This is episode three in our series outlining the development of the character of God in the Bible! In this show, Tim and Jon walk through the big ideas of the “Divine Council” and spiritual warfare.
In part one (00:00-23:40), Tim outlines a strange story in 1 Kings 22:19 about the prophet Micaiah. Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left." Jon asks what a “host” is in the Bible. Tim explains that "host" is used to describe an army or a set of advisers. Tim says the point is that God is depicted as a military captain with a set of lower ranking officers. This theme continues in other passages like Job 1:6 and 7:6. "Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and the satan also came among them." "The Lord said to Satan, 'From where do you come?' Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.”
Jon asks who are the "sons of God are. Tim explains that it is a turn of phrase used to represent a class of spiritual beings. Followers of Old Testament prophets were often called “sons,” not to demonstrate physical sonship, but to demonstrate a sort of relationship where the greater power was in a position of authority over a lesser power. Tim says the point is that the Bible portrays God as having a sort of staff team, or mediators, that do his bidding in order to interact with the world. This is God’s “divine council.”
In part two (23:40-49:48), Tim outlines a very strange section in the Old Testament: Deuteronomy 32:8-9
When the Most High [Yahweh] allotted the nations,
and set the divisions for the sons of humanity,
He fixed the territories of peoples
According to the number of sons of God [Heb. sons of elohim]
For Yahweh’s portion is his people
Jacob his own allotment.
Tim says there is a large biblical scholarship debate over the interpretation of this passage. To explain this passage, Tim quotes from Jefferey Tigay:
“Deuteronomy 32:8-9 refers to an early tradition, that when God was allotting nations to the delegated authority of other divine beings, he made the same number of nations and territories as there were such beings. Verse 9 implies that He then assigned the other nations to those divine beings, and states explicitly that He kept Israel for Himself. This seems to be part of a concept hinted at elsewhere in the Bible and in postbiblical literature. When God organized the government of the world, He established two tiers: at the top, He Himself, “God of gods (ʾelohei ha-ʾelohim) and Lord of lords” (Deut 10:17), who reserved Israel for Himself, to govern personally; below Him, seventy angelic “divine beings” (sons of ʾelohim), to whom He allotted the other peoples. The conception is like that of a king or emperor governing the capital or heartland of his realm personally and assigning the provinces to subordinates.”
Jon seems flabbergasted. God put other gods in charge of other nations?
Jon asks how this view can be reconciled with actual knowledge of world history and human development.
Tim says this is a theme in Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 4:16-19, Moses says to Israel, “Don’t act corruptly and make a image for yourselves in the form of any figure… And don’t lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. But the Lord has taken you...to be a people for His own possession, as today."
Tim says this hints at a concept in Hebrew culture that portrayed a spiritual rebellion against God that coincided with a human rebellion. Tim says the human rebellion is told in detail in the Bible, but the spiritual rebellion is only hinted at. The complex story of the “sons of God” sleeping with human women in Genesis 6 could be viewed as them going into rebellion and crossing a line.
Tim says this theme reaches its culmination in the Old Testament in the book of Daniel and the story of the Prince of Persia.
In part three (49:48-1:01:26), Tim says the Jesus carries these themes of other elohim forward into the New Testament. The greek word for “demon” in the New Testament is connected to the word “daimonion” (δαιμόνιον). Demon is a word that means “demi” or lesser god. In Hebrew categories, it would be a son of elohim.
Tim says he has a tough time reconciling this with a western “rational” worldview. He says Jesus and the authors of the New Testament clearly believed in a world that included unseen spiritual forces. Tim says that the New Testament passage in Ephesians 5, referring to the "armor of God," shouldn’t be appropriated as passages about spiritual warfare of demonic attack; rather, they should be seen as warnings against elevating differences above unity in the body of Christ. The point of Ephesians is for the church to learn how to live in unity with a group of diverse people. Therefore a spiritual warfare attack is when Christians are not living in unity.
In part four (1:01:26-1:07:18), Jon asks how to interpret all of this with a modern view of human development. Tim says the purpose of the Bible is not to tell me about the origins of the physical universe, but to be a unified story that leads to Jesus. Tim says that attempting to place spiritual and human rebellion narratives into a chronological order that makes sense to modern people can be dangerous because you lose the context of the original stories.
Jon says his temptation is not that, but to think that there is no spiritual realm, not that there is a complex one ruled by a divine council. Tim agrees and says that all of the same idols that existed in other cultures exist in our culture, but modern people worship money, sex, and power, not as named deities like Mammon, but just as objects in themselves.
In part five (1:07:18-end), Tim previews the next part of the – God’s complex relationship with the world. If God is portrayed as having a set of staff, these staff interact with the world consistently throughout the Scriptures. One example is how the Angel of the Lord appears many times acting on behalf of God.
Next episode we will have a Q+R. Send us audio recordings of your questions to email@example.com. Please mention your name, where you're from and keep your questions to about 20 seconds. Thanks!
"One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism" by Larry Hurtado
"Ancient Jewish Monotheism and Early Christian Jesus Devotion" by Larry Hurtado
Interviews with Larry Hurtado: "Early High Christology" on Trinities Podcast
"The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible" by Michael Heiser
"Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World and Why it Matters" by Michael Heiser
Michael Heiser's "The Naked Bible Podcast"
Michael Heiser's videos: "The Divine Council" and "Divine Council Introduction"
“The Divine Council,” by Michael Heiser (within "The Lexham Bible Dictionary")
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