Theme: The Meaning of “Gods”
From this week’s lessons we learn that government is given by God for the good of its people, and those who rule are responsible to act justly.
Scripture: Psalm 82:1-8
What is the meaning of “gods” in this passage? Yesterday we considered the possibility that “gods” refers to human judges. Today we consider another possibility.
2. Demons, the “principalities and powers.” In the last hundred years or so, a second view has gained ground in scholarly circles, and that is that the “gods” in Psalm 82 are minor deities. We would call them demons or at least the “principalities and powers” about which Paul speaks when he writes that the Christian’s struggle “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). This is the view of Derek Kidner, who has written two volumes on the psalms for InterVarsity Press, and of Marvin E. Tate, who has contributed his studies to the Word Biblical Commentary series.1
What are the arguments for this view? There are two. First, the Old Testament speaks of such powers, occasionally referring to them as “gods” (sometimes translated “angels”). Examples are Isaiah 24:21 (“the LORD will punish the powers in the heaven above”) and Daniel 10:13 (“the prince of the Persian kingdom” who resisted Michael, the archangel). As far as God presiding over an assembly of such “gods” is concerned, an excellent example is Job 1, where “the sons of God” (“angels,” NIV), including Satan, present themselves before God in heaven.
The second argument is the way in which Psalm 82 speaks of the judgment of God on these “gods.” He says they will “die like mere men.” If they are to die “like” men, the argument goes, then they cannot be men; they must be something else, and the only other thing they can be are demonic powers.
Yet that is an argument that cuts two ways. For isn’t it true that the demons (and angels) are spirits, who have no bodies and who therefore cannot die? The demons will be punished; they will be punished in hell forever, but they will not die. On the other hand, if these “gods” are human judges, then the words are appropriate. For they mean that in spite of the fact that these wicked men have considered themselves to be virtually invincible because of their high office, they will die just like anybody else. They will fall just like any other ruler.
The bottom line is that either view is possible, but the first should be preferred, above all because it is the interpretation given to the psalm by Jesus Christ. He tells us that it is about human beings.
1Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), pp. 296, 297; and Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 20, Psalms 51-100 (Dallas: Word, 1990), pp. 332, 333, 340, 341. However, Tate sees this as “a false alternative. Both are involved because God’s judgment of the gods has its parallel in God’s judgment of unjust human officials…The judgment of the gods is at the same time a judgment of their human agents” (p. 341).
What is a second possible meaning of the word “god” in this psalm?
Give the two arguments for this view.
Observation: Knowledge of Old Testament culture can shed light on New Testament passages. Also, the New Testament can shed light on Old Testament teaching.