In this psalm of Asaph, he cries out to God for justice against the wicked, corrupt rulers. He sees God as the Supreme Judge who judges without respect of persons and he wants Him to deal with those who were prejudiced in their judgments of others.
Although the headings aren’t inspired by God, they are important because they give us some understanding of the Psalm and they help us to see why it was written. The headings usually tell us four things.
1. Who wrote them, probably wrote them or possibly wrote them.
2. Information about the historical background to the Psalm. Why it was written.
3. They tell us of the tune the Psalm was written to.
4. How it was used.
Asaph was the singer and musician during the reign of David and Solomon, 1 Chronicles 15:17-19 / 1 Chronicles 16:5-7 / 1 Chronicles 25:6. 1 Chronicles 25:1 and 2 Chronicles 29:30 tell us that Asaph was a prophet in his musical compositions.
Asaph begins by giving us a picture of God presiding in the midst of the great assembly, who is about to render judgment among the ‘gods’, that is, the judges.
The reason why God, the Supreme Judge is among them is because He wanted to confront them for judging unjustly and for showing partiality to the wicked.
You may notice at the end of verse two, that some translations have the word, ‘selah’, although no one really knows what this word means, it’s likely it means to pause. It’s a time to stop and reflect upon what has just been said.
We can almost imagine Asaph pausing for a breath as he contemplates the Supreme Judge, judging these unjust judges.
These judges had neglected their duties in defending the weak, the fatherless, the poor and the oppressed, that is, all those who were vulnerable in society, James 1:27.
It was the duty of the judges to rescue the weak and needy and deliver them from the hands of the wicked, but again, they failed miserably.
It appears that at the time of writing, society had collapsed because there were no fair judgments, especially for the poor and orphans, 1 Samuel 8:3 / Isaiah 1:17 / Isaiah 3:13-15 / Jeremiah 21:12 / Amos 5:12 / Amos 5:15 / Zechariah 8:9-10.
The ‘gods’, that is, the judges, know nothing and understand nothing. In other words, because they were in positions of power as judges, they thought too highly of themselves and as a result, they became ignorant and thought they knew it all.
They were proudly and arrogantly walking about in darkness, Acts 18:26-27, and as a result, the foundations of the earth are shaken. In other words, because of their corruption, the lives of everyone else were unstable, and all the things on which the welfare of society rests upon because unstable, Psalm 11:3 / Psalm 75:3.
The Hebrew text, reads, ‘I Myself said you are gods,’ and it’s important to notice that the pronoun, is emphatic. The stress should be placed on the ‘I Myself’ because the speaker is God and He’s addressing those whom He calls the ‘Elohim’.
That word is used very frequently in the Old Testament, and, although it is used in a special way, as the first of the three primary names of Deity, it’s also used in a more general sense. The other two names are Adonai and Yahweh.
We first encounter it in Genesis 1, when God’s action in creation is described. You will find it used 27 times in the 31 verses of that chapter, and it’s used because its root meaning is that of ‘strength’, ‘power’, ‘might’ or ‘authority’.
The word, itself does not imply deity, yet it is a very fitting title when used of the Almighty in His creative activity, ‘Yahweh Elohim’ is the Strong One.
So, the answer to the question who are the gods? is that because the root meaning of the word is ‘might’ or ‘power’, the ‘Elohim’ to whom God speaks in the psalm, are judges.
They are ‘mighty ones’ who are to be recognised as His representatives, His agents, because they have been appointed, in accordance with His law to execute judgment among His people, Israel.
Into this category of ‘gods’ were placed not only the judges but also the priests and prophets, because they also had a divinely appointed ministry.
It is interesting to note that, in John 10:33-36, the Lord Jesus uses this passage in a discussion with the Jews, knowing that they would have no problem accepting this use of the term ‘Elohim’ and would see the strength of the argument he was making because they knew that their Rabbis taught that the word was applied by their Law to men who had been called and appointed by God to undertake special service.
The Lord’s argument runs like this, the Father Himself called certain people ‘Elohim’ when He called them to undertake certain duties among the people. In the exercise of their ministry, they represented Him and acted with His authority.
They were, therefore, called, ‘the elohim’, ‘the mighty ones’. Do you, then, call the One whom the Father actually and directly sanctified, consecrated, set apart and sent into the world, a blasphemer, because I said that ‘I am ‘the’ son of God’?
Since the Jews accepted that God had called certain of His servants ‘gods’, they had no reason for accusing Jesus of blasphemy when he called himself ‘son of God’.
I think we should also notice that in this passage the emphasis should not be placed on the word ‘the’ because the argument is not about the Lord’s uniqueness as ‘the only begotten’ Son, but about the fact that His relationship with God is that of son-ship, and not merely that of servant-hood, no matter how elevated that service might be. In fact, the definite article is not used in the original text.
But compare Hebrews 1:13 ‘To which of the angels, angelon: messengers, said He at any time, ‘You are my son?’ This distinction between Christ and all previous servants of God is brought out most clearly in Hebrews 3:1-6.
Moses, whom the Jews regarded as God’s greatest servant, is declared to have been faithful ‘as a servant’ in God’s house, that is, among God’s people. And the people to whom the Lord was speaking would certainly regard Moses as being among the ‘elohim’.
Yet, even though the service of this great man of God was of the very highest kind so that he is described by the word ‘therapon’, a word for servant which indicates one who renders service voluntarily as distinct from ‘doulos’, the word that indicates a bond-servant, there remains a world of difference between Moses and Jesus. In God’s house, Moses was faithful as a servant. But Christ as a son. Hebrews 3:6.
I must also point out that this confrontation between the Lord and the Jews has a significance which goes far beyond this discussion about the ‘elohim’, the ‘gods’. At a much deeper level, it concerns his deity. We are told that the Jews took up stones to stone him, accusing him of blasphemy because, they said, ‘You, make yourself God’.
During that particular discussion, Jesus, hadn’t, at that point, explicitly claimed to be the Son of God, but he had most certainly implied it when he said, ‘I and the Father ore one’, John 10:30, and the Jews had certainly understood what he claimed.
It’s astonishing, then, that there are so-called religious leaders living today, almost two thousand years later, who presume to declare that Jesus never claimed to be Deity, when the Jews with whom he discussed face to face during his personal ministry, had enough intelligence to understand that this is exactly what he claimed!
God tells these judges that are ‘all sons of the Most High’, that is, they are human, they are His children, made in the image of God, Acts 17:28-29. In other words, they should be acting and judging as sons of the Most High, but they weren’t, they were arrogant and corrupt.
Despite these judges holding a place of respect in society, God tells them they will die because they had abused their power. They will stand before the great Judge of all the earth and face judgment like every other ruler will face judgment.
Asaph ends his psalm by asking God to ‘rise up’ and take His place as the Supreme Judge of all the earth, Amos 5:18-20, because all the nations are His inheritance.
When Asaph looked around and saw Israel’s judges acting unjustly, he rightly cried out to the Supreme Judge of the world to intervene on behalf of the hopeless and helpless in society.
The Scriptures clearly tell us that God hates injustice in whatever form it comes in, Deuteronomy 25:13-16 / Proverbs 6:17 / Proverbs 17:15 / Psalm 89:14, and He expects all those who have positions of authority to act justly, Proverbs 8:15 / Micah 6:8, and if they don’t act justly they will be judged by the Supreme Judge Himself, Matthew 25:31-46.
God expects all of His children to look after those who are vulnerable in society, those who are open to abuse and oppression from the wicked, Acts 6:1-7 / Romans 13:4 / James 2:1-13 / James 1:27.