The Nephilim (giants) were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.
Who are the Nephilim?
Did giant hybrid beings actually walk the earth at one time?
How does the Bible account for the origin and identity of these giants?
How do the giants of Genesis play a central role in the violence and evil in the world before the flood of Noah?
To discover the answer to these questions and more, be sure to check out my latest session in my Genesis Study.
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Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence.
Reality consists of two worlds — two realms — separated by a veil. The physical dimension here on earth is but a shadow — a dim reflection of the spiritual realm — and in this present age we are unable to see behind the veil. Although the heavens are the true substance of things to come, they remain hidden from us — invisible to the naked eye.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12
Fortunately, the Bible provides some interesting glimpses into heaven when the veil is partially lifted and man is able to peek behind the curtain, as it were.
Think of Jacob and the stairway to heaven [Genesis 28]. Ezekiel, Isaiah, and John and their visions of the LORD on His throne [Ezekiel 1, Isaiah 6, Revelation 4-5]. Elisha and his servant surrounded by the armies of heaven [2 Kings 6], and Stephen’s vision of Jesus as he was being stoned to death [Acts 7:54-56].
As intriguing as these glimpses into heaven may be, they were limited in scope and vision, but one day that will all change.
This day is what I like to call the Big Reveal!
This is the revelation of Jesus Christ. The day of God’s visitation. The arrival of the King. There is coming a day when the heavens will be ripped open and the Lord Jesus will come down in all His power and glory and every eye will see Him for who He truly is.
It is a singular day — the culmination, crescendo and climax of history. It is the end, the finale. That is why the prophets always refer to this unique day as “the” revelation of Jesus Christ [see Luke 17:28-30, 1 Peter 1:5-7, 13, 4:13]. It is a day like no other.
The return of Jesus is THE BIG REVEAL! For believers … it is the moment we all have been waiting for. For the rest of the world, however, it will be the most dreadful day imaginable.
So how will this Big Reveal go down?
Let’s see what the Bible says.
The Veil will be Torn
Instead of thinking of the heavens as empty “space,” we must understand that the heavens consists of some form of material substance, though invisible to us. This what is known as the very fabric of space. The Bible repeatedly describes God the Creator as the One who “stretches out the heavens” like a tent or a curtain. [see Job 9:8, Psalm 104:2, Isaiah 40:22, 42:5, 44:24, 45:12, 48:13, 51:13, Jeremiah 10:12, 51:15, Zechariah 12:1]
So if heaven can be stretched out like a tent or curtain, then it stands to reason that it also can be rolled up like a scroll or torn apart. That is precisely what will happen during God’s big reveal. The veil between heaven and earth will be ripped open to reveal the LORD Jesus, and He will at that moment come down in all His power and glory.
Consider the overwhelming testimony of Scripture that describes this unique moment when the veil is torn and Jesus comes down from heaven to earth and treads upon the wicked in judgment.
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— 2as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
7Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. 8Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. 9He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. 10He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. 11He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. 12Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.
Bow your heavens, O LORD, and come down! Touch the mountains so that they smoke!6Flash forth the lightning and scatter them; send out your arrows and rout them!
Hear, you peoples, all of you;pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it,and let the Lord GOD be a witness against you,the Lord from his holy temple.3For behold, the LORD is coming out of his place,and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.4And the mountains will melt under him,and the valleys will split open,like wax before the fire,like waters poured down a steep place.
Draw near, O nations, to hear, and give attention, O peoples! Let the earth hear, and all that fills it; the world, and all that comes from it. 2For the LORD is enraged against all the nations, and furious against all their host; he has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter. 3Their slain shall be cast out, and the stench of their corpses shall rise; the mountains shall flow with their blood. 4All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree.
When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
There will be no mistaking God’s Big Reveal when the veil between heaven and earth is ripped open and the Lord Jesus Christ returns to earth in all His glory!
If that weren’t enough, here are a few more supplemental details that help put this monumental event into perspective.
The Angel Armies will Descend
Once heaven is opened and the veil is lifted, the entire host of heaven will be exposed for all to see.
[God will] … grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels8in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
2 Thessalonians 1:7-8
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne
It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones.”
And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.15From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
The Nations will Mourn
There will be collective wailing and mourning by all who have rebelled against the God of heaven on that day.
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
The great Day of the LORD is near— near and coming quickly. Listen, the Day of the LORD! Then the cry of the mighty will be bitter. 15That day will be a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, 16a day of horn blast and battle cry against the fortified cities, and against the high corner towers. 17I will bring such distress on mankind that they will walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their flesh like dung.
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
Fire will Consume the Wicked
The final outpouring of God’s wrath is always associated with an all-consuming fire to be poured out on the wicked.
For behold, the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. 16For by fire will the LORD enter into judgment, and by his sword, with all flesh; and those slain by the LORD shall be many.
Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.
When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
2 Thessalonians 1:7-9
But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly … But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed … waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!
2 Peter 3:7, 10, 12
The Lord Jesus will Come Down to Wage War
God’s Big Reveal culminates with the Lord Jesus coming down from heaven to earth in bodily form to crush the Beast and his armies in the war to end all wars!
Behold, a day is coming for the LORD, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst. 2For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. 4On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east … Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.“
Zechariah 14:1-3, 5
And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. 13These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. 14They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.
And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.
2 Thessalonians 2:8
And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army.20And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.21And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh
Then he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I go out, behold, the prince of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince.”
Daniel 10 is one of the most fascinating and foundational passages when it comes to establishing a Biblical understanding of spiritual warfare. As with most of Daniel’s prophecies, we are given a sneak peek behind the veil and what we discover is rather astonishing.
Spiritual principalities at war, fighting for power and dominion in the supernatural realm.
Daniel’s vision reinforces the supernatural context for the spiritual influence and control of the nations. These heavenly princes are just as territorial as the kings of the earth, and ultimately the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places wield power over and determine the course of the nations.
It should be noted that there are several Hebrew words that can be translated prince or ruler, but most of them are used in reference to human rulers. Only one word, however, is predominately used in regard to a supernatural being — the Hebrew word sar [שַׂר] — which is the word used here in Daniel’s vision.
So, from where do these supernatural princes come? I’m glad you asked.
The ORigin of Principalities
“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.”
There is One True God — the Most High — who is also known as the LORD — Yahweh — the God of Israel. He is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the Creator of all things in heaven and earth.
The Bible tells us that subsequent to the rebellion at the tower of Babel, the Most High divided up the nations and set their appointed boundaries, and then God apportioned the nations according to the number of the spiritual sons of God. In other words, the LORD temporarily disinherited the rebellions nations and handed the Gentiles over to lesser supernatural rulers — aka the sons of God, princes, lords, rulers, authorities, thrones and dominions.
The short story is that these supernatural princes did not rule according to the principles of justice and mercy but instead became cruel masters who desired glory for themselves and lorded their power over the nations through oppression, darkness, and fear. These rebellious princes became known as the heathen gods of the nations. They have been wreaking havoc on the Gentile nations of the world ever since.
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?”…
I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”
Psalm 82:1-2, 6-7
“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 peoples under the whole heaven. But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.”
Daniel’s vision provides a clear reference to warring princes from Persia and Greece, who were contending against Gabriel — a faithful prince to Yahweh — and Michael, who is identified as one of the “chief princes” and who has been placed in authority over God’s people Israel. The supernatural scene reveals Gabriel battling the evil principality over the Persian kingdom for 21 days and then receiving help from the prince of Israel — Michael — before returning to fight against both princes of Persia and Greece.
These spiritual powers are still operating behind the scenes today, pulling the strings, as it were, on the all the nations and their human governments. The sobering reality is that for all the people living within the hostile territories of these evil princes, they are oppressed and blinded by the spiritual forces of darkness. Only those spiritually redeemed and who have received the light and life of the Prince of princes — Jesus Christ — are no longer under spiritual bondage of these wicked rulers.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
The Prince of the Power of the Air
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”
Although the various principalities and powers over the nations operate at some level autonomously and independently of one another, I am of the persuasion that there is a chief prince of darkness who is the leader of them all. The angelic realm is highly organized with rank and file, which means that there is a ruler over all the various rebellious powers in the heavenly places.
I do believe this unique prince is Satan — the devil, the ancient serpent — who is the deceiver of the whole world. Let’s take a closer look at Satan’s unique role in the angelic order.
He is known as the prince of the power of the air. [Ephesians 2:1-2]
He is known as the god of this age. [2 Corinthians 4:4]
He is known as Beelzebub — the prince of demons. [Luke 11:14-23]
He is known as the prince of this world. [John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11]
The devil has authority over all the kingdoms of the world. [Luke 4:5-7]
Now that we have a more comprehensive understanding of the origin of these rebellious principalities and rulers in the heavenly places, the mission of Jesus Chris is amplified beyond the natural, earthly perspective into the cosmic realm.
Yeshua — The Prince of princes
“By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand, and in his own mind he shall become great. Without warning he shall destroy many. And he shall even rise up against the Prince of princes, and he shall be broken—but by no human hand.”
Jesus Christ is King of kings, Lord of lords, and Prince of princes. After accomplishing the work of redemption that the Father gave Him to do, He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Power on high — which is the most powerful position of authority in all the universe.
Knowing what we know now about the evil principalities and wicked rulers in the heavenly places, the cosmic mission of Jesus comes into full view. He came to conquer all the forces of evil and has been exalted above them all.
“He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him … See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority … He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
Colossians 1:16, 2:8-10, 15
“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.”
“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. “
1 Peter 3:21-22
Finally, on the Day of the LORD, Jesus will judge all the princes and kings in both heaven and on earth, bringing everything under His rule and reign so that He might be all in all!
“On that day the LORD will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth.”
The wicked principalities and powers who have oppressed the nations for so long will one day be judged by the Prince of princes and Lord of lords, and they will die like men.
“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”
[Hebrews 1:14 – NIV]
Angelology — or the study of angels — is one of the most underemphasized and misunderstood doctrines in all of Scripture.
Many have oversimplified their understanding of the unseen realm by reducing it down to God, the devil, and a few angels. This simplistic view of the heavenly host does not accurately represent what the Bible says about the heavenly host .
Putting church tradition and popular culture aside, we always must ask what does the Bible really say about these angelic beings?
For starters here are some fun facts about angels.
The host of heaven — including but not limited to angels — numbers in the hundreds of millions, if not more. [Daniel 7:10, Psalm 68:17, Nehemiah 9:6, Luke 2:13, Hebrews 12:22, Revelation 5:11]
Although angels are invisible spirits, they typically manifest in human form and sometimes get mistaken as mere men. (Genesis 18-19, Daniel 10:18, Luke 1:19-26, John 20:12, Hebrews 13:2)
There is NO Biblical teaching that states or even implies that humans turn into angels when they die.
Although angels have the capacity to fly (Daniel 9:21), they are never described in Scripture as having wings. [Only the cherubim and seraphim are described as having wings]
Angels often are described as being dressed in white (Acts 1:10) and sometimes radiant in appearance (Matthew 28:3, Luke 24:4).
The Scriptures imply that there is an order of rank among angelic beings which includes archangels, or chief princes, such as Michael (Daniel 10:21, Jude 1:9, Revelation 12:7-9)
Several angels are personally named in Scripture — Satan, Michael, Abaddon (Apollyon), Gabriel, Legion, and Beelzebub.
Angels are also called holy ones, sons of God, stars, winds, and spirits.
Scripture teaches that some angels “sinned” and abandoned their proper domain, introducing all sorts of evil to mankind [Genesis 6:1-5, Psalm 82, 2 Peter 2:2-4, Jude 1:6-7]. In response to these serious transgressions, the LORD punished this group of angels, casting them to the bottomless pit and binding them with chains until the day of judgment.
Jesus says that the fires of hell are reserved specifically for “the devil and his angels” [Matthew 25:41].
I will limit my focus for this post on the God-fearing angels who faithfully serve and obey the LORD. I will not address the cherubim and seraphim, having dealt with them in my last post here. And you may also want to read my post about The Angel of the LORD here.
I will deal with the fallen angels — aka demons — in my next post.
Angels are Created Spiritual Beings
Angels are called holy ones and the sons of God, and although they are portrayed to have extreme power, supreme intelligence, and some god-like atributres, they are created beings nonetheless. This means that the very existence of all spiritual beings is entirely contingent upon the One True Creator God (Colossians 1:15-17). No angel could or would exist without God, who is the only Necessary Being who exists.
“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.”
And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
“The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!”
Angels are Servants of the Most High
It is important to understand the title of angel as more of a job description than anything else. In others words, “angel” more appropriately describes role and function than essence or being. While the ontological descriptions in the Bible include holy ones, sons of God, morning stars, and heavenly host, angel better implies what a being does as opposed to what a being is.
The Bible sheds some light on the jobs that angels perform.
Angels perpetually serve and worship Yahweh, presenting themselves before His throne (Daniel 7:10, Revelation 5:11-12), and are ever prepared to do His holy will as emissaries and ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:7).
Angels attended to Jesus immediately after he resisted the devil’s temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:11) and as he agonized in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:43). Jesus also made reference to having the authority to command 12 legions of angels at any moment to serve Him.
“Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”
The LORD sent an angel to deliver Peter from prison (Acts 12:6-10), and angels are identified as end-time reapers, who harvest both the righteous and the wicked at the end of the age (Matthew 13:39-41, Revelation 14:14-20).
Angels are God’s Heavenly Messengers
The word angel — both the Hebrew word, malak, and the Greek word, aggelos — literally means messenger. Again, the word angel is more descriptive of function, and one of the primary jobs of angels is to deliver God’s messages to mankind.
The Greek word used for evangelism (euaggelizó,) which literally means to bring good news, finds its root in the same word, aggeols, or angelic messenger.
The Bible says that when the LORD gave the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, it was mediated by angels. [Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19]. Angels announced “good news for all people” to the shepherds in Luke 2:8-14, and God will send an angel to proclaim the eternal gospel to every nation before the return of Christ [Revelation 14:6-7].
Angels were there to tell the women at the tomb that Jesus had risen from the dead and also to encourage the disciples at the ascension of Jesus. The angel Gabriel in particular is named in both the Old and New Testament, as he helped Daniel understand his visions of the last days (Daniel 8-9) and later announced the birth of both John the Baptist and Jesus (Luke 1).
Angels War against the Spiritual Forces of Darkness
The Scriptures provide rare glimpses into the spiritual battle raging around us at any given moment, but we can be sure that there are angelic armies at war in the heavenly realm. Although the LORD sometimes sends his angelic army to engage in earthly affairs, such as when God struck down the Syrian army in the days of Elisha (2 Kings 6), the heavenly conflict is just as real (Ephesians 6:12).
John’s account of the Revelation of Jesus is one of the most obvious references to this spiritual war in heaven.
“Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”
An angel also informed Daniel on one occasion that the dark prince of Persia prevented him from coming to Daniel sooner.
“However, the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me for twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia … ‘Do you know why I have come to you?’ he said. ‘I must return at once to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I have gone forth, behold, the prince of Greece will come.'”
[Daniel 10:13, 20]
Angels Carry out God’s Divine Judgments
From beginning to end, the Bible speaks of angels as God’s instruments of judgment upon the ungodly.
In Genesis 18-19 the LORD sends two angels into Sodom to deliver Lot before the destruction of the plain.
In the account of the Exodus, the LORD sends the destroying angel throughout Egypt to strike down ever first born son.
The Day of the LORD is described as a day of great judgment and fire and is often associated with an angelic army, such as with the prophet Joel.
“The LORD utters his voice before his army, for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful. For the day of the LORD is great and very awesome; who can endure it?”
When Jesus returns in all His glory, He is coming on the clouds with all His holy ones with Him to judge and make war on His enemies (see Matthew 25:31, Jude 1:14-15, Revelation 19:11-16).
“To grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
[2 Thessalonians 1:7-8]
Angels are Amazed by the Divine Mystery of the Gospel
While the Scriptures implicitly teach that the fate of the devil and his angels is sealed and that they cannot be redeemed for their rebellious treason against God, salvation has been offered to mankind through the Person and work of Jesus Christ. It is perhaps the greatest divine mystery of all! How can a holy God forgive sinful man and yet maintain His righteousness?
Of course the answer is found in the cross of Jesus Christ, who is both the Just and the justifier of all who believe. The Bible says that there is “joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10), and the Apostle Peter says that the revelation of God and the gospel of our salvation is of great significance to the angels.
“It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”
[1 Peter 1:12]
Angels Protect God’s People from Harm
Although we can’t be dogmatic about the existence of individual guardian angels, the Scriptures do seem to suggest that God’s angels are tasked with protecting His people.
Consider these passages.
“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”
“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
Angels will be Judged by the Saints of God
One of the most profound statements in all of Scripture is found in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. Almost in passing Paul says …
“Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!”
[1 Corinthians 6:2-3]
As joint heirs and co-regents with Jesus Christ — the King of kings – the saints of God will be given authority to rule and reign with Christ in His eternal kingdom, which means that the redeemed of the LORD will be given the right to judge the world and even the angels.
“He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”
[Genesis 3:24 – ESV]
The Word of God is unique in that the Holy Spirit inspired human authors as His divine instruments to communicate heavenly concepts to an earthy audience within the limits of human language. One of the greatest challenges for Biblical authors, therefore, was attempting to convey spiritual realities in an earthly context.
Whenever the heavenly realm intersects with the earthly realm, one would expect some things to get lost in translation. No matter how hard we try, there are spiritual realties that simply cannot adequately be described by the human language. As the Apostle Paul says about his translation into the third heaven, “And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” [2 Corinthians 12:3-4].
Even if Paul could express what he heard and saw in the third heaven, he was not permitted to do so.
Fortunately for us, the prophets and Apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit were allowed to describe their own heavenly visions and supernatural encounters. Men like Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the Apostle John all provide interesting perspectives into the spiritual realm, and more specifically into the very throne room of the LORD God Almighty.
In these peculiar visions, we are introduced to a unique class of celestial beings — aka living creatures — called cherubim and seraphim.
Of all the depictions in the Bible, there are perhaps none stranger than these.
Basic Etymology and Introduction
Before discovering what the Bible says about these mysterious creatures, it would be beneficial to consider the original Hebrew meaning behind these words.
The Hebrew root for cherub and its plural form cherubim is “kerub,”which has an unknown Hebrew derivation but universally is understood as an order of angelic beings. The majority of Biblical references to cherubim are found in Exodus and 1 Kings, specifically concerning the imagery in the tabernacle of Moses and Solomon’s temple, as well as in the prophetic visions of Ezekiel.
The Hebrew word for seraph, or seraphim, is “saraph,” which literally means a fiery serpent, or a burning one. This word is used to describe both the poisonous snakes that plagued the Israelites in the wilderness and the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up in Numbers 21. It is also used by Isaiah to describe the spirit beings who surrounded the throne room of the LORD in Isaiah 6.
As we will see, the cherubim and seraphim from the Old Testament undeniably are synonymous with the “living creatures” described by the Apostle John in Revelation 4-5.
Cherubim were Posted as Guardians of Eden
The first Scriptural reference to the cherubim is found after man’s expulsion from the garden in Genesis 3:24, where the LORD “placed the cherubim and a flaming sword” to guard the entrance to Eden and restrict man’s access to the tree of life. Genesis provides little description of the cherubim beyond their function as guardians or sentinels. The flaming sword may also be considered a clue to the manifestation of these spirit beings as being “fiery ones.”
Cherubim Imagery was Included on the Ark of the Covenant and Solomon’s Temple
Once the Israelites are redeemed out of Egypt and brought to Sinai to enter into a covenant with the LORD, Moses is commissioned with the task of constructing the tabernacle — or tent of meeting — as the centerpiece of Israel’s encampment. At the heart of the tabernacle was the Holy of holies, where the ark of the covenant was kept. The ark was considered the mercy seat of God and the footstool of the LORD and was the place where heaven and earth was meant to intersect. Holy God meeting with sinful man.
On the top of the ark of the covenant, the LORD instructed Moses to overlay two cherubim images with gold, facing each other, as a covering for the mercy seat.
“The cherubim spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat were the faces of the cherubim.”
This is the first reference we have describing the cherubim as winged creatures. Unfortunately because of the influence of Renaissance art, cherubs became synonymous with plump, angelic babies with wings, which is nothing like the Biblical representation.
Later, when Solomon was commissioned to build the permanent Temple in Jerusalem, the king posted two massive cherubs within the inner sanctuary of the Temple to provide imagery consistent with the presence of the LORD and the holiness of His throne room.
“The height of one cherub was ten cubits, and so was that of the other cherub. He put the cherubim in the innermost part of the house. And the wings of the cherubim were spread out so that a wing of one touched the one wall, and a wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; their other wings touched each other in the middle of the house. And he overlaid the cherubim with gold. Around all the walls of the house he carved engraved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms.”
[1 Kings 6:26-29]
Cherubim and Seraphim Perpetually Serve the LORD as His Personal Throne Guardians
Near-Eastern archaeologists and historians have discovered mystifying hybrid creatures in the typography and iconography of ancient Mesopotamia and Babylon. These unusual creatures have since been mythologized but they provide a historical context for the Biblical portrayals of cherubim and seraphim.
The enigmatic sphinx of Egypt and Babylon, as well as the majestic griffin of the Assyrians, are just a few exotic examples of these hybrid creatures found in ancient cultures. Almost universally these hybrid creatures were depicted as throne guardians of the ancient kings and their inner court.
We know that the cherubim in Solomon’s Temple were described as kruvim arayot, or “Cherub-Lions” (1 Kings 7:36), which suggests that the Cherubs had a lion-like appearance, just as the Mesopotamian kuribu often had [kuribu in Akkadian, karabu or kirubu in Babylonian and Assyrian].
Most ancient pagan cultures would place large statues at entrances to important venues which served as guardians. They typically had the body of a bull or lion, with wings, and a human head.
At times these unique beings were worshipped as pagan guardian deities, but the Scriptures provide the true nature of these created beings, as always deferring to the LORD God and worshiping Him alone as King and Creator.
Jewish scribes and scholars historically have placed the cherubim and seraphim as preeminent within the hierarchy of angelic beings because of their proximity to the LORD and their role as guardians of His throne. The Scriptures also distinguish the winged cherubs from among the angels and the rest of the heavenly host.
The cherubim and seraphim are tasked with the perpetual responsibility of preserving the sanctity and sacredness of God’s holy space in the third heaven — aka the highest heaven. Whenever these unique creatures are seen in Scripture, it is almost always associated with the majesty of God’s throne and His immense glory and power.
There are three primary texts that attempt to describe these throne-guardians. When the accounts are harmonized, it is clear that Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John all were granted a glimpse into the throne room of heaven. Although these passages are a bit lengthy, it is necessary to read them in context and compare them in order to harmonize them.
First, let us consider how Isaiah describes the seraphim.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
Next, consider Ezekiel’s depiction of the living creatures, which he later calls cherubim in Ezekiel 10.
“As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went. As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle … As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning … And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
[Ezekiel 1:4-10, 13-14, 26-28]
Finally, John sees a similar vision of the throne room of heaven and shares it in Revelation 4.
“And before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
[Revelation 4:6-8 – ESV]
Although we may not fully understand the nature of these mystical creatures, I believe we will see the day when the Lord Jesus returns to establish His eternal throne in Jerusalem and all of heaven and earth will reunified under the glory of God. On this day, we should expect to see the heavenly host made manifest in the kingdom of God, which undoubtedly will include the cherubim and seraphim guardians of God’s holy throne.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”
The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most complex and transcendent concepts within the Christian faith. We believe in the One True God who eternally exists in three distinct Persons within the Godhead — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
While it is apparent that the LORD has chosen to progressively reveal the majesty of His divine nature to His people — culminating with the Incarnation of God the Son, Jesus Christ — the concept of the Trinity is not a purely “Christian” doctrine, as many Jewish scholars suggest. While most Talmudic Jews insist that the LORD is one (singular) in a strict monotheistic sense, the Hebrew Scriptures actually reveal something entirely different.
The Old Testament is full of language that implies a divine plurality when speaking of the nature of the LORD, where the oneness of God is not denied but it is revealed in three distinct Persons. Many misunderstand the doctrine of the Trinity by applying the following equation.
1+1+1 = 3
This misapplication leads both Jews and Muslims to accuse Christians of polytheism, or the worship of three different Gods, but a better mathematical formula can be used to help convey the Biblical concept of the Trinity.
Just as multiplication is exponentially more complex than addition, so the concept of the Trinity is more complex than strict monotheism. In other words, God is one but He is not a singularity. He is a triunity. He is not static. He is dynamic. He is not simplistic, but rather He is infinitely complex and compounded in His nature. He is One God in Three Persons. I will not pretend to grasp all of it, nor should I. Yet I believe it with full conviction because it is what the Scripture teaches, and no man could every conceive of such an idea on his own.
To discover how the Old Testament portrays the complexity and plurality of God’s triune nature, it would help to begin with “the Angel of the LORD.”
The angel of the LORD is first revealed in Genesis 16, as He appears to Hagar in the wilderness. This is the first of many manifestations of the angel of the LORD in the Old Testament, and the nature of these encounters leaves me convinced that this is no ordinary angel.
Encounters with the Angel of the LORD
In Hebrew the angel of the LORD literally means “the messenger of Yahweh,” and in some cases this divine messenger is called “the angel of God (Elohim)” [see Genesis 21:17]. As we will see, there seems to be a purposeful distinction made in the Hebrew language by using the definite article “the” angel of the LORD, as opposed to just “an” angel or angels.
When “the” angel of the LORD shows up in Scripture, several interesting things happen. First, He speaks as if He is God, but at the same time He distinguishes Himself from Yahweh. Second, those who encounter Him believe and behave as if they have just encountered God Himself.
Let’s look at a few examples.
The Angel of the LORD and Hagar
In Genesis 16 the angel of the LORD appears to Hagar and promises her things that only God can do, such as multiplying her descendants.
The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.”
Yet in the very next verse, the angel of LORD speaks of Yahweh (the LORD) in third person, which clearly makes a distinction between Him and Yahweh. [Genesis 16:11]
Finally, Hagar’s response is telling. She obviously saw the angel of the LORD in human form and believed that she had spoken to God.
She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
The Angel of the LORD and Abraham
Abraham’s encounter with the LORD in Genesis 18-19 is unique, and although the exact title “angel of the LORD” is not used, there is good reason to believe that this is the same Person who revealed Himself to Hagar. Genesis 18:1 says the LORD “appeared” to Abraham in physical form, along with two angels. Abraham clearly distinguishes the LORD from the two angels and bows down to Him before inviting them to stay and refresh themselves with a meal.
The LORD speaks as only God would. He says that He is the One who is about to destroy Sodom and that He is the One who has chosen Abraham to be blessing to all nations [see Genesis 12:1-3]. He also speaks of Yahweh in the third person [Genesis 18:14,19], which would be quite strange unless He were distinct from Yahweh. Again, we have the LORD appearing in physical form and speaking of the LORD as an entirely different Person.
The next time Abraham encounters the angel of the LORD it is on Mount Moriah with his beloved son Isaac. This time the angel of the LORD calls out to Abraham from heaven to stop him from following through with the sacrifice of his son. Interestingly, the angel of the LORD speaks of God in third person again, but also clearly refers to Himself as God — the One who will bless Abraham.
“But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
The Angel of the LORD and Jacob
Jacob had a dream in Haran where he saw “angels of God ascending and descending” on a stairway to heaven. Then he sees the LORD in physical form standing above the stairway, and says, “surely the LORD is in this place.” [Genesis 28:10-17]
Later in Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with a man until daybreak, but he quickly discovers that this is no ordinary man. This is the angel of the LORD.
So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”
The Angel of the LORD and Moses
Moses encounters the angel of the LORD appearing in physical form from within the burning bush and on Mount Sinai [Exodus 33:17-23]. Once again, the angel of the LORD clearly is God but is also distinct from God.
And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.“
Without attempting to compile an exhaustive list, I must only mention a few more encounters with the angel of the LORD.
Joshua meets the Commander of the LORD’s army, having His sword drawn for battle [Joshua 5:13-15]. Just before Joshua dies, the same angel of the LORD meets with the whole house of Israel to rebuke them for their disobedience [Judges 2:1-4].
The angel of the LORD appears to Gideon and calls him to deliver Israel [Judges 6:11-24], and Gideon is overcome in God’s presence.
Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the LORD. And Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.”
Samson’s parents had an encounter with the angel of the LORD [Judges 13] and reacted in a similar manner, saying, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” [Judges 13:22]
The Angel of the LORD aND Jesus
It is clear that nearly every Old Testament encounter with the Angel of the LORD was a visible, physical encounter with God Himself. It is also clear that the Angel of the LORD is distinct from God but also expresses the same power and speaks with the same authority as God.
So if the LORD is one, how do we explain this counterintuitive concept?
Fortunately, the New Testament brings everything into clear focus with the incarnation and personal revelation of God in human form — the Lord Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that while the New Testament has much to say about God’s angels — His messengers — it does not specifically mention “the” Angel of the LORD.
That is because the Angel of the LORD is God the Son — Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul says that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God,” and that “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” [Colossians 1:15, 19]
What this means is that each and every time the Immortal, Invisible, Eternal God and Creator of the universe appears in physical form, it is God the Son. God the Father is an invisible spirit. God the Holy Spirit is an invisible spirit. But God the Son, Jesus Christ, is the image of the Invisible God.
Jesus is the Eternal Word who became flesh [John 1:14] — God in human form — and He is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact representation of His nature.” [Hebrews 1:3]
Every encounter with the Angel of the LORD in the Old Testament was an encounter with God the Son appearing in physical form, revealing the Invisible God to mankind. This is also known as a Christophany or Theophany, which is a physical manifestation of Jesus Christ prior to His being born of woman in the fullness of time [Galatians 4:4].
So the concept of the Trinity was already well established in the Old Testament and further solidified in the New Testament. There is only One True God who eternally exists in three distinct Persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father …”
“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.”
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.”
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 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!”
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.
“You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for I had ordained you. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked among the fiery stones. From the day you were created you were blameless in your ways until wickedness was found in you.”
[Ezekiel 28:14-15 – BSB]
So far in this series, I have investigated the Biblical descriptions of the Hebrew terms, Elohim, and bene Elohim. From the very beginning pages of God’s story, we are introduced to the Most High God and Creator of the universe, and also to the spiritual sons of God, aka the host of heaven.
The LORD God finished His perfect work of creation in 6 days, and as the LORD rested from His work, He made an emphatic declaration.
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.”
God’s initial creation was “very good” – without flaw or blemish. Awesome in power. Perfect in beauty. Everything in all creation – both visible and invisible – was declared very good. Based on God’s own appraisal of the original creation, it is safe to say that no corruption, no evil, no transgression, no iniquity had been found in the heavens or on the earth.
God placed man in the garden of Eden, that holy mountain where heaven intersected with earth and where man freely communed with His God. Adam was found walking in fellowship with the LORD during the cool of the day. Eve was crafted by God from Adam and for Adam to compliment and come alongside him in his work. All was well in the world, with God, with man, and with the heavenly host.
And then like a sudden flash of light, a new character abruptly emerges onto the scene. He initially is identified as the serpent – which in Hebrew is nachash. As we continue to read God’s story, however, we come to know him by many different names. By the end of the Bible, the Apostle John confirms the identity of God’s arch enemy and primary adversary.
“And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.”
More than a Talking Snake
Moses, the human author of Genesis, casually inserts the serpent into the story like business as usual. There are at least two ways to look at this. First, Moses was giving a bizarre zoology lesson about a talking snake in the garden of God. After all, Moses later tells us about Balaam’s talking donkey (Numbers 22:30), so maybe he wants us to picture a slithering snake getting cozy with Eve, hissing lies in her ear. Considering that most people are repulsed by snakes, it is hard to imagine this serpent had any resemblance to a cold-blooded reptile.
On the other hand, Moses was trying to convey an entirely different image to his original audience by using the Hebrew term, nachash. Perhaps Moses actually was attempting to describe a supernatural being who is stunningly brilliant, breathtakingly beautiful, and infinitely wise.
After all, if Eden was originally the paradise of God and holy mountain of assembly, it is entirely likely that Adam and Eve regularly saw and interacted with divine beings like the sons of God. Maybe it wasn’t out of the ordinary for Eve to suddenly find herself talking the nachash, and at the same time being enthralled by him.
My point is that the serpent was more than a slithering, hissing, talking snake. He was a morning star, a bearer of light, a divine being who undoubtedly captivated the woman at first sight.
Nachash – the Shining One
One of the translations for the Hebrew word nachash can be rendered as bronze, brass, or copper. Obviously these reflective metals provoke imagery of brightness and luminescence. This should come as no surprise when we consider one of the most commonly used names for the serpent is Lucifer, which is the Latin equivalent for the Hebrew, helel. Lucifer literally means shining one or day star.
When Eve encountered the serpent in the garden, he was shining brighter than a star in the night sky. Lucifer was created the most beautiful of God’s heavenly beings. He was set apart among the sons of God. He was stunningly beautiful in appearance. Consider some of the passages that describe the nachash as the shining one, the morning star.
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star (Lucifer), son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!”
“You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared.”
And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”
“And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”
[2 Corinthians 11:14]
Nachash – the Cherub Throne Guardian
The LORD had initially created Lucifer to serve as one of His primary throne guardians in the highest heaven. The third heaven is the place where God, who is beyond time and space, meets with his heavenly host. God’s throne room is there, and because God’s glory cannot be contained, the LORD assigned throne guardians, cherubim and seraphim, to hover around His throne to protect and set boundaries around this holy space. The Hebrew word seraphim literally means fiery serpent, which is a fitting description for the shining one.
But according both to Isaiah and Ezekiel, Lucifer, this son of the dawn, was unmatched and exceptional in power, beauty, and wisdom among the other divine beings God had made. He was distinct among seraphim and cherubim.
“You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your way from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you.”
[Ezekiel 28:14-17 ESV]
Isaiah shares a similar description of the nachash.
“You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’”
Nachash – the Father of Lies
Interestingly, the Hebrew word, nachash, can also be used in verb form, when referring to the practice divination. Divination is an abomination in the sight of the LORD God because it is man’s attempt of using occult rituals and practices to acquire secret knowledge. Divination is the practice of elevating and worshiping the demonic pagan gods of the nations above the One True God.
“When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens [nachash], or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this.
Moses describes the serpent as more cunning or crafty than the beasts of the field. He possessed divine knowledge and wisdom that only a supernatural being could. He wasn’t like the animals. He was a heavenly being offering Eve secret knowledge, promising to make her like a god – like an Elohim!
The seduction for Eve was to become like an Elohim, and she believed the serpent’s lie that something was lacking – that in some way she was incomplete and that God was keeping a secret from her. Had she only believed that she was already immortal – an image bearer of God, created to live forever.
And in one impulsive reach to become like God, Adam and Eve were reduced to mere mortals, cursed by their sin and destined to die.
This is why it is so fitting that the serpent is called the father of lies. Jesus says that when the devil lies, he speaks his native language, and his lies are always used to destroy, as he also has been a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44).
The serpent is the master of deception, and he has been deceiving the nations ever since with his destructive lies from the beginning. Satan offers forbidden knowledge of the gods through occult magic and dark arts of divination, sorcery and witchcraft. Only the God of the Bible speaks truth and only God’s word is truth.
Nachash – the Fallen One
Finally, we must understand the serpent as the ultimate rebel. He is the antithesis of God, violently opposed to all that is good in the universe. His beauty and power provoked pride in his heart, and his pride produced a desire to be on equal footing with His Creator. Satan’s sin was a severe violation of the created order and a direct slap in the face of God. Instead of hovering around the throne of GOD and reflecting His glory, this proud seraph desired his own spot in the lime light. He desired to praised and glorified along with the Most High. And as a result, “iniquity was found in him” [Ezekiel 28:15].
The LORD God cast out Lucifer from the highest heaven and limited him to operate in the second and first heaven, bound by space and time. The rebel made his choice and he will not stop his mission of deception and destruction until he finally is cast into the lake of fire.
“I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.”
“In the abundance of your trade
you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
from the midst of the stones of fire.
Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
The Lord Jesus Christ — the Son of God — said something quite profound during his high priestly prayer in John 17. Jesus affirms His own divinity and acknowledges the eternal relationship He has with God the Father.
“Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed …”
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
[John 17:5, 24]
God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit have existed eternally together in perfect communion and unmatchable glory. One God in Three distinct Persons. Blessed Trinity. Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD God Almighty.
The universe and everything in it, both visible and invisible, is contingent upon the existence of our Creator God. In my last post, I discussed the first proper name used for God — Elohim — and affirmed that the God of the Bible is the uniquely supreme God and Creator of the universe. The Apostle Paul affirms this in one of the early creeds of the faith, speaking of Jesus the Son of God.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
God clearly created everything — both visible (the material universe) and invisible (the spiritual realm).
If we study God’s original creation week in Genesis 1, we are given essential details about the creation of the earth, the skies, the seas, and the land. We are told about the formation of the birds, the fish and the land animals. And God pays special attention to the creation of man, who is made in His own divine image and becomes the crowning glory of His creation [Genesis 1:26, Psalm 8:5].
All of this involves things visible and physical in nature.
But at some point before God laid the foundations of the earth and made man in His own image, God first created spiritual beings in the heavens. As we will see, these beings differ in name and variety — cherubim, seraphim, angels, holy ones, glorious ones, the heavenly host, watchers, and sons of God. Although some of these terms and descriptions overlap throughout the Scriptures, my goal is to take a look at each of them in turn.
There are significant differences in many of the proposed theories about when God created the heavenly beings. Some adhere to a gap theory, which places an undetermined amount of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 to account for the introduction and interaction of these spiritual beings.
Although I find many problems with the gap theory and see no Biblical grounds for it, the Bible does place the creation of heavenly beings prior to the creation of the earth, or at least simultaneously with it. As Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning (time) God created the heavens and the earth. I believe that the heavens (plural) represent both the visible universe (space) and also the invisible heavens, which the Bible calls the third heaven or the highest heaven.
“You alone are the LORD. You created the heavens, the highest heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all things, and the heavenly host worships You.”
“Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth with all that is in it.”
Introducing the sons of God — Bene Elohim
Based on our introductory passage in Job 38:7, the LORD says that at the same time He was laying the very foundations of the earth, “the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.”
According to the Scriptures, the sons of God were present to witness God’s creative power and to praise the work of His hands. God had his purposes in first creating the heavenly host before He began His work on the physical world.
What a scene! As God worked, the “morning stars” burst forth in harmonious song, praising the Most High. As God formed the earth, moon, sun and stars, the sons of God shouted for joy, glorifying their Creator.
But who are the “sons of God” — The bene Elohim — and why is this phrase so important to understanding the bigger picture in God’s redemptive work?
Adam, the son of God
Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus — the beloved Son of God — all the way back to Adam, the first man, whom he also calls the son of God. Adam did not have an earthly father, so therefore he received life directly from God, making him a son of God.
The same can be said for the heavenly host, which is why they are called the sons of God. The sons of God are created, supernatural beings who abide in the spiritual realm. I presume that just as Adam was created in the image of God, the sons of God were created to be imagers of the Most High and reflect His glory to one another and back to Him.
In the same way that God shared His rule with Adam to be His representative and joint-heir of the earth, I believe God also shares His rule and administration of the heavens with the sons of God. This is not because God needs help ruling the universe in any way. God graciously chooses to invite His creations into relationship with Himself and gives them the privilege of sharing in His governance in both heaven and on earth.
Of course, we know that through the temptation and the fall, Adam abdicated his role and authority as God’s representative on earth though the highest form of rebellion and spiritual treason. The serpent [another spiritual being] beguiled Adam and Eve to believe the lie and by so doing subverted man’s legal right to the earth. That is why Satan, or devil, is now called the “god” or “prince” of this world.
In other words, it can be said that one of the spiritual sons of God, who was once called “O morning star, son of the dawn” [Isaiah 14:12], led the entire human race into death trap of sin and rebellion.
The sons of God and the Giants
After the initial rebellion with the serpent in the garden (Genesis 3), we quickly discover another heavenly rebellion that also involves the sons of God in Genesis 6. Again, this spiritual rebellion is designed to proliferate evil, subvert God’s plan of redemption, and completely destroy mankind.
“When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
As the sons of God cohabited with human wives, they produced an ungodly offspring of evil giants who began to introduce all forms of sorcery, witchcraft, violence and sexual immorality. Basically, the sons of God were introducing forbidden knowledge and dark arts that accelerated man’s ability to self-destruct. This is precisely why the LORD was grieved that he had made mankind and resolved to destroy the earth with a global flood. The spawn of evil had spread throughout the entire earth and had to be purged.
As God started over with Noah and eventually entered into covenant with Abram, the promise of a Savior began to become more defined. The LORD told Abram that through His offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed. The promised Messiah would eventually restore what had been lost as a result of these spiritual rebellions.
Jesus the Messiah — the Unique Son of God
The Apostle John states the purpose of his gospel saying, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” [John 20:31]
John also calls Jesus the one and only Son of God, meaning He is species unique. Like Adam, Jesus has no earthly father, but was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born in the fullness of time as God in human form — Immanuel.
And the entire mission of Jesus is to destroy the works of the devil, restore sinners to God through the cross, conquer death and the grave through the resurrection and give men the legal right and authority to become sons of the living God. All that Adam lost and the rebellious sons of God have corrupted, Jesus came to restore and redeem!
In Christ we spiritually reborn and now are promised to receive transformed, resurrection bodies, as we eagerly await our adoption as sons of God (Romans 8:23). And we too, one day will be shouting for joy in the new heaven and the new earth in the assembly of the holy ones!
It is only when we understand who the original sons of God truly are that we can fully appreciate the glory and power of God’s redemptive work in Christ Jesus.
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become sons of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.”
Pick up a Bible. Turn to the first sentence of the first chapter of the first book, and you will be introduced to the Author and Creator of the universe. The very first character we meet in God’s story is most fittingly God Himself.
In the beginning God …
Or as rendered in the Hebrew — ראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ׃
The Hebrew word first used to describe God is — Elohim — which is the second most common name used in the Old Testament for God behind Yahweh (LORD), which is the proper name of the God of Israel.
Interestingly, however, the name Elohim is not used exclusively for the LORD God of Israel — meaning that the Bible refers to other, lesser spiritual beings with the same Hebrew terminology. For example, in 1 Kings 11:33, the Hebrew author in naming other pagan gods uses the very same word — Elohim — to describe them.
“Because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess [elohim]of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god [elohim] of Moab, and Milcom the god [elohim] of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my rules, as David his father did.”
[1 Kings 11:33]
Another example is Psalm 8:5, where David describes how the LORD created man “a little lower than the angels,” but again the Hebrew word used in this passage is elohim. There is an entirely different Hebrew word, malak, most often translated as angel, or messenger. The ESV provides a more accurate rendering for Psalm 8:5.
“Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings [elohim] and crowned him with glory and honor.”
Finally, we find passages like Psalm 82 and 89 that describe the heavenly assembly of holy ones who are participating with God in the divine council. In context these aren’t evil heathen gods, nor are they merely angels, but rather the Psalmist is conveying a picture of this divine council of lesser “gods” who surround the throne of the LORD God and participate with Him in governance.
“God [Elohim] has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods [elohim] he holds judgment.”
So by studying the original language of the Old Testament, we can learn that the Hebrew word Elohim can be used for a variety of spiritual beings, including heathen gods, angelic messengers, heavenly beings, sons of God, and of course God Himself.
Now, I know what you may be thinking. This is beginning to sound a lot like pagan polytheism. Some of you may be thinking that to acknowledge other “gods” in the Bible is a direct threat to the traditional, Biblical understanding of monotheism, which would be the most serious heresy.
And that’s because from a western, modern, English speaking context, we automatically apply a specific set of divine attributes to the word “G-O-D,” that only the One True God can possess. We rightly affirm that God is the uncaused first cause and creator, eternal, self-sufficient, supreme, preeminent, superlative, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and immutable. These attributes only apply to the God of the Bible.
There is only One Uncreated Creator and Lord of the universe from whom, by whom and for whom everything else exists. In that strict sense, there is only One True God – Yahweh – the God of Israel. As the revelation of God progressed into the New Testament, we discovered that this One Supreme God exists in three distinct Persons of the Godhead — Father, Son and Spirit. And for the record, I fully affirm monotheism in this sense.
No ancient Israelite or 1st Century Jew would ever propose that pagan gods or angelic messengers are equal to the God of Israel. Far from it! Just because the word Elohim is used to describe a variety of spiritual beings — including the One True Creator God — does not mean the Old Testament audience believed in some form of polytheism.
In no way does the Biblical understanding of Elohim reduce the God of the Bible to being just one god among many equals. Quite the contrary. The Biblical authors go out of their way to ensure Yahweh is Holy, set apart, and fully distinct from all other created beings.
This is why we find verses like the one above that describes the LORD as the “God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God.” [Deuteronomy 10:17] Moses is intentionally distinguishing the LORD God of Israel as the Elohim of elohim. He is supremely unique.
But at the same time, the ancient Israelites had a much more robust understanding of the spiritual realm than do most modern believers. Most church traditions — if they broach the subject at all — basically limit the spirit realm to God and the devil, while maybe sprinkling in a few angels and demons here or there.
A cursory reading of the Bible reveals how the Jews viewed Yahweh in comparison to all other spiritual beings, and honestly, without a better understanding of the reality and hierarchy of other, lesser divine beings in the spiritual realm, our Bibles just don’t make total sense.
For example, after crossing the Red Sea, Moses leads the children of Israel in a victory song where he says …
“Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods [elohim]? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”
The Biblical authors distinguish Yahweh from lesser gods by using comparative language like what we find in Isaiah 37, where the prophet acknowledges the LORD God [Elohim] as the Creator of all.
“O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God [Elohim], you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.
We read passages like Exodus 20:2-3, where the LORD prescribes His very first commandment to the people of Israel. He says …
“I am the LORD your God [Elohim], who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods [elohim] before me.”
Why would the LORD command His people to worship Him exclusively and forsake the other “gods” of the nations if these gods didn’t exist? Why would the ancient Israelites need to be reminded that Yahweh was superior to wooden idols and figments of the human imagination?
Unfortunately, because of a rigid and misinformed view of Biblical monotheism, that is precisely how many Christians perceive these other “gods.” They either limit them to graven images or disregard them altogether as imaginary beings — all because they are afraid that by acknowledging other, lesser gods exist somehow they would be violating the essential Biblical doctrine of monotheism.
Understanding the nature of the Elohim
One of the most helpful teachings on this topic comes from Dr. Michael Heiser — the resident Hebrew scholar for Logos Bible software. You can discover more about Dr. Heiser here on his website.
Heiser says that instead of automatically attributing a particular set of attributes to the Hebrew word, Elohim, we must understand the term to represent a category of beings that live in the unseen realm. In other words, to the ancient Israelite Elohim denoted any disembodied, divine being that lived in the spirit realm. Mankind lives on earth in a visible, physical world, while all Elohim, whether good or bad, live in the heavens, or the spirit world.
“Yahweh is inherently distinct and superior to all other gods. Yahweh is an elohim (a god), but no other elohim (gods) are Yahweh… Since God is a spirit, and in fact the supreme Spirit, and he is “father of all spirits” (Heb. 12:9), then the realm of the spirits is ‘where God lives.’ The beings who belong to the spirit realm are therefore ‘divine.’ The best word to capture that conception is elohim. An elohim is a divine being, in that an elohim is an inhabitant of the spiritual plane of reality.”
So just to recap. I have established that the Bible describes many different supernatural beings with a variety of attributes that reside in the spirit realm — all of which can be identified as Elohim in the Old Testament. Of these divine beings, only Yahweh – the God of Israel – is the One True God. He is unique and supreme to all other spiritual beings, or gods, as He alone is the Creator and Lord of all.
Yahweh is the God of gods and Lord of both heaven and earth. Furthermore, Jesus Christ is the Creator of all things both visible and invisible (John 1:1-4, Colossians 1:15-17, Hebrews 1:1-3.) All other Elohim are created beings and therefore inferior to the LORD.
Now that we can understand the spiritual realm within a proper Biblical context, we can begin to discover just who these other divine beings are and what is their role in God’s epic story of redemption.