Selected Evangelical Resources Noting the Divine Council
in Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32:8-9


Great assembly (82:1). This Hebrew expression can be rendered more literally “assembly of God” or “divine assembly” (“congregation of God,” NASB mg.; “divine council," NRSV, ESV). Yahweh, the God of Israel, stands at the head of an assembly of heavenly beings, which in Old Testament texts are usually called “gods” (i.e., supernatural beings; see comments on 29:1; 89:5; 96:4–5; 103:20) but in New Testament and modern theology are called “angels” or “demons.”

John H Walton (Professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College), Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament) Volume 5: The Minor Prophets, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 388.


Psalm 82:1. God standeth in the congregation of the mighty. He sees all that is done by the great ones of the earth. When they sit in state he stands over them, ready to deal with them if they pervert judgment. Judges will be judged. He has no respect unto the person of any, and is the champion of the poor and needy. He judgeth among the gods. They are gods to other people, but he is God to them. He lends them his name, and this is their authority for acting as judges, but they must take care that they do not misuse the power entrusted to them, for the Judge of judges is in session among them.

C. H. Spurgeon, Psalms (Crossway classic commentaries; Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1993), 355.


When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind (32:8–9). The Hebrew text followed by the niv reads “according to the sons of Israel.” Many scholars prefer the reading of the lxx and some Dead Sea Scrolls, which read “according to the sons of God.” This text is closely connected to Genesis 10, where seventy nations are listed, but Israel is not included among them. It is possible that, according to the lxx, God divided (prd, in both Gen. 10 and here) the disobedient nations among seventy subordinate, created, divine beings as punishment for their rebellion against the Lord (Gen. 11).

At any rate, some scholars perceive a Ugaritic background to this text that refers to the “seventy sons of Athirat,” sired by El, and his council of divine beings. Seventy gods are mentioned at Emar. A divine council of gods was common in the ancient Near East. A Phoenician (also Hittite) inscription refers to the whole “group of the children of the gods” (El). In general in other Babylonian literature we read of the gods distributing the cosmos among themselves, but not the nations. Gods in the ancient Near East could give gifts of cities, as at Ugarit or in Sumer.

This is part of the broader context, but these verses are intended to contrast the fact that the Lord has set Israel apart unto himself from among all the nations, and Israel is not numbered with them. The nations have their own “gods,” who are mortal, but they do not have Yahweh, who alone does not die and is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. The great Egyptian god Re grows old with millions of years, suffering from divine age. Marduk chooses Babylon as his chief city where the gods will live with him. Kronos, a chief Greek god, although much later in history, assigns the rulership of Attica to Athena, Byblos to Baaltis, Berytus to Poseidon, and all of Egypt to Tauthos.

John H Walton (Professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College), Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament) Volume 1: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 516


1 God (Elohim) is portrayed here as ready to judge. He “presides” (niṣṣāḇ; cf. Isa 3:13; Amos 7:7; 9:1) as the Great Judge. God assembles the “gods” together for judgment in “the assembly of El” (Masoretic Text; NIV, “the great assembly”). The assembly of El is a borrowed phrase from Canaanite mythology, according to which El, the chief of the pantheon, assembled the gods in a divine council (see Dahood, Psalms 2:269).

For Israel there is no other God than Yahweh. He embodies within himself all the epithets and powers attributed to pagan deities. The God of Israel holds a mock trial so as to impress his people that he alone is God. Walther Zimmerli has expressed the superiority of Israel’s God well in these words: “Whenever a hymn speaks of those other divine powers, whose existence is by no means denied on theoretical grounds, it can only be with reference to the One who will call their actions to judgment (Ps. 82), or in the spirit of superiority that mocks their impotence (Pss. 115:4–8; 135:15–18)” (OTTO, p. 155).

Willem A. VanGemeren (Professor of Old Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), "Psalms," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs ( ed. Frank E. Gaebelein; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991), 533.


According to MT (Masoretic Text) God divided the nations in relation to Israel’s numbers . . . to make better sense of the present text, I emend the text here following the reading beney 'elohim, “sons of God,” found in 4QDeutj and LXX . . . “angels [or sons] of God,” to read “according to the number of the sons of God.” The Tg. adds “seventy” after “the number,” connecting the text with the seventy nations of the Table of Nations in Gen 10 and the song of Jacob in Gen 46:27 (cf. 10:22). It is easy to understand the change that was made in MT to remove a text that seems to suggest the existence of other gods. For a somewhat similar “nomistic correction,” see the discussion of v 14 below. These “divine beings” are also mentioned in a variant reading of v 43 below. For a useful discussion of the idea of subordinate divine beings with whom God holds council, see Ps 82 and the study by G. E. Wright (The OT against Its Environment, SBT 1.2 [London: SCM, 1950] 30–41). The idea here anticipates the later doctrine of guardian angels watching over the nations in Dan 10:13, 20–21; 12:1.

Duane L. Christensen, vol. 6B, Word Biblical Commentary: Deuteronomy 21:10-34:12 (Word Biblical Commentary; Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 796


Paul Owen, "Monotheism, Mormonism, and the New Testament Witness," in The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement (Zondervan, 2002), 281.


In vv. 8–9, the sovereignty of God over all men and nations is expressed, but it is stated in such a way as to emphasize his particular concern for his chosen people. God is given the title Elyon (“Most High”), which is used only here in Deuteronomy. The title emphasizes God’s sovereignty and authority overall nations, whereas in relation to his own people he is called Yahweh or Lord (v. 9). All nations received their inheritance and had their boundaries fixed by this sovereign God (v. 8), whose role was in no way restricted to the sphere of Israelite life and history (see also Ps. 74:17). The boundaries were fixed according to the number of the sons of God (v. 8b; see n. 18). The exact sense of the phrase is difficult to determine, but the reference seems to be to the divine council of the Lord. His council consisted of “holy ones” (see 33:2 and commentary), who are called “angels” in the LXX; the poetry indicates that the number of nations is related to the number of these Sons of God. Among all these nations, Israel was God’s particular portion and allotted inheritance (v. 9). With such a high calling and noble position, the perversity of the people (v. 5) was all the more wretched.

Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 379.


In the divine council settings of Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 82, the other “gods” are never given names or a function independent from Yahweh. They were totally dependent on him for their existence and their existence is clearly seen to serve him. Merrill writes, “the narrative leaves no doubt that God is absolutely sovereign. He preexisted his creation and had no need for it. Only his inscrutable design called it forth; but once it was in place, the creation became the physical realm over which he displayed his dominion.” According to confessional scholars, the divine council of Yahweh is not the evidence of polytheism, but an expression of Israel‟s faith in Yahweh‟s sovereignty over them and over the nations.

Daniel Porter, "God Among the Gods: An Analysis of the Function of Yahweh in the Divine Council of Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 82," Master of Arts Thesis, Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA, p. 55.