In Genesis 1-11, God occasionally addresses the first-person plural (“we/us”). Bandstra describes as the likeliest explanation the institution of the “Divine Council” (biblical “benê elohim” or “divine beings”).
First, collect the passages in Genesis 1-11 where God does so.
The use of first-person plural occurs in three places in Genesis 1-11: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…’” (1:26); “Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil…’” (3:22); and “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” (11:7)
Then, read the following passages. Describe the features of the Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible. To what human institutions does it appear to correspond, and how? Who appear to be its members, and what are their job descriptions?
1 Kings 22:19-22 (“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 Ramothgilead?’ 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 Lord said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do it.’”)
Deut 32:8-9 (“When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods; the Lord’s own portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share.”)
Psalm 82 (“God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment”)
Isaiah 6:8 (“Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.”)
Job 1:6 (“One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.”
Job 2:1 (“One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord.”)
Psalm 29:1-2 (“Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.”)
Job 38:7 (“…when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”)
Psalm 89:6-7 (“For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, a God feared in the council of the holy ones, great and awesome above all that are around him?)
As I read some of these passages, mental images immediately came to mind. The verses from Kings reminded me of the Avatars from the television series “Charmed” who stood together watching all of mankind on a giant hologram. There was clearly a “head” Avatar giving orders to the rest of the group, deciding who should live, who should die, etc. He kept watch like a general overseeing a battlefield. Lesser powerful Avatars could offer suggestions but there was only one clearly in charge. God is acting in that role in this passage – like a general in command.
I also got the impression of God as a judge or arbiter. Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and Psalm 82 speak of judgment and apportionment. Like the passage from Kings, God is clearly in charge but in the Kings passage he isn’t interested in anyone else’s opinion. If he wants to take the largest chunk or a particular people for himself, he can do it. He is in control, in command and making the decisions. Period. End of story.
God also appears as someone kind, to whom one can turn for aid. In Isaiah 6:8, God appears as a comforter. The message is “everyone else go away – my father has heard me crying and I will go to him and he will help me.”
And then he appears as the leader of the council, the most wise, most glorious leader whom all adore. He is the wise King who is worshipped by all his followers. I see this in Psalm 29:1-2 and 89:6-7 and Job 38:7.
Finally, revisit the “we/us” passages from Genesis 1-11, imagining this Divine Council present and directly addressed by God. Does anything change for you when you imagine God addressing this council? How or how not?
Bandstra says the Divine Council “was thought to be the governing assembly of angelic beings that managed the world with God. The angels, called ‘sons of God’ in other texts, were the administrative council of heaven.” (Bandstra, p. 43)
Second, we know that there are two creation stories in Genesis 1. There’s the priestly Elohim story of Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a, in which God “created” the heavens and the earth out of “a formless void” that had water and was affected by wind. (Genesis 1:2) Written during the 800s or early 700s BCE by a priest living in the norther n kingdom, the priestly documents reflected efforts to sustain the faith of the refugees and rebuild their identity. The writer, probably a Levite priest, was all about order and the progression of history. (Bandstra p. 26)He refers to God as “Elohim,” a generic term for God.
By contrast, the second creation story, in which the second of the three “us/we” statements appears, refers to Yhwh Elohim specifically – the Lord God. Originating in the southern kingdom in the ninth century, this story, provides a “supportive history and theological foundation” for the kingdom of David. (Lecture B, Documentary Hypothesis; Bandstra 23) The Yahwist identified sin as a human impulse, focusing on divine promises and the curses that will befall those who are disobedient. (Bandstra 23)
Was there only one creator – as the Yahwist writes, one Lord God, who was the leader of a larger Divine Council of administrators? Or was this a collection of several gods that came together as a council of relative equals? Bandstra gives us two examples of other creation stories that include multiple creators. What about the Atrahsis Epic from Mesopotamia with its gods of heaven (Anu), earth (Enlil), water (Enki) and the underworld (We). Or the Babylonian creation story of Apsu and Tiamat, the god and goddess of saltwater and freshwater? Maybe the Elohist had this kind of Divine Council in mind when he used “us/we” language in Genesis 3:22.
Which brings me back to the question of the week. Does anything change for me? Not really. The Hebrew Bible is a collection of stories, flavored by the personality of their authors and rooted in the context of the time in which they were written. Or, as stated in our Enduring Understandings for this module, it’s a “Library of composite texts that are substantively diverse in their understandings of God and of the world.” The authors of the cited passages saw God and the Divine Council as they needed to, based on the circumstances of their time. That’s what the Elohist and Yahwist were doing in their two different creation narratives. The fact that the two stories conflict, doesn’t matter. They accomplish the authors’ purpose. In that respect, they are considered “true” and reliable sources of theological authority for believers.