Resources for Facing Catastrophe in the Songs of Asaph and Korah

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Psalm 82 (ESV)
1 God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted 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 about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you;
7 nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.”
8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!

Key Observation

The true mark of faithfulness is the practice of justice and mercy toward the marginalized.

Understanding the Word

It is possible to combine two psalms of Asaph (82–83) and three psalms of Korah (84, 85, and 87) to learn important dimensions to God’s kingdom and his calling for the church. These psalms reflect on the crises God’s people face. The world does not always work out the way we desire. God calls us to live holy lives as agents of blessing to the world. This life of mission does not immunize us against suffering. In fact, as we navigate Book III, the challenges portrayed in these psalms only increase. Psalm 82 is a counter-cultural proclamation of justice and judgment. It is a prayer that the values of God’s kingdom will manifest in our world. We long for love, hope, kindness, compassion, fairness, and equality for all people. Yet the news continually reminds us of the suffering and injustice experienced by many. How are we as God’s people to serve as agents of God’s abundance in such a world?

Verse 1 opens with a scene from a heavenly court. God, our Creator and Savior, presides over the gods and goddesses of the world. This psalm is not suggesting that there really are other gods. The Lord is the one true God, and the Bible as a whole proclaims this truth. The problem is that humanity creates many gods to compete with the Lord. What do we worship today? Security, affluence, military power, political ideologies, education, sex, family, possessions, status . . . just to name a few. This list contains both positive and negative elements. The danger occurs when we elevate any of these above our commitment to the true God. When this occurs, problems arise. God asks all of the other gods a key question in verse 2. He puts justice and fairness forward as the key criteria for judgment. The Bible insists that when we elevate anyone or anything above God, injustice and wickedness will follow.

Unfortunately, this has been the consistent pattern of human history. God offers exhortations to the gods in verses 3–5. What matters is how we treat those on the margins (the poor, the sick, the weak, the lowly, the orphan, the widow, and the immigrant). Verses 3–4 exhort the “gods” to practice justice and to rescue the marginalized. This is the mark of true religion. Verse 5 diagnoses the true problem with our world. Those in power, as well as those elevated as gods, are lost themselves. Their injustice and inability to act rightly for all causes the fabric of society and the world itself to shake. God, therefore, passes judgment on those gods who practice injustice (vv. 6–7). Their rule and lives will come to an end. There will be a day of reckoning for those who have used power unjustly for evil. Psalm 82 ends with a prayer that calls for God to act as the true and legitimate King of creation. Verse 8 is an Old Testament way of God’s people praying, “Your kingdom come, O Lord.” May it come quickly.

1. How does this psalm teach us to pray for justice?

2. What are the marks of a just world? As God’s people, how can we participate in its making?

Are you interested in studying and living with the Psalms in a deeper way? In Part II of his OneBook Daily-Weekly journey through the Psalms, Dr. Brian Russell introduces readers to Books Two and Three of the Psalms (Psalms 42-89). Through eight weeks of workbook and video teaching, participants will have an even stronger grasp of how these wisdom books can help inspire a moment-by-moment walk with God through the world. Get the study in our store here.

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Dr. Brian Russell is Dean of the School of Urban Ministries and Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is also a consultant and speaker on the missional interpretation of Scripture and creating a missional ethos in communities of faith.

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