My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the most fascinating book I’ve read in a very long time.
Michael Heiser is a respected scholar, and the material in this book has been peer reviewed and is widely accepted among scholars. I begin with that because the assertions in the book may strike the reader as fringe ideas. They are not. But most readers will find them unfamiliar.
The primary thesis is that that Scripture affirms the existence of a “divine council” made up of powerful spiritual beings, higher than angels, that bear God’s image and were God’s family prior to the creation. They are called sons of God, powers of the heavens (or simply “powers” in the Epistles), and the heavenly host. Some of them rebelled and became evil. At the tower of Babel, God punished the people by dividing them up into nations and allotting the sons of God to rule over the various nations. These beings are responsible for a great deal of the evil in the world and play a very significant role in God’s dealings with people throughout the Bible. God’s plan is to judge the fallen powers, reclaim the nations for himself, and elevate Christians to take their place in the divine council.
Heiser goes through the whole Bible, section-by-section, clearing showing the role these beings play at every point. As I listened to the audio book, Heiser dealt with one passage after another that has always confused me and showed how they made perfect sense with these beings in view. This includes insights into messianic prophecy, the day of Pentecost, the Transfiguration, and many end times prophecies.
There are some interpretations I don’t’ agree with. The most significant is Heiser’s view of predestination. He argues that not everything that happens is ordained by God. His argument is that since God foreknows some things that don’t happen (as seen when God says things like, “Sodom and Gomorrah would have repented if …” He knows what would have happened in different circumstances, even though it didn’t happen), therefore not everything God foreknows is ordained. He then assumes that even some things that do happen, while they were foreknown by God, were not ordained by him. This strikes me as terrible logic. The fact that God didn’t ordain things that didn’t happen does not prove that he didn’t ordain things that did happen. Heiser gives no explanation for the many passage that speak of even negative things coming from God, such as Acts 4:28, Ecclesiastes 7:14, and Amos 3:6.
I should also point out, however, that his ideas about predestination have very little to do with the thesis of the book, which stands just as firmly regardless of whether the reader agrees or disagrees with his view of predestination. It is not a problem that the powers of the heavens are capable of choosing evil any more than it is a problem that human beings can choose evil.
Another point I’m not sure I’m convinced of is his view that the angel of the LORD is the pre-incarnate Christ. He argues that since that being is identified with Yahweh, he must be God. It’s true he is identified with Yahweh, but he is also called an angel, even in the New Testament. For me, it seems easier to explain why an angel would be identified with Yahweh (messengers sent by kings were often identified with the sovereign who sent them. I would find it much more difficult to explain why God himself would be called an angel (although I must admit, Heiser’s explanation is the best I’ve heard, and I am considering it. But as of yet, I remain unconvinced.)
My disagreements aside, this book has revolutionized my understanding of Scripture. I highly recommend it.
I was listening to your “This is Some Rescue” message on Mark 15:22-32, and I realized I had a question related to Heiser’s book, so I thought I’d ask it here.
I think it was in this book where he talked about one of the reasons for Jesus’ secrecy was to keep the demons unaware of the plan of the cross.
But as you pointed out in this message, Satan clearly already knew Jesus would go to the cross, as evidenced by Satan’s temptations in the desert and Jesus’ rebuke of Peter.
So what should we think? Was Heiser imprecise here? Or maybe, did Satan know *something*, but just maybe not the full or exact plan?
That was one point in his book I didn’t find persuasive. If I remember right, he didn’t really offer much in the way of evidence for the idea. I think it’s just his theory. And I don’t think it fit the evidence–especially in Mark.
The first command to secrecy in Mark was given to demons, not humans.
Mark 1:34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
Also in ch.3.
Mark 3:11 Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.
Furthermore, it was never the information about the cross that Jesus commanded to be kept quiet. It was either his miracles or his role as Messiah, which the demons already knew.
I’m not convinced on the two Yahweh thing, but my experience with the book is a lot like yours. It really opened up a lot of new understanding for me.
I hope your wife writes the novel! We need a good one on the watchers. Heiser’s is terrible. He’s a fantastic theologian, but his fiction writing leaves a lot to be desired.
Thank you for pointing me to this book. This is one of the most helpful books on theology I’ve ever read, but I’m glad I didn’t read earlier. God in his providence made sure I read it at exactly the right time.
There have been a few “cosmic leaps” I’ve made in my understanding of the gospel. Each of these cosmic leaps was one because they helped me understand the Bible in new way and answer a lot of questions I had:
The first was when I really started to understand how the Bible is consistent throughout – from the OT through the NT and it really is the same compassionate, loving, merciful God all the way through, as Jesus is as present in the OT as he is in the new.
The second was when I started to understand Calvinism and reformed theology. Whether or not I consider myself a Calvinist isn’t the point, but just understanding the *principles* and the way the Bible talks about certain things again helped me to settle a lot of questions I had.
And finally, Heiser’s book and the divine council view is the next one. There are so many things that just make a ton of sense now that were previously very confusing. This is probably the most helpful metanarrative that I’ve read that connects all the dots of the Bible and still fits in with everything else I’ve come to believe. I can’t overstate how eye-opening it was.
My wife has always been extremely interested in the Watchers and Nephilim and the stories from the Book of Enoch. In fact, she has a *really* cool idea for a novel based on some of this stuff. And just talking to her about this book really caused her to come alive too. I can tell a lot of dots were connected in her own mind, and some nagging questions she had maybe had, that were preventing her faith from becoming stronger, were answered, allowing her faith to deepen. It was a beautiful thing to see.
There was a moment when we were talking that I could just “see” the realization dawn on her that everything in the Bible is true, because this divine council view explains *so much* about other things we see around us and throughout history. Sure, up to that point she would have said she believed the Bible, and it would have been true, but now I could the joy and wonder and almost giddy disbelief that yes, it *really is* TRUE!!!
Finally, for me, he answered a specific question I have always wrestled with. It’s very* minor in the grand scheme of things, but it was something I had always wondered about. In John 17:11, Jesus refers to the Father as “Holy Father.” As far as I’m aware, this is the only time Jesus refers to the Father this way.
Everything I have learned about holiness up to this point was “otherness” God is holy because he is “other” than us, and he is absolutely pure. So it’s right for us as humans to call God holy, but why would Jesus call the Father holy since Jesus isn’t “other” than the Father, but is of the very same essence and purity?
But Heiser’s explanation of the “two Yahwehs” and the pre-incarnate Christ, suddenly made it click for me. On page 172 he says, “Otherness is the core of holiness… While the idea has a moral dimension related to conduct, it is not intrinsically about morality. It is about *distinction.* ”
And so these two Yahwehs – “one invisible and always present in the spiritual realm (‘the heavens’), the other brought forth to interact with humanity on earth, most typically as a man” (p. 141) are distinct from each other.
So when Jesus refers to the Father as “Holy Father,” he’s signaling this “Two Yahweh” idea. Especially important – and I think why it’s only here in John 17 and nowhere else – because in this high priestly prayer, in the same breath as calling him “Holy Father,” he says “keep them in your name.”
In pages 142-145, Heiser explains that “the name” of God signals God’s protection – only YHWH could defeat the gods of the nations, and John 17 is where Jesus sends the disciples into the world and asks that they be protected from the evil one.
So by drawing attention to the distinction between the two Yahwehs, and invoking the protection of the name of the Lord, Jesus is using divine council language. He’s reminding them that even though he’s going away, the protection that comes with the name of the Lord, including the tangible help from the second Yahweh, will still be with them as they invade spiritual enemy territory to conquer it on behalf of Yahweh.
Again, perhaps a minor point, and I probably explained it clumsily, but just an example of things that had previously made no sense now suddenly do.