Elohim, The Divine Council, and Jesus
Psalm 82 and Psalm 89
Angelic Rebellion Lesson #03
November 19, 2020
Dr. Robert L. Dean, Jr.
“Our Father, You are the God of the heavens and the earth and the seas and all that is in them. You created everything ultimately from nothing. Father, You are the sovereign God, the King of the universe, Who reigns over His creation.
“Father, we recognize that You have given the human race free will. You’ve given them volition, and we see what the Scripture describes is just mass rebellion all of the time. We know that reality is not limited to what we see, taste, touch, feel, hear, but that there is another realm of existence, that of the angelic host, which includes the fallen angels and the demons and Satan.
“Father, we know that we are part of that angelic rebellion and that we have this ongoing warfare that is definitely influenced by these dark forces—wicked forces of evil, as Paul describes them. Father, we know that they have an influence on the kingdoms, the nations, of this world, and we pray that You would restrain them and restrain the evil in this country that seems to have gained such a foothold.
“We see, watching some of the better reporting on television, that there is mass corruption in this election. And, Father, we’re thankful that this is being exposed. This is part of Your plan; in Your grace You cause the wicked to hoist themselves on their own petard and to have their evil and wicked schemes exposed.
“Father, we pray that the people in this nation will have their eyes opened to the evil that is going on around them. That may be the last opportunity they have to really turn back to You. Father, we pray that You would open our eyes with what we study tonight. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
All right. Let’s open our Bibles. First of all, we’ll go to Psalm 82. Tonight we’re looking at a review of the term ’elohim. We’ll look at ’elohim, and then we will look at this concept of the Divine Council and how Psalm 82 relates to an interchange that Jesus had with the Pharisees in John 10. I hope I can get through all of that tonight. So that is what we’re looking at.
We’ll start off just reviewing a little bit from last time. We did some introductory material on Sunday morning and at the beginning of class on Tuesday night, just going through some basics about the angels. That the angels are divided into two classes: those that are holy; and those that have rebelled against God.
I made the comment last time that it’s actually more accurate to call it an angelic revolt or angelic rebellion because “rebellion” has the idea of overturning an established authority, and they wish to overturn the authority of God. Whereas a conflict just can be between equals—any armed conflict between nations, between people.
Just remember this: angels are not conflicted; they’re revolting. Let that sink it into your mind. Angels are not conflicted; they’re revolting. So, it is a revolution. And this explains why the Bible makes such an important issue about obedience to authority in every sphere of life. It is foundational. Because to rebel against an authority is to imitate Satan in his fall. We’ll eventually get to look at those passages.
Last time we got into talking about the fact that there are several passages that describe these angelic convocations, assemblies, councils, things of that nature.
We looked at Job 1:6 and following. “Now there was a day—or a time—when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.”
We see that even though Satan sinned—and we call it a fall—he is still in Heaven. Somebody asked the question at the end of class last time, “All these pictures that we see of demons torturing people in hell now and pictures of Satan in hell …” You find various examples in different films over the years—Satan is always in hell. But that’s not true. They are still in Heaven. They are not cast out of Heaven until the midpoint of the Tribulation, and then he takes a third of the angels with him. So, until then, they still meet. You have a mixture of these rebellious angels with those who are obedient to God.
The term that is used here is important, again, for our study this evening. It is the phrase, bene ha’elohim. We’ll get to it in detail because it relates to the passage we’ve been studying. Second Peter 2:4 talks about these rebellious angels who are identified in Genesis 6 as the bene ha’elohim. So we’ll get into the details related to that.
But this is where we start. Job is probably as old a book of the Bible as any, and it might be the oldest. We don’t know exactly. There are some who think that Moses could’ve written Job about the same time he wrote the Pentateuch. Job actually lived at the time of the patriarchs, probably Isaac or Jacob, but we don’t know exactly. There’s no mention of Abraham. There’s no mention of Israel, or the call of Abraham, or the promised land, or anything like that. It is all about Gentiles; there are no Jews present.
We don’t know who wrote it or when it was written, but it’s one of the oldest books. And it describes events that happened very, very, very early. So that’s important when you look at the way words are used in Scripture; it’s not a hard and fast rule, but generally when you see a phrase first introduced, that helps set the definition. Now, that’s not always true because words change over centuries, and there are other factors that enter in.
But here we have this phrase, bene ha’elohim. And it’s roughly the same time and possibly written by the same person who wrote Genesis, which indicates that it would have the same meaning.
It’s used again in Job 38, where God is asking these rhetorical questions to illuminate the dark ignorance of Job. He wants God to tell him why he’s suffering unjustly, and God is pointing out that even if He answered him, Job would not be able to understand it. So, the first questions deals with, “Where were you when I started creating everything?” That’s what He means in this poetry, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.” He goes on and asks about that.
Then the important thing for our study. He says, “When …” and that’s when He laid the foundations of the earth. At that time the angels were already in existence. That they are united, “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Parallelism tells us that the morning stars are the sons of God. Stars are a typical metaphor to describe angels. We’ll eventually look at some passages that relate to that.
We then went to Psalm 89 where I pointed out that in these three verses you have the phrase, “the assembly of the saints” in Psalm 89:5. The word “assembly” is the same word we have for the “council” in Psalm 82. And the saints are the qadshim—that is, those who are set apart, the holy ones, from qadosh, which means “holy” or “set apart.”
Later, in the next verse, these are described as “the sons of the mighty.” Now, that’s an important phrase to remember. It’s not exactly the same. It’s bene (which is the word for “sons”) ’elim (which is a shortened form of ’elohim). But it means the same thing. This is talking about the angels again. “Who among the sons of the mighty—the sons of ’elim—can be likened to the Lord?”
Now, we’re going talk a lot about ’elohim today, but I want to make a point here on this phrase bene ha’elohim, bene ’elim, bene ’el. That you have these various forms of that noun ’elohim. The “im” is plural. It can mean “gods,” plural, in the sense of the false gods, but it is used that way many times. And “’elohim” can just be God, singular. And that’s when it refers to Yahweh, the God of Israel.
But here we have ’elim. There are also a couple of other forms that we’re going to see. If you were to write this as a paraphrase or try to simplify it, you could paraphrase it accurately by saying, “Who among the angels,” because “sons of ’elim” here means the angels.
Now, another way in which bene ha’elohim could be shortened would be just “’elohim.” I’m going to demonstrate that again tonight. People have a problem with that, and I got asked a question about this after class last week. So, we’re going to go through that and show that the problem is that when you hear it—when I first heard this—it’s like, “Wait a minute! This sounds like there’s more than one God.” The problem isn’t that this interpretation is talking about polytheism.
The problem is that we have a wrong definition of “’elohim.” ’Elohim doesn’t mean “divine.” ’Elohim doesn’t mean “God.” Well … it means “God” in some cases—but not always. It’s not a synonym for “God” or a synonym for “divine.” If we are mistaken in our understanding of the meaning of that, then when you get into a passage that talks about the “council of the ’elohim,” we start having problems. We get a little bit nervous because it sounds like we’re talking about polytheism and you have a “council of the gods.” But that’s what we’ll get into tonight.
So, we have this phrase, “sons of ’elim.” That is, again, just referring to angels, and it’s parallel to the phrase, the “assembly of the saints.”
Then we went to Daniel 7. In Daniel 7:9–10, we see the throne of God before this mass of angels, and they are described as “the court.” This is a judicial term here—the place where judgments occur. So, it is a legal setting here in Daniel 7:10.
We came to Psalm 82; we’ll be studying it. I’m going to hit different aspects of it, but then we’ll go through the whole thing probably next Tuesday night. “God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods. How long will you judge unjustly—this is what He is saying,—and show partiality to the wicked?” This verse is translated this way in the New King James Version, but you’ll see that other translations are different.
Now, the word “’Elohim,” which is the word translated “God” at the beginning of verse one and is translated lowercase “gods,” plural, at the end of verse 1; it’s the same word.
This word has five different meanings that I pointed out last time. Now, the way you decide what a word means is not by looking at the dictionary. That’s the shortcut we take. But the way that you decide what a word means is by examining all the ways a word is used. That’s why sometimes when you look at a new edition of Merriam-Webster or Oxford English Dictionary, a new meaning or a new word comes in—or older meanings have disappeared. That’s because the words are no longer used that way.
So, word definitions reflect usage. That’s where you get meaning. You don’t get a word’s meaning just because you go look it up in the dictionary. But that helps. And if you look at the different dictionaries/lexicons that are available ... For example, BDB was the older one. I had Dr. Ross for Word Studies. He’s one of these guys who just has a gift with words—and especially Hebrew words. He would point out that the last edition of BDB ... It’s called BDB because of the first initials of the three men who were the editors: Brown, Driver, and Briggs. So that was the standard, and I just about destroyed the binding on mine going through various Hebrew courses in seminary.
You could go to that. But that was in 1919. And his criticism was that the New American Standard Bible just assumed that every meaning in BDB was accurate. So when they were translating Hebrew words, they limited themselves to whatever BDB said the word meant, and that was a methodological error. And that’s a problem.
I really wish these language guys that are experts could tell us what all of these little nuances or idiosyncrasies of every lexicon are—because it’s helpful to know these things. You’ve heard pastors refer to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament which was edited by a brilliant scholar in Germany back in the 30s and 40s and 50s, Rudolf Kittel. It has been so sanitized when it came into English and a scholar by the name of Geoffrey W. Bromiley translated it. Because Rudolf Kittel was a member of the Nazi party; he was an evil anti-Semite. And when Bromiley translated it, he had to expunge all the anti-Semitisms out of the dictionary.
So, we get a sanitized version, and people don’t understand that. And that there was a big debate among the Nazi leaders in the 30s as to whether or not to allow the study of the Old Testament because it was a Jewish book. And there were lots of Old Testament scholars and Hebrew scholars … In fact, one of the men was responsible for arresting and getting all of the Jews out of Lithuania, which was a major Jewish area.
Lithuania was called the “Jerusalem of Eastern Europe.” There were tens of thousands of Jews who lived there, and the Nazi who came in to clean them out had his PhD in Hebrew. At that time you didn’t have Israel, but he lived in Palestine and studied in Jerusalem. And he hated Jews with a passion. But it was men like that who had made a career out of studying the Old Testament who convinced Hitler and the leaders that they shouldn’t do away with—they were going to burn—all the Hebrew Bibles. So, you have to know all these little things about these different dictionaries.
I looked at HALOT—that’s the current primary Hebrew lexicon. It refers to the initials for the Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. And a new one, which came out recently, is an eight volume, The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew. And then you have more expanded theological dictionaries like the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament or the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament.
You have to read through all of this stuff and look up their data and their evidence in their claims and validate that. So, you have to have the tools to do that. And you don’t need a pastor who can just look it up and say, “Oh! Well, it listed this English word as the meaning of that Hebrew or Greek word, so that’s what that word means.”
I remember a student commenting about a pastor who would use English words that were not in the lexicon. And my response was, “Well, that’s because those three or four words that are used in the lexicon do not give you all of the ways in which that word could be used; they simply give the parameters of the meaning. And that’s why you pull out a thesaurus—an English thesaurus. You look those English words up, get a broader detail, and you pick the ones that are most precise.”
Allen Ross’ Word Study course at Dallas [Theological Seminary] was considered one of the necessary courses to get. It was an elective. And when he taught that, one of the things he emphasized was that if you were going to conclude that a word meant whatever, in your paper, you had to have how that English word was defined in the Oxford English Dictionary and in the full, unabridged Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. He would say, “Having an English dictionary is as important to defining a Hebrew or Greek word as having a good Hebrew tool.” Because if you’re going to say it means something in English, you had better make sure that English word is an accurate representation of the Hebrew or the Greek. So, these things are very, very important.
So in perusing all of these lexicons, the first thing that is usually listed is that “’elohim” can refer to a god or gods. These are what we would call false gods. But what’s interesting, when you read these passages, there’s no adjective “false” in front of them; they are called “’elohim.” So, it’s not called a “false god”; it’s not called an “idol”; it’s called an “’elohim,” these “gods.” We’ll look at some examples again in just a minute. Then, I would say, in probably 80–85% of the uses of ’elohim, it refers to the true God, Yahweh, the God of Israel.
Third, we looked at a passage, 1 Samuel 28, where it refers to the spirit of a dead person. Again, a heavenly being, but not a divine person. See? It describes demons; they’re not divine. It describes the spirit of a dead person, or a ghost—that’s how it is translated; that’s not divine at all. (I got redundant there in d) and e) of Slide 12 because you find that in the dictionaries.) So, those are the various dictionaries that are listed.
We looked at basic passages like Genesis 1:1. All of Genesis 1, primarily, is written in, “God did …” and “God did …” It’s all ’Elohim, and it’s referring to the Creator God Who made the heavens, and the earth, and the seas, and all that is in them, in seven days.
You also have it in Exodus 20:1 and 2. It’s defined very clearly at the beginning of the Ten Commandments, “And ’Elohim spoke all these words, saying …” How do you know it shouldn’t be translated “gods”? Because of what He says: “I am Yahweh ’Elohim.” “I” is singular; “’elohim” is plural. Some call it a plural of majesty; I believe it suggests a plurality. He says, “I am Yahweh your ’Elohim, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” So, this ’Elohim is defined as Yahweh.
See, when you see the word “’elohim” here … We’ll look at this. What do these words all have in common: a ghost, a demon, an idol, the God of the universe? What do they all have in common? They all live in a different sphere of existence than we do. We live in a physical, material universe; they live in an immaterial universe. They are heavenly beings; we are earthly beings. So, that is how this can be understood.
In verse 3 God says, “You shall have no other ’elohim before Me.” He’s not saying, “no other false ’elohim.” He says, “You’ll have no other ’elohim before me.” He is One of all of the ’elohim, if you understand that to mean He is One among all of the inhabitants of the heavenly sphere. “’Elohim” does not mean, inherently, a god or a deity because it’s used of things that are not God or deity. So, you’re saying, “Among the celestial beings, He is the ’Elohim Who created the heavens and the earth. He is the unique ’Elohim because He is Yahweh, the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them.”
Daniel 11:38 is using the word “’elohim” to talk about a false god. But this is talking about the god of the Antichrist, the prince who is to come, at the end of Daniel. In Daniel 11:38 he says, “But in their place—that is, in the place of the other false gods—he—that is, the future Antichrist—shall honor a god—here it’s a form of ’elohim; it’s the word, ’eloah] of fortresses; and a god which his fathers did not know he shall honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and pleasant things.” So, again, it’s not necessarily talking about a divine person. It’s not talking about THE God.
Psalm 8:5. I pointed this out last time. It’s translated in the New King James, “For You have made him a little lower than the angels—and that is a translation of the word ’elohim,—and You have crowned him with glory and honor.” The NET translates it, “and make them a little less than the heavenly beings?” So, see, they captured that meaning there. It’s not “gods” in the sense of “divine”; it is these celestial beings that are in the spiritual sphere.
This is quoted in Hebrews 2:7 where in the Greek of the New Testament, it translates it, “You have made him a little lower than the angels” [ANGELOS] translating “’elohim” from Psalm 8:5. So there we see that it is a term that can be applied to the angels.
Then we looked at Deuteronomy 32:17—we’ll come back to that many different times in this study—talking about Israel. Now, this is a very fascinating passage because in the previous verses what you have is Moses rehearsing the infidelity of Israel before God. So, he takes it back to about verse 12 in Deuteronomy 32, and he rehearses the disobedience of Israel.
He gets to the point where, in verse 15, he uses the term “Jeshurun” to describe Israel. He says, “But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked;—that’s a picture of prosperity—You grew fat, you grew thick, you are obese!” They have been well provided for; they have prosperity.
“Then he—that is, Jeshurun, which contextually refers to Jacob and Israel—forsook God—here it’s the singular ’eloah—who made him, and scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation—which is a title for God, for Yahweh.
Verse 16, “They—that is, the Israelites—provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods; With abominations they provoked Him to anger.”
Then we read in our verse—now this is interesting, “They—the Israelites—sacrificed to demons” [shedim]. That’s the word used to describe demons in the Old Testament. So, they’re sacrificing to demons. Now, do they know they were sacrificing to demons? No—they’re sacrificing to a wooden idol or a stone idol. Paul says the same thing when you get into 1 Corinthians 11, that idols are nothing, but there are demons behind them.
Deuteronomy 32:17, “They sacrificed to demons, not to God …” Not to ’eloah—that’s the contrast. They weren’t sacrificing to ’eloah, Who is the singular God of Israel. “To gods …” In your New King James they make a mistake here; they make that phrase “to gods” in italics. Now, when a word is italicized in the English, it means that there’s not a comparable word in the Greek or the Hebrew, but it’s inserted because it’s clear from the context that’s what it’s talking about; so it makes it read easier in English. But they italicized “to gods” in the New King James Version, but in the Hebrew it says, “’elohim.”
“They sacrificed to demons [shedim], not to God [’eloah], To gods—here you have ’elohim as a parallel to shedim. Here ’elohim clearly refers to demons. “To new …” and then it doesn’t have “gods” because it’s already assumed from the context that it’s to “new ’elohim.” “To new gods, new arrivals that your fathers did not fear.” So it’s very clear that “’elohim” is a synonym in this passage for demons. So again, that tells us that we’re wrong if, when we hear the word “’elohim,” we think it must mean “God” or “gods.” It has other applications.
Also 1 Samuel 28:13, where it refers to the spirit of Samuel coming out of the earth.
So we have this semantic range; that’s the word meaning range of “’elohim.” At the top, “Elohim” refers to “YHWH our Elohim,” Yahweh, the one true God. But it is also used to describe false “gods,” Deuteronomy 32:17. It refers to angels in Psalm 8:5 and Hebrews 2:7. It refers to false gods in passages like Exodus 20:3 and in Deuteronomy 32:17. And it refers to a spirit or ghost in 1 Samuel 28:13.
So the question is, “What do all of these things have in common?” It’s not deity. It’s not divinity. It’s not godhood. What they all have in common is, they live in the immaterial sphere of heaven. So, that’s the idea: celestial beings, heavenly beings—something like that—is the way to have it understood. It does not mean only “God.” It refers to that which is not divine; therefore, heavenly beings, celestial beings, describes it best. That would be the best translation.
Then, we come to Psalm 82:1. It starts off, “God—’Elohim—stands in the congregation of the mighty—“mighty” is El; He judges among the gods—the ’elohim.”
I’m going to paraphrase this a little bit so that we understand what’s happening. “’Elohim” here is the God of Israel. Now, there are some weird translations. The NET Bible is the New English Translation; the Old and New Testament were handled mostly by Dallas Seminary Old Testament and New Testament professors, and I do not recommend it. At times they have good translations worth using, but there are a lot of bad notes, a lot of bad theology.
Here they have a horrible theology. Their interpretation of Psalm 82 is that the ’elohim here is El, the head of the Canaanite pantheon, who is coming in and attacking Jewish gods and judges. It is the most bizarre interpretation I’ve ever read!
So, the best way to understand this? This is talking about ’Elohim, the God of Israel. He takes His place; He stands in front of the assembly of El. We could translate that as, “El’s assembly.” It’s His assembly! “Assembly of El” is just one way to translate a genitive, and the other way is to say it’s, “El’s assembly.” It’s His council.
“… He—that is, this ’Elohim, the God of Israel—judges among the ’elohim—the angels.” He judges them, and He’s going to announce that judgment in the second verse. The Holman Christian Standard Bible doesn’t translate it this way, but it suggests that “’elohim” should be translated “heavenly beings” here. So, if I were going to translate it, I would say, “’Elohim takes His place in El’s assembly. ’Elohim judges among the angels.” And that gets the point across.
It’s interesting to watch—we all do this. Every pastor you know has refined and changed and improved his understanding of things over the years. It’s called spiritual growth! And the more you study, the better you are. I tell young pastors, “Throw away every tape the first 10 years. You don’t ever want to be embarrassed by them because you’re still learning so much! You’re still trying to learn the Bible.”
People don’t understand. When you get out of seminary, you’ve got the tools to do something and to become what you should become in 20 years. But those first 10 years, you’re still trying to figure a lot of things out.
All of my professors at Dallas were very well educated. I’d say that half the faculty had at least two doctorates. Some had postdoctoral fellowships, and some were pursuing a third doctoral degree. These are brilliant, brilliant men! And one of the ones I enjoyed and learned the most from—though I didn’t agree with him in everything—was Allen Ross. Allen Ross was our keynote speaker at the last 2020 Chafer Conference.
In 1983, Dallas Seminary came out with a two-volume commentary set covering every book of the Bible. Every commentary was written by a different professor. Most of the time they chose a man who had taught that book a lot during his career. Allen Ross taught Psalms for—I don’t know—maybe 20 years at Dallas Theological Seminary. In 2013 he started publishing a three-volume commentary on the Psalms that covers all of the Psalms in great detail. But, of course, in the smaller one-volume Old Testament commentary of the Bible Knowledge Commentary, it didn’t have all that detail.
But in the early 80s, this is what Allen had to say. He said, “The psalmist envisioned God presiding over an assembly of judges.” This is more the traditional interpretation of Psalm 82, that these are human judges, that they are Jewish judges, and God is criticizing them because they have been unjust in the way they have dealt with the Jewish people.
So this is what he is saying in the early 80s. “The psalmist envisioned God presiding over an assembly of judges. The word gods is used here for authorities in Israel (cf. 45:6; Ex. 21:6; 22:8–9). Some have thought this refers to angels (e.g., the Syriac trans.) …” But it’s also based on the Septuagint, and it’s based on a lot of different manuscripts discovered at Qumran.
“Some have thought this refers to angels (e.g., the Syriac trans.) in God’s heavenly court. However, the remainder of the psalm clarifies that these are God’s representatives who are in authority on earth.” That was his position in the early 80s.
I picked up his commentary yesterday to see how he handled it. He said, “In another context this could be taken to refer to the nation of Israel …”, the phrase, “the council of God.” He then goes on to say, “but in view of the parallel ‘in the midst of the gods’, that is, in the midst of the qereḇ ’elohim—in the midst of the ’elohim—it would refer to human judges at least.” Now, that’s an important phrase.
When I read through this I thought, “He’s trying to ride two horses at the same time.” And that’s not the only place I know where Allen will do this. He says, “They serve as God’s vice-regents on earth—they are judges who act in his name. But as mentioned above, the language seems to be referring primarily to supernatural beings in a heavenly assembly—not divine beings in a pantheon …” So, this is not paganism; he is not talking about a bunch of little “gods” running around. But these are supernatural beings in a heavenly assembly— that is, angels.
He goes on to say, “But there is an assembly of angels in the presence of God, and even Satan comes among them (Job 1 and 2). So the psalmist refers to assemblies of judges using language that applies more fully to the divine assembly of supernatural beings to affirm that all powers, real and imagined, are subject to the LORD.” So, he’s completely changed his view to take the view that this is talking about a council of the angels.
Does anybody have any questions after having gone through that? Everybody confused? It’s not polytheism. When it uses ’elohim, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s anything divine. You have to look at the context.
Now, there’s another issue that relates to understanding Psalm 82. In verse 6 there is the phrase, “You are gods—and there it’s ’elohim,—And all of you are children of the Most High.” The phrase in Hebrew gets obscured by somebody who wanted to be nice, “We’re going to call it ‘children’ because that’s going to include women and men. Let’s not be sexist.” Give me a break!
It doesn’t say “children”; it says bene, “sons.” You miss the connection! “ ‘And all of you are sons of the Most High.’ ” So you have the phrase: “u—‘and’—bene ’elyon. If you go back to passages all through the Scripture, a title of God that uses this phrase ’elyon is El Elyon. So, this is just another way of talking about the bene ha’Elohim, but it’s “bene ’elyon,” the sons of the Most High, as it is translated here. So, lowercase “gods” are again defined here as “sons of God.” So, this relates to the angels.
Genesis 14 is when Abraham is coming back from defeating the army of the four kings under Chedorlaomer and Tidal. He defeats them with his army of servants. And that’s really what they are—they are an army. They needed an army to protect all of his holdings. He meets Melchizedek outside of Salem, which is Jerusalem. Melchizedek, the king of Salem, and his name means “righteous king.”
“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High—El ’Elyon.—And he blessed him—that is, Melchizedek blessed Abraham—and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of—El ’Elyon—God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be—El ’Elyon—God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And he—Abram—gave him a tithe of all.”
Now, if you’ve been a Baptist, or you’ve been in a Baptist Church—probably some other churches—this is where they’ll start talking about tithing. This has nothing to do with Christian giving. First of all, Abram is giving him a tithe of the plunder he recovered from the army of Chedorlaomer. He’s not giving him from his own possessions. He’s giving him from the plunder, from the booty, that was recovered in a war! So he’s giving a tithe, and he’s keeping the rest. (Actually, I think he gives some of it back to the people in Sodom.)
“But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, …” in verse 22. And Abram says, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High (Yahweh, ’El Elyon).” So, we know that “El ’Elyon” is another term related to ’Elohim, but it specifically defines “Yahweh.”
When we understand “ubene ’elyon,” it’s just another phrase for “bene ha’elohim.”
Now, the next issue that comes up is that in a lot of passages—here and in John 10—we’ll go there. But in Exodus you find that the word “judges” was used to translate “’Elohim.” So what this developed is the idea that this is not talking about angels in Psalm 82—it’s talking about the human judges of Israel.
Passages are cited for this. For example, you have Exodus 22:8–9. There are not very many. Exodus 4:16 is one of them. I didn’t put that on a slide. Exodus 4:16, “So he—referring to Aaron—shall be your spokesman to the people.” Aaron will be a spokesman to the people because, remember, Moses said he stuttered, and he wouldn’t be the spokesperson. So God says, “Okay, it’s going to be Aaron.”
“So he shall be your spokesman to the people. And he himself shall be as a mouth for you, and you shall be to him as God.” He’s not calling Moses “’Elohim”; he is saying, “You’re the authority over Aaron just like I’m the authority over you.” So, you have to look at that context.
In Exodus 7:1, “So the Lord said to Moses: ‘See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh.’ ” He isn’t calling him “Elohim”; He is saying there’s an authority relation. That’s the analogy here. So, it’s not a case where Moses is called “Elohim,” but that’s what you’ll hear or read from a number of commentators.
Now look at Exodus 22:8, “If the thief is not found, then the master of the house shall be brought to the judges to see whether he has put his hand into his neighbor’s goods.” So, this is case law in the Mosaic Law. The situation here is if a case isn’t found, then the master of the house is going to be brought to the judges to make sure he didn’t steal from himself. And then it’s described again in verse 9, “For any kind of trespass, whether it concerns an ox, a donkey, a sheep, or clothing, or for any kind of lost thing which another claims to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whomever the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor.” The New King James Version translates “’elohim” as judges—both in verse 9 and back in verse 8.
What’s interesting is, if you look at the ESV translation, it doesn’t do that. It translates “’elohim” as “God.” “If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall come near unto God, to see whether he have not put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods. For every matter of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, whereof one saith, This is it, the cause of both parties shall come before God; he whom God shall condemn shall pay double unto his neighbour” (Exodus 22:8–9, ESV).
The situation in the Mosaic Law is that there were many times when people were called to come before God in the tabernacle or in the temple. So, this is not a case of going before human judges; it’s a case of going to the temple and God would somehow adjudicate in this thing. And there are some other examples.
Another example is the use of Psalm 45:6–7. This is sometimes used as evidence. “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”
Now, this is cited again and quoted again when you get to Hebrews 1:8–9. I did not create a slide on this, but look at Psalm 45. The superscription says, “To the Chief Musician. Set to ‘The Lilies.’ A Contemplation of the sons of Korah.” Remember, they were a choir. And this passage should be understood as Messianic. In fact, the notes in my New King James Bible (this isn’t Scripture) identify this as, “The Glories of the Messiah and His Bride.”
But in one commentary that I read, when you get to verses 6 and 7 when it talks about “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,” they refer that back to the king in verse 1, “My heart is overflowing with a good theme; I recite my composition concerning the King …” So it is thought by some that this is David. It’s not viewed as a Messianic psalm; it’s viewed as a historical psalm.
So, if you interpret the king in verse 1 as David, then when verse 6 says, “Your throne, O God,” you’re going to apply “’elohim” to David. But the context is Messianic, so the King is the future Messianic King. “Your throne, O Elohim,” refers to the throne of the future Messiah. These are the kinds of things that you have to pay very close attention to when you go through things.
One last thing I want to look at is the situation in John 10. So, turn with me in your Bibles to John 10. The interpretation that I’m going to counter is a very common one. In fact, when I taught the Gospel of John 20 years ago, it’s the view I took because it’s the predominant view; everybody takes it. I always felt unsettled about that.
I remember when I was writing a book on tongues, dealing with 1 Corinthians 13:11–12. I was looking at how Pastor Thieme had taught this and what was written in the book, and I went in and said, “Let me suggest something here.” And I gave him what I’ve taught and you’ve heard me teach many times. I gave him that interpretation, and he looked at me and said, “You know, I’ve never been comfortable with the way I’ve taught that. That’s how most people take it, but I’d never really liked that. Your view makes much more sense; you put that in the book and take whatever I said before out of the book.” That’s how pastors are! We grow, and we learn, and we discover new things like this. As I’m studying this, I’m looking at this and saying, “The traditional interpretation here doesn’t fit! What’s going on here?”
You look at John 10, and this is one of Jesus’ discourses in the Gospel of John. In verses 22 and 23 we’re told, “Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.” Then, in verse 24, “Then the Jews surrounded Him …”
The word “Jews” here and throughout John isn’t the word “Jews.” This has given rise from the early church, the development of anti-Semitism. It should be translated, “the Judeans.” He is in Jerusalem, and this is in the area of Judea. So, that all these statements in John where he says, “The Jews did this, the Jews did that, the Jews did that,” should be translated, “the Judeans did this” because that’s where He is. He’s down in Judea, and the word “Jew” comes from “Judean.”
“Then the Judeans surrounded Him and said to Him, ‘How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ ” So Jesus proceeds in verses 25 and following to do exactly that!
I’m not going to go through everything, but by verse 27 this is what Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life …”
Now, you have to be either crazy arrogant out of your mind to say you can give people eternal life if you’re just a man—or You really are God because only God can give people eternal life. So what’s Jesus talking about here? He’s talking about His deity, that He is God! He says, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” One of the great passages on eternal security. He’s claiming the prerogatives of deity here!
Then he says in verse 29, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.”
And then He said, “I and My Father are one.” Now, what did He mean by that? He means that they have identical essence; He is claiming to be God. How do we know that? Because the Jews who heard Him—the Pharisees—knew exactly what He was saying, and they started to stone Him on the spot for blasphemy!
Verse 31, “Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. 32 Jesus answered them, ‘Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?’ 33 The Jews answered Him, saying, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.’ ”
What’s the issue? Jesus is claiming to be God! He is not claiming to be human; He’s claiming to be God here. “Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law—here He is using the word “Torah” to be broad for the Old Testament, and He is quoting from Psalm 82:6,—“I said, ‘You are gods’ ” ’? ”
Now, what happens here is when you look at most translations, then what they are saying here is the judges, the “’elohim” in Psalm 82, were human judges in Israel. So, what Jesus is saying here is, “You’re not upset when in the psalms it says that the human judges are “’elohim.” So why are you stoning Me?” If that’s what Jesus is arguing, what He would be saying is, “I’m like those human judges in Psalm 82,” and that’s emphasizing His humanity. But that’s not what the context is talking about!
In verse 35 Jesus explains the passage. He says, “If He called them gods—those in Psalm 82,—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—Himself,—‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” So, the whole point is that He’s claiming to be God!
What is typical in most commentaries is that Jesus is showing that He’s just a man that was called Elohim. So, “It’s okay to call Him Elohim because these other men called themselves ’elohim.” But that doesn’t fit the passage.
He goes on in verse 37 to say, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38 but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” Again, He is claiming deity. How do we know that? Verse 39, “Therefore they sought again to seize Him …” to kill Him. They knew He was claiming to be God.
So you can’t say that Jesus takes the interpretation that the ’elohim in Psalm 82 are human judges. It’s much more than that! Instead of emphasizing His humanity, Jesus is clearly claiming that He is divine and that He is part of the assembly of God in Psalm 82. And He is claiming to be one with the One who called that assembly in Psalm 82:1.
So, it’s just the opposite of what people are claiming. He is emphasizing that the Father that He is one with is the Head of that divine assembly, that assembly of angels, actually, and that, therefore, He is divine because He’s one with the God Who called that assembly of angels.
So, we’ll go on. There is much more that we’re going to do with Psalm 82, but that helps us to understand and answer at least the key questions related to:
- How do you know that “’elohim” refers to something other than “gods”?
- And how do you understand this with judges?
I had an e-mail when I got home the other night that was asking those questions. My reply was simply, “That’s what we’re covering in the next lesson.” So, next time we’re going to work through some more of Psalm 82 and connect it to a couple of other critical passages in the Old Testament to give us a bit of a more robust view of the demons and this angelic revolt.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to look at these things tonight and to come to understand what Your Word says. Help us to recognize that we live in the midst of this angelic revolt that surrounds us—everything. This is a reality.
“We’re not supposed to look for demon behind every bush—that would be inappropriate—but to recognize that everything is being influenced by this unseen cosmic revolt. And the only solution for us is to focus on Your Word, to walk with You, to put on the defensive armor that’s described in Ephesians 6, and then we will be protected.
“Father, we pray that You would strengthen and encourage us with this study. In Christ’s name. Amen.”