Confession time. I’m sure some of you will relate!
When I became a Christian way back in my pre-teen years, I found the Bible quite difficult to read. At the time, I was reading Terry Brooks (fantasy) and Tom Clancy (political-military thrillers), so I tried to approach the Bible like a strict narrative. I fell in love with the opening of Genesis, but the genealogies were monotonous, so I skipped them. I loved Exodus… until it got to the laws. I skipped Deuteronomy and Leviticus entirely. I skipped Numbers just because it sounded boring (a shame, since it turns out Numbers has some of the most tragic and violent stories in the Bible)!
I did okay with Judges, Esther, Nehemiah, Jonah, etc., but Kings and Chronicles? Nope.
I enjoyed Job… for about 10 minutes… but the dialogue was way over my head. Nope.
The Psalms and the Proverbs seemed unnecessary to me. I loved God and I had common sense (pre-teens know it all, right?). Skip. Lamentations? Skip. Song of Solomon? SKIP!!!! I didn’t have the patience to sift through any of the prophets.
The Gospels were great! I really enjoyed learning about the life and ministry of Jesus, and the accounts of His death on the cross were amazing. I knew He did all that for me (and you), but reading it really put things into perspective.
All the apostolic letters… again, I thought as a pre-teen I had it all figured out. Skippity-skip-skip-skip.
And then, I arrived at Revelation.
I still remember sitting in my room reading Revelation for the first time late at night. I had heard of it from popular culture and knew it talked about the end of the world. That was my kind of story! That night, I worked all the way through it. I couldn’t put it down.
The fantastic elements, beasts, world governments, the Antichrist, death, destruction, the elders in the throne room of Yahweh, the worthiness of the Lamb… it was epic and engaging. I fell in love.
Through high school and college, I kept the faith but did not follow the teachings of Jesus to a T. I should’ve read Paul’s letters and the Proverbs. I would have fared better; instead, I had to learn from my mistakes.
The amazing thing is, I didn’t realize the elements that I found so fascinating as a child in the first chapters of Genesis and Revelation actually permeate the Old and New Testament! I had missed it all because nobody had pointed it out to me. Now that I see it, I want to share it with you. My hope is that you’ll fare better in your walk with God and understanding the Bible.
First things first. Remember…
The Weird Stuff is The Important Stuff
With that being said, let’s start with Psalm 82.
A Scene from the Divine Council
A Plea for Righteous Judgment.
A psalm of Asaph.
1 God has taken His place in the divine assembly;
He judges among the gods:[a]
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 men
and fall like any other ruler.”
8 Rise up, God, judge the earth,
for all the nations belong to You.
This passage is awfully interesting, if you just take it at face value. God seems here to be judging an assembly of… other gods?! Right there in our Bible!?
Wait. I thought Christianity was a monotheistic religion?! Taken at face value, this sounds an awful lot like… a pantheon. Like Greek, Roman, Ugaritic, and Canaanite religions!
This is understandably alarming for any American or European Christian. The cognitive dissonance here is enough to make any Western Christian’s head spin. If you read the footnotes in many study Bibles, in almost every translation, there are tons of notes trying to deal with, or dance around, this issue.
Many commentators will say that elohim, the Hebrew word translated ‘God,’ ‘god,’ or ‘gods’ depending on the context, can refer to human leaders or rulers. Or maybe the members of the Trinity are in dialogue. Neither of these are coherent, especially given modern scholarship. For one thing, a member of the Trinity… being accused of corruption and wicked rule? Nah, man. Nah.
Additionally, the ‘human’ elohim view wreaks havoc on many other Bible passages like Psalm 89 and Job 1:6 and 2:1. This would basically elevate men to godhood in a practical, literal sense, which is blasphemy. In fact, the Hebrew word elohim is never used to refer to humans in the Bible. In Psalm 82, the point is driven home since, as judgment for their wicked actions, they will be sentenced to die just like men!
So, if we accept these elohim to be actual spiritual beings, and are part of a Divine Counsel that Yahweh, the Most High, presides over, then why are they being punished in Psalm 82?
That is where Deuteronomy 32 comes into play.
How Ancient Israelites Understood Their World
7 Remember the days of old;
consider the years long past.
Ask your father, and he will tell you,
your elders, and they will teach you.
8 When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance[b]
and divided the human race,
He set the boundaries of the peoples
according to the number of the people of Israel.[c]
9 But the Lord’s portion is His people,
Jacob, His own inheritance.
Notice verse 8 refers to the commonly known fact at the author’s time (ie, “ask your father and he will tell you”) that God had divided the nations according to their “inheritance,” or what they deserved. What is this talking about? When did God divide the nations?
The answer: At the Tower of Babel.
You probably glossed over this story in Sunday School, but it’s included in the Bible for a huge theological purpose. Noah’s descendants, instead of learning the lesson of the Flood, rebelled against God again, ignoring his command to fill the Earth and instead congregated in one city under Nimrod. They sought to bring God, or the gods, to them on their own terms. That’s what ziggurats in ancient Mesopotamia were for, and virtually all scholars agree that the Tower of Babel was a ziggurat.
So God divided the nations up, set boundaries for them, and allotted each people group to…
… the people of Israel?
This makes no sense. When the Tower of Babel event happened, the people of Israel didn’t even exist yet!
Many older Bible translations (including the King James Version) have “the people/sons of Israel” in verse 9. Unfortunately, this is incorrect, taken from the Masoretic texts which were copied Hebrew texts from the 7th and 10th centuries A.D. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were uncovered in 1948, the copies of Deuteronomy that were found did not have bene yisra’el, but instead had bene elohim (sons of the gods) or bene ‘el (sons of God). The Dead Sea Scrolls were from before the time of Christ, and therefore much closer to the original texts than the Masoretic texts.
[As an aside, the Masoretic texts, which were copied versions of the Jewish Bible for individual families, were compiled after many Jews became followers of Jesus because of convincing proofs from the Hebrew scriptures. Jesus, for instance, quotes Psalm 82 and Daniel 7:13-14 to prove His own Divinity. Jewish scribes and rabbis, in the aftermath of an exploding worldwide Christianity, had a vested interest in discouraging young Jews from discovering a supernatural Jesus hidden amongst their own texts. Many tiny but important changes were made in response.]
If correct, this means that Yahweh, for lack of a better word, ‘divorced’ the peoples of the world for their infidelity. Because He still loved them, however, He immediately assigned their care over to members of His Divine Council. These beings were commanded to, as it states in Psalms 82:3, provide justice, uphold rights, rescue the poor and needy, and save them from the power of the wicked. As we saw, the sons of God in the Divine Council did not do their job.
After this divorce and setting the nations under His Counsel, and because Yahweh still loved the nations, He immediately set out to win the hearts of the nations back to Him. He called Abram out of Ur to be the father of a new nation, His own nation, Israel. Israel’s job was to be a light unto the rest of the world and to produce, eventually, the One who would make it possible for the peoples of the world to come back to Him… through Jesus.
By the way, don’t take my word for it. I’m not a scholar, but I can read! For instance, check out this article by Dr. Michael Heiser or this one by Dr. Gerald McDermott. There is a growing work of scholarship that is supporting this plain reading of the Bible text. And the thing is, if you don’t agree with this interpretation of this one Psalm or this one part of Deuteronomy, you will still have to wrestle with all of these:
Genesis 1:26, 3:5 and 22, 6:1-4, 10-11, 15:1, 48:15-16; Exodus 3:1-14, 23:20-23; Numbers 13:32-33; Deut 32:8-9, 32:17; Judges 6; 1 Samuel 3, 23:1-14; 1 Kings 22:1-23; 2 Kings 5:17-19; Job 1-2; Psalms 82, 68, 89; Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:11-19; Daniel 7; Matt 16:13-23; John 1:1-14, 10:34-35; Romans 8:18-24, 15:24 and 28; 1 Corinthians 2:6-13, 5:4-5, 6:3, 10:18-22; Galatians 3:19; Ephesians 6:10-12; Hebrews 1-2; 1 Peter 3:18-22; 2 Peter 1:3-4, 2:4-5; Jude 5-7; and Revelation 2:26-28, 3:21.
So What Does This Mean?
The ancient Israelites, clearly worshiping only One God (the shemah from Deuteronomy 6 comes to mind), had what appears to be a worldview that included other “gods”. Real gods. Not just wooden and stone idols, but spiritual beings with tasks, responsibilities, and free wills. Some follow Him (Michael, Gabriel, the elders in the throne room of Revelation, etc.); some don’t (Isaiah 14:12-17 is clearly not talking about a human, bruh).
Some of these real beings working against Yahweh make real problems for the nations of the world. We’re not just dealing with demons… Paul said we’re dealing with powers, principalities, rulers, etc. who were assigned nations by God. These elohim who shirked their responsibilities and failed in their mission lost their hold on the nations when Jesus conquered the grave.
That’s right! Jesus not only sets us free as individuals; with His sacrifice, He set the nations free too! The world was no longer under the yokes of these spiritual forces but instead was offered the yoke of Jesus, whose burden is light. He is a good God!
Once we as Christians understand this, our job of spreading the Gospel and discipling nations becomes much more relevant and urgent. Missionaries fighting real spiritual forces in the dark places of the world that don’t know they’ve been liberated by Jesus from these lesser elohim need our support. The Gospel is good news not only because of individual salvation; every nation is free to serve Yahweh, the Most High God, rather than rebel divine council members from the spiritual world!
A Deuteronomy 32 supernatural worldview restores the richness of the Gospel to Christian evangelists all over the world. It gives weight and urgency to the Great Commission.
Why Haven’t I Heard of All This Before?!?
Our materialistic, postmodern worldview has become the default setting for Western Christians. For example, this article by John Oakes is indicative of the problem. Dr. Oakes, whom I greatly respect, avoids fully engaging with the content of Psalm 82 and Jesus’ quotation of it and doesn’t consider the plain reading of the text. When Christians come across something difficult or weird, we must resist the tendency to just skip over it.
If you are a Christian, you believe in a transcendent God that existed before Creation, before time. You can’t get much more supernatural than that! But the world we live in insists that even if we believe in God and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we must still fit everything else into an atheistic framework of scientific and materialistic explanation. It’s just how our society is built and it has rubbed off on the Western Church.
Other places around the world don’t have such inhibitions. In fact, it’s a struggle for some missionaries to prevent tribes and peoples from simply incorporating Jesus as yet another god into their existing pantheon! The missionaries have to explain that Yahweh is the God Above All Else, not just another run-of-the-mill spiritual being.
We have to be mature about the difficult parts of the Bible and constantly reevaluate the things we believe. Not everything in the Bible is easy to understand… it was written thousands of years ago in a Mesopotamian cultural context after all! But the truths contained within are God’s truths, timeless and universal. We have to engage, study, pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit, and expand our understanding of the scriptures.
And if we don’t?
Well… we’d be no better than a pre-teen in his room, looking for cool stories in an old book.