In our modern era of advanced technology, if something cannot be quantified by science or directly observed with the five senses, many now think it unsophisticated or outright foolish to believe in it. Even some religious people have succumbed to this secular mindset. Consequently, today the supernatural spirit realm revealed in the Bible has been redefined, minimized, or outright rejected by a significant number of people.
Yet this is no new position (Ecc. 1:9); the Sadducees of Yeshua's day also rejected the existence of angels and spirits (Acts 23:8). In the first centuries after the founding of the New Testament church, rabbinic Judaism and nascent Christianity abandoned the scriptural teaching on the spirit realm. Both groups redefined their theological positions to differentiate themselves from one another. As a result, most Jews and Christians now view angels through the lens of their respective traditions rather than what the Bible actually says.
However, the true history of this world is much different than what most have been taught and now believe. The Holy Scriptures reveal a fantastic tale of powerful spirit beings that have been and continue to be intimately involved in directing and governing the affairs of mankind. As disclosed in the Bible (the world’s ONLY standard of truth), this involvement goes back to humanity’s origin at the very beginning of creation.
In this article, we’re going to look at the role that these mighty spirit beings called "‘elohim" ("gods") have played in the history of mankind. The role of the 'elohim in human history is generally unknown, ignored, or willfully rejected by mainstream Christianity. However, there is a considerable amount of information in the Bible about this topic. In addition to the Scriptures, we will refer to several ancient writings which depict the established view at the time of Yeshua. This ancient understanding contradicts later religious beliefs that eventually became entrenched as orthodox doctrine.
In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul makes a statement that is often repeated but not generally well understood:
EPHESIANS 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (NIV)
Who are these "rulers," these "authorities," these "powers," these "spiritual forces of evil" that rule in our world and in the first two heavens (i.e., the skies and outer space)? Where did they come from? How did they receive their authority to rule?
For an understanding of where these 'elohey hagoyim ("gods of the nations"), also called the beney ha'elohim ("sons of God") originated, we must go back to the very beginning, recorded in Genesis 1. Here we see the figurative description of the origin of the greatest "Son of God":
GENESIS 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth [ha'aretz]. 2 The earth [ha'aretz] was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (NKJV)
In Hebrew, the root word 'eretz ("earth") can either be viewed as the entire world, or "land" as opposed to bodies of water. The context of a statement in the Bible has to determine the meaning of this word. In these two verses, ha'aretz is a reference to the entire earth. At this point in the creation sequence, the earth was simply an unfinished mass of raw materials that would afterward be used to fashion all things.
GENESIS 1:3 Then God said, "Let there be Light"; and there was Light. 4 And God saw the Light, that it was good; and God divided the Light from the darkness. 5 God called the Light "Day," and the darkness He called "Night." So the evening and the morning were the first day. (NKJV)
This mysterious passage is one of the most ignored or discounted in the whole Bible. "The Light" that God brought forth first is NOT what we commonly recognize as literal light. At this point in the narrative, the creation of the physical sources of light (the sun, moon, and stars) was still several days away (cf. Gen. 1:14-19).
There are other passages of Scripture that shed some light on the identity of this first LIGHT. In fact, the Gospel of John starts with a parallel passage to Genesis 1 that clearly explains the identity of the first Light:
JOHN 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made THROUGH him, and without him nothing was made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 And the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world did not know him. (NKJV)
JOHN 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than Light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the Light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God." (NKJV)
JOHN 8:12 Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the Light of the world. He that follows me shall by no means walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life." (EMTV)
JOHN 12:35 Then Jesus said to them, "A little while longer the Light is with you. Walk while you have the Light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the Light, believe in the Light, that you may become sons of Light." These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them. (NKJV)
As the apostle John records many times, the preincarnate Messiah was YHVH's firstborn, the prototypical Light that He brought forth on the first day of creation. The Gospel of John is not the only place in Scripture that identifies Yeshua in the language of Genesis 1:3-5:
2 PETER 1:17 For he [i.e., Yeshua] received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is My Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. 19 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a Light shining in a dark place, until the Day dawns and the Morning Star rises in your hearts. (NIV)
1 THESSALONIANS 5:5 You are all sons of the Light and sons of the Day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the Day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)
REVELATION 21:22 But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its Light. (NKJV)
In his letter to the church in Laodicea, Yeshua plainly states that he was the initial 'elohim that God brought into existence, the first of YHVH's finished works of creation:
REVELATION 3:14 "And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ' These things says the amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God:' " (NKJV)
Proverbs 8 speaks figuratively of the Messiah as "Wisdom" (cf. 1 Cor. 1:24) and tells us that the Almighty Father used him as His "master worker" (Pro. 8:30) to complete the creation of the heavens and the earth. Yet this scriptural identification is rejected by most Christians because they have been erroneously taught that Yeshua is the uncreated creator, one of three co-equal and co-eternal persons in a Trinitarian godhead.
Additionally, other related scriptural statements describing Yeshua's role in the creation are not usually used to qualify the statement that he created EVERYTHING (John 1:3). However, a closer look at all the relevant Scriptures reveals that this prevailing view is not supported by the actual text of the Bible.
In Genesis 1:1-2, context shows that ha'aretz refers to the whole earth, which is elsewhere called tevel (the "world") in Hebrew. However, 'eretz can simply refer just to dry land, as opposed to the seas. This distinction is important in understanding what is said about Messiah's role in creation in Proverbs 8:
PROVERBS 8:22 The LORD created me at the beginning of His work, the first of His acts of long ago. 23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth ['aretz]. 24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth — 26 when He had not yet made earth ['eretz] and fields, or the world's [tevel] first bits of soil. 27 When He established the heavens, I was there, when He drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when He made firm the skies above, when He established the fountains of the deep, 29 when He assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth ['aretz], 30 then I was beside Him, like a master worker; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing before Him always, 31 rejoicing in His inhabited world [tevel 'aretzo] and delighting in the human race. (NRSV)
As my article on the identity of the Messiah shows, early "church fathers" such as Ignatius and Justin Martyr often used this passage in Proverbs 8 to explain the identity of Yeshua. Here, the form 'aretz refers to the earth as a whole, while 'eretz speaks just of the dry land. The Messiah states that he was brought into existence before the completion of the unformed world commenced (vv. 22-23). He goes on to explain in detail that he was the "master worker" at the side of YHVH when He shaped the mountains and hills, formed the soil, set the boundaries of the seas, and eventually created mankind in the process of finishing the creation (vv. 24-31).
This description in Proverbs 8 supports the details we are given in the New Testament about the Messiah's role in creation:
JOHN 1:10 He was in the world [kosmo], and the world [kosmos] was made THROUGH him, and the world [kosmos] did not know him. (NKJV)
The Greek word kosmos is usually translated as "the world" or "the universe." However, the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG) says that its original meaning was "that which serves to beautify through decoration, adornment, adorning." The Messiah was the "master worker" in charge of adorning the earth and the heavens with all those things which God had planned for His creation (land, mountains, hills, seas, lakes, planets, stars, life). Paul's statement in Colossians 1 about Yeshua's role in creation confirms this:
COLOSSIANS 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created THROUGH him and for him. (NRSV) 17 He existed before all things, and he holds everything together. (CJB)
Notice that this passage from Colossians doesn't say that Messiah created everything, but rather it states that all things "IN heaven and ON earth" were created through him by God Almighty. The author of Hebrews makes a similar statement regarding God's utilization of the Messiah at the beginning of his letter:
HEBREWS 1:1 At many moments in the past and by many means, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but 2 in our time, the final days, He has spoken to us in the person of His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things and THROUGH whom He made the ages. (NJB)
The first two verses of the Bible (Gen. 1:1-2) show that the unfinished and unpopulated heavens and earth were in existence BEFORE the creation of the Light on Day One. The New Testament explains that Messiah was the one through whom God the Father created all the things IN the heavens and ON the earth. When the totality of Scripture is examined, we see the Bible teaches that under YHVH's supervision, the Messiah was the primary one who developed and completed His creation.
Did Messiah the "master worker" act alone in the endeavor of creation? Or does Scripture indicate that others were also involved in the process of creation? We are not told directly, but numerous clues are given that allow us to deduce the answer.
The book of Job gives us some information about the creation from YHVH Himself, as He questions Job's understanding of His plan:
JOB 38:4 Where were you when I established the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. 5 Who fixed its dimensions? Certainly you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 What supports its foundations? Or who laid its cornerstone 7 while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God [beney 'elohim] shouted for joy? (CSB)
From this passage, we can see that the "morning stars / sons of God" (i.e., angels) were present during the creation. However, Genesis 1 does not tell us specifically WHEN during creation week these spirit beings were created.
In the Jewish Midrash, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai taught that the angels were brought forth on the second day of creation. He placed their creation at the time immediately after YHVH divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. Rabbi Yochanan based his understanding on Genesis 1:6-8, as clarified by Psalm 104:3-4:
GENESIS 1:6 Then God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters, separating water from water." 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above the expanse. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse "sky." Evening came, and then morning: the second day. (CSB)
PSALM 104:3 He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters, who makes the clouds His chariot, who walks on the wings of the wind, 4 who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire. (NKJV)
Genesis 1:6-8 speaks of the division of the waters into two portions: the waters on the earth and the waters above in the heavens (i.e., skies). Psalm 104:3-4, which Rabbi Yochanan understood to be speaking of Day Two of creation, contains the additional detail that YHVH made His spirit beings, the angels, after separating out the upper portion of water from the lower. As Paul tells us (Col. 1:16), the Messiah would have been the instrument through which the angelic "thrones, dominions, rulers and powers" were brought into existence on this day.
Now that we have located the origin and role of the Messiah in creation, as well as the foundation of the angelic realm, let's move forward in the narrative to Day Six. On this day we see an interesting statement recorded in Scripture:
GENESIS 1:26 Then God said, "Let US make man in OUR image, in OUR likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." (NIV)
The identity of those God is speaking to in this verse is clearly presented in the ancient Aramaic translation and commentary known as Targum Pseudo-Jonathan:
And the Lord said to the angels who ministered before Him, who had been created in the second day of the creation of the world, "Let us make man in Our image, in Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl which are in the atmosphere of heaven, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every reptile creeping upon the earth." (Gen. 1:26, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
Despite the ancient witnesses regarding Genesis 1:26, this verse is often used by modern Christian scholars to attempt to prove that the doctrine of the Trinity can be found in the Old Testament. Regarding this erroneous assertion, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Eerdmans) states:
The "us" in "Let us make man in our image" (Gen. 1:26; cf. 3:22; 11:6-7) refers to the "sons of God" or lesser "gods" mentioned elsewhere (6:1-4; Job 1:6; Ps. 29:1), here viewed as a heavenly council centered around the one God (cf. Ps. 82:1). In later usage these probably would be called "angels." (p. 1019, "Trinity")
If the angelic "morning stars" (Job 38:7), including the preincarnate Messiah (cf. 2 Pet. 1:19), are the "us" mentioned in Genesis 1:26, what does it mean that mankind was created in the image of YHVH and these "sons of God"?
The answer is not hidden; in the final half of verse 26 we are told that man was given RULE over the rest of the creatures that had previously been created to populate the earth. Just as YHVH rules over all His creation, mankind was given dominion over all lower life forms on the earth. This understanding of the "image" is described in Harper's Bible Commentary on verse 26:
The context suggests that humanity is the image of God in the dominion it exercises over the rest of creation; ancient Near Eastern parallels suggest that "image of God" is a royal designation, emphasizing the godlike nature of the ruling monarch. (p. 87)
The function of RULING was primarily how mankind was made in the image and likeness of God and the 'elohim. As we continue this study, we will see the Bible clearly shows that the "sons of God" were given rule over mankind. In fact, the book of Hebrews strongly implies this fact:
HEBREWS 2:5 For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. (NKJV)
By stating that YHVH the Father will not put the "world to come" (i.e., the Millennial Age) under the control of the angelic rulers, the author of Hebrews is clearly inferring that the current world certainly IS under their authority and power.
Soon after the creation, one of these powerful angels, "that serpent called the Devil and Satan" (Rev. 12:9), incited Adam and Eve to disobey God and eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This rebellious act prompted YHVH to make the following statement to the 'elohim:
GENESIS 3:22 And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of US, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the Tree of Life and eat, and live forever." (NIV)
This statement shows that, unlike mankind, the ruling angels were created with the ability to recognize both good and evil. It was this ability, combined with his arrogance and pride (cf. 1 Tim. 3:6), that prompted Satan to tempt mankind to disobey God in the first place.
Satan's sin in the Garden was the first time that the powerful ruling angels went contrary to God's instructions, but it certainly was not the last. In Genesis 6, we see another angelic mutiny against YHVH recorded:
GENESIS 6:1 When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. . . . 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days - and also afterward - when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. (NRSV)
The identity of these "sons of God" has been in dispute for the past 1,800 years (primarily for doctrinal reasons not related to the text itself). However, there was no doubt about who they were at the time of Yeshua's ministry. The virtually unanimous opinion of antiquity was that these were some of the same angelic "sons of God" that had been present during the creation (Gen. 1:26; Job 38:7).
The ancient books of Enoch and Jubilees document that these offending angels were locked up in a subterranean "jail" called the Abyss for the actions summarized in Genesis 6:1-4. This prison for spirit beings is mentioned several times in the New Testament.
Let's first look at what the apostle Peter said about the angels imprisoned there:
2 PETER 2:4 For if God didn't spare the angels who sinned, but threw them down into Tartarus and delivered them to be kept in chains of darkness until judgment; (CSB)
In Greek mythology, the poet Hesiod said that Tartarus was where the Titans, the first pantheon of Greek gods, were imprisoned after their defeat by the Olympian gods. Tartarus was the hellish abode located far below Hades. The original legends show that Tartarus was used only to confine those who were considered dangerous to the Olympian gods. Only later did Tartarus also evolve into a place of punishment. In this Scripture, Peter is citing the true history of the world before the Flood, which later became the basis for Greek mythology.
Jude also speaks of the angels' imprisonment, and goes further to give the reason for it:
JUDE 1:6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, He has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day - 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (ESV)
Jude clearly states that the reason for the imprisonment of these wayward angels was the same sin attempted by those in Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:5) – sexual immorality brought on by unnatural lust. Their sin brought about global devastation when YHVH wiped out their works and influence with the Flood of Noah.
But this is not the last the Bible has to say about these fallen angels. We'll pick up their story again later when they appear once more at the end of the age of Satan's rule over the earth.
More than three hundred years after the "sons of God" were banished to the underground prison and the earth cleansed of their vice by the Great Flood, we see YHVH once again consulting the remaining ruling angels. This time, the issue was man's rebellion at the Tower of Babel:
GENESIS 11:5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let US go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." 8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. (NIV)
The "us" in verse 7 is the same group of beney ha'elohim that God had earlier spoken to in Genesis 1:26 and 3:22, as Targum Pseudo-Jonathan again shows:
And the Lord was revealed to punish them for the work of the city and the tower which the sons of men builded. And the Lord said, "Behold, the people is one, and the language of all of them one: and this they have thought to do: and now they will not be restrained from doing whatever they imagine." And the Lord said to the seventy angels which stand before Him, "Come, we will descend and will there commingle their language, that a man shall not understand the speech of his neighbour." And the Word of the Lord was revealed against the city, and with him seventy angels, having reference to seventy nations, each having its own language, and thence the writing of its own hand: and he dispersed them from thence upon the face of all the earth into seventy languages. And one knew not what his neighbour would say: but one slew the other; and they ceased from building the city. (Gen. 11:5-8, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
This Aramaic translation/commentary on Genesis 11:5-8 clearly states that YHVH was speaking to a group of 70 powerful angels when He said "let US go down." Shortly we will see why the number was 70; however, let's first recognize WHO led these angels down to Babel. YHVH did not leave His heavenly throne to bring this group to earth Himself. Instead, the targum tells us that He sent one called "the Word of the LORD" as His agent in this task. Elsewhere in the Bible, "the Word" is identified as Yeshua the Messiah (e.g., John 1:1, 14; Rev. 19:13).
The Legends of the Jews by Louis Ginzberg gives us some additional information about this event:
Beside the chastisement of sin and sinners by the confounding of speech, another notable circumstance was connected with the descent of God upon earth . . . It was on this occasion that God and the seventy angels that surround His throne cast lots concerning the various nations. Each angel received a nation, and Israel fell to the lot of God. To every nation a peculiar language was assigned, Hebrew being reserved for Israel - the language made use of by God at the creation of the world. (vol. I, sec. IV, "Noah")
The notion that the division of humanity into 70 nations at the Tower of Babel was by and for the angelic "sons of God" is also found in the ancient Book of Jasher, which is mentioned twice in the Bible (Jos. 10:13; II Sam. 1:18):
And they built the tower and the city, and they did this thing daily until many days and years were elapsed. And God said to the seventy angels who stood foremost before Him, to those who were near to Him, saying, "Come let US descend and confuse their tongues, that one man shall not understand the language of his neighbor," and they did so unto them. (ch. 9, vv. 31-32, Book of Jasher)
The reason the number of nations of mankind was established at 70 can be found one chapter earlier, in Genesis 10. Here we see a list of the descendants of Noah's sons, which not coincidentally totals to 70:
|SHEM (26)||HAM (30)||JAPETH (14)|
|Elam 1||Asshur 2||Cush 1||Mizraim 2||Gomer 1|
|Arphaxad 3||Lud 4||Put 3||Canaan 4||Magog 2|
|Aram 5||Uz 6||Seba 5||Havilah 6||Madai 3|
|Hul 7||Gether 8||Sabtah 7||Raamah 8||Javan 4|
|Mash 9||Salah 10||Sabtechah 9||Sheba 10||Tubal 5|
|Eber 11||Peleg 12||Dedan 11||Nimrod 12||Meshech 6|
|Joktan 13||Almodad 14||Ludim 13||Anamim 14||Tiras 7|
|Sheleph 15||Hazarmaveth 16||Lehabim 15||Naphtuhim 16||Ashkenaz 8|
|Jerah 17||Hadoram 18||Pathrusim 17||Casluhim 18||Riphath 9|
|Uzal 19||Diklah 20||Caphtorim 19||Sidon 20||Togarmah 10|
|Obal 21||Abimael 22||Heth 21||Jebusites 22||Elishah 11|
|Sheba 23||Ophir 24||Amorites 23||Girgashites 24||Tarshish 12|
|Havilah 25||Jobab 26||Hivites 25||Arkites 26||Kittim 13|
|Sinites 27||Arvadites 28||Dodanim 14|
|Zemarites 29||Hamathites 30|
The idea that the nations were distributed to a group of powerful spirit beings who became their "gods" was quite well known and widely accepted in the ancient world. This view is also found in the Bible:
DEUTERONOMY 32:7 Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you. 8 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. 9 But the LORD's portion is His people, Jacob His allotted heritage. (ESV)
Most English translations follow the Hebrew Masoretic Text of verse 8, which substitutes "sons of Israel" for "sons of God." However, the 3rd-century BCE Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Septuagint (LXX) contradicts the Masoretic Text:
DEUTERONOMY 32:7 Remember the days of old, consider the years for past ages: ask thy father, and he shall relate to thee, thine elders, and they shall tell thee. 8 When the Most High divided the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God. 9 And His people Jacob became the portion of the Lord, Israel was the line of His inheritance. (Brenton's LXX)
Copies of Deuteronomy found among the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran support the LXX reading. Regarding the controversy over verse 8, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible says this:
In the famous poem found in Deuteronomy 32, verse 8 tells us that God set the bounds of the peoples according to a certain number. Following the Masoretic Text and the Samaritan Pentateuch, most modern Bibles describe this as the number of the "children of Israel." 4QDeutj, however, specifies it as the number of the "children of God," apparently denoting divine beings who would serve as protectors for various nations. (p. 191, translated and with commentary by Martin Abegg Jr., Peter Flint & Eugene Ulrich)
This difference in the text was apparently known to the rabbinic scholars. In trying to explain Deuteronomy 32:8, Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra related it to an earlier verse in Deuteronomy:
And the meaning of When the Supreme One gave the nations their inheritance, etc. is similar to that of the verse: the entire host of heaven, which Hashem, your God, has apportioned to all the peoples ([Deu.] 4:19). The meaning of both of these verses is that corresponding to every "portion" below, i.e., every earthly nation, there is a "portion" above, i.e., a star or constellation.*
* (. . . as Ibn Ezra writes above on 4:19), God guides the affairs of the nations – with the exception of Israel – through the medium of these heavenly bodies. Thus the verse there is saying that God apportioned the heavenly bodies to the nations, assigning each nation a different heavenly body through which He governs its affairs. Ibn Ezra is saying that the inheritance that God gives the nations in our passage similarly refers to these heavenly bodies and their angels. (vol. 7, p. 762, Ramban Commentary on the Torah)
Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman also attempted to reconcile the two variant readings of Deuteronomy 32:8 in his commentary on this verse:
. . . They should remember the benevolence that [God] bestowed upon them at the time of Creation, as [Scripture] states: When the Supreme One gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the children of man, He set the borders of the peoples according to the number of the Children of Israel (v. 8).*
* The system of the celestial bodies and their angels, with their domain over the various nations, is a fundamental element in God's providence over the universe and was established at Creation. Yet according to verse 8, at its inception it was set according to the number of the Children of Israel, i.e., it was ordained that Israel was to have a special position of prominence, as Ibn Ezra has explained. (vol. 7, p. 763, Ramban Commentary on the Torah)
Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (which predates the Masoretic Text by many centuries) supports the more ancient reading of Deuteronomy 32:8 while possibly explaining the origin of the later variation in the Masoretic Text (i.e., "number of the sons of Israel"):
When the Most High made allotment of the world unto the nations which proceeded from the sons of Noach, in the separation of the writings and languages of the children of men at the time of the division, He cast the lot among the seventy angels, the princes of the nations with whom is the revelation to oversee the city, even at that time He established the limits of the nations according to the sum of the number of the seventy souls of Israel who went down into Mizraim. (Deu. 32:8, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
The ancient writings record that a powerful class of angels participated in the creation and was given authority to rule over mankind by YHVH.
Now let's look at other scriptural references to these "rulers," "authorities," and "powers." One title by which these spirit beings are occasionally referenced is the "host of heaven." Let's begin by examining the verse discussed earlier in Ibn Ezra's commentary:
DEUTERONOMY 4:19 "And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven." (NASU)
As Ibn Ezra explained, God guides the affairs of the Gentile nations through angels who are associated with various heavenly bodies. This verse is saying that God correlated each nation with a different heavenly body, and the angelic rulers of those heavenly bodies were also given rule over the corresponding nations. While this might at first seem like a strange concept, it is borne out by other passages of Scripture:
DEUTERONOMY 17:2 If there is found among you, in one of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, and transgresses His covenant 3 by going to serve other gods and worshiping them – whether the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden – (NRSV)
The implication of this statement is that when an Israelite worshiped the sun, moon, or any other heavenly body, they were in fact worshiping the 'elohim who had been given authority by YHVH over that body. These "gods" were essentially interchangeable with the "host of heaven" assigned to them; worship of one was considered to be worship of both. These 'elohim had power over the nations YHVH had assigned to them, but He expressly forbade His people Israel from worshiping them.
Yet YHVH's command did not stop Israel from forsaking Him and worshiping the gods of the other 70 nations:
2 KINGS 17:15 They [the Israelites] rejected His statutes and His covenant which He made with their fathers and His warnings with which He warned them. And they followed vanity and became vain, and went after the nations which surrounded them, concerning which the LORD had commanded them not to do like them. 16 They forsook all the commandments of the LORD their God and made for themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. (NASU)
JEREMIAH 19:13 And the houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah shall be defiled like the place of Topheth – all the houses upon whose roofs offerings have been made to the whole host of heaven, and libations have been poured out to other gods. (NRSV)
In this example of Hebrew parallelism from Jeremiah, "the whole host of heaven" is equated to the "other gods" that the inhabitants of Jerusalem were worshiping. Unfortunately, it wasn't just the common people who worshiped these foreign gods. Even some of the Jewish kings bowed down to them and honored them:
II CHRONICLES 33:1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. 2 He did what was displeasing to the LORD, following the abhorrent practices of the nations that the LORD had dispossessed before the Israelites. 3 He rebuilt the shrines that his father Hezekiah had demolished; he erected altars for the Baals and made sacred posts. He bowed down to all the host of heaven and worshiped them, 4 and he built altars to them in the House of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, "My name will be in Jerusalem forever." 5 He built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the House of the LORD. (JPS Tanakh)
YHVH warned the Jews where worshiping these foreign gods would finally lead:
ZEPHANIAH 1:4 "I will stretch out My hand against Judah, and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I will cut off every trace of Baal from this place, the names of the idolatrous priests with the pagan priests – 5 those who worship the host of heaven on the housetops; those who worship and swear oaths by the LORD, but who also swear by Milcom; 6 those who have turned back from following the LORD, and have not sought the LORD, nor inquired of Him." (NKJV)
JEREMIAH 8:1 "At that time, declares the LORD, the bones of the kings of Judah, the bones of its officials, the bones of the priests, the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be brought out of their tombs. 2 And they shall be spread before the sun and the moon and all the host of heaven, which they have loved and served, which they have gone after, and which they have sought and worshiped. And they shall not be gathered or buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. (ESV)
Finally YHVH punished their rebellion and fulfilled His warnings to Israel. He had kept Israel as His own portion out of all peoples, but they betrayed Him and pursued the gods of the other nations instead. It is easy to see why Israel is figuratively portrayed as an adulterous woman in Scripture (Jer. 2:19-20; 3:1-10; Eze. 6:9; 23:1-49; Hos. 4:12; 9:1).
Contrary to what one might think from the preceding passages, these "gods of the nations" were not originally the enemies of YHVH. In fact, they worshiped and served Him, as Nehemiah informs us:
NEHEMIAH 9:6 "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." (ESV)
This "host of heaven," the gods of the nations, composed a heavenly divine council that met regularly under the direction of YHVH. In the following passage of Scripture, the prophet Micaiah describes a vision he saw of a heavenly council meeting called by YHVH to bring about the death of Israel's King Ahab:
2 CHRONICLES 18:18 Micaiah continued, "Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on His throne with all the host of heaven standing on His right and on His left. 19 And the LORD said, 'Who will entice Ahab king of Israel into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?' One suggested this, and another that. 20 Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the LORD and said, 'I will entice him.' "'By what means?' the LORD asked. 21 "'I will go and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,' he said. "'You will succeed in enticing him,' said the LORD. 'Go and do it.' 22 "So now the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouths of these prophets of yours. The LORD has decreed disaster for you." (NIV)
From this passage, it is clear that "all the host of heaven" standing before YHVH's throne in this meeting of the divine council were in service to Him. Why this afterward changed will be discussed later in this article.
In Scripture, one of the signs of a true prophet of YHVH was being shown a vision of one of His divine council meetings. Those seers who had not stood in a council meeting were proclaimed to be false prophets and deceivers:
JEREMIAH 23:16 Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, 'It shall be well with you'; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, 'No disaster shall come upon you.'" 18 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? (ESV)
JOB 15:7 Were you the first man born? Were you created before the hills? 8 Have you listened in on the council of God? Have you sole possession of wisdom? (JPS Tanakh)
The Bible mentions the divine council in heaven several times, including this interesting passage from Psalm 89:
PSALM 89:5 The heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones. 6 For who in the skies above can compare with the LORD? Who is like the LORD among the heavenly beings? 7 In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; He is more awesome than all who surround Him. (NIV)
The book of Job records two of the most well-known divine council meetings:
JOB 1:6 One day the sons of God [beney ha'elohim] came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan [hasatan] also came with them. 7 The LORD asked Satan [hasatan], "Where have you come from?" "From roaming through the earth," Satan [hasatan] answered Him, "and walking around on it." (CSB)
JOB 2:1 Again there was a day when the sons of God [beney ha'elohim] came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan [hasatan] also came among them to present himself before the LORD. 2 And the LORD said to Satan [hasatan], "From where have you come?" Satan [hasatan] answered the LORD and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it." (ESV)
As these two passages of Scripture indicate, the beney ha'elohim regularly assembled in heaven for meetings of the divine council. When they did so, it seems that Satan [literally hasatan, "the Adversary"] would come with them to appear before YHVH at the same time.
This raises the question of the role Satan played in the divine council. Was he one of the 70 ruling angels? Or did he serve another function? Let's examine a related Scripture to see what more we can learn:
ZECHARIAH 3:1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD, with Satan [hasatan] standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The LORD said to Satan [hasatan]: "The LORD rebuke you, Satan [hasatan]! May the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Isn't this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?" (CSB)
In the Bible, God usually names someone what they are. In the case of Satan, he is called "the Adversary" because he is the principal foe of humanity. Genesis chapter 3 tells us how this animosity between Satan and mankind originated:
GENESIS 3:13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent [i.e., Satan – cf. Rev. 12:9] deceived me, and I ate." 14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, "Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." (NIV)
The curse placed on Satan was FIGURATIVE, not literal. Just as an actual serpent crawls on its belly along the ground, Satan was removed from his position in heaven as an "anointed cherub who covered" the throne of YHVH with his wings (Eze. 28:14; cf. Luke 10:18 ) and sentenced to "roam throughout the earth and walk around on it" (Job 1:7; 2:2). The second part of the curse (i.e., "eat dust") dictated that while going to and fro on the earth, Satan's job would be to continually seek to harm mankind (who is made from dust - Gen. 3:19; Psa. 104:29; Ecc. 3:20).
By properly understanding the curse, we can discern HOW Satan got his authority and position in the divine council. As Zechariah 3:1 and Revelation 12:10 confirm, YHVH empowered him as the accuser of mankind (Satan clearly took a special interest in accusing God's people). In the New Testament, Satan is often called the "Devil" (diabolos), which in Greek literally means "accuser" or "slanderer." Satan was heaven's "prosecuting attorney," appointed by God to find shortcomings in mankind and present those faults to God for punishment.
Regarding Satan and his role in God's plan, Eerdmans states:
At Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7 . . . this being is a member of the heavenly court of God who wanders about the earth observing mankind and then stands as mankind's accuser before God, thus functioning as a servant of God; a similar function was performed in the Persian Empire by officials known as "the king's eyes and ears" (cf. Zech. 4:10), and similar officials may have existed also in early Israel (cf. 1 Sam. 22:6-10) (p. 914, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, "Satan")
By comprehending his position in the heavenly divine council, we can begin to understand HOW Satan has authority over the 70 nations:
LUKE 4:5 And the Devil took him [i.e., Yeshua] up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will." (ESV)
1 JOHN 5:19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. (ESV)
Satan was not made a ruler over any of the 70 nations by YHVH. However, he was given legal authority by Him to accuse them (and Israel) of sin before the divine council and prosecute them for those sins. The Bible clearly tells us that sin leads to death (Eze. 18:4; Rom. 5:12; 6:23; Jam. 1:15), and states that the Devil has the power of death (Heb. 2:14).
None of the 70 nations had a system that allowed their sins to be forgiven by YHVH the Father. Therefore, YHVH gave Satan de facto power over the nations when He gave him the authority to prosecute their sins. By sinning, the nations placed themselves under Satan's power.
However, Israel was provided a way to have their sins removed once per year, on the Day of Atonement (i.e., Yom Kippur). This means of forgiveness was something the other 70 nations did not have. Regarding this exception, the Babylonian Talmud has an interesting observation about Satan's authority:
On the Day of Atonement, Satan has no power to serve as prosecutor. And how do we know this fact? Rama bar Chama said: the numerical value [i.e., gematria] of the word Hasatan is 364. Thus out of 365 days of the year there is one day, Yom Kippur, on which he has no power. (Yoma 20a)
Every year on Yom Kippur, the Israelite high priest was commanded to conduct a ritual that removed Israel's sins and reconciled the nation as a whole to YHVH (Lev. 16). On this day when Israel was cleansed of sin, Satan had no ability to accuse or prosecute them. This concept has important ramifications for understanding HOW Satan has control of the 70 nations. Complete forgiveness of sin was available only to the Israelites and only on Yom Kippur.
Now that we've defined Satan's role in the divine council, let's examine Yeshua's place in it. We'll start by looking closely at Psalm 82. Here, Asaph (a chief Levite musician under King David - 1 Chr. 6:39) proclaims a prophecy about YHVH's eventual punishment of those ruling angels on the divine council:
PSALM 82:1 A Psalm of Asaph. God ['elohim] has taken His place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods ['elohim] He holds judgment: 2 "How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah 3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked." 5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I said, "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; 7 nevertheless, like men ['adam] you shall die, and fall like any prince." 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations! (ESV)
Asaph begins by showing YHVH the Father in His role as the head of the divine council. During this meeting of the council, God criticizes the "gods" for not properly exercising the authority He has granted them. Asaph explains that the injustice of the 'elohim have undermined all the foundations of the world. He records God's warning to these spiritual rulers that the punishment for their iniquity will be to "die like men." Obviously all mortals will "die like men." Therefore, the view that this Scripture is referring to human rulers/judges is illogical and makes no sense. Asaph ends the psalm by exhorting YHVH to judge the earth and its divine rulers, because all nations truly belong to Him and not to them.
Psalm 82:7 refers to these governing 'elohim as "princes." This title connects these council members with a passage of Scripture found in the 10th chapter of Daniel:
DANIEL 10:5 I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, a man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. 6 His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude. . . . 12 Then he said to me, "Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. 13 The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, (ESV)
In this passage we are given a fascinating glimpse into the order and activities of the spiritual realm. The mighty angel Gabriel was sent from heaven by YHVH to give Daniel understanding of what would happen to his people the Jews "in the end of days" (v. 14, Heb. be'acharit hayamim). However, Gabriel was impeded for three weeks because "the prince of the kingdom of Persia" contested God's purpose to enlighten Daniel (and through him, us).
This prince of Persia clearly was not human; he was the divine council member who ruled over the nation of Persia. Since Daniel was in the land of Persia, he was under the authority of this angelic prince. The prince of Persia did not want Daniel to receive this revelation, so he fought hard against Gabriel to keep him from delivering YHVH's message.
Gabriel tells Daniel that God's message to him might not have been delivered except for the help of Michael, here called "one of the chief princes." Gabriel continues speaking about these divine princes later:
DANIEL 10:20 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. (ESV)
After conveying his message to Daniel, Gabriel states that he must return to again battle the prince of Persia. Furthermore, he states the prince of Greece will come after he has finished with the prince of Persia. The picture portrayed by this brief account is one of spirit beings exercising authority over the nations they have been given to rule.
DANIEL 10:21 I'll inform you about what has been recorded in the Book of Truth. No one stands firmly with me against these opponents, except Michael your prince. (ISV)
Gabriel finishes this part of his narrative by stating that his only ally against these powerful spirit beings was Michael, whom Gabriel here calls Daniel's prince. His title is again given at the beginning of the 12th chapter of Daniel:
DANIEL 12:1 "At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the Book." (ESV)
In these passages from Daniel, Michael is identified as "one of the chief princes" (Dan. 10:13) on the divine council who is said to be the prince over the people of Israel (Dan. 10:21; 12:1). Earlier we saw that Israel is NOT one of the 70 nations, but rather was YHVH's chosen people, separate from the rest.
Other than establishing his role in relation to Israel, we are not told much about Michael here. However, he is specifically mentioned twice in the New Testament (Jude 9; Rev. 12:7). Interestingly, an interaction between Yeshua and the Pharisees during his observance of Chanukah in Jerusalem gives us some important additional information:
JOHN 10:24 Then the Jews encircled him and said to him, "How long will you hold us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." 25 Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name, these things testify about me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of my sheep, just as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 And I give to them eternal life, and they shall never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one [hen]." 31 Therefore the Jews took up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, "Many good works I have shown you from my Father. For which of those works do you stone me?" 33 The Jews answered him, saying, "For a good work we do not stone you, but for blasphemy, and because you, being a man, make yourself God [theon]." 34 Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "You are gods [theoi]" '? If He called those gods [theous], to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God' [huios tou theou, lit. "son of the God"]? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, do not believe me; 38 but if I am doing them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in Him." (EMTV)
In the passage above, the Jews specifically asked Yeshua if he was the prophesied Messiah (v. 24). He said that he had already told them he was the Messiah, and they had not believed him (v. 25a). Yeshua went on to say that the works he had performed in the Father's name were a witness to his true identity (v. 25b). But then he made a distinction between the unbelieving Jews who were not of his sheep and those the Father had given to him (vv. 26-29). In verse 30, Yeshua concluded his comments to the Jews by proclaiming that he and his Father were "one" (Gr. hen).
Let's look more closely at the Greek word hen. Vincent said that the Greek word hen, translated "one" in John 10:30, is "the neuter, not the masculine e??, one person" (p. 197, vol. II, Word Studies of the New Testament). The use of hen here clearly indicates that Yeshua was not claiming that he and the Father were the same being. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown wrote of this verse: "Our language admits not of the precision of the original in this great saying, 'We (two Persons) are One (Thing).' Perhaps 'one interest' expresses nearly, though not quite, the purport of the saying" (p. 414, vol. III, part I, A Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical). The Abingdon Bible Commentary says: " V. 30 does not affirm a metaphysical unity, but a moral, and we must not read the later creeds into the words" (p. 1079).
Yeshua's answer in verse 30 prompted the Jews to charge him with blasphemy and prepare to stone him (vv. 31-33). In verses 34-36, Yeshua addressed the charge that they had leveled against him, namely that he had blasphemed by proclaiming himself to be an 'elohim (the Greek root word theos is the equivalent of the Hebrew 'elohim).
Based on Yeshua's answer to the Jews, why were they planning to stone him? Did they think that he, a man, had proclaimed himself to be YHVH the Father? Or did they understand his claim in a way that was different from the common understanding of today?
The Jews did not view Yeshua's response in verse 30 the same way a Trinitarian or Oneness believer would today. Let's allow the Jews themselves to define for us what they took Yeshua's claim to be:
JOHN 19:6 Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, "Crucify him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "You take him and crucify him, for I find no fault in him." 7 The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God [heauton huion theou epoiesen, lit. "himself a son of God he made"]." (NKJV)
According to the Jews' own words, they understood that Yeshua was claiming to be an 'elohim, one of the divine sons of God. Yeshua's specific reply in John 10:34 to their charge of blasphemy was to quote from Psalm 82:6, which is a reference to those ruling angels on the divine council who were called "sons of God" in the Old Testament (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; etc.). Then Yeshua asked the Jews, "Why do you say I'm blaspheming just because I've proclaimed myself to be a Son of God, when the Father Himself in the Scripture calls the members of the divine council "gods" ('elohim)?" (vv. 35-36).
Yeshua's response to the Jews (which they understood) was that he was one of those divine council members. But which one? In his Gospel, John tells us that Yeshua came to his own people, and his own people did not accept him (John 1:11). The clear implication of this statement is that before his mortal existence as a man, Yeshua had been the 'elohim Michael, the prince over Israel who represented and defended them in the divine council.
The identification of Michael with Yeshua is often summarily rejected by Christians. This is primarily because it is considered a foundational doctrine of the Jehovah's Witnesses denomination, which most Christians deem to be a cult. However, a look at how Christian scholars from a time before the foundation of the Jehovah's Witnesses viewed this identification is edifying:
Jesus Christ shall appear his church's patron and protector: At that time, when the persecution is at the hottest, Michael shall stand up, v. 1. The angel had told Daniel what a firm friend Michael was to the church, ch. x. 21. He all along showed this friendship in the upper world; the angels knew it; but now Michael shall stand up in his providence, and work deliverance for the Jews, when he sees that their power is gone, Deut. xxxii. 3. 6. Christ is that great prince, for he is the prince of the kings of the earth, Rev. i. 5. And, if he stand up for his church, who can be against it? But this is not all: At that time (that is, soon after) Michael shall stand up for the working out of our eternal salvation; the Son of God shall be incarnate, shall be manifested to destroy the works of the devil. (p. 1942, vol. 4, Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible)
1. For the children - The meaning seems to be, as after the death of Antiochus the Jews had some deliverance, so there will be yet a greater deliverance to the people of God, when Michael your prince, the Messiah shall appear for your salvation. A time of trouble - At the siege of Jerusalem, before the final judgment. The phrase at that time, probably includes all the time of Christ, from his first, to his last coming. (p. 4092, John Wesley, Notes on the Bible)
Some think the word Michael represents Christ, and I do not object to this opinion. Clearly enough, if all angels keep watch over the faithful and elect, still Christ holds the first rank among them, because he is their head, and uses their ministry and assistance to defend all his people. (p. 243, vol. 2, John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Daniel)
but, lo, Michael one of the chief Princes, came to help me; called in the New Testament an Archangel, the Prince of angels, the Head of all principality and power; and is no other than Christ the Son of God . . . (Daniel 10:13, John Gill, Exposition of the Bible)
Michael, he who is like God, sometimes appears to signify the Messiah, at other times the highest or chief archangel. Indeed there is no archangel mentioned in the whole Scripture but this one. (Daniel 10:13, Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible)
Henry, Wesley, Calvin, Gill, and Clarke are all respected Christian scholars who either identified Michael as Christ or admitted of that possibility. The scope of the available evidence clearly demonstrates that the Jehovah's Witnesses sect cannot lay claim to having originated the identification of Michael with the Messiah.
Additionally, many Jewish writings identify Michael as the Prince of Israel who mediated for them in many ways. He was the lead angelic prince who presented offerings in the heavenly sanctuary (Babylonian Talmud, Menahot 110a) ; was the leader of the angels who visited Abraham (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 37a); was Israel's guardian angel (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 77a); prevented Isaac from being sacrificed (Yalkut Reubeni, Wayera); wrestled with Jacob (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Gen. 32:25); was Israel's advocate when they deserved death at the Red Sea (Exodus Rabbah, 18:5); led Israel during the forty years in the wilderness (Rabbi Abravanel's commentary on Exo. 23:20); gave Moses the tables of stone (Apocalypse of Moses, 1); instructed Moses at Sinai (Book of Jubilees, i. 27, ii. 1); destroyed the army of Sennacherib (Midrash Exodus 18:5).
As Satan's temptation of Yeshua shows (Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13), he understood that the Messiah's goal in becoming human was to qualify to rule over all nations, not just Israel. The Devil tried to get Yeshua to take the easy path to attaining this authority by worshiping him:
LUKE 4:5 Then the Devil led him up to a high place and showed him in a flash all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, "To you I will grant this whole realm — and the glory that goes along with it, for it has been relinquished to me, and I can give it to anyone I wish. 7 So then, if you will worship me, all this will be yours." (NET)
Of course, Yeshua rejected Satan's offer and instead followed the narrow path to his destiny on the cross. Because of his obedience unto death, many Scriptures show that God raised Yeshua from the dead and elevated him to His right hand in heaven:
PHILIPPIANS 2:6 [Yeshua the Messiah] who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross! 9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, (NET)
HEBREWS 10:12 But this one [i.e., Yeshua], after he had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, sat down at the right hand of God, (CJB)
HEBREWS 1:3 The Son is the radiance of His [i.e., YHVH's] glory and the representation of His essence, and he sustains all things by His powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (NET)
HEBREWS 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (NIV)
ROMANS 8:34 Who is the one to condemn? It is the Messiah Jesus who is interceding on our behalf. He died, and more importantly, has been raised and is seated at the right hand of God. (ISV)
Many Scriptures in the New Testament testify that Yeshua was rewarded by God for his faithful obedience unto death. In essence, a massive transfer of authority took place after Messiah ascended back to heaven after his resurrection. This transfer, and the reason for it, was succinctly prophesied in Psalm 45:6-7.
PSALM 45:6 Your throne, O God ['elohim], is permanent. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of justice. 7 You love justice and hate evil. For this reason God, your God ['elohim 'eloheykha] has anointed you with the oil of joy, elevating you above your companions. (NET)
This prophecy of Messiah's exaltation by YHVH the Father is quoted in the letter to the Hebrews:
HEBREWS 1:8 But about the Son He says, "Your throne, O God [theos], will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God [ho theos ho theos sou, lit. "the God, the God of you"], has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy." (NIV)
The letter to the Hebrews was primarily written to Jewish believers in Yeshua to explain his origin and identity, as well as his role in YHVH's plan. In quoting Psalm 45:6, the author of Hebrews applies the title 'elohim specifically to Yeshua to describe his power and position. This anointed Son of God was one of the exalted 'elohim that served on the divine council, the one that YHVH assigned to rule over His portion, the nation of Israel (Deu. 32:9).
The next verse of the quotation confirms this identification. As we saw earlier, Psalm 82 shows that the other 'elohim acted unjustly in the administration of their duties over the nations. But Psalm 45:7 tells us that this Son "loved righteousness and hated lawlessness." He walked in YHVH's ways instead of doing his own will. Therefore, Yeshua was elevated above his "companions," the other members of the divine council.
The effect of this divine anointing and elevation was the authority that had been vested in Satan and a council of 70 was centralized in Yeshua. YHVH elevated Yeshua to the right hand of His throne in heaven, and placed him in authority over all the other spiritual rulers that existed:
I PETER 3:22 [Yeshua] who has gone to heaven and is at the right hand of God, where angels, authorities, and powers have been made subject to him. (ISV)
EPHESIANS 1:20 This power He [God the Father] exercised in Christ when He raised him from the dead and seated him at His right hand in the heavenly realms 21 far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (NET)
COLOSSIANS 2:9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. (NIV)
The author of Hebrews tells us much about Yeshua's exaltation after his resurrection. Unfortunately, his comments have generally been misunderstood and misinterpreted:
HEBREWS 1:4 Thus he [Yeshua] became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs. 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are My son! Today I have fathered you"? And in another place He says, "I will be his Father and he will be My son." 6 But when He again brings His firstborn into the world, He says, "Let all the angels of God worship him!" (NET)
The statement in verse 4 that "he became" better than the angels (a reference to the other 'elohim on the divine council) clearly indicates a change in status. This declaration shows that "after making purification for sins" (v. 3), Yeshua was elevated to higher position. Many New Testament Scriptures confirm that his obedient death on the cross allowed him to be exalted.
Verse 5 contains two citations from the Old Testament which confirm the sure nature of God's promise to His "Anointed" that He would establish him as king over the entire earth. These two citations show that Yeshua is not simply one of the ruling angels, but instead he is the promised Messiah, the seed of David, the one who will reign in Jerusalem on David's throne during the millennial Kingdom of God.
Verse 6 is a partial citation of Deuteronomy 32:43 from the ancient Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. The author relates this Scripture to the return of Yeshua, the firstborn Son of God, into the world at the end of the age. He builds on the theme of messianic rulership initiated in verse 5 and shows the time when the Messiah will come to take his rightful authority over the nations of the earth from their former angelic rulers.
When the Messiah sacrificed himself for the sins of mankind, he took away Satan's ability to accuse YHVH's people of sin. Instead of simply being an advocate for Israel, he became their replacement. To those who accepted it, his blood paid the debt of death owed to the Law for sin which Satan and the other 'elohim demanded:
COLOSSIANS 2:13 And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He [i.e., YHVH] made you alive with him [i.e., Yeshua] and forgave us all our trespasses. 14 He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross. 15 He [i.e., Yeshua] disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them by Him [i.e., YHVH]. (CSB)
Needless to say, Satan and the divine council did not like the new situation they found themselves in after Yeshua was resurrected and ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father. Although the timing is subject to conjecture, it seems likely that Satan and the ruling princes rebelled against this new order shortly before the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE:
REVELATION 12:7 Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But the dragon was not strong enough to prevail, so there was no longer any place left in heaven for him and his angels. 9 So that huge dragon – the ancient serpent, the one called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world – was thrown down to the earth, and his angels along with him. 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, "The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the ruling authority of his Christ, have now come, because the accuser of our brothers and sisters, the one who accuses them day and night before our God, has been thrown down. 11 But they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. (NET)
Regarding this heavenly battle described in Revelation 12, several ancient historians record what certainly could have been man's view of it. From Josephus' 1st-century history, we have record of a heavenly battle that took place in the skies over Jerusalem in the Spring of 66 CE:
Also on certain days after the festival [i.e., Passover] there appeared a thing so marvelous as to be beyond belief, but that it was related by many that saw it in their own eyes. Before the setting of the sun there were seen chariots driven across the sky, and hosts of armed men setting themselves in order of battle, and surrounding the cities. (bk. 6, ch. 5, sec. 3, Wars of the Jews).
Interestingly, this event would have taken place about 40 years from the time Yeshua began his earthly ministry in the fall of 26 CE. Josephus is not the only historian who records this celestial war. About 110 CE, the Roman historian Tacitus described this same supernatural event.
In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armor. A sudden lightning flash from the clouds lit up the Temple. The doors of the holy place abruptly opened, a superhuman voice was heard to declare that the gods were leaving it, and in the same instant came the rushing tumult of their departure. Few people placed a sinister interpretation upon this. The majority were convinced that the ancient scriptures of their priests alluded to the present as the very time when the Orient would triumph and from Judaea would go forth men destined to rule the world. (bk. 5, ch. 13, Historiae)
The early church historian Eusebius of Caesarea also wrote about this heavenly fight around 325 CE:
And not many days after the feast [i.e., Passover], on the twenty-first of the month Artemisium [corresponds to the second month of the Jewish year, Iyar] a certain marvelous vision was seen which passes belief. The prodigy might seem fabulous were it not related by those who saw it, and were not the calamities which followed deserving of such signs. For before the setting of the sun chariots and armed troops were seen throughout the whole region in mid-air, wheeling through the clouds and encircling the cities. (bk. 3, ch. 8, sec. 5, Ecclesiastical History)
Satan and the princes of the divine council were cast out of heaven by Michael, which is the divine council name of Yeshua. The holy angels of heaven gave thanks for this event, but also recorded a warning for mankind:
REVELATION 12:12 Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the Devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!" (NRSV)
EPHESIANS 2:1 You used to be dead because of your offenses and sins, 2 that you once practiced as you lived according to the ways of this present world and according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now active in those who are disobedient. (ISV)
Bryan T. Huie
July 11, 2014