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Israel as “sons of God”

Discussing Second Temple Jewish thought and use of Father/son terminology can only cause the question, “where did the idea first come from?” The answer should be obvious—the Hebrew Bible. Other than the general expression of God being the father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5), the nation of Israel particularly is referred to as Jehovah’s son frequently, though this is often unnoticed by readers, and significantly downplayed by Heiser so he can twist his theological conundrum into a convincing thesis.

Heiser’s selective hermeneutics causes him to ignore the fact that the majority of references to God’s sons in the Old Testament is in context identifying Israel. His tendency is to only mention those few passages that provide proof texts for his divine council in order to argue that the “sons of God” must mean divine beings in Psalm 82, commonly citing Genesis 6:1-4; Job 1:5-6; 2:1; 38:7; Psalm 89:6-7; Daniel 3:25. He would add to this list of verses Deuteronomy 32:8 (LXX); and Psalms 29:1, but we will see these two passages are identifying Israel. For example, Psalm 29:1 which uses the phrase beney ’eliym is clearly parallel with “his people” (Psalm 29:11) in a chiastic structure. Note the italics, capitalization and bolds to bring out the emphasis of this Psalm below:

Give unto the Lord, O ye MIGHTY (beney ’eliym),
give unto the Lord glory and strength.
Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name;
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters:
the God of glory thundereth: the Lord is upon many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars;
yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.

He maketh them also to skip like a calf;
Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.

The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness;
the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve,
and discovereth the forests:
and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory.

10 The Lord sitteth upon the flood;
yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever.
11 The Lord will give strength unto HIS PEOPLE;
the Lord will bless his people with peace. (Emphasis mine)

The middle section, verses 3-9, repeat the phrase “The voice of the LORD” seven times with the exception of verse 6 which is the pivot point. The parallel our attention is on is seen in verses 1-2 in connection with verse 10-11, where the “mighty” are to “give unto the LORD.” In verse one the “mighty” (beney ’eliym) “give unto the LORD… strength”1)In Genesis Rabbah 49.8, Psalm 29 is referenced as Israel staying punishment through prayer making the “mighty” Israel interceding in prayer. Midrash Rabbah, Vol. 1, p. 426-427. which is corresponding to verse 11 where “the LORD will give strength unto his people.” The literary structure of this Psalm indisputably identifying the beney ’eliym, translated as “ye mighty,” as God’s people—Israel.

Israel is first called Jehovah’s firstborn son in Exodus 4:22-23, who were called out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1). The Hebrew usually has the word “sons” being often translated as “children” because Deuteronomy 32:19 refers to the Lord’s sons and daughters to make the terminology gender inclusive.2)Technically speaking, the Hebrew and Greek languages are inclusive when using the masculine plural (“sons”) whenever a group of mixed genders is addressed. For example, if there was one male in a group of fifty females the group collectively would be addressed in a masculine form such as “sons of Israel” or using a masculine pronoun. This is common in ancient languages because they were predominantly patriarchal cultures. The totality of the nation is made up of God’s sons and daughters (Deuteronomy 14:1; 32:5, 6, 19; 1 Chronicles 29:10; Isaiah 43:6; 45:11; Hosea 1:10; Malachi 2:10).

God calls them “my people, children” (Isaiah 63:8) which also appears as a parallel in Isaiah 64:8-9; Jeremiah 4:22; Hosea 1:10 and, as we saw above, the chiasm in Psalm 29.3)It is also common in later rabbinic works to connect “my children” with “my/the people.” Just a few examples can be found in Pesikta Rabbati 5.11 [Vol. 1, pp. 114-115]; 11.7 [Vol. 1, p. 214]; 21.11 [Vol. 1, p. 432]; 26.1/2 [Vol. 2, p. 527]. This is common enough that Exodus 29:4 which states, “I will dwell among the children of Israel,” is transposed as “I will dwell among My people Israel” in Pesikta Rabbati 7.4 [Vol. 1, p. 137]. Expressions such as “my people, which are called by my name” (2 Chronicles 7:14), is likely indicating the familial relationships “sons/children of God” as “the people” being called by the name of their Father is seen in Isaiah 63:16, 18-19. This is similar to how descendants can be called by the name of the family’s patriarch “Abraham’s children” (John 8:30), “sons of the house of Rechabites” (Jeremiah 35:5; also see Numbers 26 which is full of examples). God’s sons and daughters are called by His name (Isaiah 43:6-7; 44:5; 56:5). Pagan nations can be called the “people of Chemosh” (Numbers 21:29; Jeremiah 48:46), or “daughters of a strange gods” (Malachi 2:11). In the Christian context, Peter also portrays the sonship terminology synonymous with being God’s people, “being born again… as new born babes… ye are a chosen generation… now a people of God” (1 Peter 1:23; 2:2, 9, 10).

God is said to bare his sons as a father through the wilderness (Deuteronomy 1:31). He will “take up” those who have been forsaken by their human parents (Psalm 27:10). Israel is called children that God has brought up (Isaiah 1:2) and they are rebellious children (Isaiah 1:4; 30:1, 9), or backsliding children (Jeremiah 3:14, 22; 31:22), “sottish children” (Jeremiah 4:22). Jehovah’s children had gone forth from Him (Jeremiah 10:20). He will chastise His nation as a man does his son (Deuteronomy 8:5) because he loves His people (Proverb 3:12).4)If the humanly element of the author of Proverbs is stripped away to have God making the addresses throughout the book, a number of verse could be added to the sonship discussion in the Old Testament (Proverbs 1:8, 10, 15; 2:1; 3:1, 11, 12, 21; 4:1, 10, 20; 5:1, 7, 20; 6:1, 3, 20; 7:1, 24; 8:32; 19:27; 23:15, 19, 26; 24: 13, 21; 27:11). However, in light of Proverb 31:2, this is highly improbable to be the accurate interpretation for the book of Proverbs. In the end He will spare his children (Malachi 3:17) with pity (Psalm 103:13).

The vineyard parable in Isaiah 5:1-7 pronounces coming judgement but uses the affectionate term “well beloved” (Isaiah 5:1) for “the house of Israel” (Isaiah 5:7). God continued to call the rebellious ten northern tribes His firstborn (Jeremiah 31:9), which He called His “dear son” (Jeremiah 31:20). This reveals a universality of the ethnicity of the Jewish people, not just those in Judah who were involved with the proper worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. The “sonship” terminology can be limited to the righteous (Psalm 73:15), or elsewhere be reduced to the priests only (Malachi 1:6).

Individuals can recognize God as their Father, though this is always in context as Israelite kings in the Old Testament (Solomon—2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chronicles 17:11-14; 22:10; 28:6; Solomon is even said sit on the LORD’s throne in 1 Chronicles 29:23; David—Psalm 89:26-27), but these sonship verses are often interpreted as prophecies calling the future Messiah God’s son5)See John Walvoord, Every Prophecy About Jesus, David C. Cook (Colorado Springs, CO: 2016), p. 31 (cf. Psalm 2:7, 12; Zechariah 12:10), which would imply Christ’s divinity (Proverb 30:4; Isaiah 7:14; 8:8; 9:6). However, more generally the nation is encouraged to call God their “Father” (Jeremiah 3:4, 19), and they do call Him “our Father” (Isaiah 63:16; 64:8).

Israel can be depicted as God’s wife who has borne children to Him (Hosea 2:3) or elsewhere Jerusalem as the wife (Ezekiel 16:20-21). Completing the wife and children analogy, they are called backsliding children that God is married to (Jeremiah 3:13; Isaiah 62:5).  Israel was formed from the womb (Isaiah 44:2, 24; 46:3-4; 49:5; 66:8-9) making them God’s offspring (Isaiah 65:23), with other expressions of the nation being made by God (Isaiah 45:10-11; Psalm 149:2). Jeremiah the prophet was formed by God in the belly (Jeremiah 1:5) as one of the four people Rabbinic tradition recognized God personally formed (the other three were Adam [Genesis 2;7], Jacob [Isaiah 43:1], and Isaiah [Isaiah 49:5]).6)Pesikta Rabbati, Vol. 2, p. 525

Isaiah’s children were given to him by God (Isaiah 8:18). On a few occasions the analogy is depicting God in feminine terms such as “mother” (Isaiah 66:13), which even Christ portrayed when lamenting over Jerusalem applying feminine terminology of a hen seeking to gather her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37). The “mother” terminology is rare and should not be taken in any Gnostic or Kabalistic concept as setting God as an androgynous figure.7)E. P. Sanders writes, “In the surrounding cultures, there were both female and male gods, but in the Jewish conception God was very definitely male. This is historical work, and it would misrepresent the sources to refer to God as ‘she’.” E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, Penguin Press (New York, NY: 1993), p. 296, n. 2 In the New Testament the terminology is generally used for Christians, but the inspired text continues to use terms of endearment for Israelites who have rejected the gospel, as in Roman 11:28 which calls them God’s “beloved.”

The “father” language in Deuteronomy 32:5, 6, and verses 18, 19, 20 are in the context of the “son” language of Deuteronomy 32:8 (LXX), which is Heiser’s paradigm passage. He assumes the “sonship” language infers divinity, and misconstrues the proper interpretation of the main verse in the passage his entire theological perspective is established upon. Whether Deuteronomy 32:8 is taken from the Masoretic text “children of Israel,” or the Septuagint “sons of God,” the meaning in its context is still pointing to the nation of Israel as God’s son. This is why Heiser has to downplay the abundance of Father/son terminology identifying Israel throughout the Old Testament to convince his readers of his false interpretation.

This is an excerpt from The Unbiblical Realm: Refuting the Divine Council of Michael Heiser’s Deuteronomy 32 Worldview, pp. 125-128, which is now available here.

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Heath Henning
Heath Henning
Heath heads the Set Free addictions ministry on Friday nights at Mukwonago Baptist Church and is involved in evangelism on the University of Wisconsin Whitewater campus, offering his expertise in apologetics at the weekly Set Free Bible Study every Tuesday evening. He currently lives in East Troy, Wisconsin with his wife and nine children. Read Heath Henning's Testimony

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