Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
God comes forward and makes Himself heard first of all as censuring and admonishing. The "congregation of God" is, as in Numbers 27:17; Numbers 31:16; Joshua 22:16., "the congregation of (the sons of) Israel," which God has purchased from among the nations (Psalm 74:2), and upon which as its Lawgiver He has set His divine impress. The psalmist and seer sees Elohim standing in this congregation of God. The part. Niph. (as in Isaiah 3:13) denotes not so much the suddenness and unpreparedness, as, rather, the statue-like immobility and terrifying designfulness of His appearance. Within the range of the congregation of God this holds good of the elohim. The right over life and death, with which the administration of justice cannot dispense, is a prerogative of God. From the time of Genesis 9:6, however, He has transferred the execution of this prerogative to mankind, and instituted in mankind an office wielding the sword of justice, which also exists in His theocratic congregation, but here has His positive law as the basis of its continuance and as the rule of its action. Everywhere among men, but here pre-eminently, those in authority are God's delegates and the bearers of His image, and therefore as His representatives are also themselves called elohim, "gods" (which the lxx in Exodus 21:6 renders τὸ κριτήριον τοῦ Θεοῦ, and the Targums here, as in Exodus 22:7-8, Exodus 22:27 uniformly, דּיּניּא). The God who has conferred this exercise of power upon these subordinate elohim, without their resigning it of themselves, now sits in judgment in their midst. ישׁפּט of that which takes place before the mind's eye of the psalmist. How long, He asks, will ye judge unjustly? שׁפט עול is equivalent to עשׂה עול בּמּשׁפּט, Leviticus 19:15, Leviticus 19:35 (the opposite is שׁפט מישׁרים, Psalm 58:2). How long will ye accept the countenance of the wicked, i.e., incline to accept, regard, favour the person of the wicked? The music, which here becomes forte, gives intensity to the terrible sternness (das Niederdonnernde) of the divine question, which seeks to bring the "gods" of the earth to their right mind. Then follow admonitions to do that which they have hitherto left undone. They are to cause the benefit of the administration of justice to tend to the advantage of the defenceless, of the destitute, and of the helpless, upon whom God the Lawgiver especially keeps His eye. The word רשׁ (ראשׁ), of which there is no evidence until within the time of David and Solomon, is synonymous with אביון. דל with ויתום is pointed דל, and with ואביון, on account of the closer notional union, דל (as in Psalm 72:13). They are words which are frequently repeated in the prophets, foremost in Isaiah (Isaiah 1:17), with which is enjoined upon those invested with the dignity of the law, and with jurisdiction, justice towards those who cannot and will not themselves obtain their rights by violence.
How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.
Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.
What now follows in Psalm 82:5 is not a parenthetical assertion of the inefficiency with which the divine correction rebounds from the judges and rulers. In connection with this way of taking Psalm 82:5, the manner in which the divine language is continued in Psalm 82:6 is harsh and unadjusted. God Himself speaks in Psalm 82:5 of the judges, but reluctantly alienated from them; and confident of the futility of all attempts to make them better, He tells them their sentence in Psalm 82:6. The verbs in Psalm 82:5 are designedly without any object: complaint of the widest compass is made over their want of reason and understanding; and ידעו takes the perfect form in like manner to ἐγνώκασι, noverunt, cf. Psalm 14:1; Isaiah 44:18. Thus, then, no result is to be expected from the divine admonition: they still go their ways in this state of mental darkness, and that, as the Hithpa. implies, stalking on in carnal security and self-complacency. The commands, however, which they transgress are the foundations (cf. Psalm 11:3), as it were the shafts and pillars (Psalm 75:4, cf. Proverbs 29:4), upon which rests the permanence of all earthly relationships with are appointed by creation and regulated by the Tτra. Their transgression makes the land, the earth, to totter physically and morally, and is the prelude of its overthrow. When the celestial Lord of the domain thinks upon this destruction which injustice and tyranny are bringing upon the earth, His wrath kindles, and He reminds the judges and rulers that it is His own free declaratory act which has clothed them with the god-like dignity which they bear. They are actually elohim, but not possessed of the right of self-government; there is a Most High (עליון) to whom they as sons are responsible. The idea that the appellation elohim, which they have given to themselves, is only sarcastically given back to them in Psalm 82:1 (Ewald, Olshausen), is refuted by Psalm 82:6, according to which they are really elohim by the grace of God. But if their practice is not an Amen to this name, then they shall be divested of the majesty which they have forfeited; they shall be divested of the prerogative of Israel, whose vocation and destiny they have belied. They shall die off כּאדם, like common men not rising in any degree above the mass (cf. בּני אדם, opp. בּני אישׁ, Psalm 4:3; Psalm 49:3); they shall fall like any one (Judges 16:7, Obadiah 1:11) of the princes who in the course of history have been cast down by the judgment of God (Hosea 7:7). Their divine office will not protect them. For although justitia civilis is far from being the righteousness that avails before God, yet injustitia civilis is in His sight the vilest abomination.
I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.
The poet closes with the prayer for the realization of that which he has beheld in spirit. He implored God Himself to sit in judgment (שׁפטה as in Lamentations 3:59), since judgment is so badly exercised upon the earth. All peoples are indeed His נחלה, He has an hereditary and proprietary right among (lxx and Vulgate according to Numbers 18:20, and frequently), or rather in (בּ as in משׁל בּ, instead of the accusative of the object, Zechariah 2:11), all nations (ἔθνη) - may He then be pleased to maintain it judicially. The inference drawn from this point backwards, that the Psalm is directed against the possessors of power among the Gentiles, is erroneous. Israel itself, in so far as it acts inconsistently with its theocratic character, belies its sanctified nationality, is a גוי like the גוים, and is put into the same category with these. The judgment over the world is also a judgment over the Israel that is become conformed to the world, and its God-estranged chiefs.