Idolatry and the Sons of God
by David Sielaff, 2007
Read the accompanying Newsletter for February 2007
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Idolatry is the worship of anything other than the true God of the Bible. The Sons of God, who first appear briefly in Genesis 6:1–4, were worshipped by the gentile peoples of the world as their “gods” with God the Father’s permission both before and after the flood of Noah. The Sons of God were designated or allotted to rule gentile nations in religious matters by YHWH Himself. Information about the Sons of God is important in the development of idolatry in the world. In the past, gods other than YHWH existed (and they exist today), but they were as nothing compared to God the Father. 1
Two verses must be kept in mind as we go through the information regarding the Sons of God in Scripture. Both verses were written by the apostle Paul:
“For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth,
(as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is
but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and
[but] one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.”
1 Corinthians 8:5–6
What did Paul mean by the words “to us”? He meant those of us who believe that Jesus was the Son of God who incarnated, lived, was crucified, died, was resurrected, and ascended into heaven as the Messiah, the Christ. Paul’s other verse gives us more information:
“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
1 Timothy 2:5
Many other passages that talk about “one God” could be quoted, but I will not do so here. Read some of them for yourself: Zechariah 14:9; Malachi 2:10; Mark 12:29–34; Romans 3:29–30; Ephesians 1:17, 4:6–7; and James 2:19. YHWH is God and there is no other. 2
There are, however, other “gods” (small “g”) who were (and are) supernatural beings mentioned and discussed throughout Scripture. We shall discuss several of them in this article.
Monotheism is the doctrine and belief that there is only one God. “Monotheism” is a descriptive term of theology and it is not actually used in Scripture. Israel was not monotheistic, as you will see. 3 Israel is shown throughout the Old Testament as having a religious belief system called “henotheism,” which is simply defined in Webster’s New World Dictionary as “belief in one god, without denying the existence of others.” Clearly it was Israel’s biblical understanding that gods other than YHWH existed. It was worship of these other gods that caused Israel to apostatize, suffer destruction, and eventual exile from their allotted lands. After the exile Israel never again sought after other gods, but went to the other extreme, to a false monotheism and a denial that other gods ever existed.
The purpose of this article is to expand your knowledge regarding the “Sons of God,” a class of powerful divinities that in the past have either been confused with angelic beings, or regarded as being merely human beings. Traditional Christian concepts of God have led to a basic misunderstanding of the Hebrew and Greek biblical terms confusing the “gods,” angels, and the creator “God.” Theology, as usual, has muddied the waters of scriptural truth.
These “Sons of God” were, in fact, the gods of the pagans — according to the biblical text. Their offspring were the demigods and heroes of the myths of the nations around the world, men who were mistakenly thought to have become divinized, yet they were mere men who died. 4
There are two common theories about the Sons of God in commentaries and Bible dictionaries, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. Those theories are that the Sons of God are (a) men, or (b) angels. A third theory, that the Sons of God are a different category of divine beings from men or angels, is rarely put forth and quickly dismissed.
“Elohim” 5 means “gods” (small “g”). “El” and “Eloah” are the singulars of the plural form. “Elim” is a short form of “Elohim.” In Hebrew “Elohim” is a collective noun, usually plural but frequently used as a singular, particularly when in direct reference to YHWH. When used by YHWH, “Elohim” is again almost always used as a singular. We use English terms like “kingdom,” “army,” “navy,” “company,” “group,” “assembly,” “corporation,” or “family.” Even when these words are used as singulars they always have an understood plurality to them. The context determines their use as plurals or singulars. “Elohim” can be used in the same manner. This is why in Genesis chapter 1 we correctly read, in Hebrew as well as in English [setting the text in block form for clarity]:
“Let us make man [adam] in our image
after our likeness, ...
So Elohim created man in His image,
in the image of Elohim created He him [meaning adam] ...”
Genesis 1:26–27 6
The “us” is Elohim. The “He” is also Elohim. The true status of man [adam] is surprising:
“What is man [enosh, mortal], that you are mindful of him
And the son of man [adam] that you think of him?
Yet you have made him but little lower than Elohim
and have crowned him with glory and honor.”
The King James Version translation has “little lower than the angels.” However, the word for “angel” does not appear in any Hebrew manuscripts for Psalm 8:5. The Hebrew is “Elohim.” The KJV translators perhaps took “angels” from the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint), or from Hebrews 2:7 of the New Testament. Of course, angels are Elohim, but one cannot presume that the elohim in this verse are exclusively angels. 7 (The Sons of God are non-angelic Elohim.)
Whenever “the God (the Elohim) of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” is spoken of in the Old Testament, it identifies a particular “El” of the “Elohim.” The frequently-used combined term “YHWH Elohim” denotes YHWH as one of the Elohim, the chief El among the Elohim. The many comparisons of YHWH with other Elohim, such as Isaiah 45:5–6, 14, etc., are statements of comparison, not statements of exclusion. When Elohim is used with a definite article (ha-Elohim, in Hebrew), the meaning is intentionally singular in usage and context, much as the English term “family” can be used with a singular verb yet retain its plural sense of having many members within that family.
“And Elohim said moreover to Moses,
‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel,
Elohi of your fathers,
Elohi of Abraham,
Elohi of Isaac, and
Elohi of Jacob,
has sent me unto you:
this is my name for the age, 10 and
this is my memorial unto all generations.’”
The information is clear when the proper names and titles are understood. In this verse Elohim (elohi in Hebrew) is used singularly. In the next passage it is used both singularly and as a plural in the same context:
“I am YHWH your Elohim ...
You shall have no other Elohim before me.
You shall not make you
any graven images [of Elohim (implied)],
or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above,
or that is in the earth beneath,
or that is in the waters
You shall not bow down yourself unto them, nor
[shall you] serve them:
for I, YHWH your Elohim am a jealous El, ...”
When one considers YHWH as of the Elohim, as one of the class of beings called Elohim, these verses become clear. To do otherwise invites confusion when reading the Hebrew Scriptures. 11 To consider YHWH Has the only Elohim — or part of a “trinity” — makes this verse and all others like it meaningless.
Elohim other than YHWH exist, and every usage of Elohim demands that understanding! YHWH always sets himself apart from the other Elohim. YHWH is the greatest of the Elohim, truly far beyond any comparison, yet He is of the Elohim by His own designation, calling Himself an Elohim. 12 YHWH describes Himself by use of the term Elohim and identifies Himself as Elohim when He chooses to do so. Indeed, YHWH is the King of the gods:
“Give ear, O YHWH, unto my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications. …
Among the Elohim there is none like unto you, O Lord [adoni].”
Psalm 86:6, 8
“And the heavens shall praise your wonders, O YHWH:
your faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints [holy ones].
who in the heaven [sky] can be compared unto YHWH?
who among the sons of Elim can be likened unto YHWH?
El is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints [holy ones], and
to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.
O YHWH Elohim of hosts,
who is a strong YAH like unto you? …”
“For a great El is YHWH, and a great King above all Elohim.”
Indeed, YHWH (God the Father) is truly the God of gods. Other gods are real beings who do exist, have great power, and they interact with humans. It is possible, but wrong, to worship them. God warned Israel (and informs us, since the events that happened to Israel are our examples, 1 Corinthians 10:6) 13:
“The Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible [God], which regards not persons, nor takes reward.”
Transliterating the proper name and titles to reflect the Hebrew, this verse actually says:
“For YHWH your Elohim, He is the Elohi of Elohim and the Lord [adoni, plural] of lords [adonim, plural], the El, the great, the masterful and the feared One, …”
(Concordant Version, with modification) 14
Joshua later says the same thing, that YHWH is the God even of the other lesser “gods”:
“YHWH El of Elohim, YHWH El of Elohim, he knows, and Israel he shall know; if it be in rebellion, or if in transgression against YHWH.”
The other gods (who exist just as you and I exist) are commanded to worship YHWH, as was Israel:
“Give unto YHWH, O you Sons of Elim,
Give unto YHWH glory and strength
Give unto YHWH the glory due unto his name;
Worship YHWH in the beauty of holiness.”
The King James Version has Psalm 29:1 reading “O you Mighty” for the clear Hebrew “Oh you Sons of Elim.” Elim is another plural form of El. All of the Davidic Psalm 29 is addressed to these “Sons of Elim,” perhaps as a warning for them not to forget their creator. The “Sons of Elim” are the Sons of God which we shall consider below. YHWH as the Elohim of Israel warned Israel about the Canaanite peoples:
“You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their Elohim,
They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin
For if you serve their Elohim, it shall surely be a snare
This text demonstrates it was possible for Israel (the nation collectively and individuals) to covenant, or form an agreement, with the gods, the Elohim, of the Canaanites, just as it was possible for Israel to make covenants with the Canaanites and other nations, just as Israel formed a covenant with YHWH in Exodus chapter 19. And they could worship those gods with idolatrous acts, which often involved aberrant sexual activities. In fact, we know from the biblical account of Israel in the Promised Land, in the time of Joshua, Judges, the united kingdom and the divided separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the people all too often:
(1) made covenants with the Canaanite peoples,
(2) made covenants with their gods,
(3) worshiped those false gods through dumb idols of stone, wood and metal,
(4) were indeed “ensnared” by them, 15 which resulted in
(5) the nation and people of Israel receiving God’s punishment and eventual
exile for doing so. 16
Who were those gods of the nations? Originally in Hebrew their formal name was beni ha-Elohim, “Sons of the Elohim” (Genesis 6:4, Job 1:6, 2:1). After the Sons of God were judged by YHWH, angels took the role of ruling the nations as gods, but in a manner different from the Sons of God. Angels are designated and are Elohim (Hebrews 2:7 citing Psalm 8:5), 17 but with an important distinction. As was first pointed out by Dr. Ernest Martin, according to the apostle Paul in Hebrews chapter 1, angels cannot be “Sons of Elohim.” While all power is derived from God the Father through His delegation and allowance, the “Sons of Elohim” were indeed Elohim with vast powers and authority, far beyond angelic beings.
The phrase “Sons of God” or better, “Sons of Elohim,” is introduced in Genesis 6:1–4. I set the verses in outline form for clarity. They are packed with meaning if you read carefully:
“And it came to pass,
when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and
[when] daughters were born unto them,
that the Sons of Elohim
saw the daughters of men [adam]
that they were fair and
they took them wives, whomsoever they chose.
And YHWH said:
‘My spirit shall not abide in man [adam] forever,
for that he also is flesh;
therefore shall his days be a hundred and twenty years.’
The giants [nephilim] were in the earth
in those days;
and also after that,
when the Sons of Elohim
came in unto the daughters of men [adam],
and they bore children to them; the same were
the mighty men [gibbor] that were of old,
the men [enosh] of renown.”
(Jewish Publication Society Version, 1917)
Note that in this passage the Sons of God are not identified by Moses as to who they were or where they came from. Nor did he elaborate on why they did their activities. Moses merely reports what they did and the negative result. They are not mentioned again in Genesis. This indicates that the audience Moses was writing to knew who the Sons of God were. 19
The Israelites knew who the Sons of God were from the Book of Job where they were identified as heavenly beings. Several observations about the Sons of Elohim must be made:
1. Sons of Elohim have access to YHWH’s throne in heaven.
As related in Job 1:6, and the nearly identical Job 2:1:
“Now it fell upon a day, that the
Sons of Elohim came to present themselves before YHWH,
and Satan came also among them.”
They all came before God’s throne in heaven and presented themselves to YHWH. They did it again on a different day as indicated in Job 2:1. Physical human beings do not go before the throne of God. These Sons of Elohim are Elohim, divine beings, beings in heaven.
Satan is distinguished from “the Sons of Elohim.” He came “also among them.” Satan is also one of the general class of “Elohim” (Paul calls “the god of this world [age],” 2 Corinthians 4:4), but he is not one of the specific class called “Sons of Elohim.” How can we know that when it says “Satan came also among them” that this does not indicate he is one of the “Sons of God”? The answer is simple.
What is the image and likeness of Satan? It is as a serpent (a nachash, Genesis 3:1–2, 4, 13). Satan is also identified as “the dragon” which is also a reptilian image and likeness.20 Adam the first man was created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26), as are all of Adam’s descendants (Genesis 5:3). Christ, the second Adam, was the express image of the Father (Hebrews 1:3), and Christ is a man (1 Timothy 2:5).
2. Sons of Elohim were present at creation.
Later in the book of Job, YHWH answers Job’s demand for an explanation of his great trial. God in response talks about the creation:
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Declare, if you have understanding.
Who has laid the measures thereof, if you know?
Or who has stretched the line upon it?
Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened?
Or who laid the corner stone thereof,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the Sons of Elohim shouted for joy?”
So the phrase “Sons of God” occurs three times in Job, each designating divine beings with access to heaven, to the throne of God, and who were present at the physical creation. They were created before man. This information was known to the readers of Genesis 6:1–4 regarding the “Sons of God.” 21
3. Sons of Elohim are not human.
Read again Genesis 6:1–4. The offspring of the Sons of God and daughters of men were “giants” (nephilim in Hebrew, gigantes in the Greek Old Testament). Ordinary men mating with daughters of men do not produce “giants.” The entire point and sense of Genesis 6:4 is to show the total contrast between the Sons of God and the Daughters of Men, that they were radically different from each other yet they could interbreed. Furthermore, humans do not have access to heaven and the throne of God (unlike Sons of Elohim, Job 1:6 and 2:1). 22
4. Sons of Elohim married daughters of men before — and after — the flood (Genesis 6:4).
Genesis 6:1–13 gives the reasons for the flood. “There were giants [nephilim] in the earth in those days [before the flood]; and also after that.” The phrase “and also after that” (meaning after the days of the flood) is an editorial addition into the original text (by Moses, Ezra, or other editors authorized by God), indicating that the same kind of matings took place after the flood between the Sons of God and the daughters of men, as occurred before the flood. This is proven by the genealogies of “the sons of Anak” (descendents of the Anakim), and the sons of Repha (descendants of the Rephaim), all who arose after the flood. Anak and Repha were the most famous of the post-flood Nephilim (the offspring of Genesis 6:4). Their descendants lived in Palestine when the people of Israel arrived to conquer the Canaanites.
“... and all the people that we saw in it
are men of great stature.
And there we saw the giants [Hebrew, the nephilim],
the sons of Anak, which come from the giants [the nephilim]:
and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers
and so we were in their sight.”
The word “men” in verse 32 is ‘enosh meaning person or an individual with emphasis on mortality. It is distinct from adam or human. The usage of ‘enosh is consistent within the Old Testament to indicate mortals. Adam is used exclusively to specifically refer to human beings.
5. Sons of Elohim are not angels.
“For unto which of the angels said he at any time,
‘You are my son, this day have I begotten you’?
‘I will be to him a Father and he shall be to me a Son’?”
Hebrews 1:5 23
The author of the book of Hebrews poses two rhetorical questions stated differently but both with the same answer. The answer to both questions is: no angel can ever be considered or called a “Son.” 24
Why should this information from the author of Hebrews be considered authoritative? Because Hebrews chapter 1, with authority, directly refutes commonly held 1st century beliefs as stated in the apocryphal books of Enoch and Jubilees. Those beliefs were reported to us as being common by the Jewish historian Josephus and the Jewish philosopher Philo. The common belief was that angels were the Sons of God.
The Greek of Hebrews is recognized as the most sophisticated in the New Testament. It is not the common Greek of a fisherman or country Galilean (as were most of the apostles), but the language of a sophisticated, well-educated scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures writing in the finest Greek literary tradition.25
Furthermore, Hebrews chapter 1 corrected possible misconceptions the ekklesias at that time may have had about angels that came from the Greek translation of the Book of Job in its references to the Sons of God, where the Hebrew phrase “Sons of Elohim” is translated into Greek as “angels of God” in Job 1:6, 2:1 and “angels” in 38:7. This Greek translation of “angels” instead of “Sons” is directly refuted by the author of Hebrews. This refutation is strengthened by the fact that the author of Hebrews himself uses the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) in all of the many Old Testament quotations.
As I said, it was commonly held from the 2nd century B.C.E. to the 1st century C.E. (the time of the composition of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament) that it was angels who bred with women in Genesis 6. Flavius Josephus, a 1st century Pharisee and historian, gave his understanding 26:
“For many angels of God consorted with women and begat sons who were overbearing and disdainful of every virtue, such confidence had they in their strength; in fact the deeds that tradition ascribes to them resemble the audacious exploits told by the Greeks of the giants.”
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1.73
(Thackeray translation, Loeb edition)
Indeed, in the 1st century angels were still understood to be interacting with the Jews and the nations. The Sons of God, however, had departed — through death or exile. This will be explained in another article.
6. Sons of Elohim are the gods of the nations.
Now we come to the heart of the matter. The Sons of God were “assigned” to the various nations of the world for them to rule according to an allotment of those nations from God the Father Himself. They were to represent YHWH to these nations. The King James Version reads as follows:
“When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s [YHWH’s] portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.”
If the bounds of the nations were indeed set “according to the number of the children of Israel,” what “number” of the children of Israel was being referred to? Was it Jacob’s 12 sons? Well, no. There were certainly more than 12 nations; in fact, there were 70 nations indicated in the Table of Nations of Genesis chapters 10–11. Was this referring to the number of people going into Egypt during the time of Jacob? That may seem possible, but the text gives no evidence for that. There were 70 total members of Jacob’s household “in Egypt” during the time of Joseph (Exodus 1:1–5). The problem is that, except for the number 70, this does not relate in any way to when God “divided to the nations.” That occurred some 200 years before Abraham. Israel did not exist then. God “separated the sons of Adam” at the time of Babel in the confusion of languages. The separation of the nations had no relationship to “the number of the children of Israel.” After the flood, division of the nations occurred during the time of Peleg:
“And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth [erets, land, ground] divided. …
These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations [goyim]: and by these [families] were the nations [goyim, peoples] divided in the earth [erets] after the flood.”
Genesis 10:25, 32
The name Peleg in Hebrew means “division” or “it is divided.” During the life of Peleg a specific event occurred, causing a scattering as related in Genesis 11:1–9:
“Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord [YHWH] did there [at Babel] confound the language of all the earth: and from thence [from Babel] did the Lord [YHWH] scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.”
The confusion of the languages took place at one moment at the Babel event. But the division of the earth 27 and the scattering of the nations occurred over Peleg’s lifetime (Genesis 10:25; 1 Chronicles 1:18). 28
That scattering is discussed again in Deuteronomy 32:8. But, there is a problem with the Massoretic Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 32:8 as reflected in the King James Version. This is well known to all Old Testament textual scholars.29 The phrase “sons of Israel” in the KJV should be “sons of Elohim.” Once this is understood and the change is made, then the passage literally explodes out with meaning:
“When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance,
when he separated the sons of Adam,
He set the bounds [borders] of the people [peoples, plural],
according to the number of the sons of Elohim
For the Lord’s [YHWH’s] portion is his people,
Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.”
These two verses give an important historical perspective. There were two classes of inheritance, (1) that of the nations and (2) that of Israel, YHWH’s portion, “His people.” The inheritance of the nations began at the time of Babel during the life of Peleg. The inheritance of Israel began with Jacob (verse 9) much later. Each inheritance had two parties that were involved: (a) the subjects of the inheritance and (b) the administrator of the inheritance. For the peoples or nations, the sons of Adam were the subjects, each according to their borders. One Son of Elohim originally administered one people or nation. The nation and people of Israel were subject to YHWH and were His inheritance. 30
The Hebrew Masoretic text of verse 8 has “Sons of Israel” in the KJV, whereas it should be “Sons of Elohim” as indicated above. The Septuagint and Symmachus’ Greek translations have “angels of God” in verse 8 instead of “children of Israel,” while the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls has “Sons of Elohim,” a more meaningful rendering. In the notes for Deuteronomy 32:8 the authoritative Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia indicates that the most likely correct rendering is either “Sons of Elim” or “Sons of Elohim.”
Deuteronomy 4:19–20 parallels 32:8–9 in several ways. In 4:19–20 the hosts of heaven correspond to the sons of Elohim of 32:8–9. The hosts of heaven are portioned out to the nations, then YHWH tells how He took Israel as His inheritance. The division of the nations relates directly to the hosts of heaven, not to Israel. In Deuteronomy 32:8–9 the nations are divided “according to the number of the Sons of Elohim,” and again YHWH takes Israel as His inheritance. This alone rules out “sons of Israel” as the correct rendering for 32:8–9. 31 Furthermore, Israel was certainly in no position to administer the inheritance of the nations at the time of Moses. Deuteronomy 32:8–9 looks to the past, it is not a prophecy. The incoherence of “sons of Israel” with the context of 32:8–9 and the entire Song of Moses, along with important textual problems, all demand “Sons of Elohim” to be the correct rendering. Note the natural internal symmetry and parallels in Deuteronomy 32:8–9:
[ruled by Sons of Elohim
[ruled by YHWH directly]
Each Son of Elohim was assigned as the god or El over a nation, a people. The inheritance of the nations was to be administered by the Sons of Elohim. It was intended for the Sons of Elohim to rule and judge the nations with justice (Psalm 82, they failed badly). The inheritance of Jacob (Israel) was kept by YHWH for himself as the chief El. YHWH created the nation Israel (or “Jacob”) beginning with His blessing to Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather.
Deuteronomy 32:8–9 contrasts the situation of the nations with Israel’s situation under YHWH. These two verses are contained within the larger context of what is called the “Song of Moses” of Deuteronomy 32:1–43; the final restatement of the history and covenant between Israel and YHWH given before Moses’ death. According to Deuteronomy 32:8–9, God did four things during the time of Peleg, when the nations had their inheritance:
1. “The Most High divided to the nations their inheritance” [of land].
2. “He separated the sons of Adam.”
3. “He set the bounds” of their habitation.
4. He did this “according to the number of the Sons of Elohim.”
Each of the nations were allotted one of the Sons of Elohim who was tasked to watch over, judge, and presumably teach the nations about God. Later, YHWH created and separated Israel out of the nations as the portion of “His inheritance.”
“Then men shall say:
‘Because they forsook the covenant of YHWH,
the Elohi of their fathers,
which he made with them
when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt;
and [they] went and served other Elohim,
and [they] worshipped them,
Elohim that they knew not, and
[Elohim] that he had not allotted unto them.’”
The term “allotted” in Hebrew has the sense and meaning of something being “given” or “divided.” 34 If YHWH had allotted other Elohim to Israel — given them Elohim other than or in addition to Himself — it would have been proper for Israel to go to, serve, and worship other Elohim, just as it was proper for nations (other than Israel) to serve and worship other Elohim. 35 After all, YHWH allotted the various Elohim to the nations who worshipped those Elohim.
YHWH, as the chief Elohim, reserved Israel to himself. YHWH was the Elohim of Israel, and the only Elohim of Israel. The gods of the other nations were the Sons of Elohim, beni ha-Elohim, which other nations could worship with YHWH’s permission, but they were to stay away from Israel. Those gods were allotted to the nations, they were not allotted to Israel (Deuteronomy 29:26 above).
The Shemah spoken by Moses is the basic statement of faith by believing Jews today. Now it can be clearly understood:
“Hear, O Israel:
YHWH our Elohim is one YHWH: 36
And you [Israel] shall love YHWH your Elohim
with all your heart and
with all your soul, and
with all your might.”
This passage alone demands the conclusion that there were Elohim other than YHWH. YHWH assigned the Elohim of the nations to them. Israel was a special creation by YHWH who kept Israel for Himself. 37 As YHWH was the God of Israel, or the God of the Hebrews, so too the Old Testament identifies some of the gods of nearby nations. Here is a partial list:
|Title||Example||Verse(s) Citing 38|
|Elohim of Syria||Baal
|Judges 10;6; 2 Chronicles 28:23|
|Elohim of the Canaanites||Baal||Judges 6:31|
|Elohim of the Philistines||Dagon||Judges 10:6, 16:23|
|Baal-Berith 39||Judges 8:33, 9:4|
|Elohim of the Sidonians||Ashtaroth||Judges 10:6; 1 Kings 11:33|
|Elohim of Moab||Chemosh||Judges 10:6; 1 Kings 11:33|
|Elohim of the sons of Ammon||Molech||Judges 10:6; 1 Kings 11:33|
|Elohim of Babylon||Isaiah 21:9|
|Elohim of Egypt||Exodus 12:12; Jeremiah 43:12-13|
|Elohim of the Amorite||Joshua 24:15; Judges 6:10|
|Elohim of the sons of Seir||2 Chronicles 25:14|
|Elohim of Edom||2 Chronicles 25:20|
Other nations viewed YHWH as just one of several Elohim. Did the Sons of God tell the other nations that YHWH was just another Elohim? Pagan sources are highly unreliable regarding the truth of their own religion, much less the religion of others, so we cannot be sure. However, we can know what some nations thought about YHWH and other gods by what is recorded in Scripture.
One example is that of the Arameans. They did not accept God’s revelation and mistakenly considered YHWH to be just another god equivalent to other Elohim. The strategy of the Aramaeans (Syrians) at the Battle of Aphek reflects this general view toward Israel and their God.
“Their [Israel’s] Elohim is an Elohim of the hills;
therefore they were stronger than we;
Let us fight against them in the plain,
and surely we shall be stronger than they.”
1 Kings 20:23
The Aramaeans were very wrong, as they discovered to their calamity. YHWH commanded a prophet to notify the King of Israel that he would be victorious in the battle because of the Arameans’ insult to YHWH:
“Thus says YHWH:
‘Because the Arameans have said:
YHWH is an Elohim of the hills,
but he is not an Elohim of the valleys;
therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into your hand
and you shall know that I am YHWH.’”
1 Kings 20:28
In another example, the message of the Assyrian King by his herald Rabshakeh before the besieged gates of Jerusalem tell us the Assyrian view of the God of Judah. He was just another Elohim:
“‘Know you not [don’t you know] what I and my fathers have done unto
all the people of other lands? Were the Elohi [a variant of Elohim] of the
nations of the lands in any wise able to deliver their land out of my
Who was there among all the Elohi of those nations which my fathers
utterly destroyed that could deliver his people out of my hand,
that your Elohim should be able to deliver you out of my hand?
... for no Elohi of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people
out of my hand, ...
how much less shall your Elohim deliver you out of my hand?
... the Elohim of the nations of the lands, which have not delivered their
people out of my hand,
so shall not the Elohim of Hezekiah deliver his people out of my
... And they spoke of the Elohi of Jerusalem,
as of the Elohi of the peoples of the earth, which are the work of
2 Chronicles 32:13–15, 17, 19
Israel and Judah also came to consider YHWH as just another Elohim, so they worshipped other gods. They were sent into exile for that reason. Some of the gods were the allotted gods of the nations, the Sons of God.
Creation is inconceivably complex, with intelligent creatures throughout its expanse. Many of those creatures are classified by God as Elohim. This is what Isaiah meant when he reports:
“Thus says YHWH the King of Israel, and his [Israel’s] redeemer the YHWH of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me [apart from me] there is no Elohim.”
Compared to YHWH, other Elohim, although powerful, are as nothing. They are not worthy of worship.
“I am YHWH: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.”
YHWH does not tolerate idolatry although His great patience makes it seem that He does. Neither does He give His glory to another. He does on occasion give His name to others (such as the Angel of the Lord). Christ has YHWH’s name, a name by which we also will be called. YHWH gives His name to Christ because everything Christ does is to God’s glory:
“Wherefore God also has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, … And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
We shall share in what Christ called “my glory which you [God] have given me” (John 17:24):
“But the God of all grace, who has called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that you have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”
1 Peter 5:10
For the present time, we should study (2 Timothy 2:15), and fulfill the apostle Paul’s prayer for the ekklesia:
“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. The eyes of your understanding [kardia, heart] being enlightened; that you may know  what is the hope of his calling, and  what [are] the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.”
David Sielaff, February 2007
1 The removal of the Sons of God from their rule of the nations and God’s punishment of them was put into effect at the same time that God changed the religious and political structure of the world in the time of Jeremiah the Prophet. Dr. Ernest L. Martin correctly identified this time period that changed the face of the political and religious world. Whole nations declined and disappeared from the world scene while new nations, religions, and philosophies arose to prominence in history. See his seminal presentation: “Prophetic Birth of Our Civilization” at http://www.askelm.com/prophecy/p020701.htm.
2 Dr. Martin’s article, “How Did Jesus Become God” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d990301.htm explains the relationship between God the Father, His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and us. See also chapters 27, 28, and 30 in Dr. Martin’s book The Essentials of New Testament Doctrine (Portland, OR: ASK Publications, 2001/2004). New Testament does not use Hebrew terms for God anywhere. See the article “The Divine Names and the New Testament” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d910501.htm.
3 Dr. Martin deals with this from a different perspective in Chapter 27, “Our Inheritance – The Family of God” at http://www.askelm.com/essentials/ess036.htm from his book The Essentials of New Testament Doctrine.
4 Dr. Martin’s articles, “The Secret of Ancient Religion Revealed! – Part 1” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d030201.htm, and “The Secret of Ancient Religion Revealed! – Part 2” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d030301.htm show how often human beings were falsely put forth as divine beings. This became common practice for kings and pharaohs, usually done to control people. This was often due either to their extraordinary abilities due to semi-divine birth, because they were possessed by spirits, or because biblical characters were misidentified by pagan sources. Even ancient authors understood that their pagan religions were a mess of contradictions and misinformation. Only Scripture can lead us out of the confusion.
5 In this article I will generally substitute the transliteration “Elohim” instead of “God” as in the King James Version. The meaning of “Elohim” is clarified through its usage. A variant is the plural “Elohi” without the final Hebrew consonant “m.”
6 In Hebrew “Elohim created He him” is clearly rendered “Elohim he creates him” (using a singular verb, “he creates”).
7 Hebrews 2:7 translates “messengers” or angels, for Elohim. This is entirely correct and proves that angels are Elohim. When the Book of Hebrews was written, the only Elohim in view, other than YHWH and Christ, were angels. The reason for this will be demonstrated later.
8 See Exodus 6:3; 2 Chronicles 6:5–10, 7:14; Psalms 29:1–2, 68:4, 83:18; Isaiah 12:4, 42:8, 52:6; Jeremiah 33:2; Daniel 9:19.
9 My preference is to use YHWH instead of “Lord,” as in the King James Version. I prefer YHWH instead of YHVH or Yahweh, although both are perfectly proper to use.
10 The King James Version has “for ever” but the Hebrew word olam always means “age.”
11 English translators obscure the matter with different forms of “God” by using various capital letters, small caps, initial caps as various editions of the King James Version do. A simple transliteration is to be preferred.
12 See Exodus 15:11; Deuteronomy 3:24, 10:17; 1 Kings 8:23; 1 Chronicles 16:26; Psalm 89:6–8, 96:4–5, 135:5, 136:2; Jeremiah 10:6; and Daniel 11:36 where YHWH identifies Himself as Elohim.
14 Note the uses of the definite article “the” which are in the Hebrew and designate a particular “Elohi of Elohim” and a particular “adoni of adonim.” When we remember that Jesus has the name of YHWH given to Him by God the Father who is YHWH, (Zechariah 14:3–9), and when we remember that Jesus is Lord (1 Corinthians 8:6 above and 12:3, as well as John 13:13; Acts 2:36, 10:36; Hebrews 1:8–10 are just a few examples besides His title is “Lord Jesus Christ”), then we can know that Jesus is God from our point of view. Part of the confusion comes from the King James Version (and most other English versions) transliterating YHWH as “Lord” and also transliterating adoni as “Lord,” usually differentiating the two by different capital letters or type styles. Look at the front of your edition of the King James Version and see how they do it. Further, different editions of the King James Version by various publishers use different systems. Even the names and titles of God are muddled up by man. No wonder confusion exists!
15 Israel was specifically warned by God before they ever entered the Promised Land:
“Take heed to yourself that you be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before you; and that you enquire not after their Elohim, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their Elohim? even so will I do likewise.’ You shall not do so unto YHWH your Elohim: for every abomination to YHWH, which he hates, have they done unto their Elohim; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their Elohim.”
16 This was according to the many warnings of God against idolatry. God warned Israel in the wilderness (Leviticus 26:14–46; Deuteronomy 6:10–25, 9:1–29, 12:29–14:3, 28:15–68). The indictment against Israel (and Judah) is in 1 Kings chapter 17.
17 All preternatural beings, as they are called: spirits, angels, demons, semi-gods, principalities, powers, Satan, or the “elements” that the apostle Paul refers to, can all be classified as Elohim. See the article “God (I)” in Karel van der Toon, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van Der Horst, eds, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), pp. 352–365.
Humans can have the authority of Elohim if it is delegated to them. Moses was to be like or “instead of” Elohim to Israel (Exodus 4:16). However, in Exodus 4:16 and 7:1 a comparison is made with Elohim, not an identification. Moses was not an Elohim, but he was given the authority of an Elohim because the Law of God was given to Moses for him to administer justice over Israel, which is the function of an Elohim. On this point I differ somewhat with Dr. Martin in my understanding.
18 The phrase beni ha-Elohim is literally “Sons of the Elohim” with the Hebrew definite article “ha-”.
19 There are excellent indications that Moses was the compiler of Genesis and not the originator of the words. He compiled, edited, and rewrote records from tablets that were far more ancient than Moses himself. See P.J. Wiseman’s Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis: A Case for Literary Unity, ed. by Donald J. Wiseman (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985). For a fair synopsis of the book see “The Tablet Theory of Genesis Authorship” by Curt Sewell at http://www.trueorigin.org/tablet.asp.
20 See the 4-fold description of dragon, serpent, devil, and Satan in Revelation 12:9 and 20:2. This is not the image of God.
21 Dr. Martin explains in “The Secret of Ancient Religion Revealed – Part 2” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d030301.htm, that the only idolatry in Job’s time was the worship of the stars. It may have involved worship of “morning stars” of Job 38:7.
22 At present, no human being has access to God’s throne except the resurrected man Jesus Christ. All humans who ever died are still dead. Christ sits at the right hand of the Father at this present moment (Matthew 19:28; Mark 16:19; Acts 2:30; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20–22; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:8, 8:1, 12:2; Revelation 5:13, 12:5, 20:4). He does not merely have access to the throne; He sits on His throne next to God the Father. When we are glorified we shall be seated with Him at the right hand of glory (Romans 1:17; Ephesians 2:5–7; Revelation 3:21), because we, the ekklesia of God are Christ’s body (Ephesians 1:20–23).23>
23 King James Version citing Psalm 2:7, 2 Samuel 7:14, and 1 Chronicles 17:13.
24 This analysis of Hebrews chapter 1 was first made clear by Ernest Martin. His correct and obvious (once understood) analysis of Hebrews chapter 1 is unique as far as I can tell. It amazes me how simple solutions can be overlooked for so long by so many. See Martin’s Essentials of Testament Doctrine for his exposition in chapter 28 “Who Are the Sons of God,” online at: http://www.askelm.com/essentials/ess037.htm. Angels who also had relations with human women were not Sons of God. This understanding of Hebrews chapter 1 does great violence to any hint of a trinity concept. In July 1997 I asked a nationally known Trinitarian expositor about Hebrews chapter 1 in light of the Sons of Elohim and the nephilim. He answered that Hebrews chapter 1 referred to Christ’s place in the Trinity and had no other meaning.
25 On the skill and understanding of the author of Hebrews, see Charles A. Briggs, General Introduction to the Study of Holy Scripture (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1889), pp. 301–2, and most commentaries.
26 While angelic matings with humans did occur, these matings were separate and different from matings between the Sons of Elohim and the Daughters of Men. The offspring of angels and women were even more bizarre than the Nephilim, the offspring of the Sons of Elohim and women. Confusion arose when angels became identified as the Sons of Elohim. For the Dead Sea Scrolls, see Introduction to the “The Genesis Apocryphon” (1QapGen), Column II, where the fictional Lamech, the father of Noah, “suspects that his wife has conceived by one of the fallen angels.” G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 3rd revised edition (New York: Penguin Group, 1987), pp. 252–253. See also Philo, On the Giants, 58–66 (Loeb Classical Library edition), and 2 Peter 2:4–6 and Jude 6–7. Both angels and the Sons of Elohim committed the same unnatural abominations. Both received severe punishment from YHWH.
27 This seems to refer to the physical movement of the land masses themselves, as well as the division and migration of peoples.
28 When the apostle Paul spoke to the idolatrous gentile Greeks in Athens, he asserted that God puts nations where He wants them to be at any particular time, both in the past and at Paul’s present (Acts 17:25–27).
29 For an updated analysis of the textual issues of this passage and its implication, see the works of Dr. Michael S. Heiser regarding the Divine Council of YHWH at http://www.thedivinecouncil.com. See particularly the explanation in his article “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God” at http://www.thedivinecouncil.com/DT32BibSac.pdf.
30 See also Deuteronomy 4:20, 38, 9:29; and Psalm 28:9 for more information regarding Israel as God’s inheritance. In Genesis 15:18–21 God gives the boundaries of Abraham’s inheritance, later given to Abraham’s grandson Jacob.
31 For “sons of Israel” to be correct would mean the nations and their borders were divided into 12 portions, but there is no relationship or discussion elsewhere in Scripture regarding a relation between the division of the nations and the “sons of Israel.” Israel was to inherit the land at the time of Moses; they were not to inherit the nations of the world. Later prophecies indicate that Israel later shall inherit the earth as the first among equals, and as a nation of teachers and priests to the nations of the world. Abraham’s descendents will bless the whole world (Genesis 12:3 and Exodus 19:4–6).
32 Mention of the Land is made Deuteronomy 31:13 prior to the Song of Moses in, within the laws regarding the Song (31:9–30), the last verse of the Song (32:43), and after (32:47 & 52), again all structured within laws relating to the Song (32:44–52).
33 “Angels of God” also does not fit the context, for there is no reference to angels having a relationship to the nations in the time of Moses. Later angels do have control of nations. The “Prince of Persia” and the “Prince of Grecia” in Daniel 10:20 seem to be angels. While the text does not state that these “princes” are angels, they are opposed by the angels Gabriel (Daniel 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26) and Michael (Daniel 10:13; Jude 9). Michael is a “prince” of Daniel’s people Israel (Daniel 12:1) like the “princes” of Persia and Grecia. The Sons of God were gone by the time of Daniel. The apocryphal book Sirach states: “For in the division of the nations of the whole earth he set a ruler over every people; but Israel is the Lord’s portion” (Sirach 17:17).
34 Indeed, Deuteronomy 29:25–26 could be viewed as stating that the distribution of the nations to the Sons of God was literally conducted by lottery. This would be similar to the lottery of our personal inheritance, birth order, and placement as given by God. See the biblical explanation about the lottery regarding you in chapter 25, “How Were We Chosen?” of Essentials of New Testament Doctrine. That chapter is on the ASK website at http://www.askelm.com/essentials/ess034.htm.
35 No sin was attributed to Ruth, a Moabitess, for worshipping her national god in the land allotted to her people of Moab. She gave up her land, her people, and her gods when she decided to go with her mother-in-law Naomi to the land of Israel.">
36 Or as Jews today traditionally cite Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Jewish Publication Society version). I have given the translation from the Hebrew.
37 YHWH’s purpose was to have Israel be a witness for him to the other nations, for them to compare YHWH with the other gods.
38 Extra-biblical counterparts of such expressions are abundant. See Daniel Isaac Block, The Gods of the Nations: Studies in Ancient Near Eastern National Theology, Second Edition (Jackson, MS: Evangelical Theological Society, 2000).
39 Baal-berith means “lord of the covenant.”
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