Disclaimer: Before we begin, I am assuming the reader shares a Judeo / Christian perspective on the earth’s origin. If you are seeking a discussion regarding “intelligent design” vs evolution, I would direct you elsewhere as that is not the goal for this study. Our goal here is to discover what the scripture has to say about the fall of the universe, origins of evil and the complex story of redemption.
Let us begin at the beginning, shall we? What was it like before God created the world?
“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?
Who were these “sons of God?” In Hebrew, the actual word is “ben Elohim.” We know for certain that they cannot be human or descendants of Adam because they were present at creation before Adam existed. So, they must be divine beings of some capacity. Perhaps they are angels and I suppose that may be true in a generic sense of the word, but the Hebrew word for angel is mal’ak (messenger, ambassador or representative) but that is not the word used in this passage. The word used in this passage for “sons of God” is ben Elohim, not mal’ak. Therefore, all we know at this point is that they are supernatural beings who are not specifically angels nor are they Adam or his descendants.
Perhaps you are wondering if the “sons of God” are not human or angels what could they possibly be? 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, (including the rebellious) 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 specifically angels. They have responsibilities and functions quite different from those of an angelic messenger or representative. Perhaps, the term “sons of God or ben Elohim” is a means of grouping all divine beings together so they can be referenced corporately. As we move forward, we will discover other fascinating places where this phrase “ben Elohim” is used.
We discover something else about Yahweh in this passage from Job. Before the earth was created God was a relational being with a family. In other words, before the earth was created the trinity was present with a divine family of “ben Elohim”, the sons of God. In the passage above God has put Job on the spot, questioning him about his existence while Yahweh was architecting the earth. He goes on to state that his divine family was present and celebrating while he was laying out the foundations and measuring the earth. If this idea about God having a divine family separate from mankind is new to you, we will revisit it again as we move forward.
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. We often find “host of heaven” used to represent a grouping of divine beings which would include those loyal to Yahweh as well as the rebellious. In addition, “host of heaven” is often (not always) found in scriptures of a military or warring context.
“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.
On that day the Lord will punish
the host of heaven, in heaven,
and the kings of the earth, on the earth.
Another phrase related to “host of heaven” is “divine council” or “sons of God” in the Hebrew Bible. When Yahweh sits to preside over a meeting with his divine beings, this can be thought of as a meeting of his divine council. It is a group of divine beings over which Yahweh presides as the “Most High”. Many passages use “Most High” language but here is one such example.
that they may know that you alone,
whose name is the Lord,
are the Most High over all the earth.
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:
In these passages we find God, Most High, presiding over a meeting of divine beings – hence the divine council. This should not be construed to imply that God needs a council for input, knowledge, or wisdom. He does, however, value it and chooses to act and make decisions in community. We may 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 partners and family in his plan of reconciliation just as he chooses us to share the kingdom. The divine council is no different.
My absolute favorite picture of divine council is in Revelation chapter 5. I like to call this council meeting the Messiah’s coronation ceremony. May I recommend you pause and read the entire chapter before continuing? With the knowledge you have gleaned so far, were you able to identify 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 the prophesied Davidic authority as king. He is no longer the Prince of Peace, but is coronated as King.
The point of this discussion is to demonstrate that there is a divine council and God works in concert with his council. This council was present and rejoicing during creation – for this is what Job was told. God 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. He is separate and unique from all created beings (both human and divine).
Divine council in creation
Let us begin to apply what we have learned about divine council as we continue to discover the backstory to Abram’s calling. I thoroughly enjoy the rich subtleties in the creation account. For example, during the days of creation when God was establishing the lights in the sky, the waters, dry land, plant life, and the animal kingdom, it was all done with the phrase – “and God said…” The Hebrew word for God in these creation verses is ‘Elohiym. This word ‘elohiym is a plural form for God and can include rulers, judges, divine ones, etc. But when he created mankind, he looked at his council and said,
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So, God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
My point is that creation, the earth and all animal life was made in conjunction with the divine council. When it came to humanity God spoke to his council, but it was he, himself who did the creative work. Therefore, we alone are unique among all his handwork. We are the direct work of his hands.
Before you call me a heretic, please consider a few points.
If “us” and “our” are referring to the Trinity, then why didn’t the account use “us” and “our” when God was creating the heavenly bodies, waters, plants and animals? Presuming that “us” and “our” in Gen. 1:26 refers to the Trinity is interpreting the Old Testament from the vantage point of the New Testament. This is not how the original Hebrew people would have understood the story. They obviously did not have the New Testament scriptures.
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 of the earth’s foundation, they also celebrated at the creation of mankind. In other words, all Yahweh’s family (the divine beings as well as mankind) share a resemblance or likeness with Yahweh the creator. It was as if God had a meeting of the divine council and said, “let’s create a race of humans who are like us”, and then he (and he alone) 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 intersects with the earthly domain. We also see a few cases where earth invades the spiritual realm, such as the case of Paul getting caught up to the third heaven. Is this not what Eden was about, a place where God dwelt with his human and divine family living together as one, a place of heaven on earth? We will explore that idea in the next chapter.