Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Implications of the Divine Council Worldview

The “divine council worldview” is a way of looking at scripture that recognizes the supernatural elements that shaped the devout Israelite mindset well into the first century. The late Michael Heiser, writer of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, used the phrase extensively. I’ve had occasion recently to re-read Heiser’s magnum opus, and have been particularly interested in the implications the divine council worldview has for the rest of scripture.

It answers more than a few questions, major and minor, and reinforces a boatload of important truths and principles we find in our Bibles.

Yesterday we looked at four of these: (1) the confirmation that human beings have genuine agency because we are imagers of God; (2) the distinction between foreknowledge and predestination; (3) that truth that loyalty to God covers a multitude of moral failings; and (4) the necessity for a non-mythical Genesis flood.

Today, I propose to cover a few more — some significant, some comparatively trivial, but intriguing all the same.

5/ A Pre-Wrath Rapture for the Church

Oddly enough, I’ve been looking at scripture’s rapture teaching extensively a couple of weeks just prior to re-reading Heiser. Lo and behold, here we find a few paragraphs at the end of the book that I hadn’t singled out for attention last time round: a pre-wrath rapture for the church is an important component of the divine council worldview. Just as the phrase “sons of God” once applied to an elite group of spirit beings tasked with responsibility for the nations of this world, so the designation now applies to believers of our present era brought into God’s family by the death and resurrection of Christ. The New Testament teaches we too are now children of God, and our destiny includes judging the world.

Heiser writes:

“The implication, of course, is that the heavenly armies who return with Christ will be more than just nonhuman members of the divine council. The host will include believers who have been exalted into its membership, returned to displace the gods of the nations. Christian — do you know who you are? The day will come when the elohim [current divine council members] will die like men — and you will judge angels (1 Cor 6:3).”

It should be evident that in order to return with Christ to earth, the dead in Christ and those who are alive and remain at his coming would have to already be with him in heaven, fully embodied, evaluated at the judgment seat, having joyfully participated in the marriage supper of the Lamb. This doesn’t necessarily confirm a pre-tribulation rapture, but it definitely confirms a pre-wrath rapture for the church. (My belief that the rapture will occur prior to the great tribulation stands on other biblical evidence.)

So the divine council worldview has that feature going for it as well.

6/ A Rationale for the Genocide of Canaan

Unbelievers often cringe at the Bible’s account of the sanctioned genocide of the Canaanite tribes, while Christians rationalize it with something along the lines of “Well, they had received 400 years to repent and they didn’t” or “Well, God told Israel to do it.” Heiser refers to the practice of extermination in Israel’s wars of conquest as kherem, a verb that denotes devoting something to destruction. This practice began in the Transjordan at the command of God. Of the conquest of Og king of Bashan, the book of Deuteronomy says, “We devoted them to destruction, as we did to Sihon the king of Heshbon, devoting to destruction every city, men, women, and children.” He sums up this section of the book as follows:

“The point of this brief reconstruction is not that Israelites took only the lives of the remnant of the giant clans. Others were certainly slain. The point is that the rationale for kherem annihilation was the specific elimination of the descendants of the Nephilim. Ridding the land of these bloodlines was the motivation.”

This is certainly a plausible rationale, even if genocide remains unpalatable to the modern mind. I will leave the morality of it to God, who knew the prospects for correction of the individuals involved orders of magnitude better than I do. The presence of giants in the land, as reported by the spies sent by Joshua, is a strong indication of a Nephilim bloodline. The offspring of the Nephilim were also characterized by exceeding wickedness and child sacrifice. When God finally decided to make an end of them, he wanted to make a complete end, a goal I entirely respect. Israel failed to complete the task, which explains the giants of Philistia encountered by David in later years.

By the way, this also explains the attempted genocide of the Jews in Esther by Haman, who is called an Agagite five times in the book for good reason: Agag was the Amalekite king hewn to pieces by the prophet Samuel because Saul would not complete his God-given task of destroying the Amalekites, a late-period instance of kherem. Saul lost his kingdom for his disobedience, so God’s command to him was not a mere afterthought. God doesn’t do afterthoughts. Apparently Agag’s children still bore a grudge hundreds of years later. Haman was not simply overreacting to Mordecai’s relatively minor and personal provocation when he attempted the genocide of the Jews: he figured turnabout was fair play. Notice that Esther specifically requested that the ten sons of Haman be hanged on their father’s gallows, preventing the passage of his bloodline. It took a woman to finish the job Saul wouldn’t. Christians often wonder what the book of Esther is doing in the Bible. Well, the kherem is one Old Testament storyline Esther neatly wraps up; you can’t find the Amalekites anywhere in scripture or history past that point.

7/ Armageddon Takes Place in Jerusalem, Not Megiddo

This is not an implication of the divine council worldview per se, but it came up in Heiser’s studies and I love how it reconciles a difficulty I have always had with placing Armageddon geographically. The view propagated by many students of eschatology is that Armageddon is to be identified with “Mount” Megiddo because of the similarity in Hebrew consonants. The only problem with that is the mountain. Megiddo is not remotely mountainous. At best it is a tell built up over thousands of years of accumulated human habitation.

I have always had a problem accepting the Megiddo idea, not because I know anything about the geography of the region, but because a late passage in Zechariah says that when the Lord goes out to fight against the nations, “his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives”. That puts the final battle in a much more logical and spiritually relevant location than the plains of Megiddo.

Fortunately, Heiser’s Hebrew scholarship provides an alternative reading of the relevant Hebrew consonants that points instead to the “mountain of assembly” [har mo‘ed], or Zion, as the site of Armageddon. He concludes this way:

“Armageddon is a battle for all the supernatural and earthly marbles at Jerusalem. Megiddo doesn’t fit the profile in any way.”

This makes a load of sense to me.

8/ The Sons of God are Spirit Beings

So here we are back at the reason I was re-reading Heiser in the first place, that difficult passage at the beginning of Genesis 6 that talks about the “sons of God” taking the “daughters of man” to wife and producing offspring scripture calls the Nephilim, or giants. In the few unambiguous references found in the Old Testament, the phrase “sons of God” never means anything other than the members of the divine council, the elohim of Asaph’s Psalm 82, which finishes like so:

“I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.’ Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!”

The passage refers to both God and those in the midst of whom he stands as elohim, a point Jesus makes in his own defense in the gospel of John. In Genesis 6, the sons of God take the daughters of man and the result is a race of giants, the “mighty men who were of old”. The less visible but equally obvious result is an unprecedented level of wickedness on the earth, which brings on the Flood.

Heiser’s explanation of Genesis 6:1-4 is admittedly supernatural, which some people do not like. It also has the virtue of illuminating Jude’s otherwise obscure New Testament reference to “angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” and Peter’s reference to angels who sinned and have been “cast into Tartarus and committed to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment”.

The only real reason to reject Heiser’s identification of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 as spirit beings is that the idea is distasteful. That’s a visceral reaction, not a scholarly analysis. The text says what it says, and the people who first read it believed the supernatural interpretation even if we enlightened moderns do not.

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