“God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: ‘How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?'” Selah[Psalm 82:1-2 ESV]
I had been a Christian for over 20 years before I ever heard of God’s divine council. When I first heard it explained, it made me feel uncomfortable and directly challenged my theology. I asked …
“Why does an omniscient God need a heavenly council?”
“Who are these other ‘gods’ anyway?”
But as I began to open the Scriptures and study for myself, it was like a major piece of the prophetic puzzle had just been put in place and for the first time so many things made sense.
Once I understood the concept of the divine council, or God’s heavenly court, a significant plot line in God’s story began to come into focus. I discovered new meaning to spiritual warfare and the cosmic mission of Christ. Passages like Daniel 7, Job 1-2, Psalm 82, and Ephesians 6 came alive.
The most difficult barrier I had to jump was the idea that the “gods” in Scripture were real, supernatural beings and not just the figment of man’s imagination. When the Bible speaks of other “gods,” it is not referring to man-made statues, idols, or imaginary myths. These are the glorious ones (2 Peter 2:10) – the sons of God – and they very much exist. Some are good and some have rebelled, as we will see in a minute.
The Biblical authors make it clear that there is only One True Creator and Most High God [Elohim], who has revealed Himself as the LORD [Yahweh] – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Bible progressively builds on this revelation of the One True God through the prophets and ultimately through the incarnation of God the Son – Immanuel – who is identified as the Creator and Lord of all things visible and invisible [John 1:1-4, Colossians 1:15-17, Hebrews 1:1-3].
I want to go out of my way to affirm the supremacy and holiness of the One True God because the concept of the divine council, if not rightly understood, can become confused with a form of polytheism that reduces the LORD God to a mere equal among His peers. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Although the Bible clearly speaks of other gods [elohim], it is clear that these other gods are created beings who find their origin and being in the King and Creator of the universe. Only Yahweh – the God of Israel – is eternal, immortal, self-sufficient, all powerful, omniscient and omnipresent. All other gods and heavenly beings are created by God and for the glory of God. This is why we discover passages like Psalm 97.
“The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods! Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, O LORD. For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.”[Psalm 97:6-9]
Who is in the Divine Council?
To fully understand and begin to appreciate the divine council, it is important to be familiar with the royal court motif of the ancient near east. Ancient monarchs may have ruled with absolute authority and sovereignty, but nearly all ancient kings surrounded themselves with a royal council to assist in making decisions. This council included sages, spiritual advisers, military strategists, and members of the royal family. The king may have had the final authority, but a wise king would be willing to share his responsibilities with his council, seeking and sometimes heeding sound advice.
If we rightly understand God’s purpose in creating Adam and giving him dominion over the earth, we also understand the great commission of the Lord Jesus, as he has transferred His authority to all believers and invited us to operate in His kingdom as ambassadors and priests. If God has invited mankind to share in the governance of His earthly kingdom, then we should not be surprised that the Sovereign LORD also has chosen to share his authority with spiritual beings in the heavenly realm.
The prophet Daniel was given a vision of this divine council and provides a descriptive picture that allows us to take a look behind the scenes.
“As I looked, thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.” [Daniel 7:13-14]
Daniel’s vision provides a good starting point to understanding who participates in the divine council.
- Obviously God – the Ancient of Days – presides as the supreme authority over the council. All other members of the council ultimately defer to God.
- The council appears to be a formal assembly, much like a royal court, where the members gather around the throne of God and open the books, or records, for judgment.
- There are myriads of angelic beings — potentially millions — surrounding the council – some as servants and others as mere observers.
- The formal council is a plurality of co-regents distinguished from the myriads of angelic beings, signified by the multiple thrones in place.
- The court sat in judgment, apparently to deliberate and reach formal decisions together.
Other passages begin to provide more clarity about who is involved in God’s heavenly council. In the book of Job, we read, “Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD.” [Job 2:1]
Right off we see the “sons of God“- the bene Elohim – formally presenting themselves before the LORD, so it is safe to say that at least some of the sons of God are members of this heavenly court. Curiously Satan himself also was allowed to present himself before the LORD. I do not believe this implies that Satan is a member of the divine council, although he most likely could have been before his rebellion. For whatever reason, the LORD apparently allows His great adversary to appear before the council on occasion.
Psalm 89 also affirms that the sons of God are among those in the divine assembly.
“Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the sons of God* is like the LORD, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?“[Psalm 89:5-7 ESV – * also translated as heavenly beings]
Interestingly, this divine council motif is carried into the New Testament with such passages like Matthew 19:28 and Revelation 20. We see that mankind is restored to God through Christ and given authority to reign and judge with him in the coming kingdom. Jesus told his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
But Revelation 4 seems to imply that there are human elders among those in the heavenly council even now. John writes, “Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.” [Revelation 4:4]
Finally, I would be amiss to mention the reality of Jesus Christ having ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven, which in royal court language is the highest place of authority in the kingdom. The Son of God is Lord over heaven and earth, as so many New Testament passages convey.
“That he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”[Ephesians 1:20-21]
What does the Divine Council do?
If the Creator and King of the universe has a divine council, then what does this council do? After all, who is able to inform the all-knowing, infinitely wise God of something He doesn’t already know?
But that’s not the point. It’s not that God needs a council. He simply wants one. He is a God who desires relationship and who invites His creatures to participate with Him in His rule and reign. Here are a few interesting examples.
In Jeremiah 23, the LORD rebukes the false prophets of Samaria and Judah for seeking counsel from the pagan gods through divination and for practicing all forms of evil and immorality. He warns the people of Judah not to listen to these false prophets.
So the true word of God goes forth from within His council.
“For who among them has stood in the council of the LORD to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened … I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.”[Jeremiah 23:18, 21-22]
Next in 1 kings 22, the LORD calls together His council to determine the sealed fate of wicked King Ahab. God had already resolved to judge Ahab for his idolatry and immorality, but he decides to allow his council to suggest how Ahab would perish.
So the council makes suggestions about the affairs of men.
And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20and the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ 22And the LORD said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ 23Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you.” [1 Kings 22:19-23]
In Daniel 4, the divine council again is given the authority to decree the fate of King Nebuchadnezzar, which the Most High affirms. Although the entire chapter is worth reading, here is the reference to the council.
“The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men... And because the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven … It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king.” [Daniel 4:17, 23-24]
Finally, Deuteronomy 32 seems to indicate that after man’s rebellion at the tower of Babel, the LORD confused their languages, divided up the nations and turned them over to the sons of God. It is not clear if the sons of God were still in allegiance with the LORD at this time, or if they had already rebelled. Either way, what we discover soon after Babel and the division of the nations is the birth of all ancient civilizations and the world-wide emergence of pagan idolatry.
The Rebellion within the divine council?
“When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.”[Deuteronomy 32:8-9]
Deuteronomy 32 states that at some point after the tower of Babel episode, when the LORD confused the languages and divided up mankind, the nations were assigned to the sons of God. It is not clear if the sons of God were still in allegiance with the LORD at this point or if they had already rebelled from their place in the divine council, but either way history shows that immediately after the tower of Babel we see the birth of every ancient civilization and the world-wide explosion and expansion of pagan idolatry.
When we harmonized Psalm 82 with Deuteronomy 32, it becomes clear that many of the members of the divine council rebelled and were expelled by God. These fallen sons of God became the wicked gods of the nations.
“God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
‘How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’
They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.‘
Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!”[Psalm 82]
As we will see next time, this heavenly rebellion provides immense significance to the cosmic mission of Jesus Christ, spiritual warfare, and the concept of cosmic geography, where we begin to understand what the Bible means by the thrones, principalities, cosmic powers, rulers, dominions and authorities at work in this present darkness.