Divine Council

What was it like before God created the world? Job (arguably one of the oldest books) has a few words to say about the creation story.  

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Job 38:4-7

Who were these “sons of God” (ben elohiym)?  We know for certain that they cannot be human or descendants of Adam because they were present at the creation of the world, before Adam was created.  If not human, they must be divine beings of some order, possibly seraph or another type of celestial being.  I would also suggest they are not angels because the Hebrew word for angel is mal’ak  which means messenger, ambassador or representative.  The word used for “son’s of God” is ben elohiym not mal’ak which is the Hebrew for angel.  So to begin this story we see the “son’s of God” who are neither human nor angelic celebrating together with Yahweh at his wonderful creation. 

Perhaps you are wondering if the “sons of God” are not human or angels what could they possibly be?  Or more likely you are wondering why am I starting off this book with such a discussion?  I assure you, the implications are profound and will be unraveled in the chapters to follow.

Actually, the Bible is full of various types of divine beings.  Consider the examples below, none of which are angels.
Sons of God: Job 38:7; 1:6; Gen. 6:2; Deut. 32:8
Cherubim: Gen. 3:24; Ex. 25:20
Seraphim: Is. 6:2; 6:6
Four living creatures: Ezekiel 1:5; Rev. 5:7
Twenty four elders: Rev. 5:8

If we add in the various types of angels then the spirit world is replete with divine creatures of a wide variety.  So the “sons of God” were and are divine beings, but not angels.  They have responsibilities different from those of an angelic messenger or representative.  As we move forward we will discover other fascinating places where this Hebrew phrase (“ben elohiym”) translated “sons of God” is used.

We discover something else about God (the Most High) in the Job passage above.  Before the earth was created God was a relational being with a family.  Does it seem odd that God had sons before the earth or mankind was created? The term “benis a familial term implying that God is a father even before the creation account began.

In other words, before the earth was created the trinity was present with a divine family of “ben elohiym”, the sons of God.  In the Job passage the divine family was present and celebrating while the trinity was laying out the foundations of the earth.  If God having a family before he created mankind is new to you we will revisit it in other passages as we move forward to reinforce the idea.

What is the divine council?
Just as you are getting comfortable with the idea of multiple types of divine beings in God’s kingdom let me introduce another phrase – “host of heaven”.  Below are two examples where “host of heaven” is found – one is a positive representation and the other negative.  

“You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.
Nehemiah 9:6

On that day the Lord will punish
    the host of heaven, in heaven,
    and the kings of the earth, on the earth.
Isaiah 24:21

The phrase “host of heaven” is used to represent a grouping of all divine beings.  Normally, it is normally used in a positive sense to represent those with loyalty to Yahweh, but it can be used to showcase the rebellious as well as we see in the Isaiah passage.  

Divine council is a term related to “host of heaven” in the Hebrew Bible.  When Yahweh sits to preside over a meeting of the “host of heaven” this can be thought of in terms of a meeting of the divine council.  It is a group of divine beings over which Yahweh presides as the “Most High”.  Numerous passages use the term “Most High” to indicate Yahweh as unique and without equal from all his creation language.  Consider Psalm 83 below.

that they may know that you alone,
    whose name is the Lord,
    are the Most High over all the earth.
Psalm 83:18

There are several passages which will help to illustrate this idea of divine council.

And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another.  Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’  And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’  And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’
1 Kings 22:19

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 
Job 1:6; 2:1

And Psalm 82 which we will dive into in a subsequent chapter.

God has taken his place in the divine council;
    in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
Psalm 82:1

In all three of these passages we find God, the Most High, presiding over a meeting of divine beings – hence the divine council.  This should not be construed to mean that God needs the councils input, knowledge or wisdom – he does however value it and chooses to act and make decisions in community with his family.  We might think of his council in the same way in which he relates to his people on earth.  Does he need us; the answer should be obvious?  But he chooses us as his partners in the gospel and he desires to share his kingdom with us.  The divine council is no different.

My absolute favorite picture of divine council is Revelation chapter 5 which I like to call the Messiah’s coronation ceremony.  I would recommend you read the whole chapter for it truly is amazing.  Since we are discussing divine council see if you can pick out the council members?

You should spot: a mighty angel, 24 elders, four living creatures, Lamb of God, Yahweh on the throne, myriads of angels as well as every creature in heaven and earth.  I would also expect to find the cherubim in this setting as well since they are throne guardians – we will touch on this in a later chapter.  This is the ultimate divine council meeting when the Messiah receives Davidic authority as king; he is no longer the prince of peace.

The point of this discussion is to demonstrate that there is a divine council and God works in concert with his council.  He does not need the council, but rather chooses to have a council.  This is not polytheism.  For he remains Yahweh, God Most High, the creator and giver of life.  And he is separate and unique from all created beings (both human and divine).

Divine council in creation
Since in these early chapters we are laying a foundation let’s see how the divine council plays a role in the creation story.

During the days of creation when God was establishing the lights in the sky, waters, dry land, plants, animals, etc it was all done with the phrase: “and God said…”.  But when he gets ready to create mankind the text makes a decided change.

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
Genesis 1:26

I think that God looked at his divine council and said “Let us make man…”.  Before you call me a heretic consider a few points.

  • If the pronouns “us” and “our” are referring to the trinity then why didn’t the text use these pronouns when describing the heavenly bodies, waters, plants and animals?
  • Saying that “us” and “our” in Gen. 1:26 refers to the trinity is interpreting the Old Testament in light of the New Testament.  This is not how the original audience (Hebrew people) would have understood the creation account.  They obviously did not have New Testament writings.

Remember the passage from Job 38 that we looked at earlier?

when the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Just as the sons of God celebrated at the laying the earths foundation they also celebrated at the creation of mankind.  In other words, all of us (the divine beings as well as mankind) share an image and likeness with Yahweh the creator.  It was if God had a meeting of the divine council and said, “let us create a race of humans who are like us“,  and then he (Yahweh) proceeded to execute the plan.

We are beginning to discover that God has both a human family and a divine family.  Throughout the balance of scripture this idea is continually developed and we see numerous intersections where the divine family interfaces with the earthly domain and a few cases where earth invades the spiritual realm. Is this not what Eden was about, a place where God dwelt with both his human and divine family living together as one.  We will explore that idea in the next chapter.

In this chapter we have possibly introduced some new ideas: different types of divine beings, Yahweh as a heavenly father from eternity past, host of heaven and divine council.  If these are new concepts feel free to take time to study them out before moving on.

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