Spiritual Forces of Evil|
Question: Who or what are the spiritual forces that the apostle Paul says we are fighting against in Ephesians 6:12? Paul writes, For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Who are they? Where do these forces come from and what is their purpose?
For years conservative Christians have struggled with these questions. Sadly, some groups have gone off the deep end and see a demon behind every difficult situation or person we might encounter. Others have allegorized biblical passages dealing with spiritual forces, to the point of unbelief. However, in the last few years, Hebrew and Semitics scholar and Editor of Logos Bible Software, Dr. Michael Heiser, and other academicians (e.g. John H. Walton, Wheaton College), have made inroads into these mysteries for us. However, the chances are that we will not hear of their research in church sermons or Sunday school - not yet, anyway.
Dr. Heiser, particularly, has been making a valiant effort to reach ordinary church goers and is endorsed by peers such as Dr. Darrell Bock from Dallas Theological Seminary and Dr. Tremper Longman III from Westmont College, among others. Heiser holds a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and Semitic Languages, two M.A.s in Ancient Israel and Egyptology and the other in Hebrew Studies, and does translation work in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Ugaritic cuneiform and ten other ancient languages. He is uniquely qualified.
Therefore, to begin with we strongly recommend that all Christians read Dr. Heiser's book, The Unseen Realm (Lexham Press, 2015). You can also watch his videos entitled "The Divine Council" and "The Divine Council Worldview" on You Tube or his website, drmsh.com. The following may not make sense to you until you have seen his videos or read his book. Nevertheless, here is a short synopsis. Heiser has identified 4 primary groups of rebels from the Bible and Second Temple literature, who are our primary adversaries:
First Group of Rebels from Garden of Eden
The first adversary comes from the well-known story of the Garden of Eden. The serpent or the Nachash (shining one) in Genesis chapter 3, enticed Adam and Eve to sin, resulting in the Fall of mankind. Of course, that is not to negate the fact that mankind, of his own accord, sinned, was cursed to die and became filled with evil, murderous thoughts, intentions and misdeeds.
Second Group of Rebels from Genesis 6
The second group of rebels include the offending sons of God from Genesis 6. When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose (Gen. 6:1-2, ESV). The sons of God (also called angels or watchers) are also mentioned in 2 Peter as, the angels when they sinned…committed to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment (2 Peter 2:4). They are further referenced in Jude and the book of Revelation. In fact, they may be those who are later released upon the earth in Revelation chapter 9. But, for now they are safely imprisoned.
Some of the watcher-angels, perhaps as many as 200 (Book of Enoch 6:6), sinned greatly by defying God's natural order. They cohabited with human females and produced offspring who were the Nephilim, Anakim, Rephaim, Gibborim and other giant tribes made up of men possibly reaching seven to ten feet tall. In fact, the watcher's offspring may have sinned against birds, beasts, reptiles, fish, devoured human flesh and drank blood (book of Enoch 7:5).
Could these have been breeding programs? The book of Jasher 4:18 reads, "And their judges and rulers went to the daughters of men and took their wives by force from their husbands according to their choice, and the sons of men in those days took from the cattle of the earth, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and taught the mixture of animals of one species with the other, in order therewith to provoke the Lord"…(sacred texts.com). (Students may remember that the book of Jasher is mentioned in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18).
Preposterous? Look at National Geographic videos of ancient archaeological remains revealing underwater cities off the coast of Japan or Greece and imagine what kind of beings walked up and down those gigantic steps! Worldwide myths about giants may have their roots in fact. Even Greek myths can be traced back to the ancient Near East in astonishing ways.
Third Group of Rebels from Tower of Babel Event
The third group of rebels came from the Tower of Babel events recorded in Genesis chapter 11. Men had gathered in one area to build a ziggurat or a temple complex in order to bring Yahweh down to them. But, God wanted men to disperse after the flood and repopulate the earth (Gen. 9:1, KJV).
In response to their rebellion, the Lord confused their language and assigned 70 lesser gods known as "bene elohim" ("sons of God") to rule over 70 nations; those 70 ethnic groups, known as the Table of Nations, are listed in Genesis 10. When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But, the LORD's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage (Deut. 32:8-9, ESV).
Regarding "sons of God" wording in the passage above, note that the ESV uses the oldest translation from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Be aware that the Greek version reads "angels of God." The Masoretic Text translates "sons of God" as "sons of Israel," although Israel was not even a nation at this time. Deuteronomy 4:19-20 and 7:6-11 describes Israel's formation as a nation. Therefore, students may wish to use the ESV, RSV, NRSV, and NLT translations which have incorporated the oldest manuscript writings into the biblical texts rather than include them as footnotes.
Regarding other passages using the term "gods," "elohim" usually means singular God but can also mean plural gods depending upon Hebrew grammar. We do the same thing in English: A "deer" ran in front of my car (meaning one). Or, there is a herd of "deer." All disembodied inhabitants from the spiritual world are "elohim" although none are comparable to Yahweh, who is also translated from "elohim." The biblical "elohim" consist of:
- Yahweh the God of Israel (Gen. 2:4-5; Deut. 4:35)
- members of Yahweh's council (Ps. 82:1-6)
- gods of other nations (Judges 11:24; 1 Kings 11:33)
- demons (shedim, Deut. 32:17)
- the deceased Samuel (1 Sam. 28:13)
- angels or the Angel of Yahweh (Gen. 35:7)
(Heiser 2015 The Unseen Realm, 30; The Divine Council - YouTube).
The Divine Council
The "sons of God" referenced in Deuteronomy 32:8-9, came from the divine council also known as "assembly of the holy ones" or "heavenly beings" from Psalm 82 and 89: God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? (Ps. 82:1-2, ESV). Note that "God" in this passage comes from the word "elohim" as does "in the midst of the gods," also translated from the word "elohim."
For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him? (Ps. 89:6-7, ESV). According to Heiser's entry in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: "The term divine council is used by Hebrew and Semitics scholars to refer to the heavenly host, the pantheon of divine beings who administer the affairs of the cosmos…" (ed. Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns, IVP, 2008, 112).
In his article, "The Divine Council," Heiser states, "In the divine council in Israelite religion, Yahweh was the supreme authority over a divine bureaucracy that included a second tier of lesser elohim (the bene elim, bene elohim, or the bene ha elohim), and a third tier of mal'akim ("angels"). …"Yahweh is the 'true God' (elohim emet; Jer 10:10). The assertion points to the belief that, while Yahweh was an elohim, he was qualitatively unique among the elohim. The primary distinguishing characteristic of Yahweh from any other elohim was his pre-existence and creation of all things (Is 45:18), including the 'host of heaven'(Ps 33:6; 148:1-5; cf. Neh 9:6)…"(The Divine Council.com.,3-6).
The divine council consists of:
- Sons of God (Deut. 32:8-9/princes of Daniel 10)
Divine Council Rebels
Remember that the book of Daniel (chapter 10), refers to the Prince of Persia and Greece, and to the Prince of Israel, Michael. So, we can assume that there are at least 70 Princes over nations of the world, and that the gods from the divine council are those who may engineer and control geopolitical events worldwide (Deut. 32:8-9; Gen. 10). They may be from a different class of beings than angels, but they are certainly divine beings.
Possibly, the gods may have ruled adequately for a time. But, then they certainly turned against God. They were unjust, demanded worship, encouraged idolatry, mistreated orphans, widows and the poor, and indulged in all sorts of evil. In a future judgment, they are consigned to die like mortal men (Psalm 82:1-7).
Dr. Michael Heiser does not stand alone in his biblical exegesis of the above verses - serious students and scholars will find similar readings and interpretations from other sources as well. For example, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops state that "in Psalm 82 as in Ps 58, the pagan gods are seen as subordinate divine beings to whom Israel's God had delegated oversight of the foreign countries in the beginning (Dt 32:8-9). Now God arises in the heavenly assembly (Ps 82:1) to rebuke the unjust 'gods' (Ps 82:2-4), who are stripped of divine status and reduced in rank to mortals (Ps 82:5-7)." (www.usccb.org/bible/psalms/82; Catholic Bible NABRE, 2012). Dr. Bruce Metzger and Dr. Herbert May also supply comparable notes in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha (RSV), 1977.
Surprisingly, in concluding this section we find that it is the church and Jewish saints who will ultimately replace the gods' positions of rulership over our planet and perhaps beyond throughout the universe (See Psalm 8:1-8; we are to rule over the works of God's hand). As a result, we can assume that these divine beings apparently hate Christians, Jewish saints, the State of Israel, the Jewish Messiah and God's creation. To be sure, worldwide persecutions testify of their desire to kill off future rivals.
Fourth Group of Rebels from Demons
(Artwork by Duncan Long.com)
The fourth group of rebels are the demons, known as the "shedim" in the Old Testament. From Second Temple literature (roughly from 500 B.C. to 100 A.D.), we know that ancient Jewish sages believed that demons are the spirits from dead hybrid-beings known as the Nephilim and other giant races. They were created when sinning angels cohabited with women and produced unnatural offspring (Genesis 6; Book of Enoch 15:8-11). These demons don't really belong anywhere. They are half spiritual beings, so they don't belong on earth. Yet, they are half-human spirits who don't belong to the spiritual world, either (Book of Enoch 15:8-10). It may explain why they seek re-embodiment through the possession of humans, animals or idols.
Part 2, World Religions, Wars and Cosmic Events
It is the third group above, the gods of the nations, who are causing many of our problems today. The bible tells us that "Satan is the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2). He is the "ruler of this world" (John 12:31) who has "blinded the minds of unbelievers" (2 Cor. 4:4). Possibly, we see other beings worshiped around the world as Buddha, Allah, a Hindu god, Shiva, Satanic beings such as Baphomet, and innumerable lesser gods. The names change but the gods are most likely the same offenders from ancient times. We might be able to gain insight and clarification regarding their identity by observing what they emphasize in our country, other nations and religions of today.
For example, in June of 2016 world leaders including Germany's Chancellor Merkel, attended the Gotthard Base Tunnel Ceremony featuring a presentation of occultic worship of pagan gods, ritualistic dances and death scenes that defy rational belief. Not to be forgotten, another production called "Symmetry," a dance opera celebrating the opening of CERN, secretly featured a staged human sacrifice late at night at the very site physicists later found the God Particle. A replica of the Hindu god, Shiva, lord of the dance and the destroyer, stands at CERN's entrance. Seriously? What were those two ceremonies all about? You can still watch these occultic rituals on YouTube through BBC and other prominent news sources.
Religious Practices Identify Rulers
We can observe many of the religions and philosophies that have taken hold around the world and assume that they are encouraged by evil spiritual-entities. For instance, abortion or infanticide is emphasized here in the United States. Could the god, Moloch, be behind it? Other philosophies encourage unnatural sexual behaviors and extreme immorality. Is Ishtar involved? To be sure, transgenderism and bisexuality are not "progressive." Take a look at Inanna, 4,000 B.C. Sumerian god/goddess who was androgynous. Nothing like "old time religion."
Others practice barbaric enslavement of women, sexual enslavement of girls, genital mutilation, and sexual abuse of boys and infants (pedophilia); we also witness brutal murder and death cults, beheadings, and a lust for political and world domination. Could Allah be the renamed Asshur, ancient chief Assyrian god, who might encourage such behaviors? In 2015 alone, 74% of deaths due to terrorism occurred in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria (Jones 2016, CNS News).
The 9/11 attack on America is a date that raises "red flags." Heiser points out that Revelation 12 is an example of the ancient genre of astral-prophecy. There the apostle John sees signs in the sky (constellations) portending the birth of the Messiah. Modern astronomy programs have plotted this out as the date of Jesus' birth, September 11 in 3 B.C. It is the same date as Tishri 1 which is the inauguration of the Jewish King. Astonishingly, Noah was also born on Tishri 1 according to ancient Jewish chronology. In other words, Noah and the Messiah share the same birthday. Since Noah lived during the flood at the time of the punishment of watchers and destruction of giant clans, Noah became a "type" of the coming Messiah (Reversing Hermon 2017, 65-70). Did the 9/11/01 attackers from Saudi Arabia know all of this? Probably not. But, the ancient Assyrian god, Asshur, Satan or Baal certainly may have.
There are regimes that encourage grim, atheistic worldviews and a twisted belief in survival of the fittest. Perhaps they come from demonic forces or the devil himself. Not surprisingly, atheistic dictators sometimes promote killing or euthanizing weak babies, children, the elderly and infirm. This isn't new. But, surprisingly, a belief in evolution began as far back as 520 B.C. when Anaximander wrote "On Nature" and Xenophanes theorized about fossils. It didn't start with Darwin or end with Hitler. Think: Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Tse-tung, Kim Jong-un…
It wouldn't surprise us to learn someday that such behaviors and belief systems are influenced by many of the lesser gods who have turned against Yahweh, mentioned in Psalm 82 and Deut. 32:8-9. We may know some of them by their ancient names: Baal, Ashtoreth, Chemosh, Astarte, Dagon, Apollyon, Marduk, Moloch, and so forth. A review of ancient tribal gods and religious practices may allow the interested student to loosely match evil, sinful behaviors and philosophies with the demands of ancient religious cults and their corresponding gods. There may be surprising parallels to religious practices today. Jesus called Satan "Beelzebub" linking the devil to a Philistine deity, Baal-Zebub (Matt. 12:27). Paul warned that "what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God" (1 Cor. 10:20). These are real beings.
Origin of Demons
In addition to the activities of lesser gods, demons exist as the spirits of dead hybrid beings from our fourth group. They are causing problems today as well, although we probably attribute too much power to them. Demons are in reality lower-level beings who cause mischief and trouble for mankind, while the lesser gods ("elohim") are those beings who control or cause many geopolitical squabbles, and who rule over territorial or geographical areas. Although conjecture, I suspect that demons and the devil may emphasize atheistic views, sexual immorality, pedophilia and murder while lesser gods may encourage pagan worship of themselves, bestiality, occult rituals and war. Certainly, many of their aberrant behaviors and perversions overlap.
Interestingly, there is an ancient list of specific evil knowledge that lesser gods taught men, spelled out in the book of Enoch, chapter eight: arts of seduction, instruments of war, metallurgy, root-cuttings (drugs), astrology, etc. While the book of Enoch is noncanonical, it was read by ancient Jewish scribes, early church fathers, and even quoted in the New Testament (ex. Jude 1:14-15). Certainly, the Church Father Tertullian wanted the Book of Enoch included in the canon, and Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen and Clement of Alexandria quoted from it. It's worth reading as a commentary for supplemental information.
Apostle Paul Defines Spiritual Warfare
When the apostle Paul says, For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12), he is primarily referring to the geopolitical, geographical, territorial beings who were assigned as lesser gods over the nations mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:8-9.
If you remember, Israel was Yahweh's portion alone (Deut. 32:9; Gen. 12:1-2). God set aside Jacob's people as his own distinct nation while the other people groups were apportioned out to lesser gods because of the Tower of Babel events (Gen. 11). Heiser notes, "Israel was separated from the nations to be God's own possession, while the other nations were abandoned by Yahweh to the rule of other elohim in the wake of the incident at Babel (Deut 4:19-20; 32:8-9 [LXX, Qumran];" …(Divine Council.com). It is clear from Scripture that none of the other gods are comparable to Yahweh, and we know that it is through Israel that all nations will be eventually blessed (Gen. 12:3).
In fact, part of Paul's ministry around the Mediterranean areas was to bring back the nations to the one, true God. The church continues to reclaim the nations for Christ as we fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus said to the eleven disciples, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:18-20).
Spiritual Forces Hate Christians and Jews
As mentioned previously, apparently the current rulers and spiritual authorities in our world hate Christians, the nation of Israel and Jews. They resent us and want to destroy us. Sadly, one need only watch the latest coverage of UN meetings and world affairs to witness hatred against the State of Israel, Jews and Christians in daily news. Christians are being persecuted in greater numbers today than at any other time in world history. In fact, they are the most persecuted group in the world for the second straight year (John Pontifex, Newton and Creegan 2017).
The reason we are hated is straight forward and simple: Christians and Jewish saints are destined to replace current spiritual and worldly authorities when Christ returns to set up his Kingdom on earth. In our future, glorified state we are called "sons of God" (see Gal. 4:6; Ro. 8:14; Gal. 3:26; Heb. 2:10, etc.). That's no accident. We are replacing the sons of God who form the second tier of the Divine Council.
The apostle Paul asked, Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? Do you not know that we will judge angels? (1 Cor. 6:2-3). To judge angels and the world means to rule over angels and the world. Our rulership roles can be seen in 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:6, 5:10; Luke 19:17, 19-20; and Daniel 7:18-22, 7:27. Daniel points out, Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the highest One (Dan. 7:27). Currently, Satan apparently owns the kingdoms of the world and is the god of this age (Matt. 4:8-9; 2 Cor. 4:4).
Unseen Forces of Evil
As it is now, evil spiritual forces are organized into:
- rulers/principalities (Eph. 1:20-21; 6:12; Col. 2:15)
- authorities (Eph. 1:20-21; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 2:15; 1 Cor. 2:6)
- powers (Eph. 1:20-21; 3:10)
- dominions (Col. 1:16)
- lords (Eph. 1:20-21; 1 Cor. 8:5)
- thrones (Col. 1:16)
Heiser points out that "All of these words denote geographical rulership. In fact, these same terms are used in the New Testament and other Greek literature of human, political power holders."
(Supernatural 2015, 131-132).
When Jesus Christ returns to earth He will replace these principalities with his own brothers: That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers saying, I will tell of your name to my brothers, in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise (Heb. 2:11-12). We, the church, and Old Testament saints are among his brothers who are slated to rule with Him in the future divine council. We are displacing the current rulers and they know it. "Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations" (Ps. 82:8, ESV; Acts 17:26-27).
Patterns of Rulership to Come
If our rulership will be based on similar hierarchical patterns to principalities and to ancient Israel, Jesus will be King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It will be a supreme theocracy and there will be no separation between church and state. King David will reign over Israel although there may be National Kings elsewhere. The overcomers are promised power and authority over the nations (Revelation 2:26-27). The twelve apostles will rule the twelve tribes of Israel and there may be other Tribal Kings as well (Matt. 19:28). There may be City Kings (Luke 19:11-27). The prophet Isaiah promises that there will be judges and counselors restored to Israel (1:26; 32:1). There may also be at least five ranks of officials including chiefs, wise men, "captains over thousands and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes" (Deut. 1:15). The Kingdom will be characterized by justice, mercy, compassion, truth and faithfulness (Baughman 1972, 220-221).
I cannot emphasize strongly enough that because of our future role of reigning with Christ, we must face a brutal reality today. Jesus warned, If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you (John 15:18). We need to clearly understand that we are hated and despised by the world and its spiritual forces of evil because we will be replacing its leaders, authorities and geopolitical machines. Jesus continued, If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own, but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you ((John 15:19-20).
Training for Reigning
It is helpful to keep in mind that we are training for reigning with the King of the universe as we struggle to cope with daily trials, pain and mistreatment. We want to finish our lives with these words in mind: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7). Finally, the apostle Paul reassured us, For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).
In our glorified future, the spiritual and earthly realms will be merged, granting physicality to the heavenly realm and spirituality to the earthly plane. Perhaps we will then fully exist in ten or eleven dimensions. After all, for many years physicists have taught us that our current reality is just a subset of a larger reality. That larger reality may encompass the restored Garden of Eden where the divine council meets (Ez. 28:2; 13-16), thriving in a crystalline, jeweled city of New Jerusalem and its corresponding new earth and heavens (Revelation chapters 21-22). Pain, suffering and grief will be no more.
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Chiaramonte, Perry. 2017. "Christians the Most Persecuted Group in World for Second Year." Fox News. Foxnews.com.
Dillow, Joseph. 2012. Final destiny: the future reign of the servant kings. Monument, CO: Paniym Group.
Heiser, Michael. 2017. Reversing Hermon. Crane, MO: Defender.
…2015. Supernatural: What the Bible teaches about the unseen world - and why it matters. Bellingham, WA: Lexham.
…2015. The unseen realm. Bellingham, WA: Lexham.
…Gods of the bible. 2017. 22:06. Uploaded by General Han Solo. YouTube video.
…Introducing the divine council worldview Deut. 32. 2016. 46:51. YouTube video. Or, drmsh.com.
…Reversing Hermon, parts 1-2. Uploaded by FaceLikeThe Sun. YouTube video.
…"The divine council." Divine Council.pdf - The Divine Council.com.
…2016. 60:08. The divine council. YouTube video. Or, drmsh.com.
…Unseen realm seminar parts 1-5. 2016. 4:55:01. YouTube video.
Jones, Susan. 2016. 11,774 "Terror Attacks Worldwide in 2015; 28,328 Deaths Due to Terror Attacks." CNS News. Cnsnews.com.
Metzger, Bruce and Herbert May. 1977. The New Oxford Annotated Bible With The Apocrypha, Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press.
Pontifex, John, John Newton and Clare Creegan. 2017. Persecuted and Forgotten? 2015-17. Executive Summary. ACN U.S. ChurchInNeed.org.
2016. The book of Enoch. [orig. found among Dead Sea Scrolls; dated to second century B.C.]. Crane, MO: Defender.
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Psalms, Chapter 82. www.usccb.org/bible/psalms/82. Accessed 2018, March 9,
Walton, John H. 2017. Yahweh and the Gods. In: Old Testament theology for Christians: From ancient context to enduring belief. Downers Grove, ILL: IVP Academic, 29-66.
Valorie Emilio holds an M.A. in History from UCLA specializing in Christian Origins. She teaches and writes for the Gospel Rescue Mission in Grants Pass, Oregon, where her husband, Kenneth, serves as Director.