How is it possible for the Bible to refer to men as “gods”?
When we look through the Bible for clues, we find passages like Exodus 21:6 where “gods” (Hebrew, elohim) is translated as “judges” or Psalm 82:6 where Yahweh “judgeth among gods” (elohim).
In other words, God is supreme over all those on earth who have been lifted up to pronounce judgment.
Speaking directly to these elohim or judges, the psalmist says, “How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? (Psalm 82:2). These judges are elohim on earth; they are civil rulers, granted authority on earth, by He who is sovereign over all.
And all civil rulers only have power through God’s good will (Romans 13:1-2). There is no power apart from Him.
But what happens when rulers or judges who judge justly—in imitation of Yahweh who judges justly—die or are no longer in public office?
The famous 18th century American preacher, Jonathan Edwards, takes the declaration, “Her strong rods were broken and withered” (Ezekiel 19:12), to be a grievous judgment.
What Edwards preached:
Almost all the prosperity of a public society and civil community does, under God, depend on their rulers.
They are like the main springs or wheels in a machine that keep every part in their due motion, and are in the body politic, as the vitals in the body natural, and as the pillars and foundation in a building.
Civil rulers are called “the foundations of the earth,” Psalm 82:5, and Psalm 11:3.
The prosperity of a people depends more on their rulers than is commonly imagined. As they have the public society under their care and power, so they have advantage to promote the public interest every way; and if they are such rulers as have been spoken of, they are some of the greatest blessings to the public.
Their influence has a tendency to promote their wealth and cause their temporal possessions and blessings to abound: and to promote virtue among them, and so to unite them one to another in peace and mutual benevolence, and make them happy in society, each one the instrument of his neighbor’s quietness, comfort and prosperity; and by these means to advance their reputation and honor in the world; and which is much more, to promote their spiritual and eternal happiness.
Therefore, the wise man says, Ecclesiastes 10:17, “Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles.”
We have a remarkable instance and evidence of the happy and great influence of such a strong rod as has been described to promote the universal prosperity of a people in the history of the reign of Solomon, though many of the people were uneasy under his government, and thought him too rigorous in his administration (see 1 Kings 12:4).
The flourishing state of the kingdom of Judah, while they had strong rods for the scepters of them that bare rule, is taken notice of in our context: “Her stature was exalted among the thick branches, and she appeared in her height with the multitude of her branches.”
Such rulers are eminently the ministers of God to his people for good: they are great gifts of the Most High to a people and blessed tokens of his favor and vehicles of his goodness to them, and therein images of his own Son, the grand medium of all God’s goodness to fallen mankind: and therefore, all of them are called sons of the Most High.
All civil rulers, if they are, as they ought to be, such strong rods as have been described, will be like the Son of the Most High, vehicles of good to mankind, and like him, will be as the light of the morning when the sun rises, even a morning without clouds, as the tender grass springs out of the earth, by clear shining after rain. And therefore, when a people are bereaved of them, they sustain an unspeakable loss and are the subjects of a judgment of God that is greatly to be lamented.
On account of the great calamities such rulers are a defense from. Innumerable are the grievous and fatal calamities which public societies are exposed to in this evil world, which they can have no defense from without order and authority.
If a people are without government, they are like a city broken down and without walls, encompassed on every side by enemies and become unavoidably subject to all manner of confusion and misery.
Government is necessary to defend communities from miseries from within themselves; from the prevalence of intestine discord, mutual injustice and violence; the members of the society continually making a prey one of another, without any defense one from another.
Rulers are the heads of union in public societies, that hold the parts together; without which nothing else is to be expected than that the members of the society will be continually divided against themselves, every one acting the part of an enemy to his neighbor, every one’s hand against every man and every man’s hand against him; going on in remediless and endless broils and jarring till the society be utterly dissolved and broken in pieces and life itself, in the neighborhood of our fellow creatures, becomes miserable and intolerable.
Sermon edited with preface by Zach Parker, news editor at The Ouachita Citizen. The excerpt is from Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “A strong rod broken and withered,” preached in Northampton on June 26, 1748.