This psalm gives advice to those who ruled in Israel. It begins by reminding them that God is the ultimate sovereign who rules over human judges and they are reminded that they are accountable to him. As Spurgeon observed about such judges: ‘Their harsh decisions and strange judgments are made in the presence of him who will surely visit them for every unseemly act, for he has no respect unto the person of any, and is the champion of the poor and needy. A higher authority will criticise the decision of petty sessions, and even the judgments of our most impartial judges will be revised by the High Court of heaven.’
These rulers are here addressed as ‘gods’ because they have a prominent position; Jesus says in John 10:34-36 that the people addressed here were men, not supernatural beings. They are accused by God of acting unjustly and showing partiality to the wicked (vv. 1-4).
An essential priority of human rulers is detailed in verses 3-4 – they are to ensure that the weak and fatherless are protected from exploitation by wicked masters and employers. David Dickson, a Scottish commentator on the psalms, affirmed: ‘The touchstone [acid test] of magistrates’ justice is in the causes and cases of the poor, fatherless, afflicted, and needy, who are not able to attend long their suits of law, have no friends nor money to deal for them; to whom, therefore, the mighty should be eyes to direct them, and a staff to their weakness, to support and help them in their right.’
The Lord had given instructions to those judges as to how they were to govern his people. Therefore the judges could not claim ignorance regarding their responsibilities. Consequently, to show partiality against his needy creatures was, and is, a great sin against God.
Nevertheless they were ignorant of God’s demands because they had not considered them (v. 5). The outcome was that the foundations of society had been shaken. When rulers of a country with a Christian heritage ignore the requirements of God, then that country will be shaken at its very core. We are seeing that today. For decades now, God’s laws have been ignored, even contradicted, by our rulers and the outcome is that the foundations of our national life are tottering.
The judges of Israel are reminded in verses 6 and 7 that they are mortal. Although they had risen to prominence and obtained great titles (‘gods’ and ‘children of the Most High’), they would die and lose power. In our society, they usually lose power before they die. If we live long enough, we will see many rise and then decline. No human ruler lasts for ever.
What is the psalmist’s hope since he cannot look to human judges for help? His hope is that the Lord would rise in judgement on the earth (8a). After all, he is the only Ruler that will always have an inheritance (the nations) to govern. Therefore Asaph prayed specifically for divine action to be taken against unjust rulers.
Several thousand years later, we know that the divine response has developed. It began a new stage when the Judge was born in a society where an unjust ruler governed (Herod) and where the poor and needy had no defenders (a poor pregnant woman was refused help in Bethlehem). Thirty years later the Judge himself experienced injustice and callousness when he was on trial for his life. But he is now on the throne of God, overseeing the affairs of nations.
We must remember that he is the One who removes unjust rulers from their seats of power, whatever may be the secondary reasons for their demise. If we use our memories, we will recall that Jesus removed several in this past year, and if we investigated them we may find that one feature of their rule was indifference concerning justice for the poor and needy. This will be the case until he returns and judges personally each of the human race – including its rulers.