“They provoked His jealousy with foreign gods; they enraged Him with abominations. They sacrificed to demons, not to God, to gods they had not known, to newly arrived gods, which your fathers did not fear.”Deuteronomy 32:16-17
In my last post, I laid down groundwork concerning the real nature of the “gods” of the Old Testament. When the LORD forbade the children of Israel to worship other gods, He was not protecting them from imaginary beings or man-made idols. The One True God [Elohim] — Yahweh — was reminding Israel of His exclusive and unique status as King and Creator of the universe, while at the same time warning His people of the dangers of turning away from Him to worship and serve the lesser gods [elohim] of the nations. Nothing is more grievous to the LORD than when His people commit spiritual apostasy.
But if these “gods” are real, spiritual entities who have declared war against Yahweh and desire to be worshiped above Yahweh, then who are they and from where did they come?
The Origin of the gods
“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.”Deuteronomy 32:8
There exists only One True God and Creator of the universe — the Most High — who has no beginning and no end. He is the LORD — Yahweh — and He has revealed Himself to mankind in the Person of Jesus Christ — God the Son — who created all things in heaven and on earth, both visible or invisible, whether “thrones, dominions, rulers or authorities” [Colossians 1:16].
These ancient, cosmic “rulers,” or divine princes, were created by Yahweh as part of what the Bible calls the heavenly host. In their original state, these were the spiritual “sons of God” who were created to worship and serve Yahweh and tasked with executing His will in heaven [see Job 2:1, 38:4-7, Psalm 29:1, 89:5-8].
The origin of the “gods,” therefore, is the God of gods — Yahweh — the Creator. For He created the heavenly host.
“You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.”Nehemiah 9:6
Although there are myriads of these spiritual sons of God who have remained loyal to Yahweh and continue to serve Him, the Bible reveals that a considerable number of the “heavenly host” made a willing choice to rebel, committing high treason in heaven, and declaring themselves enemies of the Most High. Without going into detail, I am of the persuasion that at least three divine rebellions can be accounted for in Scriptures, including the Serpent in Genesis 3, the sons of God in Genesis 6, and a subsequent defection at the tower of Babel [Genesis 10-11, Deuteronomy 32:8-9].
For this post, I will focus on the Babel incident as being the primary point of origin for the “gods” of the nations.
The Host of Heaven
God’s judgment of the nations at Babel is often overlooked, but it is critical to understanding the Old Testament theme of Yahweh verses the gods. What we discover in Deuteronomy 32:8-9 is that when the LORD confused the languages of mankind and created the boundaries of the nations on earth, He also gave the nations their “inheritance.”
What was their inheritance? The nations were divided up according to the number of the sons of God and handed over to their power and authority. In other words, the nations got what they had sought after and asked for at Babel — other gods. In judgment, the Most High disinherited the nations and gave them over to these gods.
These divine princes were seditious and proved to be disloyal to Yahweh — traitors to the throne, and therefore they assumed the role as territorial spirits — the evil principalities and powers behind the deception and oppression of the nations [Ephesians 6:12].
The tower of Babel was never an attempt to build a skyscraper into outer space, but rather it was an ancient temple complex that was astronomically aligned to summon the “gods” to come down from heaven and inhabit and energize that dedicated space. This is why Babel was the epitome of idolatry and pure blasphemy. It was man’s attempt to worship and serve other gods and create a counter kingdom on earth.
Along with human sacrifice, astrology was one of the universal characteristics of every single pagan nation that emerged after the tower of Babel. There has always been a connection with pagan idolatry and astrology — which included the worship of the celestial gods represented by the sun, moon, and stars and also the practice of divination through interpreting the signs in the heavens.
All ancient cultures — from Egypt, Babylon, India, Scandinavia, to the native tribes of the Americas — were steeped in astrology and the worship of the heavenly host. This is why the LORD strictly forbade His people to participate in astrology and divination. God doesn’t prohibit these practices because they are harmless but because they are so real and dangerous.
“And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the nations under the whole heaven.”Deuteronomy 4:19
“If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones.”Deuteronomy 17:2-5
What about Idols?
One of the most common objections to the existence of other gods is the argument that the Bible regards them as mere idols — graven images of wood, stone, or metal crafted by men. The prophets of Israel would often ridicule the nations for bowing down to such idols made with human hands and at the same time condemn the children of Israel for doing the same. Consider Isaiah’s words.
Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”Isaiah 44:15-17
Moses also drew some correlation between idols and the “gods” of the nations.
“And the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known.”Deuteronomy 28:64
So do these passages prove that the “gods” of the Old Testament were merely idols?
The short answer is a resounding NO, but to shed some perspective it is imperative that we have an accurate understanding about how the ancients themselves would have associated graven images and the spirits that were believed to inhabit them.
As we have seen, the Scriptures draw a clear distinction between the physical idols and the gods that they represented. This doesn’t mean that some ancient pagans still could have ignorantly assigned some divine status to the idols and identified the graven images with the “gods” themselves. Much like Catholic relics during the Dark Ages were given divine status to some degree by ignorant Christians who wished to “see and touch” an object that had some supernatural power, pagan ritual worship was often reduced to the graven image available at the time.
Hebrew scholar and author Michael Heiser speaks to this ancient phenomenon in his book, The Unseen Realm.
“Ancient people did not believe that their gods were actually images stone or wood … What ancient idol worshippers believed was that the objects they made were inhabited by their gods. This is why they performed ceremonies to ‘open the mouth’ of the statue. The mouth (and nostrils) had to be ritually opened for the spirit of the deity to move in and occupy, a notion inspired by the idea that one needs to breathe to live. The idol had to be animated with the very real spiritual presence of the deity. Once that was done, the entity was localized for worship and bargaining.”Michael Heiser, Unseen Realm, p. 35-36.
The Apostle Paul reinforces this ancient understanding of idolatry in his letter to the church in Corinth, which was immersed in the Greek culture of pagan idolatry. Although the idols in and of themselves were mere inanimate objects, the demonic powers behind them were all too real.
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.1 Corinthians 8:4-6
“What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?“1 Corinthians 10:19-22
Clearly Paul regarded pagan idolatry as communion with real. spiritual entities, he called demons. These same demons are the heathen gods of the nations and are a real threat to mankind.
Next time I will begin identifying many of the specific gods of the Old Testament and suggest that they are still at work today, misleading millions of unsuspecting people down the wide path of death and destruction.