Psalm 82:5
They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.
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(5) Here we imagine a pause, that interval between warning and judgment which is God’s pity and man’s opportunity; but the expostulation falls dead without a response. The men are infatuated by their position and blinded by their pride, and the poet, the spectator of this drama of judgment, makes this common reflection. The perversion of judgment strikes him, as it could not fail to do, as an indication of total anarchy and a dissolution of society, a convulsion like an earthquake.

They know not.—Comp. Psalm 58:4, “They have no knowledge;” there, too, of judges corrupted by the moral blindness which, as in the case of Lord Bacon, sometimes so strangely darkens those in whom intellectual light is most keen.

They walk on in darkness—Or, better, They let themselves walk in darkness; the conjugation implying that inclination or will, and not circumstance, brings this dullness to the dictates of justice and right.

All the foundations . . .—The very existence of society is threatened when the source of justice is corrupt.

“Back flow the sacred rivers to their source,

And right and all things veer around their course;

Crafty are men in council, and no more

God-plighted faith abides as once of yore.”

EUR. Med., 409.

Psalm 82:5. They know not — That is, the magistrates, of whom this Psalm treats, are not acquainted with, and will not be at the pains to learn the truth and right of the causes which come before them, nor the duty of their place. Neither will they understand — This their ignorance is wilful and affected: they will not search out the truth, and they shut their eyes lest they should see what they do not love to see. They walk on — They persist and proceed: it is not one rash and transient action, but their constant course; in darkness — In ignorance, or in their sinful and unrighteous courses; being blinded by their corrupt affections and interests. All the foundations of the earth are out of course — This corruption of the supreme rulers flows from them to their inferior officers and members, and manifestly tends to the dissolution of all civil societies, partly by subverting that order and honesty by which they are supported, and partly by provoking God, the governor of the world, to destroy them for their wickedness. Green translates this verse, They are ignorant of their duty, and will not attend to it; but go on in the dark; all the foundations of the land are in a tottering state. The general meaning is, “Those that should rule the several nations of the earth uprightly, and preserve justice among men, are themselves the most unjust, and thereby the authors of all mischief to the world.” Respecting the word foundations, see on Psalm 11:3.82:1-5 Magistrates are the mighty in authority for the public good. Magistrates are the ministers of God's providence, for keeping up order and peace, and particularly in punishing evil-doers, and protecting those that do well. Good princes and good judges, who mean well, are under Divine direction; and bad ones, who mean ill, are under Divine restraint. The authority of God is to be submitted to, in those governors whom his providence places over us. But when justice is turned from what is right, no good can be expected. The evil actions of public persons are public mischiefs.They know not, neither will they understand - This is designed still further to characterize the magistrates at the time referred to in the psalm. They not merely judged unjustly, and were not merely partial in the administration of justice Psalm 82:2, but they did not desire to understand their duty, and the true principles on which justice should be administered. They were at no pains to inform themselves, either in regard to those principles, or in regard to the facts in particular cases. All just judgment must be based

(a) on a true knowledge of what the law is, or what is right; and

(b) on a knowledge of the facts in a particular case. Where there is no such knowledge, of course there must be a mal-administration of justice.

One of the first requisites, therefore, in a magistrate is, that he shall have a proper knowledge of the law; his duty is to ascertain the exact facts in each individual case that comes before him, and then impartially to apply the law to that case.

They walk on in darkness - In ignorance of the law and of the facts in the case.

All the foundations of the earth - See Psalm 11:3, note; Psalm 75:3, note. All settled principles; all the things on which the welfare of society rests; all on which the prosperity of the world depends. The manner in which justice is administered is as if the very foundations of the earth should be disturbed, and the world should move without order.

Are out of course - Margin, as in Hebrew, moved. That is, they are moved from their proper place; the earth no longer rests firmly and safely on its foundation. This language is taken from the idea so often occurring in the Scriptures, and in the language of people generally, that the earth rests on solid foundations - as a building does. The idea is derived from the stability and fixedness of the earth, and from the fact that when a building is fixed and stable we infer that it has a solid foundation. The thought here is, that a proper administration of justice is essential to the stability and prosperity of a state - as essential as a solid foundation is to the stability of the edifice which is reared on it. The effect of a real-administration of justice in any community may be well compared with what the result would be if the foundations of the earth should be removed, or if the laws which now keep it in its place should cease to operate.

5. By the wilful ignorance and negligence of judges, anarchy ensues (Ps 11:3; 75:3).

out of course—(Compare Margin; Ps 9:6; 62:2).

They, the magistrates, of whom this Psalm treats,

know not, to wit, the truth and right of the cause, nor the duty of their place. Men are oft said in Scripture not to know what they do not love and practise.

Neither will they understand: this their ignorance is wilful and afflicted; they will not search out the truth, and they shut their eyes lest they should see what they would not.

They walk on; they persist and proceed; it is not one rash and transient action, but their constant course.

In darkness; either,

1. In ignorance; or,

2. In their sinful and unrighteous courses, as darkness is taken, Ephesians 4:17,18 5:8 1Jo 1:6; being blinded by their corrupt affections and interests, Exodus 23:8.

All the foundations of the earth are out of course: this corruption of the supreme rulers doth flow from them to their inferior officers and members, and manifestly tends to the dissolution of all civil societies, partly by subverting that order and honesty by which they are supported, and partly by provoking God the Governor of the world to destroy them for their wickedness. They knew not,.... The Targum adds, to do well. This is to be understood of unjust judges and wicked magistrates, who know not God, and have not the fear of him before their eyes, though he stands in the midst of them, and judges among them; which is the source of their unjust judging and unrighteous proceedings: for because they know not God, nor fear him, therefore they regard not men: nor do such know themselves; they are called gods, and they think they are so, and do not consider they are but men; they are the ministers of God, deputies under him, and are accountable to him: nor do they know their duty before pointed out; it is for them to know judgment, what is right, and what is wrong, that they may pronounce righteous judgment, Micah 3:2, but they do not know it, at least so as to practise it: nor did the Jewish rulers know Christ, which was the reason of their unrighteous dealing with him and with his followers; they put him to death, and so they did them, because they knew him not, 1 Corinthians 2:8,

neither will they understand: the Targum adds, by way of explanation, "the law", the rule of judgment, which judges ought to understand; so the Jewish rulers, Pharisees and Sadducees, were upbraided by Christ with ignorance of the Scriptures, and the law of God, their false glosses of which he refutes, Matthew 5:1 and their ignorance was wilful and affected, they shut their eyes against light and evidence, especially with respect to Christ; they could discern the face of the sky, but not the signs of the times, Matthew 16:3, who so blind as they that will not see? and such were the Jewish rulers; see Isaiah 42:19,

they walk on in darkness; they chose darkness rather than light, and so were blind leaders of the blind, and were wilfully so, having their eyes blinded with gifts, Deuteronomy 16:19,

all the foundations of the earth are out of course; or "shaken" or "moved" (f): by the perversion of justice, towns, cities, commonwealths, kingdoms, and states, are thrown into the utmost disorder and confusion: as the king by judgment establisheth the land; Proverbs 29:4, so when judgment is not executed, it is unsettled, and thrown into confusion; or though (g) "the foundation", &c. though this is the case, yet unjust judges will go on, perverting judgment, even though, as at the deluge, the foundations of the earth were shaken and moved, for the violence, rapine, and oppression, the earth was then filled with, which Kimchi thinks is here referred to; and though a dissolution of the Jewish polity, civil and ecclesiastical, was threatened, because of such injustice; that God would once more shake the heavens and the earth, remove their church and civil state, when they should cease to be a nation, their city be destroyed, and their temple, not one stone left upon another; and yet such was the obstinacy of their wicked judges, that they would persist their wicked ways.

(f) "moventur", Vatablus; "dimoventur", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator; "commoventur", Gejerus; "nutant", Tigurine version. (g) So Ainsworth.

They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the {d} foundations of the earth are out of course.

(d) That is, all things are out of order either by their tyranny or careless negligence.

5. God is still the speaker; but instead of addressing the culprits, He describes their incorrigible blindness and obstinacy, before He pronounces sentence on them. They have no knowledge, neither will they get understanding, though these are the needful qualifications for a judge (1 Kings 3:9 ff.): they walk on to and fro in darkness, complacently self-satisfied with their ignorance and moral darkness: and consequently all the foundations of the earth are shaken, the principles upon which the moral order of the world is based are imperilled. Cp. Psalm 11:3, Psalm 75:3, for the metaphor; and generally, Proverbs 2:10-15.

5–7. The character of these judges described and their sentence pronounced.Verse 5. - They know not, neither will they understand. Scarcely "an aside from the indignant judge," as Professor Cheyne suggests, much less a remark interpolated by the poet (Ewald, Hitzig). Rather a complaint of human perversity, addressed by Jehovah to the angelic host who are present (ver. 1). It is not an accidental and excusable ignorance, but a wilful and guilty one that is spoken cf. They walk on in darkness. Loving darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil (John 3:19), they walked in the way of darkness (Proverbs 2:13). All the foundations of the earth are out of course; rather, are shaken. The fundamental bases on which the life of man upon the earth rests, the very principles of morality, are shaken, and totter to their fail, when those whose place it is to administer justice pervert it and deal out injustice instead. The Passover discourse now takes a sorrowful and awful turn: Israel's disobedience and self-will frustrated the gracious purpose of the commandments and promises of its God. "My people" and "Israel" alternate as in the complaint in Isaiah 1:3. לא־אבה followed by the dative, as in Deuteronomy 13:9 ([8], ου ̓ συνθελήσεις αὐτῷ). Then God made their sin their punishment, by giving them over judicially (שׁלּח as in Job 8:4) into the obduracy of their heart, which rudely shuts itself up against His mercy (from שׁרר, Aramaic שׁרר, Arabic sarra, to make firm equals to cheer, make glad), so that they went on (cf. on the sequence of tense, Psalm 61:8) in their, i.e., their own, egotistical, God-estranged determinations; the suffix is thus accented, as e.g., in Isaiah 65:2, cf. the borrowed passage Jeremiah 7:24, and the same phrase in Micah 6:16. And now, because this state of unfaithfulness in comparison with God's faithfulness has remained essentially the same even to to-day, the exalted Orator of the festival passes over forthwith to the generation of the present, and that, as is in accordance with the cheerful character of the feast, in a charmingly alluring manner. Whether we take לוּ in the signification of si (followed by the participle, as in 2 Samuel 18:12), or like אם above in Psalm 81:9 as expressing a wish, o si (if but!), Psalm 81:15. at any rate have the relation of the apodosis to it. From כּמעט (for a little, easily) it may be conjectured that the relation of Israel at that time to the nations did not correspond to the dignity of the nation of God which is called to subdue and rule the world in the strength of God. השׁיב signifies in this passage only to turn, not: to again lay upon. The meaning is, that He would turn the hand which is now chastening His people against those by whom He is chastening them (cf. on the usual meaning of the phrase, Isaiah 1:25; Amos 1:8; Jeremiah 6:9; Ezekiel 38:12). The promise in Psalm 81:16 relates to Israel and all the members of the nation. The haters of Jahve would be compelled reluctantly to submit themselves to Him, and their time would endure for ever. "Time" is equivalent to duration, and in this instance with the collateral notion of Prosperity, as elsewhere (Isaiah 13:22) of the term of punishment. One now expects that it should continue with ואאכילהוּ, in the tone of a promise. The Psalm, however, closes with an historical statement. For ויּאכילהו cannot signify et cibaret eum; it ought to be pronounced ויאכילהו. The pointing, like the lxx, Syriac, and Vulgate, takes v. 17a (cf. Deuteronomy 32:13.) as a retrospect, and apparently rightly so. For even the Asaphic Psalm 77 and 78 break off with historical pictures. V. 17b is, accordingly, also to be taken as retrospective. The words of the poet in conclusion once more change into the words of God. The closing word runs אשׂבּיעך, as in Psalm 50:8, Deuteronomy 4:31, and (with the exception of the futt. Hiph. of Lamed He verbs ending with ekka) usually. The Babylonian system of pointing nowhere recognises the suffix-form ekka. If the Israel of the present would hearken to the Lawgiver of Sinai, says v. 17, then would He renew to it the miraculous gifts of the time of the redemption under Moses.
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