In Psalm 82, the psalmist was directly speaking to the judges of Israel, but the principles laid out there apply to all men and women who occupy places of importance as the dispensers of justice. The psalm relates to those judges who were corrupt and abused their offices. Today, many wonder about what will happen to those rulers and judges who cause pain and suffering – who deal out injustice and evil rather than fairness and protection of rights. Psalm 82 can give the answer to such questions.
In verse 1, the psalm vividly pictures a courtroom scene where the judges themselves stand before the Lord God. In verse 2 the charges are stated, “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?” Due to sin, there have always been corrupt judges in the history of the world and will continue to be until the Lord returns. Some are drawn to such positions because of the power that comes with the position. However, that does not mean that such men and women will escape accountability for their actions. Great privilege brings with it greater responsibility.
The real work of a judge is described in verse 3 and 4 – “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked”. These verses carry the same thought as James’ description of religion that is pure and faultless – “to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Why the emphasis on the poor, weak, and needy? Men with money or prestige can hire lawyers, hire workers to fix what is wrong, or simply have a fine and go on with their lives. But the weak and poor do not have those resources. There is no “safety net” in their lives. The fatherless are even denied the help and protection of their father. But a judge has the position and power to establish justice and mercy for those that have no other recourse. The work and will of God has always included compassion and care for the weak and helpless in the world.
In verse 5, the psalmist gives a description of the character of the corrupt judges. “They know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken,” Intelligence, experience, or prominence do not guarantee wisdom. Today, many rulers and judges are intelligence and educated men and women, but they are not wise in the Lord’s will, and they make judgments with no consideration of the moral or spiritual effects of their decisions. Such people do indeed walk in darkness!
Often, people in positions of authority are viewed by the people as being important and powerful individuals. The words of a Chief Justice, a President, a Premier, or a Dictator can cause shock waves to occur in a country or in the world. The consequences of their actions can reverberate for generations.
Yes, they are seen as men and women of power. Some gain a following of people that view them as almost gods. Yet each one is mortal and will die as all die. Seven decades ago, it seemed that the power of Adolph Hitler would sweep the world; but today, that power is gone. Only ashes and shadows remain of the Third Reich. Power does not add to the years of a leader or judge. Power is fleeting. The only true power rests with the Lord God.
In the final verse, the psalmist cries out to the Lord to rise up and judge the earth, “for all the nations are your inheritance”. Law and government are instituted by God. A person who holds the office of judge will face the Great Judge one day and account for his, or her, actions. If a person is a Christian AND holds a position as a judge, or any other position of authority, the admonition is very clear that rulings and decisions MUST be in compliance with God’s Will.
As Christians see the great injustices that occur, as misery and death grow from the actions of evil men, the hope is still there that all accounts will be settled. For those in Christ, there can be no fear, because the power of the judges of this world cannot touch the soul of the person that is joined to Christ. As Paul wrote in Romans 8, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”