Psalm 81 (82)

1 God stood in the assembly of gods; He judges in the midst of gods, saying, 2 “How long will you judge unjustly, And favour the persons of sinners?” 3 Judge an orphan and a poor man; Justify a humble and poor man; 4 Rescue a poor and needy man; Deliver them from a sinner’s hand. 5 They do not know nor understand; They carry on in darkness; All the foundations of the earth shall be shaken. 6 I said, “You are gods, And you are all sons of the Most High. 7 But you die like men, And like one of the rulers, you fall.” 8 Arise, O God; judge the earth, For You shall inherit all the Gentiles. This well-known Psalm is chanted during the Vesperal Liturgy for Pascha. It describes God coming to judge the assembly of those who judge the earth, who did not advance the cause of the disadvantaged but were themselves sinners.

The first verse states: “God stood in the assembly of gods.” Interpreted in isolation, it can seem as though there are multiple gods. Alternatively, Orthodox tradition instructs us to look to the other Psalms, in which “the gods of the nations are demons.”

However, Saint Nicodemus the Hagiorite places the verse into its proper context, as referring to those who take on the heavenly duties of God on the earth. In the Old Testament this meant the Scribes and the Pharisees, who judged with pride those people around them.

As a result, this verse is prophetic in foreseeing Christ standing in the midst of the Scribes and Pharisees and quoting verse 6 of this Psalm (John 10:34-36): “I said, ‘You are gods and you are all sons of the Most High’.”

This verse also leads the faithful to understand that as we were created in the image and likeness of God, we are considered children of God. We are all called, in St Athanasius the Great’s words, to become “gods by grace.” Even though all are unworthy of this title, according to St Dionysius the Areopagite, everyone who “strives to be enlightened by divine matters and tries as hard as possible to imitate God deserves to be called divine.”

Verse 8 from this Psalm is often repeated at the Paschal Vesperal Liturgy, and says: “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for You shall inherit all the Gentiles.” To quote St Nicodemus, “this is indisputably about Christ’s resurrection from the dead.” May we become His inheritance in the midst of the world.


Source: Lychnos October 2021 / November 2021