16 May 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
16 May 2022 (Psalm 82)

‘God has taken his stand in the council of heaven’ (Psalm 82: 1) … Christ enthroned in majesty in a stained glass window in Southwark Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this season of Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 82:

Psalm 82 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 81.

This is the eleventh of the ‘Psalms of Asaph.’ These are the 12 psalms numbered 50 and 73 to 83 in the Masoretic text and 49 and 72-82 in the Septuagint. Each psalm has a separate meaning, and these psalms cannot be summarised easily as a whole.

But throughout these 12 psalms is the shared theme of the judgment of God and how the people must follow God’s law.

The superscription of this psalm reads: ‘A Psalm of Asaph.’ The attribution of a psalm to Asaph could mean that it was part of a collection from the Asaphites, identified as Temple singers, or that the psalm was performed in a style associated with Asaph, who was said to be the author or transcriber of these psalms.

Asaph who is identified with these psalms was a Levite, the son of Berechiah and descendant of Gershon, and he was the ancestor of the Asaphites, one the guilds of musicians in the first Temple in Jerusalem.

Asaph served both David and Solomon, and performed at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (see II Chronicles 5: 12). His complaint against corruption among the rich and influential, recorded in Psalm 73, for example, might have been directed against some of court officials. The words used to describe the wicked come from words used by officials of the cult or sacrificial system.

Several of the Psalms of Asaph are categorised as communal laments because they are concerned for the well-being of the whole community. Many of these psalms forecast destruction or devastation in the future, but are balanced with God’s mercy and saving power for the people.

Psalm 82 has been described as ‘a plea for justice’ and as ‘a vision of God as the Judge of judges.’

This psalm places its emphasis on judgment both from human judges and from God and declares the strong bonds between moral and physical order. It comments on the act of God rebuking the kings and unjust human judges of Israel for not treating the poor with respect.

In a vision, the psalmist sees God as a member of the council of gods. God accuses these other ‘gods’ of favouring the wicked over the weak and the needy. They are ignorant of the ways of the one true God and walk in darkness.

Their failure to be just rocks the foundations of the world. They may be seen as ‘gods,’ but they are not and they will die.

In verse 1, ‘God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgement.’ The ‘divine council’ or the ‘congregation of the mighty’ may also be read as the assembly of God,’ or God’s own assembly, an assembly summoned and presided over by God in his capacity as the almighty ruler.

Psalm 82 ends with a prayer for justice. In verse 8, which may have been sung in the Temple by the congregation in response, acclaims God as the only true, universal ruler of the earth. In this final verse, God is spoken of in the future tense, ‘inheriting the nations.’ In other places in the psalms, however, ‘the Son’ inherits the nations (Psalm 2), and the believing community inherits the nations (Psalm 25, Psalm 37). God already possesses the nations but in some sense inherits them as well.

‘Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute’ (Psalm 82: 3) … ‘Christ the Beggar’, a sculpture by Timothy Schmalz on the steps of Santo Spirito Hospital near the Vatican (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 82 (NRSVA):

A Psalm of Asaph.

1 God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgement:
2 ‘How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?
3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’

5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk around in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

6 I say, ‘You are gods,
children of the Most High, all of you;
7 nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
and fall like any prince.’

8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth;
for all the nations belong to you!

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Advocacy in Brazil.’

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (16 May 2022, International Day of Living Together in Peace) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for peace. May we seek to resolve conflicts in a peaceful manner and co-exist in harmony.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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