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Part One:  The Powers in the Old Testament

indent.gif (90 bytes)In previous papers we have examined briefly the role of demons in the origin of the State, and the role of angels in the government of God which we call Providence.  In this and a future paper we will look at the phrase "principalities and powers" as it occurs most notably in the epistles of the Apostle Paul.
indent.gif (90 bytes)In this paper we examine further the role of angelic beings as they were involved in the political entities we call "nations."  We will concentrate on the Old Testament, and then examine the New Testament perspective in the next paper.
indent.gif (90 bytes)In both papers we are relying chiefly on a work entitled The Powers that Be, by Clinton D. Morrison (No. 29, Studies in Biblical Theology, Alec R. Allenson, Inc., 635 E. Ogden Ave., Naperville, IL).  Morrison summarizes a wealth of information which has been published in this century, but unfortunately (at least for ignorant Americans who know only one language) in German.

Judaism vs. the Bible

In looking at the Old Testament doctrine of the State and its relation to angelic beings, we can be both hindered and helped by looking at the way Jewish scholars have looked at the issue. Our goal is not just to understand the Old Testament view, but the Biblical view, most notably with reference to Paul's mention of "the powers" in Romans 13.

"An exegetical concern with Paul's view of the spirit world must first begin with the environment of ideas which he shared. While he accepted [some] concepts of Jewish [thought] and while these ideas may help explain his words, Paul had no interest in the speculative logic, the detail and fancy, in which popular Judaism indulged. [W]e must consider the ideas of the ancient world from the same perspective as did Paul, a man in Christ." (p. 18)

The Spirit World of Judaism

In a previous paper we saw the wonder of the Throne of God, with the countless angels who attend to God's decrees. The "Reconstructionists" are not the first to have seen this Biblical teaching:

"In its general aspects the spirit world of Judaism was thought to consist of countless radiant beings which adorned the splendour and majesty about the divine throne. A favorite theme connected with the spirit world of Judaism was the conception of the heavenly court. This council of spiritual beings, known as bene elohim ("sons of God" -- Job 1:6; 2:1; or bene elim, Ps. 29:1; 89:7; etc.; cf. Enoch 6:2) or kedoshim ("holy ones" -- Ps. 89:6,8; Job 5:1; 15:15; Deut. 33:2; Zech 14:5; (Amos 4:2, LXX) cf. Enoch 1:9), was presided over by God. They formed the "familia on high" with whom all divine decisions were discussed before God (alone) ordained what should come to pass in the earth below." (p. 18)

We explained in a previous paper that it is the angels that carry out God's divine decrees, e.g., the promises in Deuteronomy 28. Crops don't grow automatically; the angels make them grow. A city is not destroyed by a fire, tornado, or earthquake by some "natural law," it is the judicial cursing of God executed by heavenly agents.

Meredith Kline, the influential Old Testament Professor at Westminster and Gordon-Conwell Seminary, understands the statement in Genesis 1:26 ("Let us make man") to be a reference to the angels in the Heavenly Court:

In Genesis 1:26 it is the plural form of the creative fiat that links the creation of man in the image of God to the Spirit-Glory of Genesis 1:2. The Glory-Cloud curtains the heavenly enthronement of God in the midst of the judicial council of his celestial hosts. Here is the explanation of the "let us" and the "our image" in the Creator's decree to make man. He was addressing himself to the angelic council of elders, taking them into His deliberative counsel.

This understanding of the first-person-plural fiat is supported by the fact that consistently where this usage occurs in divine speech it is in the context of the heavenly council or at least of heavenly beings. Especially pertinent for Genesis 1:26 is the nearby instance in Genesis 3:22, a declaration concerned again with man's image-likeness to God: "Man has become like one of us to know good and evil." The cherubim mentioned in verse 24 were evidently being addressed. In the cases where God determines to descend and enter into judgment with a city like Babel or Sodom, and a plural form (like "Let us go down") alternates with a singular (Genesis 11:7; 18:21), the explanation of the plural is at hand in the angelic figures who accompany the Angel of the Lord on His judicial mission (Genesis 18:2; 19:1). When, in Isaiah's cal experience, the Lord, enthroned in the Glory-Cloud of His temple, asks, "Whom shall I send and who will go for us?" (Isa. 6:8), the plural is again readily accounted for by the seraphim attendants at the throne or (if the seraphim are to be distinguished from the heavenly elders, as are the winged creatures of the throne in Revelation 4) by the divine council, which in any case belongs to the scene." (Images of the Spirit, pp. 22-23)[cf. Luke 9:26]

There are several passages in the Old Testament which link the nations of the earth with the spirit world: Deut. 32:8 (LXX), Daniel 10:13,20f., and Daniel 12:1. These Biblical teachings found their way into Judaistic thought in the concept of guardian angels who were placed over the nations ("folk angels").

Deuteronomy 32:8

Modern scholars and translations of the Scriptures side with the Septuagint version of the Old Testament (the Greek version cited by our Lord and the Apostles) in translating Deut 32:8. The RSV renders it, "[Remember] when the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God." The NIV has this rendering in the margin. This is understood to mean that

"every people except Israel was given over to the guardianship of an angelic prince (i.e., heavenly counsellor), but Israel was kept for Yahweh's own (cf. Ecclus. 17:17; Jub. 15:30 and Deut 4:19; 29:25f.). As the concept of folk angels remained current into the later Roman period, we learn from the Midrashim that the angels which Jacob saw in his dream, ascending and descending the heavenly ladder, were the angelic princes of the peoples. The rising of one of these folk angels indicated that power and dominion was exercised by his people on earth, and his descending to be replaced by the angel of another people indicated that another world power had ascended to authority in the world below." (p. 19)

That the angels did not always do as they were commanded is suggested in Enoch 89:59ff.

"The seventy shepherds (folk angels) were commissioned to pasture the sheep (Israel) and to destroy (executing divine vengeance) only as many as God commanded. The excessive suffering of Israel under the domination of foreign powers, especially the destruction of the righteous, was thus to be attributed to the disobedience of the folk angels who would be judged for their work (Enoch 90:20ff. cf. Psalms 58, 82; Isa. 24:21ff.)." (pp. 19-20)

Typical of Jewish interpreters, this interpretation is somewhat "zionistic," or nationalistic, rather than God-glorifying. Our point here is not to present infallible interpretations, but only to call attention to verses which may have been heretofore neglected. We shall offer our own interpretations of these intriguing passages in future papers (and, of course, those interpretations will be infallible [erk!]).

Daniel 10

Although these interpretations mingle Scripture with writings most agree are apocryphal, certain Scripture passages lead us to conclude that the interpretations are not that far off. One such passage is certainly Daniel 10 (esp. vv. 13 and 20), which describes the conflict between the angels over Israel and those over foreign powers such as Persia. We invite the reader simply to read that chapter now; its significance is clear, even if our understanding is not. Walvord of Dallas Seminary quotes one commentator who notes that "the idea of guardian angels over entire realms, whether friendly or hostile in their disposition toward the theocracy, is attested by various Old Testament parallels, particularly by Isa. xxiv.21...; Isa. xlvi.2; Jer. xlvi.25; xlix.3 (where the gods of the heathen nations take the place of the guardian angels); Deut xxxii.8; and Psa. xcvi.4, lxx.; also Bar. iv.7 and Ecclus xvii.17 (where `hgoumenoV seems to designate an angel prince, exactly like sar in this passage), -- to say nothing of New Testament passages, such as I Cor. viii.5; x.20 et seq." He goes on to suggest "That adversari may more probably have taken place in super-mundane regions; and that this was the case seems to have been attested by parallels like I Kings xxii. 19 et seq.; Job i.6. ii.1 et seq.; Luke x.18; xxii.31," and notes that we should give attention to "all the powers who operate at the head of the Persian empire, including both the earthly and the super-earthly, the guardian spirit and the king beside his chief officers (cf. Isa. xxiv.21 et seq.; lvii.9; Psa. lxxxii.6; also the more extended signification of "kings" ( = great ones, mighty ones), which occurs, e.g. in Psa. ii.2; Job xxix.25; Ezek. xxiv.7; I Kings xi.24)."

E. J. Young, late of Westminster Seminary, has asserted that the "prince of Persia" is not the earthly ruler over Persia: "The prince here is the guardian angel of Persia (cf. Isa. 24:21; 46:2; Jer. 46:25; I Cor. 8:5; 10:20), i.e., the 'supernatural spiritual power standing behind the national gods, which we may properly call the guardian spirit of this kingdom' (Keil)."

Again the relationship between angelic powers and earthly elohim is brought to our attention. In the next paper we shall return to other Old Testament verses as they are referred to by New Testament writers. For now, it seems clear that the Church of Christ needs to give renewed attention to the relationship between angelic powers and the State.

Any evangelical commentator may be consulted on this passage, and there is almost universal agreement that this passage teaches the work of demons or evil angels over each nation. Calvin, whose political thought was at times dominated by natural law thinking and an almost Machiavellian view of the glory of Roman Law statecraft, is a striking exception.

Part Two: Powers in the New Testament

Christian "Anarchism" is Our Goal  | |  All Evil is Predestined by God   | |  Pray for a Servant's Understanding  | |  Angels and God's Throne of Government  | |  Stars and Idolatry  | |  Why the State Always Encourages Immorality  | |  Unlucky 13 -- Romans 13, Revelation 13 and Isaiah 13  | |   A Roman's-Eye View of Romans 13  | |  "Principalities and Powers"  | |  Lakes of Fire in "Smoke-Filled Rooms"  | |  Romans 13: The Burden is on the Archists  | |  Taxation, Representation, and the Myth of the State  | |   Why the State is not a "Divine Institution"   | |  Angels and Autarchy  | |  95 Theses Against the State   | |   Here is what a Christian Anarchist looks like after he has joined The Christmas Conspiracy.

Christmas Conspiracy


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