Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

For Who Has Stood In The Council Of The Lord?

For Who Has Stood In The Council of the Lord?: Thoughts On The Heavenly Council

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27 NRSV)

One interesting theme in the Old Testament is the idea of the Heavenly Council. Most would say that the account in Genesis, of the creation of man, was proof of the deity existing before the creation of the world. However, there are several passages that would have to be overlooked. Below we will discuss these passages and explore the possibility of the existence of Yahweh and the Council of the Gods. The text below has been posted in full rather then referred for reason of clarity and reference. One of the best references that fully cover this topic is the book, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. On page 186, Frank Moore Cross goes into detail on this topic as well as the Old Testament writing styles.

The text below in the book of Kings shows the proceeding of the heavenly council with Yahweh sitting on the throne with the hosts of heaven around him. It is the job of the prophet to witness these proceedings and then to proclaim what he heard and saw.

Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, with all the host of heaven standing beside him to the right and to the left of him. And the Lord said, “Who will entice Ahab, so that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ Then one said one thing, and another said another, until a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, “I will entice him.’ “How?’ the Lord asked him. He replied, “I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then the Lord said, “You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do it.’ So you see, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has decreed disaster for you.” Then Zedekiah son of Chenaanah came up to Micaiah, slapped him on the cheek, and said, “Which way did the spirit of the Lord pass from me to speak to you?” Micaiah replied, “You will find out on that day when you go in to hide in an inner chamber.” The king of Israel then ordered, “Take Micaiah, and return him to Amon the governor of the city and to Joash the king’s son, and say, “Thus says the king: Put this fellow in prison, and feed him on reduced rations of bread and water until I come in peace.’ ” Micaiah said, “If you return in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Hear, you peoples, all of you!” (1 Kings 22:19-28 NRSV)

Below, Jeremiah asks his questions after there are disputes over who is a real prophet and who is not. Here he challenges those who profess to proclaim the words of Yahweh.

For who has stood in the council of the Lord so as to see and to hear his word? Who has given heed to his word so as to proclaim it? (Jeremiah 23:18 NRSV)

Below is a very old Psalm in which Yahweh addresses his council and chastises them for dealing unjustly with the wicked. He tells them to rises up and act like the gods they are and Judge justly. We may judge from this interaction that the “sons of God” according to Genesis 6:2 NRSV, may well be these council members taking wives among the mortals on earth which in turn leads to the biblical flood. Another explanation of this text comes from The Anchor Bible: Psalms 51-100 by Mitchell Dahood. His explanation of Psalm 82 states that this is the Lord’s judgment of the pagan gods of other nations. Verses 2-4 give the summery of Charges and 5-7 makes these gods responsible of the cosmic disorders. In Verse 7 God strips the gods of surrounding nations of their immortality. This Psalm shows the view point that the Yahweh cult had concerning other nations and their gods.

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? (Selah) Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.” Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you! (Psalms 82:1-8 NRSV)

In the text below it is Isaiah, like Micaiah in I Kings, witnessing the Council of Yahweh. In this passage there are Seraphs in attendance. Isaiah proclaims his uncleanness and is purified by the seraph touching is lips with coal. He is commanded by Yahweh to make the people dull.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” And he said, “Go and say to this people: “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. (Isaiah 6:1-12 NRSV)

Lastly we have the vision of Zechariah. Here Joshua has become a high priest and as Zechariah witnesses the proceedings in the Heavenly council.

Then he showed me the high priest Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this man a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed with filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And to him he said, “See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you with festal apparel.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with the apparel; and the angel of the Lord was standing by. Then the angel of the Lord assured Joshua, saying “Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Now listen, Joshua, high priest, you and your colleagues who sit before you! For they are an omen of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch. For on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven facets, I will engrave its inscription, says the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the guilt of this land in a single day. On that day, says the Lord of hosts, you shall invite each other to come under your vine and fig tree.” (Zechariah 3:1-10 NRSV)

The idea of a Heavenly Council was prevalent in the Canaanite culture as well is it would be out of line to think that these cultures had no effect on the early Israeli people as they entered the land Yahweh promised them. Below is a passage of Baal chastising the council of the gods:

Comes Puissant Baal,
Advances the Rider of the Clouds.
Lo, he takes his stand and cries defiance,
He stands erect and spits
In the mist of the assembly of the divine beings:
Abomination has been placed upon my table,
Filth in the cup I drink

(Pritchard 132)

Yahweh was always in competition with Baal. And Baal was also in competition with Yahweh. This is seen in I Kings 18 in the account of Elijah on Mount Carmel. Also, due to the fact that many were confusing Yahweh with Baal, Yahweh changes his ways of revealing himself in I Kings 19:11. Yahweh was not in the wind, earthquake or fire, all of which were attributes of Baal also. But Yahweh was now in the “sound of sheer silence”. With this change we see Yahweh withdraw from personal holy war and uses Prophets and empowers mortals to do his bidding. And it is the still small voice the beckons the people of Yahweh to this day. Although this change happened Yahweh and the council of the gods still appear in the writings of later Old and New Testament texts.

Cross, Frank. Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts 1997.

Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 51-100. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New York 1950.

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