Pastor David B. Curtis

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Spiritual Warfare Pt 2:
Yahweh's Divine Council

Ephesians 6:10-12

Delivered 01/25/15

Last week we started a series on spiritual warfare, and we looked at three positions that are held by believers on Satan and demons. View 1) Do not believe that Satan, demons, and unclean spirits are real spirit beings, to them there is no such thing, not now nor was there ever. View 2) Believe that Satan, demons, unclean spirits are real spirit beings are still very active today. View 3) Believe that Satan, demons, and unclean spirits are real beings, but were all defeated and destroyed in AD 70 at the return of Christ when the judgment took place.

Among Preterists, views 1 and 3 are predominant, but there are some Preterists who hold to view 2. I said last week that I hold to view 3, I believe that Satan, demons, and unclean spirits were real spirit beings who were destroyed in AD 70. Let's start with our text in Ephesians and let me show you what I believe and why:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10-12 NASB

First of all notice that Paul says that this struggle is "NOT against flesh and blood." In the Greek this is literally, "blood and flesh." Is Paul saying this is not a physical battle but a philosophical one? That is the view of those who hold to view 1; they do not believe in a personal devil or demons, so this battle is not a spiritual one. But if you look at the four other uses of this phrase, it is referring to humanity vs the spiritual:

And Yeshua said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. Matthew 16:17 NASB

This was not a human understanding, it was revelation from the Father:

to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, Galatians 1:16 NASB

Does this mean that Paul didn't consult with human philosophy? No, he didn't talk to other people about what Yahweh had called him to do. The sense of "flesh and blood" is clearly, as the comparison of all these passages shows, "mere human power."

So in Ephesians 6 I see Paul as saying that their struggle is not with humanity, not with mere human power. So what is the struggle with? Paul says it is, "against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." We know what he is saying here; the question is what does he mean? The word "rulers" is from the Greek arche, which has a wide range of meanings: "chief (in various applications of order, time, place or rank): —beginning." The word "powers" is from exousia, which means: "power, ability, privilege." These titles are used of human and spiritual powers, but notice the rest of the verse, "against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." "World forces" comes from the Greek kosmokrator, which, according to Strongs Concordance means: "a world ruler, an epithet of Satan." Thayer's says it means: "lord of the world, prince of this age, the devil and his demons." This is its only use in the New Testament.

Paul goes on to say, "against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places"—these forces are "spiritual," they are not human, and they are in "heavenly places," which denotes the spiritual realm, the place where Yahweh dwells. Notice what Paul says in:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. Colossians 1:16 NASB

The phrase "all things" occurs six times in Colossians 1:15-20, and literally means: "the all" or "the totality" referring to The Creation. Yeshua designed all creation "visible" (that is, earthly kingdoms and empires) and "invisible" (that is, the angelic principalities and powers). The words "thrones," "powers," "rulers" and "authorities" probably refer to spirit beings and not to human government. In part, this refers to the hierarchy of spiritual beings.

So who are these rulers and powers in the heavens? I believe these are divine beings who were once part of Yahweh's divine counsel. The idea of a divine council may sound strange to you because most Christians today simply view God as ruling, and Satan as opposing Him. Yahweh is seen as the only good deity, and Satan is seen as the only bad deity. But in the Hebrew Bible we see a divine council, a ruling body consisting of Yahweh as the supreme monarch and various supernatural attendants.

According to Patrick Miller, the divine council is one of the central cosmological symbols in the Hebrew Bible. That is, it is one of the Bible's ways of describing how God maintains order in the Creation. Working through innumerable hosts of angelic servants, God creates and rules the physical universe as well as the world of men.

All ancient Mediterranean cultures had some conception of a divine council. But the Hebrew Bible describes a divine council under the authority of Yahweh, the God of Israel. While the divine council of Israel and its neighbors share significant features, the divine council of Israelite religion was distinct in many important ways. Yahweh is a unique God, but He is not alone.

The idea of a pantheon of gods in a heavenly council may be new to you, but the existence of the divine council is witnessed to by various literary genres of the Hebrew Bible. It is mentioned in historical, narrative,and poetic passages, prophetic visions, Temple liturgy, and apocalyptic visions. It also transcends the historical time-line from the earliest primeval history to the final eschatological frontier. The concept and imagery of the divine council is woven throughout the pages of the Hebrew Bible.

God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers. Psalms 82:1 NASB

"His own congregation"—is referring to the divine council. "Congregation" is from the Hebrew edah, and means: "a stated assemblage (specifically a concourse, or generally a family." The term "divine council" is used by Hebrew Bible scholars to refer to the "heavenly host" (the pantheon of divine beings who administer the affairs of the cosmos). It is the consensus among ANE scholars that every society from the time of the ancient Sumerians to the time of the Babylonians and the Greeks believed in a pantheon of gods.

Here "God" and "rulers" are both the Hebrew word elohim; this is speaking of the divine counsel, or the "watchers," as Daniel calls them. Speaking of the judgment on Nebuchadnezzar, notice what Daniel says:

"This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers And the decision is a command of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, And bestows it on whom He wishes And sets over it the lowliest of men." Daniel 4:17 NASB

The word "angelic" is not in the text. The word "watchers" is from the Hebrew yr, which means: "an angel as guardian." This word is only used by Danie,l and if you look at the two other times he uses it, you can see these are spiritual beings:

'I was looking in the visions in my mind as I lay on my bed, and behold, an angelic watcher, a holy one, descended from heaven. Daniel 4:13 NASB

Every time Daniel uses the term "watchers" he tells us that they are holy ones. Here he also says that they are from heaven. Daniel 4:17 says,"This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers And the decision is a command of the holy ones..." This judgment was by the decree of the watchers, it was a decision that the holy ones made. How many times have you read this verse and never stopped to ask, "Who are the watchers and why are they making decisions?" They are part of Yahweh's divine council. Back to Psalm 82:

I said, "You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. Psalms 82:6 NASB

Here "gods" is elohim. Yahweh, speaking to His divine council, said, "You are gods." But notice the next verse:

"Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like any one of the princes." Psalms 82:7 NASB

Compared with Yahweh as Elohim, the elohim of the nations were nothing. Yahweh reviewed their performance as "gods" and judges of the gentiles and condemned them for failing to rule justly.

If these elohim were men, why would Yahweh say, "You will die like men"? Yahweh is saying here that He will judge the disobedient watchers. All uses of elohim in the Tanakh refer to spiritual beings. Elohim is ONLY used of those in the spirit world, so if they are called elohim, they are not of the physical realm, they are spirit beings.

Many take Psalm 82 as referring to human rulers, but as I said, elohim is never used of living humans, and if we look at Yeshua's quote of Psalm 82:6, it will help us see that it is not talking about human rulers. Yeshua startles His audience with the claim:

"I and the Father are one." The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Yeshua answered them, "I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?" The Jews answered Him, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God." John 10:30-33 NASB

Then we have the quote from Psalm 82:

Yeshua answered them, "Has it not been written in your Law, 'I SAID, YOU ARE GODS'? "If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 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'? John 10:34-36 NASB

If the "gods" in Psalm 82 were merely human judges and not divine watchers, then Yeshua's appeal to this text to defend His claim to deity would make no sense! They certainly would not seek to stone Him as a blasphemer if He appealed to a text about human judges. Yeshua seems to be rebuking the Jews for allowing the existence of elohim other than the Father, but would not accept His claim to be Elohim.

Psalm 89 teaches us that this council is in the heavens, not on earth:

The heavens will praise Your wonders, O LORD; Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones. For who in the skies is comparable to the LORD? Who among the sons of the mighty is like the LORD, A God greatly feared in the council of the holy ones, And awesome above all those who are around Him? Psalms 89:5-7 NASB

Let me just say a word here about "Yahweh," which is translated here as"LORD." Once you understand the idea of a "divine council," this covenant name of God becomes so much more important! There are many gods, but Yahweh is God of gods:

"For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. Deuteronomy 10:17 NASB

This text says, "For Yahweh your [speaking to Israel] Elohim is the Elohim of elohim and the Adonay of adon, the great, the mighty, and awesome El who does not show partiality nor take a bribe." So there are many gods, but only one Yahweh, who is God of gods:

"O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Isaiah 37:16 NASB

Yahweh is the Elohim of Israel, and of all the kingdoms of the earth.

Back to Psalm 89: This divine council is in the "skies," this is the Hebrew word shachaq, which means: "clouds or heaven." The divine council is in the heavens, not on earth where the Jewish judges are. This is not an earthly, human council. The word "council" here is from the Hebrew sod, which means: "a session, that is, company of persons (in close deliberation); by implication intimacy, consultation, a secret:— assembly." These texts in Psalms clearly depict a heavenly council ("in the skies") and not, as some scholars suggest, a council of earthly human judges.

The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all. Bless the LORD, you His angels, Mighty in strength, who perform His word, Obeying the voice of His word! Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, You who serve Him, doing His will. Psalms 103:19-21 NASB

Here the council members are called "His angels, Mighty in strength" and "His hosts." Throughout the Scriptures we see many different names used of these council members. They are called, "the rulers" and "sons of the Most High" in Psalm 82; they are called "the watchers" in Daniel 4; they are called "the holy ones" and "sons of the Mighty" in Psalm 89; they are called "sons of God" in Genesis 6, Job 1-2; they are called "cherubim" in Genesis 3:24; Exod 25:18-22; Ezekiel 10:1-20; they are called "seraphim" in Isaiah 6; they are called "messengers of God" and messengers of Yahweh in numerous places.

Other indications of the council use plural pronouns and verbs in statements attributed to God. Three of these occur in Genesis 1-11.

Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." Genesis 1:26 NASB
Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"— Genesis 3:22 NASB
"Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech." Genesis 11:7 NASB

From Philo onward, Jewish commentators generally held that these plurals were used because Yahweh was addressing His divine council. The early post Apostolic Fathers such as Barnabas and Justin Martyr saw the plurals as a reference to the Trinity. I think that is how most Christians see these plurals. But recent scholars tend to agree with ancient Jewish opinion. F. M. Cross notes: "In both Ugaritic and biblical literature, the use of the first person plural is characteristic of address in the divine council. The familiar 'we' . . . has long been recognized as the plural address used by Yahweh in His council" (Cross, Canaanite Myth, 187).

The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary 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")

Plurals, such as those in Genesis, are seen in the book of Isaiah. For example:

In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. Isaiah 6:1-2 NASB

Here Yahweh is in His throne room surrounded by His court:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!" Isaiah 6:8 NASB

Here we see that Yahweh's court was made up of His heavenly servants.

Similarly, the court room scene in Isaiah 41 contains several plural pronouns:

"Present your case," the LORD says. "Bring forward your strong arguments," The King of Jacob says. Let them bring forth and declare to Us what is going to take place; As for the former events, declare what they were, That we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce to Us what is coming; Declare the things that are going to come afterward, That we may know that you are gods; Indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about Us and fear together. Isaiah 41:21-23 NASB

This is what is called the "consultative we," reflecting God's consultations with His spiritual creatures in heaven. Franz Delitzsch called it the: "communicative plural."

When the council gathers for legal purposes, it is typically called into session

with an "address to the Divine Council":

Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; For the LORD speaks, "Sons I have reared and brought up, But they have revolted against Me. Isaiah 1:2 NASB

The council operates on a cosmic level, governing God's universe; on an earthly plane, governing Israel and nations; and on an individual level, guiding and protecting the righteous believer.

The council members do not act as autonomous divinities. There is no question who is Head of the assembly: Yahweh makes decisions and His council responds. The biblical divine council operates with a radically different dynamic than the Babylonian and Canaanite councils called "Yahwism"—Yahweh alone rules in heaven in holy splendor.

The one title of Yahweh that most clearly reflects His position as head of the divine assembly is, "Yahweh of hosts." While some scholars believe these "armies" refer to Israel's human hosts, most think that they are celestial battalions, belonging to the Creator.

In the Hebrew Bible, a few select men gain access to the divine council. These visitors are the prophets. During their visionary entry into working sessions of the royal throneroom, they overhear what the King and His counsellors decide to do regarding specific human situations. Such visits or "throne visions" are for the purpose of giving the prophet a message to announce to His people. Admission into the divine council chambers was one criterion for being a true prophet:

"But who has stood in the council of the LORD, That he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened? Jeremiah 23:18 NASB

"Council" here is the Hebrew, sod, "a session, that is, company of persons (in close deliberation); by implication, intimacy. In 2 Chronicles we get a glimpse into the working of the divine council as Yahweh's prophet, Micaiah, describes a vision of the heavenly council that he had been given in regard to a question posed to him by Ahab, king of Israel and Jehoshaphat, king of Judah:

Micaiah said, "Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing on His right and on His left. "The LORD said, 'Who will entice Ahab king of Israel to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?' And one said this while another said that. "Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, 'I will entice him.' And the LORD said to him, 'How?' "He said, 'I will go and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' Then He said, 'You are to entice him and prevail also. Go and do so.' "Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of these your prophets, for the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you." 2 Chronicles 18:18-22 NASB

Here we see mention of the "host of heaven" (Heb. tzeva' hashamayim), which stands before Yahweh. Clearly this is speaking of angelic beings, including those on the heavenly divine council. This vision seen by Micaiah shows that Yahweh is in complete control of events. He only approves the course of action that suits His purpose, which in this case was to bring about the death of evil King Ahab.

The New Bible Dictionary says this about the "host of heaven": "This phrase (tzeva' hashamayim) occurs about 15 times, in most cases implying the object of heathen worship (Dt. 4:19, etc.). The two meanings: 'celestial bodies' and 'angelic beings' are inextricably intertwined. The LXX translation, using kosmos, stratia, or dynamis, does not help to resolve this. No doubt to the Heb[rew] mind the distinction was superficial, and the celestial bodies were thought to be closely associated with heavenly beings. . . . The Bible certainly suggests that angels of different ranks have charge of individuals and of nations; no doubt, in the light of modern cosmology this concept, if retained at all (as biblically it must be), ought properly to be extended, as the dual sense of the phrase 'host of heaven' suggests, to the oversight of the elements of the physical universe—planets, stars and nebulae." (p. 495, Host, Host of Heaven) Let me show you just a few of the texts that indicate that the "host of heaven" is more than just the stars in the night sky:

"You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of 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 of them And the heavenly host bows down before You. Nehemiah 9:6 NASB

"You alone are Yahweh" —LORD here in all caps is from the Hebrew is ; this name includes the verb (hava), meaning: "to exist", and the letter (yod) as a prefix, meaning: "He." So means: "He exists." If is a causative verb, it would mean: "He causes to exist." Both are true, Yahweh is the self existent One who causes to exist.

Only living creatures can worship Yahweh. Clearly, the "heavenly host" here refers to felt created beings which reside in the heavens.

"The houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah will be defiled like the place Topheth, because of all the houses on whose rooftops they burned sacrifices to all the heavenly host and poured out drink offerings to other gods."'" Jeremiah 19:13 NASB

Here Jeremiah draws a parallel between "the heavenly host," to whom incense was burned, and "other gods," to whom drink offerings were poured out. This grammatical construction in Hebrew is meant to show that both the "the heavenly host," and the "other gods" are the same. They were "the gods of the nations," the angelic rulers assigned by God over the nations of the earth. We'll talk about this in detail next week.

One of the most grievous sins of the ancient Israelites was their continual idolatry. Instead of worshiping the one true God Yahweh, they instead worshiped the inferior "sons of God," the "the heavenly host":

They 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. 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. 2 Kings 17:15-16 NASB

"They" here is Israel and Judah. They rejected Yahweh and went after the gods of the goy. They worshiped the "host of heaven" and served Baal.

Baal, was a god worshiped in many ancient Middle Eastern communities, especially among the Canaanites, who apparently considered him a fertility deity and one of the most important gods in the pantheon. As a Semitic common noun, Baal (Hebrew, ba'al) meant: "owner" or "lord." Baal became attached to a god of distinct character. As such, Baal designated the universal god of fertility, and in that capacity his title was "Prince, Lord of the Earth." He was also called, the "Lord of Rain and Dew," the two forms of moisture that were indispensable for fertile soil in Canaan. In Ugaritic and Old Testament Hebrew, Baal's epithet as the storm god was,"He Who Rides on the Clouds." In Phoenician, he was called, "Baal Shamen, Lord of the Heavens.":

The oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and is about to come to Egypt; The idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence, And the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them. Isaiah 19:1 NASB

It is Yahweh, not Ba'al, who rides on the clouds. In Ugaritic Baal was both a warrior god and the storm god who brought fertility. I've mentioned Ugaritic several times; let me give you a quote from Michael S. Heiser to help explain its significance:

Israelite religion had an assembly of heavenly host under the authority of Yahweh. This assembly has very close affinities to the pantheons of ancient Near East, particularly in Canaanite religion. The most telling example is the literature from Ras Shamra (Ugarit), discovered in the late 1920s. As a Semitic language, Ugaritic is closely related to biblical Hebrew, sharing a good deal of vocabulary, as well as morphological and syntactical features. Upon their decipherment, many of the Ugaritic tablets were found to contain words and phrases describing a council of gods that are conceptually and linguistically parallel to the Hebrew Bible. The Ugaritic divine council was led by El, the same word used in the Hebrew Bible for deity and as the proper name for the God of Israel (e.g., Is 40:18; 43:12). There are explicit references to a council or assembly of El, in some cases overlapping word for-word with those in the Hebrew Bible.

The ancient Canaanite city-state of Ugarit is of importance for those who study the Hebrew Scriptures. The literature of the city and the theology contained therein go a very long way in helping us to understand the meaning of various Biblical passages as well as aiding us in deciphering difficult Hebrew words.

Back to our text in 2 Kings:

They 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. 2 Kings 17:15 NASB

Yahweh, the God of Israel had warned His people not to go after the gods of the goy. We see this warning in:

"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. Deuteronomy 4:19 NASB

We have already established that the "host of heaven" referred to sentient created spiritual beings which reside in the heavens. Notice here that these "host of heaven" have been "allotted to the peoples."The word "allotted" in Hebrew is chalaq, which literally means: "apportioned" or "assigned." Here we are told that Yahweh has assigned "the host of heaven" to the peoples of the earth; meaning; "all non Israelites."

Israel is not to worship the watchers.

I believe that these "host of heaven" are the same "rulers, powers, world forces, and spiritual forces in the heavenly places" that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6:12.

Next week we will pick up on the idea of Yahweh allotting the watchers to the nations.

Continue the Series

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