Podcast Date: July 30, 2018
Speakers in the audio file:
Tim: I've always thought that this whole thing was just super weird. I found it actually really difficult to even believe. I have actually been avoiding studying this topic. I came to realize this about six months ago, and being very honest, it doesn't jive.
Jon: Hi, this is Jon at The Bible Project. On this podcast, we have been going through a series of discussions about the identity of God - how God alone is the one true all- powerful creator over everything, but how the Bible uses the word God, the word Elohim, to refer to other spiritual beings that also exists, and God have power and authority. They're called the sons of God, the hosts of heaven.
Tim: "I saw Yahweh sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven we're standing by him on his right and on his left."
Jon: Moses talks about them. They show up in the story of Job, they're in the Kings and Daniel. When we play out these stories and we look at their application...
Tim: What it means is that Yahweh runs the world with the staff team, with delegated authority. Bible nerds, biblical scholars have come to refer to this category or this idea as the Divine Council - depicting God as like commander in chief of a staff of Elohim.
Jon: But wait a second, these other gods are often pretty evil. They move nations towards child sacrifice and injustice. So, what went wrong?
Tim: There was a human rebellion happening at Babylon. Then you read on the Torah and you realize, there was also a rebellion among the host of heaven, that those other gods weren't satisfied with delegated authority. They wanted more for themselves.
Jon: There's been a lot of speculation about how this unseen realm of spiritual forces actually works, and the Bible doesn't give us a lot of detail about it.
Tim: One rebellion is told in detail - the human one. One rebellion, it's merely hinted out. And that's the spiritual one. It's actually hard to put them all together to a coherent narrative.
Jon: Despite our lack of clarity about the heavenly hosts, the Divine Council, angels, demons, the rebellion, how they interact with the world today, despite how confusing it is and how limited our understanding of it is, this theme of spiritual warfare is a very important biblical theme.
Tim: It was an active part of Jesus' way of viewing the world. It was an active part of Paul's way of viewing the world. Paul uses this vocabulary of spiritual powers, rulers, authorities. The apostles of Jesus seem to really want me to be aware that there are realities of good and of evil that I'm not aware of, I can't sense with my five senses, but that doesn't mean they're not real and don't have some degree of influence.
Jon: So let's trace the theme of spiritual warfare through the biblical story. Thanks for joining us. Here we go. We're talking about God, and we're talking about the God of the Bible. We're going to make a theme video on God and who He is and how the Bible talks about God. This is in the third episode. In the first hour, we talked about how the Hebrew word "Elohim" means more accurately a broad category of spiritual beings.
Tim: Kind of like the way canine or feline works to describe a whole host of creatures that are maybe alike or unlike in some ways, but they all have in common one feature.
Jon: So this word "Elohim," if you were to say, do biblical authors believe there are other Elohims, you would have to say, "Yes, they do. They talked about the Elohim of Egypt, they talked about Samuel's spirit being an Elohim, demons being Elohim. Paul says
“there are other Elohim." But that really kind of seems to rub up against, come in conflict with other statements that you find in the Bible a lot, which is the very Jewish statement: "there is no other God," "there is no other Elohim but Elohim."
Tim: But Yahweh.
Jon: But Yahweh.
Tim: There is no God besides Yahweh.
Jon: So in the second hour, we talked about what does that mean, and how by saying that you aren't saying there are no other Elohim, you are saying there's no other Elohim as the category - the supreme power that Yahweh has.
The thing is, is when we say "God" we typically just mean the supreme God. We don't just mean Elohim. We would typically use the word "spiritual being."
Tim: Or lower case g-o-d-s, "gods." Jon: Lowercase g-o-d-s.
Jon: That all in mind, the question and on the table then is, what are these other Elohim that exists and have dominion? How does the Bible talk about them? So you're going to walk us through that.
Let me just say at first, I mean, I think most people listening and myself included, have categories for angels. Whether it's a good category or not that I have in my head, I have it - demons. Jesus cast them out. And Paul talks about spiritual forces.
Tim: Power, authorities, and so on. Jon: So this is something.
Jon: I didn't grow up in a tradition that really emphasized it and to really dig in. We didn't read Frank Peretti. We didn't get into that stuff.
Tim: There are some Christian traditions that are really interested in this set of topics. It usually falls under a category called spiritual warfare, which assumes that there's a conflict going on among these spiritual beings. So, where did all that come from? First of all, where did the conflict image come from? And before that, where did the ideas of these spiritual beings with some measure of power or influence? Where does that all start? That's the question.
Let's start with a handful of biblical passages that are just clear as day about this. Bible nerds, biblical scholars have come to refer to this category or this idea, this theme in the Old and New Testament as the Divine Council.
Jon: This theme that you're about to tell us about?
Tim: Yes, it's called the Divine Council. In other words, it's language and imagery depicting God as like commander in chief of a staff of Elohim, of others kings.
Jon: A king with his lieutenants.
Tim: Yeah. Whether it's a king, whether it's— Jon: A general with his lieutenants and so on.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Exactly. The Divine Council. There's a handful of passages that actually use this language of commander in chief type of situation. In the Book of 1 Kings 22, there's a prophet, Micaiah, who's brought before Ahab, one of the kings of Israel. Micaiah tells him what the God of Israel wants to say. So he says, "I had this vision. Hear the word of the Lord. I saw Yahweh sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven we're standing by him on his right and on his left." Do you get the scene here? It's Yahweh the chief Elohim, and then there's all these other beings flanking.
Jon: Well, that's a weird translation, host of heaven.
Tim: Here we go. Host of heaven. You know the word heaven, skies?
Tim: It's the entities that populate the skies - the heavenly host.
Jon: I'm familiar with that word because I grew up in church, but I don't actually really understand it. A host is someone who organizes a party.
Tim: Yeah, I got it. You're right. Yeah, okay.
Jon: So this obviously is from some old English that I don't use anymore. Tim: It means army.
Jon: Oh, it means army?
Jon: Host means army?
Tim: Military staff. In Hebrew, it's Tsva. Military staff.
Jon: So, in old English, you can use "host" to describe an army? A multitude. Especially an army organized for war. And that comes from mid-century old French " hoost, ost."
Tim: There it is.
Jon: And from medieval Latin "hostis" and earlier use a "stranger" or a "foreigner" and classical use an "enemy." So originally, this word "hoost" or "ost" or "hostis" meant a "stranger" or an "enemy," but then eventually, it became to be used to refer to a multitude, specifically an army. Oh, I see. Usually, a host is a stranger.
Tim: Oh, right, yeah, showing hospitality to...Yeah, sure.
Jon: So somehow, it went from that to meaning also a multitude like an army. Now we just use it to refer to someone who entertains.
Tim: Showing hospitality. Yeah, fascinating. That English word does not help us in our Bibles. Host. I don't think. I don't think. The host of heaven.
Jon: We would say the army of heaven?
Tim: Oh, interesting. The New International Version renders these multitudes of heaven. The host of heaven comes to us from the King James. Of course. It makes sense. Because 400 years ago, that's what host in English meant, a multitude of soldiers. The point is, in this scene, God's depicted as a military captain with his officers.
Jon: Because in Hebrew it's very clearly a military word.
Tim: Yeah. Tsva Samaym, military staff of heaven.
Tim: Now, concretely, it's the stars. The stars in most human cultures that are polytheist are spiritual beings - divine beings of some kind.
Jon: Venus, Mars.
Tim: Yeah. But for an Israelite, Yahweh is the Elohim. Now, those might represent Elohim, but they're just God's officers of his staff. Because where's God's biblical conception? The thing above us is a solid dome and Yahweh is above the heavens. He's in the heavens above the heavens. His throne is above it all. Which means that his throne is above the heavenly hosts. So they're below him. They his subordinates.
So now we're taking that concept and turning it into a word picture where Yahweh is the chief. "I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and below him are the stars now depicted as standing by him as spiritual beings. And the Lord said, "I've got a mission. I need somebody to go entice Ahab to go to battle so he'll die.”
This is a bigger context. Ahab has been a really horrible person, he's now a murderer. By chapter 22, he is a murderer of innocent people, and God's like, "I'm done with this guy." So He's going to orchestrate Ahab's downfall. "I need somebody to do that for me."
Then look at this. One said this, another said that." This is in the story. This is what the prophet's overhearing.
Jon: Yeah, they just start hearing.
Tim: So ones like, "Oh, I know, lead him to this cliff and I'll push them off." Another is like, "No, have him stumble in whatever." Then verse 21, "A spirit, a Ruakh, came forward and stood before Yahweh and said, ‘I will entice him.’" And on goes the story. God accepts this spirit being’s plan to bring about the downfall of Ahab.
Jon: So is that kind of a synonym then here? Like the ruakh is that heavenly host or is that...
Tim: Notice we have a diverse vocabulary to refer to these beings. We have Elohim and now we have ruakh, a nonphysical being.
Jon: Yeah. Okay.
Tim: And notice it's not controversial to call these the "armies of heaven." It's not controversial to call them a spirit. But somehow in English, it is controversial to call that being a god.
Tim: Anyway, just pointing that out.
Jon: You're right.
Tim: This story just introduces this scene. It's like, "Where did this come from?" Are you with me? It's just like, "Wow, okay, God's there's all these...Wow, it's fascinating."
This is exactly the same scene as the beginning of the book of Job. So there was a day when - in this case, it's the sons of God - the sons of Elohim came to present themselves before Yahweh and the Satan, the one among the sons of Elohim who is the accuser, the opposer was among them. Then the Lord said to the opposer, Oh, where were you patrolling today?" And the opposer said, "I was going about doing my mission just like I always do."
Jon: "Roaming the earth." Tim: "Roaming the earth." Jon: So sons of God—
Tim: That's a new title in our conversation. The sons of Elohim. Jon: That's not landing for me.
Tim: It's not working for you?
Jon: Is God procreating? Tim: No.
Tim: This is a Hebrew turn of phrase. You can put the word "sons" or "daughters" of something in front of a noun. And what it means is the members of that class. The best example is in the Book of Kings where Elijah and Elisha, these really powerful prophet figures and they get this following of other prophets.
Jon: So they're called sons of Elisha?
Tim: They're called the sons of the prophets.
Jon: The sons of the prophets.
Tim: Which doesn't mean that they were all born to prophetic figures. What it means is they've joined this group, and they all are aspiring young prophets.
Jon: Some membership of sorts.
Tim: It's a membership, yeah. There's another phrase often "the villages." In any large city today, there's almost always a network of suburbs around them. And that's true in the ancient world. You could have Jerusalem and then the little daughter villages around them, and those would be called the daughters of Jerusalem, is how those are often referred to. So it's the members of the class. So the sons of Elohim are...?
Jon: Yeah, okay. There are members of this class of Elohim.
Tim: Yeah. So who defines? We're back to this feline category here. Who's the Elohim that defines what it means to be Elohim? Well, it's the Elohim.
Jon: Isn't Lewis picking up on this when he calls like in Narnia and he's like, "You, son of Adam," when he's talking to admin and staff?
Tim: Oh, actually, that's another example of this Hebrew turn of phrase. The son of Man, the son of Adam, which just means a human.
Jon: A human.
Tim: Sons of Adam or the daughter of Eve. That's good. Thank you for bringing that up. That's another good example. So a son of Elohim is a lesser Elohim.
Jon: But, we are actually in some way procreated from a man.
Tim: Oh, got it. Yes. So here, the procreation is just part of the turn of phrase just like Jerusalem didn't give birth to that village.
Jon: Yeah, kind of metaphorically.
Tim: Maybe. I think in Portland, down south is Oregon City; it's now a suburb of Portland. Jon: It's a daughter of Portland.
Tim: But Oregon City is way older than Portland. So, technically, Portland's a daughter of Oregon City, but you would call Oregon City the suburb, or the daughter of Portland. But the point is, is just to turn a phrase—
Jon: It has nothing to do with where it came from or what hierarchy it has even?
Tim: I see. Yeah, I'm trying to think. It's usually a lesser - a member of the category of which the one is what defines the category. Elijah and Elisha are the prophets but there are the sons of the prophets who follow them around. So in this case, yeah, the sons of God.
The sons of God appear here in the beginning of Job. The first time they appear is on Page 6 of the Bible. The sons of God see human, women and have sex with them. Whole other rabbit hole.
Jon: That's in the Bible.
Tim: That's in the Bible. Tell me about it. So let's just pause on that. Jon: Okay. Let's actually just take that out of the Bible.
Tim: Here's another example. Psalm 89. "The heavens proclaim your wonders, Yahweh, even your faithfulness, in the assembly of the holy ones. Who in the skies is similar to Yahweh? Who among the sons of Elim is compared to Yahweh? He is the great God - which is the Hebrew word “El,” not “Elohim” - He's the great El feared among the council of holy ones; he's revered among all those surrounding him."
So here we're taking this image of Yahweh as the chief of staff, and among all the other holy ones, we're calling them holy ones, the sons of God and those surrounding him.
Jon: We need to slow down here. Start with that. In the assembly of the holy ones, holy meaning - I'm trying to remember - Kadosh?
Tim: Yes. Good. Good job.
Jon: What does that one mean?
Tim: One of a kind, set apart.
Jon: Here's the thing, man. I forget things so easily.
Tim: That's fine?
Jon: I think that's why I'm good at asking questions.
Tim: So that you forget that you asked the same question again?
Jon: So the unique ones, the holy ones, the Kadosh.
Tim: The Kadosh ones, the holy ones.
Jon: There's this assembly of unique ones, they're unique in the sense that they are all Elohim, which is pretty unique for the world of human.
Tim: Yeah. Or in this case, who is the ultimate holy one? Yahweh. He is the only Elohim who's made all creation including the other Elohim.
Jon: But these other ones are called holy ones?
Tim: Yeah. They're the sons of Elohim. They share in God's holiness because they are like Elohim. But they are not the Elohim, so they are the holy ones.
Jon: Got it.
Tim: The whole point of this poem is, even though they're sons of God, they are not the Elohim. No one can be compared to Yahweh.
Jon: So the assembly of the holy ones, who is similar to Yahweh? Who of the sons of God's...Now, why is it Elim? That's the one that we haven't talked about.
Tim: It's not Elohim, which is the plural or Eloah. You have Eloah and then the plural of that's Elohim. Then you have the noun El, and you can just put the plural of that is on Elim.
Jon: All right.
Tim: I know it's confusing. A lot of words.
Jon: I'm following. So who of the sons of the gods? The sons of the gods? The sons of the Elohim?
Tim: The sons of Elim, that might just be my...I think this is my English translation. Jon: Oh, because it's plural for god?
Tim: Oh, yeah, I put the word ‘the’ in there because in English you wouldn't say, "Who of the sons of gods?"
Jon: Got it.
Tim: But it's very clearly a plural. In other words, it doesn't say—
Jon: So the membership of the class of gods not of Yahweh?
Jon: So out of all the holy ones, Yahweh is the greatest?
Tim: Yeah, you got it. That's it.
Jon: So far we've got "the host." They are called the host of heaven.
Tim: The army of heaven.
Jon: The army of heaven, the sons of God, the sons of the gods, the holy ones. Tim: Yeah, there you go. Creatures, spiritual creatures, spiritual beings—
Jon: Creatures makes me think of physical.
Tim: Okay. So being. The spiritual beings are mentioned in all different parts of the Bible and they're always depicted as subservient to Yahweh who's the Elohim, but they're also under his command. Like they do stuff. They run errands for Yahweh. They're his staff, which means they have some kind of delegated authority and influence. It's played out, so they can do stuff. It's only what they're allowed to do, but they can do stuff.
If we're playing up the scenes and their implications, what it means is that Yahweh runs the world with his staff team with delegated authority. That seems to be what these mean on the face value reading.
Jon: Right. Now, could it mean that who really knows how things work in the spiritual realm, and this is just the way that God communicated with them because this is the world they lived in?
Jon: In the same way that God doesn't live in tabernacles but He had him build a tabernacle.
Tim: Yeah. Or God doesn't just live up in the skies, but it's a way of talking about. So yeah, one way to think about what's going on is, all the biblical authors live in a world where this is the nature of structured power. And the greater the power of a monarch or king, the more staff they have. So to depict Yahweh as the chief of a huge staff is within their available framework. That's right. So the question is, however, do those spiritual beings, are they just parts of the metaphor or does God actually seem to interact with the world through some kinds of mediators or delegated authority figures? As we're going to see, this doesn't seem like it's just part of a metaphor. There are lots and lots of stories and parts of the biblical story where people are interacting with Yahweh by means of a mediator who have to lay the groundwork, called the Divine Council.
Tim: Okay. Here's where things get even more interesting. There's this poem that Moses speaks to the people - we've already looked at it once - in Deuteronomy 32. He is trying to convince the Israelites before they go into the promised land, like, "Hey, follow Yahweh. He rescued you. You're going to go into the promised land." The Canaanites worship all kinds of Elohim. You shall have no other Elohim before me," it's the first commandment of the 10.
Jon: Very practical.
Tim: Very practical. So the big part of this poem is he's retelling the story of Genesis 1 through the Exodus story, and he's retelling the story of God choosing the family of Abraham and choosing Israel and so on. He gets to this point in the story - so fascinating - verses 8 and 9.
Before this, he said, "Go back to your ancestors and ask them about the days of old. Go back to the stories of our ancestors. Genesis 1. And he says - this is verse 8 - "When the Most High, which is that word Elyon, the Most High God was allotting out the nations when he was setting the divisions for the sons of Adam, the sons of humanity. He fixed the territories of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Elohim.
Now, Yahweh's portion is his people. Jacob, following the people of Israel, that's Yahweh's allotment. There's a lot happening.
We're recalling a time in the past when God's ordering the nations. We're told that every nation gets its own territory. It's a way of talking about God's sovereignty over the human history and where people go and what people do. Then we get this interesting line. "He fixed or assigned the territories of nations according to the number of the sons of Elohim."
Jon: I mean, it makes sense for someone from that culture to think that, right? To say, "Oh, okay, there's all these different types of people and they are separated by language and custom and also by who they worship.” So why is this? "Well, it wasn't an accident. Our God the Most High, he set it all up. The way He set it up was that He said, ‘Cool, this people, this god is going to be the one over you guys.'"
Tim: This Elohim.
Jon: This Elohim. It's like he partitioned everything, you know, put like a team captain basically over all these different—
Tim: Yeah, that's right. A lesser Elohim. A son of Elohim. But then notice the contrast.
Jon: It seems silly.
Tim: Hold on. Notice the contrast then in the poem. All these other nations, they have a son of Elohim, but we have Yahweh the Elohim. He took the family of Abraham from among all the nations as his own special. He wanted to directly rule over them, not through delegated authority. That's the concept here.
Jon: It'd be kind of like this can be a very American centric again. But if like we have 50 states and they have senators and governors and stuff, but we have a president, and if a president got his own state.
Tim: Yeah, interesting. Okay, sure.
Jon: It's kind of like the president is above of all these guys and he happens to be our...
Tim: Probably in a way that would work for any modern nation-state would be like mayors. Every city has its own appointed governing leader, elected or appointed, but then it would be as if the prime minister or the president of the whole nation-state chose one particular city to directly govern it.
Jon: And say, "I'm in charge of this city."
Tim: "I am in charge of this city." Yeah, that's it.
Jon: You feel special if you're in that city.
Tim: That's good analogy. Before we try and match this on to what we can reconstruct... Jon: Of human history?
Tim: Of human history, this is the fifth book of the Bible is clearly a hyperlink by one of these biblical hyperlinks to some earlier story in the Torah, what would that be? So, dude, the rabbit hole goes deep. First of all, the translation that I just read to you is from a number of modern translations.
The King James reads differently because it's based on a different form of the Hebrew text. King James and other translations that follow this particular Hebrew texts read, "When the Most High divided up the nations, he fixed the territories of the People's according to the numbers of the sons of Israel."
Jon: Now we're just talking about Israel?
Tim: Yeah. All of this is hyperlinking back to the table of nations, the table of 70 nations in Genesis 10. Here's what seems to be happening. To say that God divided up the territories according to the numbers of the sons of Israel, how many sons of Israel were there? Well, Jacob, whose name got changed to Israel, when he goes down to Egypt with his big family, were told there were 70. He went down with 70 down into Egypt.
Jon: Not as his actual sons, but members of his clan?
Tim: Correct, members of his clan. And lo and behold, how many nations are numbered in Genesis 10, the sons of Sham, Ham and Japheth, 70.
Tim: First of all, there's an early tradition linking and it's from the medieval Hebrew text, it's actually one of the main Hebrew texts that most English translations are based off of, reads the sons of Israel. However, there are some early translations like the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, reads or translates here according to the number of the angels of God. It uses the Greek word angels of God, which is very strange. People often scratch your head; how did this translator get the idea of angels of God from the sons of Israel
And then the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and there were sections of Deuteronomy discovered that did not read the word "Israel." It read the word "El" or "Elohim."
Jon: Sons of El.
Tim: Yeah. So here's what almost certainly happened, was that a scribe somewhere in between the period of the Second Temple or later on got a rash when they read this phrase that God divided up the nations according to the number of spiritual beings.
Jon: He thought that's dumb?
Tim: Well, more I think. That can't be what the Bible says. There's no God but one. We have to explain how you get—
Jon: He wouldn't say that. He wouldn't say, "Oh, there's no God but one. There's only one God. There's only one Almighty God."
Tim: Yeah. I think what you would have to say is scribe either was certain that that couldn't be the correct reading or thought it was a mistake or thought that it was theologically dangerous, and was aware of a tradition of Jacob 70 descendant corresponding. In Genesis, there's a mapping of Jacob 70 and the 70 in Genesis 10 of the nations. And so change...
Jon: Connecting it to that?
Tim: ...changed the word "El" to "Elohim."
Jon: But most likely it was originally sons of El.
Jon: Meaning the original one we're talking about.
Tim: That every nation got its own lesser Elohim as a captain, as a mayor. Jon: They got their spiritual mayor.
Tim: And once again depicting God as the head of the council. You get this one, you get that one, that one and so on. There's actually another passage in Deuteronomy—
Jon: Let's stop.
Tim: go ahead.
Jon: This doesn't mean that they're evil or malevolent.
Jon: They could be part of his command center?
Jon: Okay. For some reasons in my mind I'm thinking like, "Oh, he's putting a bunch of demons in charge.”
Tim: No, there's no indication that they're necessarily evil. However, once surely, like Moab, Chemosh, the god worshipped by Moab, or Baal, worshipped by Macedonians, on these regards known for demanding child sacrifice. Something's gone wrong.
Jon: Well, so did Yahweh. He didn't go through with it but he asked for it with Isaac.
Tim: Oh, with Abraham and Isaac? Yeah, separate conversations. Eventually, as it turns out, all is not well among the sons of Elohim. There's been a rebellion, but that's not what's being talked about here. Here we're just talking about the original plan. It's God designing his staff team and for a world governance.
It gets even more interesting. This was actually talked about earlier on in Deuteronomy 4 where Moses said to Israel, "Hey, Israel, don't act corruptly, don't make any images for your yourselves and any figures, don't lift your eyes up to heaven and look at the sun, the moon, the stars, the armies of heaven, the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship and serve them, those which Yahweh your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. God set it up, and those lesser Elohim are for governing those other peoples, but Yahweh has taken you to be his own possession."
It's the same idea just in a different biblical...Just in case you're wondering like, "What? This is just one biblical passage," no, it's actually a theme and Deuteronomy that Israel is Yahweh's special people, the other people worship other gods.
And even that is itself by God's allowance. But what's gone wrong as this theme develops is that those other gods weren't satisfied with delegated authority. They wanted more for themselves. Here's a quote from a Jewish scholar.
Jon: Wait. Is there a part the Bible talks about that?
Tim: The rebellion? We'll talk about that. It's such a crazy conversation. I'm with you. This is not a normal thing that I would think about.
Tim: Here's Jeffrey Tigay, his commentary on Deuteronomy. He's talking about these passages in Deuteronomy. He said, "These passages refer to an early tradition about God allotting the nations to the delegated authority of other divine beings. And he made that the same number of nations and territories as there were such beings.
However, verse 9 implies - he's referring back to the statement of he fixed the territories according to the number of the sons of God - states explicitly then that he kept Israel for himself, but Yahweh's portion was his people. This seems to be part of a concept hinted at elsewhere in the Bible and in later Jewish literature.
When God organized the government of the world, there were two tiers. At the top, there's Yahweh God of gods and Lord of lords, he reserved Israel for himself to govern them personally. But below him were 70 angelic sons of Elohim to whom he allotted the other peoples. The conception is like that have a king or an emperor governing a capital or heartland of his realm, and then assigning the provinces to different subordinates."
So that's the setup. That's the conception here. However, if you think back, where does 70 come in? This is a hyperlink back to the 70 nations of Genesis 10. What's the next story in the book of Genesis?
The rebellion of Babylon and the scattering of the nations at Babylon.
So what's happening here actually is hyperlinking back to something odd going on in those stories. Because Genesis 10 gives you 70 nations, and they're all organized, and it says, each according to their own language. Then Genesis 11 comes along and says, "The whole land had one language." You are like, "Wait, no, they don't." So the story has been intentionally put out of chronological order.
So Genesis 10 gives you the 70. And then you're like, "Well, where do all those languages come from?"
Jon: "Let me tell you."
Tim: "Let me tell you." And then it's the story of humans, they come together and they don't want to be scattered. They want to come together and they want to build a temple to exalt themselves to the place of God.
Jon: We talked about the cycles of the fall in Genesis 1 through 11 and how you get different layers of it, nuances of it. You got Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and then you got the tower of Babel, like it's another example of the fall.
Tim: Exactly. Genesis 3 to 11 is the biblical fall narrative. What is likely happening here is all these hyperlinks are saying there was a human rebellion happening in Babylon. And then you read on the Torah and you realize there was also a rebellion among the host of heaven. That that human rebellion matched a rebellion among the host of heaven.
Jon: Where does it say that?
Tim: Ah, it doesn't say this explicitly in the Torah, you have to follow the logic. How did we end up with God assigning all of the other nations with their own lesser Elohim? And why do we have all these languages? Why do all these nations worship other Elohim? And why is it that when these other nations worship other Elohim, it's just like really destructive? They offer their screaming infant children to these gods. It's terrible. In what kind of world am I living where this would ever happen? If God's the chief Elohim, how would He allow this?
Jon: Genesis 1 through 11 is all explaining this.
Tim: Genesis 3 to 11 is trying to explain that to us. And the sons of God narrative and the flood all the way back up to Genesis 6. There's two moments in the Genesis 3 to 11, it's mapping this, spreading human rebellion and it seems to be what these traditions are saying is it's mapping at the same time a rebellion among the host of heaven.
Jon: The Nephilim and stuff, all that stuff?
Tim: Yeah. Well, that the sons of God overstepped their authority. That they are called to govern the humans.
Jon: So embedded in the fall narrative of 3 through 11 is kind of the seed of this spiritual rebellion. And we don't get to learn about it very explicitly, but it does seem kind of mapped on to it.
Tim: Yeah. It also connects to the question of what on earth is the talking snake doing in the garden. Right?
Jon: Yeah. That's part of the same rebellion...
Tim: It's part of the same question. Here's a creature that's in rebellion against God, where did it come from? Here's the thing, is that all we get are these little hints of some underlying narrative. But the more the biblical story goes on, the more it seems to be looking back to those early narratives in Genesis, just telling the stories of a twin rebellion.
One rebellion's told in detail - the human one. One rebellion is merely hinted at, and that's the spiritual one.
Jon: It's into that in terms of there's this malevolent snake, serpent and then there's the sons of God doing something they shouldn't be doing.
Tim: Yeah. They're supposed to be governing human not having sex with them as Genesis 6. And then, tradition of God assigned each nation its own deity. But why? Because of the rebellion of Babylon which was all about humans.
If the sons of God story in Genesis 6 is about them crossing a boundary, then Babylon in Genesis 11 is humans crossing a boundary to make themselves into gods.
Jon: The biggest question though, if there was already a spiritual rebellion happening in Genesis 6, why would God appoint them over the nations?
Tim: There's two traditions here. One is that the scattering of Babylon is God giving all the nations over to their rebellion and to—
Jon: You wanted this. Here, you can have it.
Tim: "You want to be gods? Great, I'll give you over to be governed by these rebel Elohim." That's one tradition. The other way of doing it would be to say way back when these were two separate ideas. One is originally positive that God's the chief Elohim, he runs the world with his staff of Elohim. That's just the idea.
Then you have another story of somehow those sons of Elohim rebelled. This would be like Tigay. In the Bible, there's a later author that's created a coherent narrative out of those two.
Jon: Well, it's not coherent, though in the sense that you get Job and you get in another passage where it seems like God has His command team.
Tim: He's still working with his command team.
Jon: Yeah, they seem like they're on board.
Jon: There's the guy who was opposing, but it's not...
Tim: In other words, all these passages, it's actually hard to put them all together into a coherent narrative. There's some early set of traditions about all of this, and you can see something of a narrative arc among them. There you go. And that's where I'm at with this theme in the Bible. This sub-theme. There's a few more steps to it, actually.
Jon: Let me try to summarize.
Jon: My head's spinning. We've got this Divine Council idea, and its basic core of this idea is that Yahweh is the commander in chief. There are other Elohim. They're called the hosts of heaven, the armies of heaven. Also when you talk about the stars, in their imagination, that's kind of speaks to who these are because many people thought the stars were gods.
They're called the sons of God. They're also called the sons of the gods. And it's very clear in the biblical imagination they are lesser than Yahweh, Yahweh runs them. And the stories of God actually, Yahweh's delegating tasks to this divine council in Job and in 1 Kings.
Now, that's a very clean story, although in Job there is a guy who is called the accuser. And so there's a sense of like, "Well, that guy, not completely on board with God." So there seems to be a little bit of something going on there. But if we go back to this, like a very, like, Proto stories in 3 through 11, you get this picture of a rebellion amongst these spiritual beings.
Tim: The sons of Elohim.
Jon: The sons of Elohim. In Genesis - is it 6? They overstep, they sleep with women and that's not rad.
Tim: It is much less than rad. In the eyes of the biblical authors, it's the opposite of rad. Jon: The opposite of rad.
Tim: You've got the talking snake.
Jon: You got this talking snake and he shows up right away. I mean, this is like kind of before the humans’ rebel. And he's in opposition of Yahweh. Is he N Elohim? It's doesn't say he's an Elohim. It's a talking snake.
Jon: Now, in Deuteronomy, you get two passages where Moses is saying, "Hey, look, back in the day when all of these nations..." It's kind of answering the question, how did they get there? Why are they worshiping their own gods? Why are these other God's kind of corrupt, and why are we chosen by Yahweh who's above all them?
And he's like, "Look, here's the deal. Yahweh, back in the day, he set this all up. He set all these nations up and he put other lesser deities, Elohim in charge. And that's what's going on."
Tim: "Don't worship those other Elohim. They're not your Elohim."
Jon: And so, if you go, "Oh, why did God do that because those gods are pretty screwed up?" Well, there was a rebellion. And this whole thing, the whole timeline chronology of it is really weird. So it's like, did they just not think in the terms of that same of the chronology? Did that not matter or is there something we're missing? But it seems like all these stories are kind of meshed together as almost like coexisting.
Tim: They are hyperlinked. They're all talking about the same thing.
Jon: They're all talking about the same thing, but there's no narrative structure of this happened, this happened and this happened. Because you've got a talking snake before the rebellion of humans, and then you got God appointing the Elohim.
Tim: But there doesn't seem to be any rebellion. Jon: But they had rebelled in Genesis 6.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: And he hadn't done it until Genesis 11. But then in 1 Kings and Job, it seems like He's got the support staff that's pretty legit. But if you just throw it all together on one boiling pot, it's kind of you get this picture of there's this spiritual reality of powers and authorities that God has delegated, but there is some sort of rebellion.
Tim: And it's mapping; it's not separate. The conflict in the heavens among the heavenly staff team maps on to the misfortunes of humans, because they are governing. And so, the misfortunes of humans is itself a window of the consequences of the heavenly rebellion. And the heavenly rebellion is connected to the human rebellion.
That's a good summary. There's no way to tie this up. I just wanted to have this conversation with you. I don't want this to be in the video at all, the God video. It's not going to be helpful.
Jon: The Divine Council?
Tim: No. But it's just once you bring up the other Elohim, it does raise this question of, "Well, what are they and what's their story?" And it's piecemeal.
Jon: Doesn't Michael Heiser have an explainer video on this?
Tim: Yes, he has chaos one. We'll talk about Heiser’s works in a second. So, two, just so you know, we're not just making this up of all these different stories, when you get to the book of Daniel, the book of Daniel is tracking with all of this. So you have Daniel, who's sitting in Babylon as an exile and prisoner, Jerusalem smoldering and he's praying to Yahweh to bring comfort and restoration to Jerusalem. And he sits in praise for a while.
Then eventually, a holy one comes to him. And the Holy is one of these Elohim, sons of Elohim, except called a "holy one." And this being gives their name, Gabriel, which means God is my warrior, and he says this. He says, "Listen, we heard your prayer, we were coming your way but then the Prince of Persia was resisting us for 21 days. It took us three weeks to get here. Because there was that other Elohim, the one assigned to Persia, he was resisting us and so he gotten away but finally, we made it to you because Michael who is like El who is like God, he came—
Jon: Who is like God? That's what his name means?
Tim: "Michael" means "who is like El," who is like God. "Michael came and he helped me. I was able to get away from the king of Persia, so now I'm here to answer your prayer." That's the story.
Jon: And that's where all Frank Peretti stuff comes from.
Tim: Exactly. In other words, do you see how that story is itself a reflection on all of this earlier stuff about lesser Elohim assigned in rebellion?
Tim: Now, the battles on Earth. Persia against Babylon reflect these heavenly conflicts. [00:50:01]
Tim: So, in Jewish literature, after Daniel, into the Second Temple period, the speculation on these things just got off the charts. There is such fascination with angels and these figures. There's whole books dedicated to them. It's a famous—
Jon: Is Enoch about...?
Tim: Yeah, totally. There's a collection of actually originally independent works called the Book of first Enoch, which is an amalgamation of a number of works, but yeah, there's a whole section with names in them. And how many are there? There are 70. And they all get names. And there's a chief and they're all arranged in these hierarchies.
Jon: There's not 70 people groups?
Tim: No, but there is according to Genesis 10. It's mapping on to Genesis 10. Jon: But once you're in Second Temple Judaism, how do you like...?
Tim: Oh, I know. For them, it's all about this exegetical universe that they're living in of the Hebrew Bible. There's all this discussion going on. Then you have Jesus comes onto the scene. He's announcing the restoration of Israel, and God's kingdom has arrived and a whole bunch of lesser Elohim, which the Greek word for it is "daimonion" demons, lesser Gods start rearing their heads. And like Jesus walks around and these beings start springing to life.
Jon: So you're saying there's a direct connection of the demons?
Tim: Yeah. The word "demon" is just a Greek word for lesser god.
Jon: Is it?
Tim: Demigod. Demigod. Even the word "demi," the D-E-M-I is connected to the Greek word "daimonion."
Tim: Demigod - lesser god. Demon is a lesser god, is son of Elohim in Hebrew categories.
Jon: But specifically one that is—
Tim: Specifically, one that's bad. Yeah. So these daimonions are going off— Jon: So is an angel a son of God then too? Like Michael?
Tim: Yes, but that becomes the title that refers usually to ones that serve Yahweh. And ones that don't serve Yahweh that are part of the Rebellion are referred to in the New Testament as daimonion.
Then also think about Paul's vocabulary. Paul uses this vocabulary of spiritual powers, rulers, authorities. Where did he get all this? He gets it from the Hebrew Bible, and then mediated through a lot of this continued reflection in Jewish literature about, what is all this? So everything that fits under the category of spiritual warfare comes from these biblical texts and this tradition. It was an active part of Jesus' way of viewing the world. It was an active part of Paul's way of viewing the world.
Jon: So this could be a theme video on spiritual welfare - this conversation right now.
Tim: This could be its own theme video. So just a footnote, I can sense it in you, and I'll just be perfectly honest. I've always thought this whole thing was just super weird. I found it actually really difficult to even believe. I just came to a place of being very honest with you and with a lot of people. But there's no other way to roll.
I have actually been avoiding studying this topic. I came to realize this about six months ago. I've been avoiding learning about this because I don't—
Jon: You don't like it? It doesn't jive.
Tim: Yeah, it doesn't jive. I don't resonate. It doesn't map on to any experience, my experience of life in this world.
Jon: You have one experience of coming into contact with something.
Tim: I do. I have one experience. That's true. I was speaking hyperbolically. I have one experience that I don't have categories for that was with something that was not good. But even that experience, going away from it, I still have multiple explanations for it.
Tim: So finally, I just realized that...I think I was reading a book on a plane or something and I was like, "Oh, my gosh, I've been avoiding this. That's not honest. That's certainly not being what I think good scholarship is." So I just decided to dive in. And it's obviously, 32 pages of notes later.
This is how Jesus and Paul the apostle, biblical authors seem to have seen the world. So what's here? Like, what am I missing? As a modern Westerner, I'm clearly not tracking with this way that the Bible describes the reality. I trust that, that's to my detriment, there's something here that I need to see.
My hunch is that it's not the faithful way to respond to this. My gut is that it's not going to be like the most extreme forms of the Christian tradition that have gone towards finding the names of these demons and begun going on...
Jon: Having a prayer sword.
Tim: ...going on with my prayer mission. Nothing like that in the New Testament. But at the same time, especially the apostles, and Jesus seemed to really want me to be aware that there are realities of good and evil that I'm not aware of, that I can't sense with my five senses, but that doesn't mean they're not real and don't have some degree of influence. This is just under construction. I'm six months in to finally owning up to this part of my worldview and I'm actively exploring it. But it's a big factor when we start talking about the word God, and other gods.
Jon: Yeah, because underneath that whole conversation is this world. Which it's fairly opaque for how much text there is in the Bible. There's not a lot.
Tim: There's not a lot, but there's not nothing.
Jon: But there's not nothing. It's just weird that in the New Testament, I mean, they do talk about it, but nothing in the practices does it emphasize really caring, it seems.
Tim: Yeah, it's true. Other than just, "Hey, don't be stupid. Like, don't go to the Zeus Temple down the street," Paul says. Peter says—
Jon: Well, and there's this kind of like, "Hey, when you're experiencing problems, it's because spiritual evil exists and you need Jesus, and his righteousness to guard against that."
Tim: But at the same time, these evil realities are not described as a real viable threat.
Jon: I'm thinking of the armor of God. Isn't there a flaming arrows of the evil one or something?
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: What's he talking about?
Tim: Oh, dude, that gets you into the whole thing of Ephesians. Because Ephesians is all about the creation of a new humanity out of all nations. Out of all nations, God's raised up one human who is God become human - that whole thing...
Jon: So let's arm this human.
Tim: ...so that you and I can become the new humanity. Then, when you move into Ephesians 4, it's all about so what's the new humanity based on? One Lord. It's the Shema. One Lord, one God, one faith, one baptism.
Jon: Yeah, with a twist.
Tim: Is the Messianic Shema? Dude, we'll get there eventually. So cool. We're talking about the Messianic Shema.
Tim: So what the new humanity needs is to have its unity protected. The multiethnic people of God, that's the new humanity that's going to overcome all previous socio- economic, national boundaries and love each other in the name of Jesus. That's what Jesus created in Paul's—
Jon: The Christian globalists.
Tim: Yeah. Then he goes on in the rest of letter to talk about how keeping that unity is going to be super hard. All the ethical exhortation in Ephesians is about maintaining that unity.
Then you get the armor of God. In context, the armor of God is primarily I think in context about how the spiritual powers of evil which are connected in Genesis to the scattering and diversity of humanity, they want to keep us divided. And so, whenever you see people elevating did whenever...This is what Paul is saying. Talk about ancient texts being relevant.
What Paul is saying, when Christians elevate political, ethnic, socioeconomic differences above their unity in Christ and divide the body of Christ, that's spiritual evil fracturing the new humanity in Jesus. And what's a flaming arrow then?
A flaming arrow is apparently prejudiced in the body of Christ. It's apparently allowing different political opinions to mean that I'm not going to honor you as a brother or sister in Christ, and so you need the armor of God. It's all corporate. It's very powerful stuff. Actually, it's that one area. The way Paul appropriates the spiritual warfare motif isn't Frank Peretti style, it's this.
Jon: It's to our unity and protecting that unity.
Tim: Because the original role of the lesser Elohim was to be over the nations. What Paul says in Ephesians and in Colossians is that Jesus is now exalted above all other principalities and authorities. He's the chief one.
Jon: So the emphasis in Ephesians 5 is about unity?
Tim: The armor of God
Jon: The armor of God, and the spiritual forces that are fighting against the new human?
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: In the New Testament is spiritual warfare, connected also to just the martyrdom and the—
Tim: Yeah, that's right. In John's letters to the churches in the Revelation, he talks about how some of the churches have martyrs, people have been killed. He describes that as the attacks of the Satan, the opposer. He connects it to spiritual evil.
When he sees Roman soldiers and Roman propaganda against Christians to scapegoat and so on—
Jon: So that's how it usually comes up in modern context it seems like, is like, "Oh, Christians are getting the bad end of the stick." That spiritual warfare. Or if someone is disrespecting some—
Tim: And then there's just the classic like in the Gospel stories of people under the influence of evil beings that you can't see. And they need to be prayed for and healed. That's another way. Interestingly, that's not the dominant way that the apostles describe spiritual evil as you leave the Gospels and Acts.
Tim: There you go, man. This is the whole thing; I don't know how to...you can't tie a bow.
Jon: How do you try to reconcile the allotment of nations and spiritual beings with a modern evolutionary view of how humanity developed?
Tim: Oh, I see. Well, I think similarly to how I think we need to approach the creation stories. So God is using biblical authors and their historically located way of viewing the structure of the world as a three-tiered universe.
So the purpose of the Bible isn't to tell me about the structure where the origins of the physical structure of the universe. It is designed to be a unified story that leads to Jesus to give me wisdom about how God is saving the world through Jesus. So this is what still under construction, then. The whole thing about 70 nations, that's all clearly—
Jon: Because if you want to be literal about it, it's like it starts to get...the chronology is weird, the 70 seems symbolic.
Tim: I don't think we should be trying to use Genesis 10 and 11 to reconstruct spread of humanity.
Jon: It almost seems like you're not really supposed to take Genesis 3 through 11 and really try to construct the chronology.
Tim: I think that's true. I think that's true. Because those narratives are all brilliantly crafted as this literary and theological statement, and they're all really clearly in dialogue with other Canaanite and Babylonian stories and motifs. They're interacting. They're doing theological sparring with these other traditions.
So Genesis 12, then you get the Israelite tradition of the family of Abraham going forward. So yeah, Genesis 1 to 11 is interacting with an ancient international conversation about these topics, which provides a really coherent standing of the claims that those narratives are making. I think those narratives stop making the sense that they do when we try and take them out of that context and map them on to whatever.
Jon: But we do need to map them on to a modern context in order to make these seem important in a way. I mean, one thing I've been thinking about—
Tim: It's mapping the message, the theological message.
Jon: Yeah. Because, for example, this whole like "don't have any other gods but Yahweh," that is not the temptation in modern culture. It’s maybe in a metaphorical way that we Christians do this a lot in Christian preaching where you're like, "Is your idol sex or money?"
Tim: Well, those were actual deities in the ancient world. Jon: Sex and money?
Tim: Yeah, Mammon. You can't worship God and Mammon. Jon: But it was also a god.
Tim: Exactly. Yeah, exactly.
Jon: So you're saying those two things were very tightly connected?
Tim: Correct. The things that typified the worst tendencies of the human condition in the modern world were all deities in the ancient world. God, sex, money, all of it. Power, sex and money.
Jon: Seems like the temptation that I experience, that other people experience is maybe there's no spiritual realm.
Tim: Exactly, totally. That's my struggle.
Jon: So to me, out of all the different options, Yahweh is your God. It's more like, "Hey, this is legit, Yahweh exists."
Tim: "There really is a God."
Jon: There really is a God.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. If I'm talking to my neighbors, oh, for sure, it's like, they're not even sure there is a God. So the claim that the Shema is "worship Yahweh alone" is —
Jon: Temptation isn't like, "Well..." for some people it is, I suppose.
Tim: Well, and maybe that's where the analogy in our own day is all the same idols exist in our culture. You could make an argument from this perspective that modern Westerners are simply blind to the much more mysterious and dangerous realities that lurk behind the surface of money, sex and power. It is true. Like what is it about these realities that can enslave humans and dehumanize - turn people into beasts - trying to get money, sex, and power? And you're like, sure you can give a psychological, physiological explanation of that, but—
Jon: But are you leaving out something really significant?
Tim: But you're leaving out something else so significant. And I think that's where I'm at. I want to understand what I'm going to miss out on, if I don't factor this theme into my world view. The God video won't be about this, but—
Jon: But the God conversation is.
Tim: The God conversation raises this.
Jon: Next, we're going to talk about God's complex relationship to the world. Plug it.
Tim: One way that God can interact with the world is by governing mediators. And one of those mediators could be these other Elohim.
But here's what's fascinating is that the biblical narratives and poems, all of it, especially in the Hebrew Bible, create a really sophisticated set of categories for God working in the world through mediators, through intercessor figures, through His own divine attributes that somehow take on a life of their own in the world, like God's Word, and His wisdom, His name, and His glory. Which are God, but then they are depicted as if they begin to become distinct. They are God and distinct from God at the same time.
The angel of the Lord who is a figure, who is a human-like figure, who is both Yahweh and distinct from Yahweh.
Jon: All right.
Tim: There you go.
Jon: If you thought you were confused—
Tim: Oh, dude, the rabbit hole. It's wonderful. This will be our next conversations is how God's complex relationship to the world depicted by the Hebrew Bible gives us the seedbed for the concept of the Trinity that comes to birth in the New Testament.
Jon: So this whole conversation about the Divine Council, we're not going to make a video on it. But if this really piques someone's interest they want to keep reading and thinking about it.
Tim: Yeah. There's actually a lot of really great resources out there. Many of them are free. One we've mentioned already. There's a Hebrew Bible scholar who is doing a lot of popular level work named Michael Heiser. He has a book called "The Unseen Realm" that's really helpful. He takes a deep dive and all this stuff.
He has a podcast and a YouTube channel called "Naked Bible," by which he means the Bible stripped of all of the weird modern stuff that we put on it. He has some videos about this.
Jon: He's making his own explainer videos.
Tim: Yeah, totally. They are cool, and they are helpful.
Jon: He's got one on the "Gods of the Bible" Part 1 and then "Gods of the Bible" Part 2. I'm haven't seen that one. Seraphim and Cherubim, he's got a whole nine-minute video on those.
Tim: Yeah, it's great. Actually, he and I went to the same Hebrew department. We went to school together way back when.
Jon: He's got a video on God Vs Sea Monsters.
Tim: God vs Sea Monsters. Yeah, that's great. I think he's been frustrated with how misunderstood all of the ancient contexts of this spiritual warfare stuff is and so he's creating a lot of really accessible stuff. It's helpful. That's a great place to go.
There's another New Testament scholar named Larry Hurtado and he has a number of different books. If you just go to Amazon and look up "Larry Hurtado" we'll have a link in the show notes - and just google his name and "monotheism," and his books and videos will come up too.
Jon: Cool. Thank you for listening to this episode of The Bible Project Podcast. If you're like me, the last three conversations, the last three episodes on this podcast have been really challenging, and it creates a lot of questions for me, and I'm sure it's creating a lot of questions for you as well.
So the next episode of the podcast, we're going to do a question and response episode. Please send in your questions about Elohim, about the God of the Bible, Yahweh, and this whole idea of the Divine Council, anything about this conversation so far. And I'm sure there's a lot. Feel free to send it to us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep it to about 20 seconds, give us your name and where you're from.
Today's up episode was produced by Dan Gummel, and today's music was made special by Tae the Producer. The Bible Project is a nonprofit animation studio. We're in Portland, Oregon, and we're able to have these conversations and then make videos that explain the Bible as one unified story that leads to Jesus. Everything we make is free. It's on our website, and it's thanks to thousands of people like you who have joined us to make this project possible. So thanks for being a part of this with us.
Meg: My name is Meg and I'm from San Diego. We believe the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus. We are crowdfunded project by people like me. Find free video, study notes, and more at thebibleproject.com.