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God’s staff team: the elohim

On God’s staff team, there are cherubim (multi-faced sphinx-creatures), a Court of seraphim (flying serpent-dragons), and a ton of angels! There is only ONE God and yet the Bible talks about “the gods.” What’s up with that?

In the OT the Hebrew word translated “God” and “the gods” is elohim. For example, “In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth” (the one true God; Gen 1:1). Then notice, when king Saul engaged in a séance, the witch told him, “I see an elohim coming up out of the earth” (not the one true God; 1 Sam 28:13). Same word, but not the same thing.

The word itself, while plural in form, is singular in concept. In other words, elohim simply connotes the idea of “power.” The one and only uncreated God (Elohim), the sum of all power, has created lesser powers (elohim). There is only one Elohim that is all-powerful—and his name is Yahweh (which we translate as “LORD”). The LORD is God, there is none like him (cf. Deut 4:35; 1 Kings 8:60; Is 44:6; etc.).

So, when Scripture talks about the “gods,” it is referring to inferior, limited, created “powers” (elohim). What do they do all day? Let’s look at Psalm 82“God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods (elohim) he holds judgment” (Ps 82:1). Here we learn that the lesser powers make up “the divine council” of seraphim that are unmistakably subordinate to the LORD God. In Job’s story, the council is summoned to “present themselves before God” (Job 1:6; 2:1). Why? What’s their role on God’s staff team?

In Psalm 82, God asks the council members, “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Ps 82:2-4). Let’s get this straight: God created a heavenly council to stand up for the powerless and bring to justice all those who exploit the vulnerable, but the council is doing the exact opposite! Their decisions favor the wicked! This isn’t good. God is not happy. The council of lesser elohim are “fools” that “walk about in darkness” while the foundations of human society are shaken to the core (Ps 82:5-6). What a hot mess.

How could the lesser powers dare to challenge God? God created his heavenly staff team with the capacity to make moral choices—just like people. Why did he do that? Why not just create a bunch of celestial robots? Robots can’t love; they can get things done, but they cannot love. God is love. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

However, God won’t let the lesser powers off the hook. He tells them, “You are gods (elohim), sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince” (Ps 82:7). Apparently, God’s staff team will be held accountable for their actions.

What can we learn from the divine council?

1) We can present ourselves before the Lord to carry out his will—not ours.

2) We can speak out against all forms of exploitation and do what we can to defend the defenseless.

3) We can refuse to bless or celebrate sin no matter the cost.