Bible blog 2248

Continuing my translation of the Psalms, with comment


An Asaph Psalm

God takes his stand in the divine assembly

In the midst of the gods he gives judgement:

“How long will you judge corruptly

And show favour to criminals?

Pass judgement for the poor and the orphan;

Do justice for the powerless and the destitute.

Deliver the poor and the downtrodden;

Recover them from the hands of criminals.”

They do not know nor do they understand

That they are wandering in the darkness:

All earth’s foundations are shaken.

I had said, “You are all gods, sons of the High God,”

Yet you will die like human beings,

Sharing the fate of princes, you will fall.

Arise, God, and govern the earth,

For all its peoples are your possession.

Pious scholars have suggested that the “gods” of the divine assembly are merely human rulers beefed up into deities. There’s an ironic truth to that, but first we need to admit that sometimes the Bible depicts the God of Israel, not as the only God, but as the greatest of the gods who are attached to other nations.

Here, Israel’s God assumes that the lesser Gods are responsible for justice amongst and within nations, accusing them of favouring the rich and powerful, to the exclusion of others. In fact God speaks to them in the sort of language that the prophets show him using to the rulers of Israel and Judah. Divine justice must correct the bias of worldly justice.

Soon however, God gives up, recognising that these so-called Gods are not up to their apparent status: the earth is founded on divine justice which appoints limits on all powers in order to create stability. The other gods are blind to this truth, so are described as wandering in darkness and risking the stability of the earth. The true God therefore passes judgement on them, retracting his recognition of them as divine, and consigning them to mortality.

This apparent victory of Israel’s God, however, leaves a major problem: if there are no other gods, who is responsible for the evident injustice of the world? The psalmist prefers to see it as an oversight on the part of Israel’s God, hence his final couplet calling on God to get on with it.

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