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Michael Heiser was a Ph.D. student in biblical Hebrew studies when a colleague handed him a Hebrew Bible one Sunday morning. "Here, read this. Closely." It was open to Psalm 82:
God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.
God, in the midst of other gods? Heiser had read every word of Scripture, but he had never noticed this. It sounded heretical at first. What is the divine council? And who (or what) are these gods?
Thus began his fifteen-year journey through Scripture alongside the works of trusted ancient Near Eastern scholars. As it turned out, this concept of "gods," or other supernatural beings, ran throughout Scripture—from Genesis through the Gospels to Revelation. Of course, it's no news flash to biblically informed people that the Creator God of the Bible—"Yahweh"—has made both a spiritual and a physical realm. But in The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, Heiser adjusts the lens, so to speak, to help us better understand the spiritual.
Our worldview is very different from that of the writers of Scripture, and as a result, many modern theological systems either explain away or ignore a whole host of difficult passages whose straightforward meaning doesn't fit into the system. Heiser, a first-rate scholar with knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, Ugaritic (the language of ancient Canaan), Akkadian, Egyptian, and Aramaic, has thrown back the modern, materialistic curtain and reset the whole epic story of Scripture, including some of the seemingly bizarre passages, back into the context of the supernatural worldview of its original authors and audiences.
And he does so in a way that is remarkably accessible to the everyday reader familiar with the basic biblical narrative. Here are some of the concepts he unpacks:
The Divine Council: Alternately referred to as "the heavenly host," "gods," "Sons of God," or "Holy Ones," the "divine council" is not just a group of ethereal angels floating around playing harps and singing. Yahweh God holds court, and they counsel with him. They govern affairs as his subordinates and engage in spiritual combat, among other tasks.
The Nephilim: Cast as "mighty warriors" and "men of renown"—literally, "men of the name"—these are Babylonian ancestors of the giant clans that opposed the Israelite conquest of Canaan.
The Divine Allotment: In response to human rebellion at the Tower of Babel, Yahweh gave the nations over to the gods of their idols, effectively placing them under the rule of fallen spirit beings, as is recorded in Deuteronomy 32:8. Yahweh then initiated a "fresh start" with humanity through Abraham and Sarah, taking Israel as his own possession, with the ultimate goal of evicting those fallen gods from their territories and drawing people from every nation, tribe, and tongue into his own kingdom under his anointed king, the Messiah.
Novelist and screenwriter Brian Godawa, who dedicated the first book of his biblical fantasy series to Heiser, called The Unseen Realm a "game-changer for Evangelical Christianity." "Like Elisha's servant opening his eyes to see the myriad of heavenly host surrounding the valley," he writes, "so I now saw God's heavenly host as part of a storyline of redemption that traditional Evangelicalism has missed or misunderstood because of its . . . modern categories and -hermeneutics."
I agree. This is one eye-opening book. For the scholarly-squeamish, Heiser's companion book Supernatural presents the same material as in Unseen Realm but directed to a more general readership. •
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