Psalm 82 – Social Justice Asaph

Bible opened to Psalm 82 with Green and Black's Organic Mint Dark Chocolate on zebra plate

Today’s passage: Psalm 82

Today’s chocolateGreen & Black’s Organic Mint Dark Chocolate

On behalf of Asaph, I’d like to welcome you to Psalm 82’s courtroom. “God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers” (1), the psalm opens. God judges the judges, holding those in power accountable for siding with evil men and not going to bat for their victims. Asaph describes the corrupt authorities-turned-defendants as blinded and ignorant: “They do not know nor do they understand; they walk about in darkness” (5). He closes the psalm with a call for God to deliver the verdict and issue the sentence.

Reading this passage, I can’t help but think: Asaph is a social justice warrior. I know the term has pejorative connotations, but he’s demanding protection for the economically, politically, and socially oppressed–the powerless. Moreover, if he’s not also depicting God as an SJW, he’s at minimum calling for him to enact social justice for the afflicted. In contrast, I think conservative Christianity tends to deny the existence of victimhood: we blame the poor for their situation, we bristle at the word “exploitation,” we argue against both state-sponsored aid and freely-given personal charity for those in poverty because it “undermines their work ethic” or “robs them of their dignity.” We have all our defenses in place, our fortress of conservatism.

Asaph is ready to help the helpless, and he calls God to help the helpless too. But we? We’re ready to refuse to help the helpless.

And it’s complicated; I’m not advocating an approach devoid of nuance. We shouldn’t just give out a buck to every Joe on the street who says he needs cash for a meal or a bus ticket, because some of these folks are trying to victimize you with a false story. But I feel that we’ve failed to strike the balance. We need to listen to Asaph when he says, “Do justice to the afflicted and destitute” (3). We need to get involved with groups that are fighting for the exploited. We need to go to bat.

I wanted to end by getting off my social-justice soapbox and calling attention to Asaph’s word choice. When he says, “He judges in the midst of the rulers” (1), that word “rulers?” It’s “elohim,” Hebrew for “gods.” He uses it again when he says, “You are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High” (6). The psalmist doesn’t simply call the top dogs of society by their proper titles, judges, nobles, kings. The powerful here are pictured as actual deities.

I’m not sure what the significance of his word choice is, so I’ll leave that as the Question of the Day. Why do you think he addresses the rulers of society as “gods?” Drop a comment, tell me what you think.

 

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