Does God Preside over an Assembly of Lesser Deities According to the Bible? #151
Hello friends, and happy Thursday to you! I struggled for a while to come up with an open. Let me pull back the curtains on doing a daily podcast for a moment. I feel like – not every day, certainly, but a good 3-4 times a week, I should come up with a clever, or interesting, or engaging opening to this pod. As we have gone past episode 150, sometimes the well is dry. Not for the actual content of the show – I love doing this, and have had maybe one day out of 150 that I’ve struggled to come up with a topic for the day’s reading. The Bible is too deep to ever get bored with, or run out of material to discuss. The cold opening, however is different. So – I had a brilliant idea – let’s google best theology jokes. Not just a Bible joke, or a religion joke, but a real theology joke – something kind of clever and high-brow. Well, friends, let me tell you – there aren’t many good theology jokes out there AT ALL. I am so bummed out. #2 on the list of theology jokes on a particular website was, “Is theology the study of people named theo?” GROAN. Well, I actually stumbled on some philosophy jokes while I was looking, and as I was a philosophy major in college, I was reminded of an old favorite. This, my friends, is your opener:
A renowned philosopher was held in high regard by his driver, who listened in awe as his boss lectured and answered difficult questions about the nature of things and the meaning of life.Then, one day, the driver approached the philosopher and asked if he was willing to switch roles for just one evening. The philosopher agreed, and, for a while, the driver handled himself remarkably well. However, when the time came for questions, someone at the back of the room asked him, “Is the epistemological meta-narrative that you seem to espouse compatible with a teleological account of the universe?” “That’s an extremely simple question,” he replied. “So simple, in fact, that even my driver could answer it.”
Today’s Bible readings include: Deuteronomy 1, Psalms 81-82, Isaiah 29 and 3rd John. Today’s question is going to be a strange one for many. Does God preside over a council of lesser deities according to the Bible? And our focus text is Psalms 82 – let’s read both our Psalms passages, paying particular attention to Psalms 82.
God stands in the divine assembly;
he pronounces judgment among the gods:
2 “How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?Selah
3 Provide justice for the needy and the fatherless;
uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
4 Rescue the poor and needy;
save them from the power of the wicked.”
5 They do not know or understand;
they wander in darkness.
All the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 I said, “You are gods;
you are all sons of the Most High.
7 However, you will die like humans
and fall like any other ruler.”
8 Rise up, God, judge the earth,
for all the nations belong to you.
So – what gives here. God pronounces judgment among the gods? I thought there was only ONE God?! Well – that is true – there is only one almighty God, maker of Heaven and earth. There is only one creator God – only one King of Kings – there is none beside Him and none above Him. He reigns over all. In that sense, there is only ONE God. In another sense – a biblical sense – there are many “אֱלֹהִים ʼĕlôhîym, el-o-heem.” You see this in several places in the Bible:
“I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night and strike every firstborn male in the land of Egypt, both people and animals. I am the Lord; I will execute judgments against all the gods of Egypt. Exodus 12:12
Lord, who is like you among the gods? Who is like you, glorious in holiness, revered with praises, performing wonders? Exodus 15:11
3 Therefore, I now say: I will not drive out these people before you. They will be thorns in your sides, and their gods will be a trap for you.” Judges 2:3 (The Angel of the Lord is the speaker)
When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away to follow other gods. He was not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord his God, as his father David had been. 1 Kings 11:4
For the Lord is great and highly praised; he is feared above all gods. 1 Chronicles 16:25
Lord, there is no one like you among the gods, and there are no works like yours. Psalms 86:8
All who serve carved images, those who boast in worthless idols, will be put to shame. All the gods must worship him. Psalms 97:7
Give thanks to the God of gods. His faithful love endures forever. Psalms 136:2
So, to summarize – the Bible makes it clear that there is only one God of god – this is biblical monotheism. The Bible also makes it clear that there are many elohim, and the most prominent and normative way to translate elohim is ‘gods.’ And Psalms 82, according to many scholars, is teaching us that God rules a council of little g gods, or heavenly beings if you prefer. Dr. Michael Heiser, the Logos Bible Software scholar in residence is an expert on the divine council of God. His book The Unseen Realm is a fascinating read. I don’t know that I go all the way with Dr. Heiser, but he makes some very interesting points and sticks to the Bible to do so. Let’s call this the Heiser thesis on the Divine Council of God. You listen to it (or read it) and weigh it on its biblical merits. As with everything you hear on this podcast – always go to the Word of God first and foremost. Judge Heiser’s teaching – and mine – according to how well it cleaves to God’s Word.
Several Old Testament passages describe this administrative structure existing in the heavenly realm, as well. Psalm 82 is perhaps the clearest—and perhaps the most startling. As I related in the first chapter, it’s the passage that opened my own eyes. The psalm refers to Yahweh’s administration as a council. The first verse reads: God (elohim) stands in the divine assembly; he administers judgment in the midst of the gods (elohim). You no doubt noticed that, as I pointed out in chapter one, the word elohim occurs twice in this verse. You also probably recognize elohim as one of God’s names, despite the fact that the form of the word is plural. In English we make words plural by adding -s or -es or -ies (rats, horses, stories). In Hebrew, plurals of masculine nouns end with -im. While the word elohim is plural in form, its meaning can be either plural or singular. Most often (over 2,000 times) in the Hebrew Bible it is singular, referring to the God of Israel. We have words like this in English. For example, the word sheep can be either singular or plural. When we see sheep by itself, we don’t know if we should think of one sheep or a flock of sheep. If we put sheep into a sentence (“The sheep is lost”), we know that only one sheep is meant since the verb is requires a singular subject. Likewise, “The sheep are lost” informs us that the status of more than one sheep is being discussed. Grammar guides us. It’s the same with Hebrew. Psalm 82:1 is especially interesting since elohim occurs twice in that single verse. In Psalm 82:1, the first elohim must be singular, since the Hebrew grammar has the word as the subject of a singular verbal form (“stands”). The second elohim must be plural, since the preposition in front of it (“in the midst of”) requires more than one. You can’t be “in the midst of” one. The preposition calls for a group—as does the earlier noun, assembly. The meaning of the verse is inescapable: The singular elohim of Israel presides over an assembly of elohim. A quick read of Psalm 82 informs us that God has called this council meeting to judge the elohim for corrupt rule of the nations. Verse 6 of the psalm declares that these elohim are sons of God. God says to them: I have said, “You are gods [elohim], and sons of the Most High [beney elyon], all of you. To a biblical writer, the Most High (elyon) was the God of Israel. The Old Testament refers to him as Most High in several places (e.g., Gen 14:18–22; Num 24:16; Pss 7:17; 18:13; 47:2). The sons of God/the Most High here are clearly called elohim, as the pronoun “you” in verse 6 is a plural form in the Hebrew. The text is not clear whether all of the elohim are under judgment or just some. The idea of elohim ruling the nations under God’s authority is a biblical concept that is described in other passages we’ll explore later. For now, it’s sufficient that you see clearly that the sons of God are divine beings under the authority of the God of Israel. You see why the psalm threw me for a loop. The first verse has God presiding over an assembly of gods. Doesn’t that sound like a pantheon—something we associate with polytheism and mythology? For that very reason, many English translations obscure the Hebrew in this verse. For example, the NASB translates it as: “God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers.” There’s no need to camouflage what the Hebrew text says. People shouldn’t be protected from the Bible. The biblical writers weren’t polytheists. But since Psalm 82 generates questions and controversy, we need to spend some time on what it teaches and what it doesn’t teach, along with other passages that inform us about the divine council.
Dr. Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm.