Doing Justice: The Job of Leaders

I’m not a political junkie. But I did write a book on political leadership. It was a study through all the passages in the book of Proverbs that mentioned words like “king”, “governor”, “ruler” and words associated with ruling or judging. It was a close examination of what these leaders were commanded to do, what was expected of their leadership, etc.. In other words, what we should look for and from our political leaders or what we should aspire to be if we are going to be a political public servant. Even though we don’t have a king and do live in a democratic republic, there was much to garner for our own situation. Psalm 82 could easily have been a part of that book.

The psalm is short, only 8 verses, and it is completely focused on God’s judgment of the kind of political leadership He doesn’t want and the kind of leadership He expects from those in authority. Essentially, it is God laying out a job description for leaders, political or religious, or, to put it in New Testament terms, “all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)—the people for whom we as believers are to be praying.

Below I have taken the NASB95 version of Psalm 82 and added the quotation marks around verses 2-4, and pushed-indented the paragraph breaks that I see in the text so that they are more noticeable. 

The biggest interpretive difficulties in the text are:
  • The identity of “the gods” in verse 1.  (i.e. Who is being addressed?)
    • actual gods
    • angelic hosts
    • demons
    • or human leaders, kings (I take the position that this is the best option)
  • Who is the “they” of verse 5 referring to?
    • one of the above
    • the powerless groups mentioned in verses 2-4
      (i.e., the weak, the fatherless, the afflicted, the destitute and the needy) –This is the interpretive option I follow. i don’t think anything else makes sense.
  • Who is the respondent of verse 8?  (I take the position that the respondent is the reader or worshiper that “speaks” in verse 8)

A Psalm of Asaph.

1 God takes His position in His assembly;                           A
   He judges in the midst of the gods.
2 “How long will you judge unjustly                              B
   And show partiality to the wicked?    Selah
Vindicate the weak and fatherless;
   Do justice to the afflicted and destitute.

Rescue the weak and needy;
   Save them from the hand of the wicked.”
5 They do not know nor do they understand.                    C
   They walk around in darkness;

   All the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I said, “You are gods,                                                     D
   And all of you are sons of the Most High.

Nevertheless you will die like men,
   And fall like one of the princes.”
Arise, God, judge the earth!                                                   E
   For You possess all the nations.

I’ve labeled the sections of the psalm above with A, B, C, D, and E.

A descriptive outline might be:

A.  The context is established: God is judging the rulers for their injustice
B.  God tells these rulers what He wants from them:  Stop perverting justice.
C.  God gets specific about what injustice is: Not Protecting the defenseless.
      (i.e., the needy, the fatherless, the oppressed, the destitute and the poor)
D.  God summarizes why this is their job: If you don’t give justice, the foundations
      of society will be shaken.
E.  The worshipper responds with a prayer for God to bring justice to the nations.

How might I preach it?

It would be unwise and mostly unhelpful to preach this type of a descriptive outline. It is too complicated and too hard to remember and therefore unlikely to be applied. It needs a more simple outline that at least hints at application, what preachers call a “homiletical outline.” It would also be unwise to preach from the psalm before the preacher has saturated his own soul in the teaching of the psalm. My pastor will be preaching from this psalm on this coming Sunday and I am looking forward to his humble and submitted heart’s meditation. He is a good man and wrestles with the text honestly. Pray for him as he finishes his study.

Meanwhile, here is another offering for THE POETRY PROJECT.

Read Psalm 82

A Reflection on Psalm 82

We elected you in hope.
Believers and unbelievers alike,
and from every side, above and below
the political divide of our darkened country.
We were looking for something from you.
We are the friendless and we needed you.
We are the needy, and the fatherless,
the unprotected and the unemployed,
the poor and the destitute,
the uncared for and the forgotten,
the manipulated and the abused,
the neglected and the powerless. 
We needed an advocate.
We wanted you to use the power we gave you
to provide justice for us.
It was your job.
God said so.
But now we are asking the same question He is:
“How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?”
Don’t you know?
One day you will give an account 
    for how you mistreated us!
That’s what we are praying for.
And the Most High?
He hears our cries.
Your day is coming.

Go to Psalm 83

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