Last year, Global Finance compiled a list of the world’s ten best cities to live in. The cities selected (from tenth to first) were: Sydney; Berlin; Seoul; Paris; Frankfurt; Melbourne; New York City; Singapore; London; and Tokyo. The rankings were based on eight different metrics: economic strength; research and development; cultural interaction; livability; environment; accessibility; GDP per capita; and (of course, being 2020) COVID-19 deaths per million for the country. Simply stated, cities were ranked according to the ease with which its inhabitants could live life.
As the assessors took their judgement seat, they considered quality of life, from a comfort perspective, paramount in determining the best societies in which to live. While everybody wants to enjoy a comfortable life, Scripture’s priorities are quite different. Psalm 82 is a case in point.
In this psalm, the God of the Bible takes his place among the council of the gods to deliver his assessment of society. His assessment, however, is not based on economics, politics, or comfort. His assessment comes down to a single element: justice. God is concerned about a society’s concern for the weak, the poor, the marginalized, the voiceless, and the disenfranchised. He is less concerned about average household income than he is about the way a people treats its outcasts. “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (vv. 3–4).
Since these words were written to God’s covenant people, it is important for the church, in particular, to take this teaching to heart. Of course, the full weight of Scripture must be brought to bear and so texts like 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (“If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat”) must be considered when formulating an approach to poverty within the covenant community. Nevertheless, Christians surely must not ignore the heart of God for the marginalised in their midst.
In the psalm before us, God pronounced a most sobering judgement on the gods who did not consider the poor and needy: “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince” (vv. 6–7). Immortality properly belongs to a god, but these gods forfeited that privilege by their failure to do what God expected of them.
No doubt, this psalm raises serious questions. How do we understand the reference to gods sitting in the divine counsel when Scripture elsewhere makes it plain that there is only one God and all others are nothing? Nevertheless, the main teaching of the text is clear. God expects his people to act justly, which includes caring for the marginalised. If they don’t, he will judge them.
It may not look the same in every context, but the basic question must be asked: Have our values been so shaped by comfort that we neglect the needy in our midst? As God sits in his divine counsel, looking down at our churches, is he pleased to see that we are caring for the marginalised in our midst, or are we fattening ourselves to our own destruction?
As you head into a fresh day, reflect on this psalm and ask yourself how you are doing when it comes to God’s expectations. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).