Defend the poor

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‘Thank you, Creator Father, for a day to rest as you rested and to remember that once I was enslaved but now I am free.’

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Bible passage: Psalm 82

Psalm 82

A psalm of Asaph.
 1 God presides in the great assembly;
       he gives judgment among the "gods":

 2 "How long will you defend the unjust
       and show partiality to the wicked?

 3 Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless;
       maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.

 4 Rescue the weak and needy;
       deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

 5 "They know nothing, they understand nothing.
       They walk about in darkness;
       all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

 6 "I said, 'You are "gods";
       you are all sons of the Most High.'

 7 But you will die like mere men;
       you will fall like every other ruler."

 8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth,
       for all the nations are your inheritance.

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Explore the Bible

Ultimate judge
Who are the ‘gods’ of verse 1? The Hebrew word used here sometimes refers to angelic beings surrounding God, sometimes to God himself. However, Jesus quotes Psalm 82 in John 10:31–39 referring to ‘those to whom the word came’, ie Israel. So here ‘the great assembly’ is probably not the divine heavenly court as in Job 1 but, as in Exodus and Numbers, the people of God.

Still, whoever the ‘gods’ are, the identity and character of the one true God are clear. He holds supreme authority, he is the ultimate judge and he is totally opposed to the exploitation of the poor and the marginalised.

Duty of care
Elsewhere in the Bible we repeatedly read that every member of God’s people has a duty to protect and care for the poor, the exploited, the widow, the orphan in their community. Isaiah 1:17, for example, says, ‘Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.’ It’s up to us.

Where do you see injustice in your community? Where do you see the oppressed in our land?


‘Lord Jesus, you came to preach good news to the poor (Luke 4). Show me one thing you would have me do for the poor and vulnerable in my community. To the honour of your name, Amen.’

Mark Greene

Deeper Bible study

Rational people don’t call them deities because they are not found in fancy temples. Yet there are indeed councils of gods who preside over the world’s affairs: the gods of racism, materialism, recreation, fame, sexual pleasure, entertainment, wealth, popularity, beauty, status, success and violence. In service and honour to them, politicians strut in parliaments, governments legislate, businesses make profits, nations go to war, treaties are signed and broken. It takes faith to believe that these gods do not have the last word in human affairs. 

Israel too, surrounded by the many gods of neighbouring countries, felt besieged. Self-serving deities were imagined assembling at New Year to determine forthcoming events. This court would have been a symbol of random power and amoral chance. For believers hearing Yahweh’s own words in this psalm, there is exasperation. For us, living between Calvary and Jesus’ second coming, it can feel at best like limbo and at worst like hell, as exploitation and degradation, greed and genocide hold sway. All day long, in our streets and on our screens, we are assaulted by an underlying evil that seizes individuals and institutions. We cry out in desperation: ‘How long?’ We witness injustice and cruelty wreaked on the most vulnerable; we see those responsible for their protection abusing their position and we howl, ‘How long?’

Psalm 82 pronounces God’s judgement on these gods. They are guilty of heinous crimes; they are dethroned. Their end is assured. In fighting for justice, in alleviating the suffering of the poor, in living counterculturally, we are aligning ourselves with God’s purposes. We are joining our voices to those of God’s people through the ages, who have called, ‘Rise up, O God, judge the earth’ (v 8). We are siding with the Almighty Sovereign Judge, whose justice and mercy meet at the cross of Christ, whose final glorious victory is assured.

Fiona Barnard

Bible in a Year

Read the Bible in a Year

Jeremiah 40,41

John 15

Audio psalm

Today’s psalm is another tricky one – what’s the message we’re supposed to get from it? How can we pray it for ourselves? Reflect on what God wants to say about society today as you listen to this audio reading.

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