Jehovah’s unmerited mercy. He calls out a heart-felt plea – ‘rise up ‘elohiym!’ Arise O mighty One! Stand up and establish your rule, God! In this text ‘earth’, ‘erets, speaks of the inhabitants of earth, not the earth itself.
Asaph is thus calling on God to judge or defend His people and to condemn their enemies and their errant rulers. Why? “for thou shalt inherit all nations”. God already owns the world and the cosmos. Here Asaph is asking God to show this ownership in a powerful way – shaphat; vindicate His people, execute judgment upon the wicked, change the hearts of the sub-rulers. It also hints at the final judgment of all nations (the theophanic advent).
In this text God will “inherit” all nations (the whole world). Inherit here is nachal – to possess (what is already His anyway) and also to divide the nations, just as the saved are divided from the unsaved. The saved will inherit all things, because God owns them, whereas the unsaved will not inherit anything good.
For the people of Israel this meant possession of the land given to them for their own. For Christians it refers to their spiritual home: we will inherit Heaven because we belong to the Son, Who has promised it in eternity to those who are saved. Once again I would advise that though this is the Old Testament, it applies to us today.
© March 2017
Published on www.christiandoctrine.com
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