The Lesser Elohim: A sermon based on Psalm 82
If you were here last week you might remember that we had a fairly bleak discussion about the vulnerabilities inherent in the advancement of technology. Humans have been capable of feats which stagger the imagination, making us seem almost godlike. Psalm 8 says that God has made humans a little lower than God, or Elohim. The implications of this are staggering. Through the development of the internet, humans appear to have created new worlds, but we saw that the underground world of the internet is anything but good. There, users have power to anonymously sell, drugs, weapons, humans, or even human organs. The rise in computing power has given humans godlike omniscience. Governments, businesses, and hackers can easily discover our most intimate details by breaking into our computers, or just collecting all the data we leak through our emails, phone conversations and Facebook. No longer confined to the normal boundaries of time and space, humans have attained god-like transcendence. A group of hackers were able to hack 420,000 websites and gain access to the personal data of over one billion human beings. Our interconnectedness has placed at our finger tips god-like almighty power, giving individuals the power to remotely kidnap people in their own cars, or misdirect trains the will. In the face of exponentially growing powers possessed by those who know how to work the system, its certainly reasonable to feel just a bit terrified. Its easy to wonder what the fate will be for us mere mortals who are at the mercy of those wielding such god-like powers. Its easy to be taken in by such powers and wonder if indeed God can do anything about it. Psalm 82 speaks directly to this fear. In Psalm 82 we see God take His stand, and put all other powers in their place. The writer in Psalm 8, as we saw last week, marvelled that humans were made a little lower than Elohim. But Psalm 82 reminds us that even with such great power, we must never forget our sub ordinance to the one true God.
Psalm 82 is really the only one of its kind in the Psalter. Its a sort of prophetic vision, where the Psalmist is transported into the heavenly realm and witnesses a life-changing vision. (Slide 2) The vision opens with God taking his stand in the great assembly, and gives judgment among the ‘gods.’ But what is the great assembly, and who are the gods? This is a fairly complex question. If we didn’t translate the highlighted words, verse 1 would read: (Slide 3) “Elohim presides in the assembly of El and gives judgment among the elohim.” There has to be some flexibility in meaning, because God isn’t judging Himself. Elohim and El are both ways of referring to the one true God, the God that we worship. The first Elohim in verse one is referring to the God of Israel, the one true Elohim, who is at the head of the assembly of El. But in this Psalm, we see him judging the elohim. So who are these other Elohim? In the Old Testament, the word Elohim can refer to beings as “gods” with a small ‘g’. But the term “elohim” can also refer to humans with great authority, such as kings and judges. In fact, that’s how Jesus interprets Psalm 82, in John 10, namely, that the ‘gods’ of Psalm 82 are referring to humans with power. In the Old Testament, when the word Elohim is used to describe humans, its talking about those who are responsible for the state of affairs. So in Psalm 82, when God is addressing the Elohim, He is addressing whoever is answerable for the way things are. So, who is answerable for the way things are? Earlier we talked about some of the massive injustice that have taken place through technology. So who or what are the powers responsible for the injustices we talked about earlier? The CEO of Facebook or Google, using their companies to collect and sell the data of their users? Maybe particular hackers who have a huge sphere of influence, like those who hack millions of people at a time? Maybe governmental organizations that like the People’s Liberation Army of China and its legion of hackers that steal corporate and international secrets? Could it be the National Security Agency of the United States, as they spy on other world leaders, and millions of others? Could it be engineers who set up the internet to be a place of anonymous evil? In this Psalm, God is speaking to those elohim who are responsible for the way things are.
(Slide 4) And God says that the say things are is horrible. God accuses those lesser elohim, those who are answerable for the way things are, of defending the unjust, showing partiality to the wicked. God rebukes them for neglecting the weak and the fatherless. (Slide 5) God says defend, maintain their rights, rescue, and deliver the poor, the fatherless, the oppressed, the weak and the needy! Last week we reflected that Psalm 8 says, (Slide 6) You made humans a little lower than the Elohim. And we reflected that some of the powers that us lower Elohim have developed is truly terrifying. (Slide 7) In fact, as we reflected on the god-like powers of some, I felt able to identify with the weak, the fatherless, the poor, the oppressed and the needy. After learning that the former director of the FBI, Michelle Obama and several government officials all had their computers hacked and information posted online for all to see, I thought, “what hope do I have”? After learning that Angela Merkel’s cell phone was hacked and monitored I thought “how would I ever be able to protect myself”. After I learned how easy it is for children to be taken in by some predator posing as a friendly person on Facebook, I thought about my children’s safety. The misuse of technology has popped our impression that us Westerners live in security. Moreover, through the misuse of technology, those who have historically been viewed as defenceless and weak, fatherless, and need of rescue, are all the more vulnerable, and can be more easily exploited by predators around the world.
(Slide 8) And this is what the Psalm says about those lower elohim, those persons who are answerable for the way things are. “They know nothing. They understand nothing. They walk about in darkness. All the foundations of the earth are shaken.” They are ignorant, without wisdom, living autonomously, apart from the will of God. And this causes incalculable damage. The result of their ignorance, and darkened, and unwise hearts is that the foundations of the earth are shaken. (Slide 9) One commentator put it this way, “the perversion of justice is the first step towards the apocalypse.” Throughout Scripture, their is a running narrative that says that the moral order of things is tied up with the created order. They are intimately connected. When we say that God created the world as good, we are saying he created the world as just. After all, you couldn’t say God created a good world if it were not just. So, when humans brought sin into the world, what also came with that is the undoing of creation. When Adam and Eve first sinned, creation itself is thrown out of order. When people live unjustly, the result isn’t just the collapse of the moral order, but the collapse of creation itself. That is what’s behind the story of the flood in Genesis chapter 6. (Slide 10) “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” What resulted was the undoing of Creation, the flood, a reversion to the state of watery chaos. (Slide 11) Hence, we are right to be concerned, even frightened that these lesser Elohim, these ones who are answerable for the way things are, are ignorant, unwise, and dark in mind and heart. For through their actions, all the foundations of the earth are shaken. (Slide 12). “The perversion of justice is the first step towards the Apocalypse.” How have you seen the destruction of creation and the prevalence of injustice tied up together?
But do you know what saves the Psalmist from despair? Do you know what saves the Psalmist from the feelings of fatalism? Do you know what prevents the Psalmist from curling up in a ball, turning off the lights to make it all just go away? Do you know what prevents the Psalmist from saying that just because this is the way things are, it doesn’t mean its the way things have to be? What gives the Psalmist hope is the vision of God in the great assembly. The vision of God sorting out this mess once and for all. The guarantee that all of these powers and principalities, all these rulers, all these lesser Elohim, will be called to account. This is revelation of the great truth that God rules over all, and one day all will have to answer to the one true God. Judgment will be rendered.
So the writer of this Psalm has this sort of revelation where he realizes the true nature of things! (Slide 15) He thought that all those lesser Elohim were Sons of the Most High! He thought of them as gods! But thanks to Revelation, the Psalmist realizes that they have no real power! They aren’t in fact gods! They are not truly great, they are not truly transcendent, or omniscient or all powerful! Their might is a farce, a sham, a thin veil trying to cover our eyes from seeing the true unstoppable power of the One True God, who presides over this Cosmos. So the Psalmist cries out to those lesser Elohim, “I thought you were like gods! But that is not the case at all! You will die just like any other man! You will fall like any other ruler.” The writer of the Psalm pulls back the curtain and reveals the true nature of things.
The powers that we see at play in this world, the predators, the hackers, the heads of state, the tech CEOs, the National Security Agencies, the proliferators of Nuclear Arms, the slave traders, the identity theives, and all the forces that can make us feel like a pawn in the hands of a few; All of these must bow before the throne. God exalted and gave Jesus the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This makes all the difference in the world in how we live. Its easy to be taken in, as the Psalmist was, by the shear power that some have and think they must truly be gods, Son’s of the Most High! But the reality is that all are answerable to God. That changes things. All their power can be taken away. There is nothing permanent about them at all. What that means is that we don’t need to give into fatalism. When we are overwhelmed by the powers that be, its easy to be left stunned. But recognizing that everything is under God means that we can take big and small steps to make things better.
Robert F. Kennedy said, “Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills, misery, ignorance, and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.”
What history will we write? As Christian we live in the reality that all the Earth, all the Nations, all the powers, everything that is on and offline, everything is under the Almighty! Empowered by God, we take small steps, working together to bring about and magnify all that is good! And everything that is under judgment, everything that has no place in the coming kingdom, we work to diminish, subvert and suppress. We do all this in anticipation of the day when justice shall prevail throughout all the Earth, and the entire created order shall be restored.
This is the only true reality. This is the only true power. (Slide 16) So let us cry out with the Psalmist, “Rise up O God! Judge the Earth! For all the nations are your inheritance!”