Centuries ago kings in Europe sometimes addressed one another not as “King Henry” or “King Francis,” but as “Brother England” or “My Cousin, France.” They knew that kings were individuals, but they also recognized that monarchs acted as a composite unity that represented the whole country.
Psalm 82 describes a similar dual status for Israel. The psalmist Asaph shows Israel its high calling and status, but he also shows Israel’s inability to live into their calling. Both their status and their failure reveal Christ to us.
One key to understanding this text is the Hebrew word Elohim, a frequent name for God in the Old Testament. It is the plural form of El, the singular word for God. Some see hints of the Trinity here, since Psalm 82 uses Elohim and El interchangeably. For instance, verse 1 states, “Elohim stands in the congregation of El, he judges among the elohim” (nkjv). In verse 6 we see again, “I said, ‘You are elohim.’”
Translators can pick up contextual clues to render these terms appropriately, but in this text we should not be too quick to starkly differentiate between the usages of Elohim. Asaph uses Elohim to show the connection between God and mankind and to refer us back to Genesis 1. It also pushes us ahead to Jesus Himself, who, although a “Son of Man,” used this text to point to His own divinity (John 10:34). Woven throughout this psalm we see the connections between God, Christ, and us.
This same text also shows our need for redemption. We fail to defend the weak and uphold justice (v. 3), severing the bond between God and creation itself (v. 5). God calls us “gods,” but we will die (v. 7). “Rise up, O Elohim!” (v. 8).