Where Judgment Begins

Psalm 82 begins with the Lord in his “house of lords,” but He is there because they have been doing what is right in their own eyes. Thus, this prophetic song is as applicable to the authorities of our own day as it was in any previous era in history.

Some believe that Asaph refers to a “divine council” of angels, but the Covenant-literary structure makes that interpretation impossible. It recapitulates the qualification of God’s first intended legal representative, Adam, working through his failure as a priest, king and prophet, and his subsequent fall.

Adam was given a law but required to interpret it in an unforeseen situation. The Lord’s intention was always that Adam and Eve would become “as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5), but via submission to God’s laws, not in violation of them. Instead, Adam listened to history’s first false prophet, misjudging both God and the serpent. He saw good as evil and evil as good, founding his own “supreme court” in which God no longer had a say. Thinking himself wise, Adam became a fool.

The same pattern can be found throughout the Old Testament, since God always works through mediators. He ministered and exercised His authority through priests, kings and prophets but through Moses he also established judges (Exodus 18:25; Deuteronomy 16:18). God’s laws were good (Transcendence), but even they required a mediator (Hierarchy) to judge each case upon its own merits (Ethics), administering justice and mercy (Oath/Sanctions). This is how we become wise and fruitful (Succession). When Israel lost its “church-state” status, it was necessary to interpret the letter of the Law for a new situation, discerning the “spirit” in which it was given, and thus coming to a better understanding of the heart of God.1James B. Jordan has written a lot about this concept of maturity via testing, and also about the purpose and ultimate benefits of Israel’s exile.

The Elohim in heaven required elohim on earth who would rule faithfully in His image. This is why the matrix/sacrifice pattern begins with God (Creation/Initiation) and ends with the godly Man (Glorification/Representation).

In each of the different offices, submission to God’s law results in wisdom both in man’s laws and in man’s judgments. Those who rule over us have been installed by God for the betterment of the world (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Of course, the perennial temptation for those given authority is to do what Adam did: evade the requirement for prior “submission to heaven,” sacrificing longevity for short term gain. The result is always tyranny in the lawmaking of man, kingdoms like those of Cain and Lamech, Pharaoh and the Canaanites, Ahab and Jezebel, Herod and the Judaizers. Saul’s rejection by God resulted from his continual failure to submit, and David ordered the murder of Uriah the Hittite before he repented of his adultery. On Psalm 82:1-5, Matthew Henry writes:

Magistrates are the mighty in authority for the public good. Magistrates are the ministers of God’s providence, for keeping up order and peace, and particularly in punishing evil-doers, and protecting those that do well. Good princes and good judges, who mean well, are under Divine direction; and bad ones, who mean ill, are under Divine restraint. The authority of God is to be submitted to, in those governors whom his providence places over us. But when justice is turned from what is right, no good can be expected. The evil actions of public persons are public mischiefs.

Just as Adam’s failure in the Garden led to sin in the Land and the World, so the judgment of God also begins in the Sanctuary, that is, the “seat of Moses,” the throne which contained the laws of God. Since all authority on earth is delegated from heaven, the prophets went right to the heart of the matter, confronting unfaithful priests, despotic kings, false prophets and corrupt judges. John the Baptist, Jesus and the Apostles did likewise, which is why John called Herod out for his adultery, why Jesus quoted Psalm 82 in support of His legal case against the Pharisees (John 10:34-36), and why Peter wrote concerning the Temple in Jerusalem:

“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17)

Before we consider the wonderful structure of Psalm 82, we must become familiar with the pattern of Adam’s qualification, which serves as its foundation.

The Testing of Adam

Creation: The Man is given a single Law, and authority over his initial “subjects,” all life that has breath, as husbandman. (Sabbath)
Division: In a death-like sleep, his flesh his cut and the Woman is constructed. (Passover)
ETHICS 1 – Priesthood
Ascension: Adam stands with Eve and after the Lord marries them he speaks his first recorded words as a blessing. (Firstfruits)
ETHICS 2 – Kingdom
Testing: The serpent “interprets” the Law for Adam, seeking to bring judgment upon the Man, the Woman, and their offspring. (Pentecost)
ETHICS 3 – Prophecy
Maturity: Adam “grasps equality with God,” and he and his wife’s eyes are opened to the truth, and their nakedness. They hear the Lord coming and camouflage themselves. (Trumpets)
Conquest: The Lord calls for legal testimony, but Adam gives a false witness. Rather than slaying them, the Lord thwarts the serpent’s intentions by covering their sin through substitutionary deaths, and covering their nakedness with animal skin. (Atonement)
Glorification: The promised fruit of the Land and the womb are opened to Adam, but with humbling limitations. Instead of serving as swordbearer for God, Adam is still under the sword, wearing a “circumcised” skin. God Himself will be the only righteous judge of all the earth2In Genesis 18, Abraham serves as a “god” in God’s courts, advocating for the righteous in Sodom, testifying “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” until Noah, the father of all nations. (Booths)

If we have our wits about us, we might also notice that this pattern subtly works its way through the Ten Commandments.

Psalm 82: Lord of Lords

Creation: Day 1/Sabbath/Genesis – Authority
A Psalm (Creation – Initiation)
of Asaph. (Division – Delegation)
God [’elohim] | takes his stand (Ascension – Presentation)
in his congregation | of the mighty [’el]; (Testing – Purification)
in the midst (Maturity – Transformation)
of the gods [’elohim] (Conquest – Vindication)
he judges. (Glorification – Representation)

  • The first stanza serves as a microcosm of the entire Psalm, at the end of which God remains the only perfect judge.
  • Ascension and Maturity present God and His court as Covenant head and Covenant body. We see this in the Testing of Adam, but also in the journey of Israel from Egypt to Canaan. There, Moses ascends Sinai as Head, Israel usurps his authority, then Moses speaks to a new Body. Of course, the book of Judges is the final step in that pattern, Israel’s “Day 7.”
Division: Day 2/Passover/Exodus – Perjury
“How long (Initiation)
will you judge (Delegation)
unjustly (No Presentation)
and the faces (No Purification)
of the wicked (No Transformation)
accept? (No Vindication)
(Selah) (No Representation)

  • The various English versions gloss over the word “faces,” translating it as “persons” or simply “showing partiality.” These are not incorrect, but the idea is that to the wise judge “there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight:but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Unlike Adam, Solomon used wisdom gleaned from the Word of God, made alive by the Spirit, to get beyond false testimony and expose “the thoughts and intents of the heart” (1 Kings 3:16-28; Hebrews 4:12-13).
  • Like God, the author puts a musical “rest” in line 7, the missing breath of the Spirit in Adam, and leaves no rest for the wicked.
ETHICS 1 – Priesthood
Ascension: Day 3/Firstfruits/Leviticus – Advocacy
(Ark – Light)
the poor
(Veil – Waters)
and fatherless –
(Altar – Land & Firstfruits)
(No Lampstand – No Ruling Lights)
to the afflicted
(Incense – Hosts)
and needy
(Mediators: Laver, Sacrifices & Priesthood – Animals and Man)
do justice.
(Shekinah – Rest and Rule)

  • In this “Levitical” stanza, the role of the Tabernacle as a microcosm of the world is the matrix thread which is now allowed to shine. Like the law in Eden, the Laws of Moses were intended to be a shelter for the people, not a weapon of tyranny against them.
  • Notice the mention of the fatherless at Ascension. Adam’s price for unqualified kingdom was his wife and children. This resulted in a world filled with widows and orphans, spiritually-speaking.
  • The main thing to notice here is the absence of delegated light, not the transcendent light of Day 1 but the delegated lights of Day 4. The Lampstand which pictured the eyes of God watching over Israel, a light to the path of its kings, has been taken away (Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 6:23; Matthew 5:15; Revelation 2:5)
  • The position of “afflicted” corresponds to the prophetic testimony of the martyrs, legal witnesses for God, in many other passages.
ETHICS 2 – Kingdom
Testing: Day 4/Pentecost/Numbers – Tyranny
Deliver (Initiation)
the poor, (Delegation)
the needy – (Presentation)
(No Purification)
out of the hand (No Transformation)
of the wicked (No Vindication)
rid. (No Representation)

  • The action moves from “priestly” defence to “kingly” deliverance, from the Garden to the Land.
  • The wicked, like the serpent, appear at Testing.
  • The needy who remained “uncovered” in stanza 3 are now at Ascension in stanza 4. The failure has been expanded exponentially or “fractally” from Priesthood to Kingdom.
  • Again, the Lampstand is missing, but the “Trumpets” sword is in the hand of the wicked, like Joseph’s brothers united against him.
  • Not only was there a failure in Priestly advocacy, but the word “rid” in line 7 speaks of a failure to “cut off” the wicked from the Land, resulting in a false Representation of a just and merciful God to the nations. You might remember that the straw which broke the camel’s back for Judah was the oppression of “the least of my brethren” (Matthew 25:40), that is, Hebrew slaves (Jeremiah 34:8), the sin of Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 37:28) compounded into the tyranny of Pharaoh (Exodus 2:8-14). At the heart of this sin, including the sale of Jesus by Judas, is the “kingly” sin of Cain against his brother.
ETHICS 3 – Prophecy
Maturity: Day 5/Trumpets/Deuteronomy – Anarchy
They know | not, (Transcendence)
neither | will they understand. (Hierarchy)
In darkness | they walk. (Ethics)
Shaken are | all | the foundations (Oath/Sanctions)
of the land. (Succession)

  • This stanza is the point in Adam’s Testing where he failed to testify against the serpent. His eyes were opened but his generations were set apart from God.
  • Here, at Transcendence, we find an Israel ignorant of God’s laws. Vision (eye) and prophecy (mouth) have failed (Proverbs 29:18).
  • At Hierarchy, The rulers have drawn a veil over their eyes.
  • At Ethics, the hidden Lampstand has left the people blind and stumbling in moral darkness.
  • At Sanctions, that which holds the Land above the “Sea” of the nations is “out of its course.” Israel has become a house built upon sand.
  • At Succession, the inheritance of Canaan will be repossessed by God. The action has now moved from the Land to the World.
Conquest: Day 6/Atonement/Joshua – Accountability
I | have said, (Creation – Initiation)
“You are gods, (Division – Delegation)
ETHICS 1 – Priesthood
you are | children (Ascension – Presentation)
ETHICS 2 – Kingdom
of the most high | all. (Testing – Purification)
ETHICS 3 – Prophecy
But | like men, you shall die
And like one | of the princes | fall
[No rest or rule]

  • The rulers of the earthly courts forever stand accountable in the court of God (Job 1:6-12).
  • At Ascension/Presentation, and Maturity/Transformation, fatherhood on earth (circumcision as reversed Sanctions) depends on childhood before God (baptism as holy Oath).
  • According to James Jordan, “Most High” is a name for God sourced in the Noahic priesthood, used by Melchizedek and later by Gentile believers. Its use here is likely to assert God’s authority over all rulers of all nations, all kings and all lords, not just His priestly people. The Gentile kingdoms and the modern “secular square” are just extensions of the court in heaven, pictured in the court of the Gentiles in the Temple: Garden, Land, World.
  • Maturity is the “resurrection” step, but here the prophetic pronouncement upon these men (“Adams”) is death. In Genesis 2:7, the creation of Adam follows the same “Tabernacle” structure, and at step 5 we find the breath of life. Here, their breath will be repossessed.
  • Line 6 speaks of the fall of Adam, and line seven of his failure to enter into God’s rest.
Glorification: Day 7/Booths/Judges – Immutability
Arise, O God, (Transcendence)
judge | the Land; (Hierarchy)
for you (Ethics)
shall inherit (Oath/Sanctions)
all nations. (Succession)

  • In the final stanza, the action moves from the World to heaven, the authority of God straddling both Land (Israel) and Sea (the nations).
  • God Himself is once again the ruler at the center, Elohim of elohim, king of kings and lord of lords.
  • At Transcendence, He is righteous Noah, the first true judge, the one who offered the world’s first “ascension by fire,” and to whom the word “Covenant” was first used in Scripture.
  • At Hierarchy, He is Abraham and Moses, believing and receiving the promise of Canaan.
  • At Ethics, He is David, the king who loved God’s Law.
  • At Oath/Sanctions, He is Israel, freed from idolatry, returning to the Land.
  • At Succession, He is Christ, placing Himself under the sword of the Father that He might bear that sword in all the World, in justice and mercy (Psalm 2:8; Psalm 110:1-7).

In Acts 12:22, the adoring crowd from Tyre and Sidon considered the speech of Herod to be “the voice of a god,” and God immediately struck him down as a sign of what would soon come upon the entire Herodian dynasty (see also Ezekiel 28:1-10). But in Revelation 2-3, Jesus is the Lord among lords, a new Jew-Gentile hierarchy of priest-kings, pastors referred to as “angels” and presented to us as Lampstands. He prepares them to judge righteously, with His eyes rather than theirs, trimming their wicks that they might shine more brightly. He then shows them what will shortly come upon the old city which failed to shine, which instead robbed God, becoming a den of thieves like Adam, a queen like Jezebel, misrepresenting His justice and mercy instead of being a house of prayer for the nations.

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:11-16)

ART: Moses Elects the Seventy Elders, Jacob de Wit, 1737, Royal Palace of Amsterdam

References   [ + ]

1. James B. Jordan has written a lot about this concept of maturity via testing, and also about the purpose and ultimate benefits of Israel’s exile.
2. In Genesis 18, Abraham serves as a “god” in God’s courts, advocating for the righteous in Sodom, testifying “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

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