We know of the Bible as the story of God’s plan of salvation for mankind. From the first page to the last, we see that he had the end in mind from the very beginning. However, most of the time we see just two parties to the story: the Triune God and mankind, those inhabitants of the third heaven and the first.
However, there is another group that plays the role, the divine council. Part of the group referenced in Ephesians 6:12 which refers to the unseen realm ruled by principalities, two of which are named in a brief reference in Daniel 9. There are a few explicit references to these beings in the Bible along with many references that are implicit.
Without understanding that yes, there is an actual unseen realm and a variety of beings who inhabit it and that some of the words spoken in the Bible are judgments against them, we can completely miss the context of what certain passages are saying.
Dr. Michael Heiser has made an extensive study of the Divine Council. An expert in ancient Near East languages, he has collected over 4,800 references related to it. This 168 page book is a synthesis of those resources and gives an overview of the structure and dynamics of the conflict from Genesis to Revelation.
The book reminds me of Mere Christianity. But while Lewis began at square one beginning with a defense that there must be a God and then follows with arguments as to why the Christian God rings true in every area, this book is written for a Christian audience. Heiser assumes that the reader believes in God and that Christ is the Redeemer of mankind; however, be prepared to check every other assumption you have regarding the make-up of the heavens at the door.
I’ll admit, when I first came across his blog, drmsh.com, and read about the Divine Council, it was uncomfortable. It didn’t fit with what I had been taught in Sunday School, Bible study or church. But having that information, when I read through the Bible, there were passages that opened up to me. There was significance where before it had been just words.
What Do You Really Believe
The book begins with the question, “Do you really believe what the Bible says?” The chapter continues point out that while as Christians we profess to believe in a God, Creator, and Redeemer who is outside of space and time, very often we act like confirmed skeptics when it comes to supernatural accounts in the Bible. We skip over the parts that are hard, make us uncomfortable, or don’t fit within the worldview we’ve created.
What it covers
- The make-up of the heavenly government of God, the heads of which were 70 heavenly beings/principalities which were assigned people groups at the dispersion at the Tower of Babel as told in Deuteronomy 32:8. There is a whole other layer to the salvation plan and it was this group, this council, that Jesus is made Lord of all, the name above all other names (Philippians 2:9.) This is the government that he is Lord of, which he won through victory at the cross. (Isaiah 9:6)
- It explains who the Bible is referring to when the world “Elohim” is used.
- It answers questions about those weird verses referring to the Nephilim and the Watchers
- It explains our purpose as God’s “imagers.”
- It talks about free will, God’s will, destiny, and our purpose.
- It gives a fuller picture of what is truly going on, the “battleground in two realms.” (pg 42)
- It explains how the celestial interacts with the terrestrial (Chapter 5: Cosmic Geography)
- It explains the purpose of the Law (Chapter 7: Rules of Engagement.) I think when we as Christians read the Old Testament, we get hung up on all the sacrifices and completely miss that the way to salvation has always, from first to last, been through faith in the Redeemer, God’s Salvation, Yeshua. (Genesis 15:6, Job 19:25)
- It also explains the truly demonically inspired effort to eradicate both the Jewish people and the nation of Israel (pg 75.)
- It explains what sacred ground means and the purpose of all those animals sacrificed. (Chapter 8: Sacred Space.)
- It ties in seemingly unrelated conflicts in the Bible and illustrates how they are part of the same battle (Chapter 9: Holy War)
- It gives a reason for the bits and pieces of the plan and picture of the Messiah in the Old Testament and explains why the message was so cryptic (Chapter 10: Hidden in Plain Sight)
- It gives a different perspective than most on the confrontation between Jesus and Satan and what Jesus was really doing in sending out the 12 and then the 70. (Chapter 11: Supernatural Intent)
- It explains the Second Temple understanding of some of the names of God and descriptors and explains why Caiaphas had such a violent reaction when Jesus said, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven (Chapter 12: The Cloud Rider.)
- It explains the meaning of Pentecost where the Holy Spirit gave not just gifts, but was equipping for war (Chapter 13: The Great Reversal.)
- It explains who we are as believers (Chapter 14: Not of this World)
- It explains our position in God’s family (Chapter 15: Partakers of the Divine Nature)
- It explains what is to come (Chapter 16: Ruling over angels.)
I grew up in the church and even went to a private Christian school for a number of years. I thought I knew the stories and understood it. Then I started reading through the Bible for myself . . . and I realized how much I didn’t know and how much I had been taught really didn’t line up with what the Bible said.
Then when you start learning the details of what was going on at the time the words were written and the context in which the writers wrote and read it in that light, most of the time you have to readjust your understanding of it.
Who Should Read This Book
If you or someone you know is struggling with how it all fits, this is a good book to read. For a new believer, it’s a good framework for beginning to fill in the pieces. Certain things will make more sense when they read the Bible. I’m guessing the more “churched” someone is and the more “doctrines” they are versed in, the more resistance they will have to the information presented in the book.
If you or someone you know is into “spiritual warfare” as some present it as “warring” against territorial spirits and “taking territory.” Read this book. Then read Needless Casualties of War by John Paul Jackson. And then go and read Daniel chapter 9 and pay attention to WHAT HE WAS DOING when the angel that came to Daniel and Michael were battling the Prince of Persia. All we are supposed to be doing is 2 Chronicles 7:14 and James 4:7 . . . that’s it.
If you or someone you know is a Christian but is caught up in UFO religions or Reptilian bloodline conspiracy theories . . . Bless your heart . . . and read this book.
If you or someone you know has been following teachings that use Psalm 82:6 which states “Ye are gods; you are children of the Most High;” applying it to humans and then use it as a springboard to all sorts of weird, almost heretical doctrines. Read this book.
That verse has been misused by a lot of people in a lot of different ways. For example, Bill Johnson and Kenneth Hagin and their understanding of kenosis and what actually happened in Christ’s death and Resurrection. Rabbinic commentary has used it as justification for making Israel the Savior and suffering servant rather than trusting in God alone as Savior. And in reading Three Treatises on the Divine Images recently, I discovered that that misinterpretation was the cornerstone of John of Damascus’s defense of icons and justification of venerating saints as gods. Even C. S. Lewis falls into this same misinterpretation in Mere Christianity.
My Big Takeaway
In discussion on another review, someone asked me if I really learned anything new. Let me tell you, yes I did!
As I’ve read through the Bible, particularly the Psalms, the continual reference to Og of Bashan and the bulls of Bashan always made me wonder,
“What does that mean?”
I knew there was significance to it, but I could not figure out what it was. I would enter different search phrases trying to find articles that discussed it. Nothing.
Then I was reading through this book and lo and behold, Chapter 9: Holy War, page 92. It explains exactly why Bashan was significant.
“In ancient literature outside the Bible, Bashan was known as ‘the place of the serpent.’ Two of its major cities, Ashtaroth and Edrei, both mentioned in connection with this journey (Deut 1:4; Josh 13:12), were considered gateways to the underworld realm of the dead. In the context of Israel’s supernatural worldview, God had led the Israelites to the gates of hell.”
Any time David mentions Og of Bashan in the Psalms, he is saying the exact same thing Jesus said in Matthew 16:18
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
One of the other comments criticized the book for its lack of references. This is a valid criticism. This book, as it states in the introduction, is a greatly condensed version of The Unseen Realm, which is the much longer and heavily cited academic version. I do agree sources would have been good. I’m not sure why they decided to leave them out.
My guess is that when you are taking information from such a huge amount of sources (I mentioned above his library on the Divine Council contains over 4,800 sources) and then process and condense it down to such a small book, a lot of this is synthesized information which would probably be hard to cite one source specifically.
Shared Information Between the Godhead:
In Chapter 3, page 28, Heiser makes the claim that the “us” in Genesis 1:26 is not a conversation between the persons of the Trinity but to other members of the divine council. The reasoning is this:
“God announces his intention to a group. Who’s he talking to? His heavenly host—his council. He’s not talking to the other members of the Trinity, because God can’t know something they don’t! And here the group he’s addressing learns what God has decided to do.”
Could he have been talking to the divine council with this statement? Yes, it’s possible. However, it is not proof of it. It could also be another example of a conversation between the Godhead. Such as for example, Psalm 110:1 which states:
“The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
This is very obviously a conversation between the Father and the Son.
And yes, God can know something the others don’t. Jesus himself said it was so in Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32 when he said that only the Father knows the day and the hour of his return.
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
On Demonic Focus
There were a few little things here and there where I didn’t necessarily agree with his interpretation on some Scriptures, but they mainly had to do with layers of Scripture. When I initially reviewed this book on Amazon, the one thing that did bother me was in the very beginning of the book (pg 19,) he made what seemed to be a sort of dismissive statement saying that demons had more important things to do than to bother with us. Quote:
“And while the Bible describes demonic possession in rightfully awful ways, intelligent evil has more sinister things to do than to make sock puppets out of people. And on top of that, angel and demons are minor players.”
In my initial reading, I took this to mean he was saying that is wasn’t something Christians needed to be concerned with because they have better things to do than to be concerned with us. It was the one part of the book that bothered me and that I strongly disagreed with. However, in a follow-up comment to my Amazon review, a student of Heiser’s clarified the statement and his actual position.
When Heiser refers to “intelligent evil” in the quote above, he is referring to the principalities that make up the Divine council and the powers and rulers of Ephesians 6:12. In the hierarchy of the supernatural realm, angels and demons are “minor players.”
I would just say that the “minor players” can still cause some major problems in the lives of believers.Jesus said,
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10.)
Yes, coming . . . to us.
Peter reinforces this in 1 Peter 5:8 when he says, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
Who is he talking to? Believers. He is telling US to watch out, that this is something WE will be dealing with.
And then in Ephesians 6:10-12:
“10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
When Theology Becomes Reality
I didn’t understand the reality of this until a few years ago when I volunteered in a prayer ministry. Someone came for prayer for severe head and neck pain, which she had been suffering from for 16 months. She had been to numerous doctors and none of them could do anything for her.
When she came, she said she had gotten to the point where she told God, “Either take me or heal me” because she couldn’t bear the extreme, continuous pain any more. She was almost to the point of suicide.
The first time she came, she had a little bit of relief, so she came back again. The second time, the people praying with her recognized there was some demonic activity going on and were praying against it. Her pain shot through the roof. They asked her what was going on. She said, “I can see a black faced demon clawing at me trying to get me.”
That shattered anything I thought I knew about interaction between the demonic and Christians. When your theology becomes reality, sometimes it’s a little freaky.
It is a very real thing. If you would like to read a more vivid illustration, I recommend Spirit of the Rainforest: A Yanomamo Shaman’s Story.