One God Or Many?
God stands in the divine assembly;He judges among the gods (divine beings). How long will you judge unjustlyAnd show partiality to the wicked? Selah. Vindicate the weak and fatherless;Do justice and maintain the rights of the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy;Rescue them from the hand of the wicked. The rulers do not know nor do they understand;They walk on in the darkness [of complacent satisfaction];All the foundations of the earth [the fundamental principles of the administration of justice] are shaken. I said, “You are gods;Indeed, all of you are sons of the Most High. “Nevertheless you will die like menAnd fall like any one of the princes.” Arise, O God, judge the earth!For to You belong all the nations.
Mormons understand this psalm as one which corroborates their belief in polytheism (many gods) despite the clear teaching of the Scripture: “The Lord is God; besides him there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:35).
In Mormon theology, verse one describes an assembly of gods and verse six holds the promise of deity for humans. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism , put it this way: “How many gods there are I do not know, but as we are now, God once was; and as God now is, we will one day become.”
Such a view, however, misreads the whole of Scripture as well as this particular psalm.
Who are these gods who gather? Christ Himself tells us that Psalm 82 doesn’t refer to gods but humans. These gods are those to “whom the word of God came”(John 10:34-35). The “whom” that Jesus speaks of is the people of Israel to whom the Old Testament was given.
Under the law within Israel human judges acted on Gods behalf to enforce them. They were told to not show partiality because judgement belongs to God. Solomon is said to have sat on the throne of the Lord., even though he literally sat on an earthly chair. The Hebrews held that making decisions was such a godlike function they even used Elohim(God) as the name for human judges.
Just as everyone understands that the British House of Lords is a parliamentary body that does not consist of gods, the assembly referred to in Psalm 82 is not one of many gods but persons who have the God-given capacity to make decisions.
Why are these assembled? To hold the power of choice is part of what it means that we are created in the image of God and He holds us responsible for the decisions we might make.
Psalm 82 points to a scene from the future on the day that God holds responsible those who act unjustly. It is designed to compel those in the present to change their behaviors so they won’t find themselves among the disgraced assembly.
The scene in Psalm 82 begins with the heavenly court in session where God Himself presides. On trial that day are the “gods” of Israel- the leaders and judges of the people: mortal beings who will die as mere men even while they held title “sons of the Most High.”
The one question asked that day to the defendants is: “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?”
It would be an error if we just apply this question to ancient Israel and not to ourselves. God not only holds all governing authorities accountable to act justly, for that’s why He instituted government; but He also holds us as individuals accountable for self-government.
We are required to answer for how we treat other people; whether we’re fair or unjust, cruel or merciful, honest or deceptive. Do we choose to serve others or do we use them for selfish purposes? And would we want others to treat us better than we have treated them? What do friends and family members think of you? Do they see you as caring or overbearing, giving or demanding, and grateful or complaining?
What your answers are have to do with self-government and beg the question of how we are managing our lives. What decisions are we making that align our inner life and external actions to God’s intentions and purposes in giving us life?
What happens to them? The question asked in Psalm 82:2 results from the indictments given to those on trial that have not “defended the cause of the weak and the fatherless, maintained the rights of the poor and oppressed, rescued the weak and the needy, delivering them from the hands of the wicked.” In other words the “gods”(leaders) had been interested only in feathering their own nests and not acting justly or caring for the vulnerable. God regards such “gods” as know-nothings who live without any moral compass.
What shall the Lord do with such pompous governing rulers who defend actions that promote evil and revel in their perks?
He reminds them of their high calling- the power of choice given to them by which in this sense they are “gods.” Since they have failed to govern their own lives as God has desired, He will replace them.
Our question is whether or not we are in the assembly. Quite clearly this disgraces group is made up of those who have chose to not conduct their lives in a manner pleasing to God. In this psalm, Asaph stands outside that assembly and offers a closing comment. As he watches the dialogue between God and the “gods,” he yearns for the moment when those of bad conduct will be dislodged from their power to inflict harm on others. He longs for the hour when the Lord brings the unrighteous into His Supreme Court.
This longing of Asaph has become the prayer of every believer who is pressed down by the selfish and harmful choices of others: “Rise up, O God, and judge the earth.”
Our choice is which assembly will we stand in on that day. Will we be among those who hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” or will we hear: “Depart from Me you workers of iniquity?” We in this sense are “gods” for we have the power of choice to determine our eternity. May God give us grace to choose well!
Dr. John Thompson