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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–5
Verses 1–5

We have here,

I. God’s supreme presidency and power in all councils and courts asserted and laid down, as a great truth necessary to be believed both by princes and subjects (Ps. 82:1): God stands, as chief director, in the congregation of the mighty, the mighty One, in coetu fortis—in the councils of the prince, the supreme magistrate, and he judges among the gods, the inferior magistrates; both the legislative and the executive power of princes is under his eye and his hand. Observe here, 1. The power and honour of magistrates; they are the mighty. They are so in authority, for the public good (it is a great power that they are entrusted with), and they ought to be so in wisdom and courage. They are, in the Hebrew dialect, called gods; the same word is used for these subordinate governors that is used for the sovereign ruler of the world. They are elohim. Angels are so called both because they are great in power and might and because God is pleased to make use of their service in the government of this lower world; and magistrates in an inferior capacity are likewise the ministers of his providence in general, for the keeping up of order and peace in human societies, and particularly of his justice and goodness in punishing evil-doers and protecting those that do well. Good magistrates, who answer the ends of magistracy, are as God; some of his honour is put upon them; they are his vicegerents, and great blessings to any people. A divine sentence is in the lips of the king, Prov. 16:10. But, as roaring lions and ranging bears, so are wicked rulers over the poor people, Prov. 28:15. 2. A good form and constitution of government intimated, and that is a mixed monarchy like ours; here is the might one, the sovereign, and here is his congregation, his privy-council, his parliament, his bench of judges, who are called the gods. 3. God’s incontestable sovereignty maintained in and over all the congregations of the mighty. God stands, he judges among them; they have their power from him and are accountable to him. By him kings reign. He is present at all their debates, and inspects all they say and do, and what is said and done amiss will be called over again, and they reckoned with for their mal-administrations. God has their hearts in his hands, and their tongues too, and he directs them which way soever he will, Prov. 21:1. So that he has a negative voice in all their resolves, and his counsels shall stand, whatever devices are in men’s hearts. He makes what use he pleases of them, and serves his own purposes and designs by them; though their hearts little think so, Isa. 10:7. Let magistrates consider this and be awed by it; God is with them in the judgment, 2 Chron. 19:6; Deut. 1:17. Let subjects consider this and be comforted with it; for good princes and good judges, who mean well, are under a divine direction, and bad ones, who mean ever so ill, are under a divine restraint.

II. A charge given to all magistrates to do good with their power, as they will answer it to him by whom they are entrusted with it, Ps. 82:3, 4. 1. They are to be the protectors of those who lie exposed to injury and the patrons of those who want advice and assistance: Defend the poor, who have no money wherewith to make friends or fee counsel, and the fatherless, who, while they are young and unable to help themselves, have lost those who would have been the guides of their youth. Magistrates, as they must be fathers to their country in general, so particularly to those in it who are fatherless. Are they called gods? Herein they must be followers of him, they must be fathers of the fatherless. Job was so, Job 29:12. 2. They are to administer justice impartially, and do right to the afflicted and needy, who, being weak and helpless, have often wrongs done them; and will be in danger of losing all if magistrates do not, ex officio—officially, interpose for their relief. If a poor man has an honest cause, his poverty must be no prejudice to his cause, how great and powerful soever those are that contend with him. 3. They are to rescue those who have already fallen into the hands of oppressors and deliver them. (Ps. 82:4): Rid them out of the hand of the wicked. Avenge them of their adversary, Luke 18:3. These are clients whom there is nothing to be got by, no pay for serving them, no interest by obliging them; yet these are those whom judges and magistrates must concern themselves for, whose comfort they must consult and whose cause they must espouse.

III. A charge drawn up against bad magistrates, who neglect their duty and abuse their power, forgetting that God standeth among them, Ps. 82:2, 5. Observe, 1. What the sin is they are here charged with; they judge unjustly, contrary to the rules of equity and the dictates of their consciences, giving judgment against those who have right on their side, out of malice and ill-will, or for those who have an unrighteous cause, out of favour and partial affection. To do unjustly is bad, but to judge unjustly is much worse, because it is doing wrong under colour of right; against such acts of injustice there is least fence for the injured and by them encouragement is given to the injurious. It was as great an evil as any Solomon saw under the sun when he observed the place of judgment, that iniquity was there, Eccl. 3:16; Isa. 5:7. They not only accepted the persons of the rich because they were rich, though that is bad enough, but (which is much worse) they accepted the persons of the wicked because they were wicked; they not only countenanced them in their wickedness, but loved them the better for it, and fell in with their interests. Woe unto thee, O land! when thy judges are such as these. 2. What was the cause of this sin. They were told plainly enough that it was their office and duty to protect and deliver the poor; it was many a time given them in charge; yet they judge unjustly, for they know not, neither will they understand. They do not care to hear their duty; they will not take pains to study it; they have no desire to take things right, but are governed by interest, not by reason or justice. A gift in secret blinds their eyes. They know not because they will not understand. None so blind as those that will not see. They have baffled their own consciences, and so they walk on in darkness, not knowing nor caring what they do nor whither they go. Those that walk on in darkness are walking on to everlasting darkness. 3. What were the consequences of this sin: All the foundations of the earth (or of the land) are out of course. When justice is perverted what good can be expected? The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved, as the psalmist speaks in a like case, Ps. 75:3. The miscarriages of public persons are public mischiefs.