Where is Satan in the Old Testament?

[Author’s note: I’m playing around with some features in Google Docs, namely the EasyBib Bibliography Creator, Bible Verse, and Docs to WordPress add-ons. Consequently, this post is going to look a bit more like an academic paper than usual. Let me know what you think!]

The "character" of Satan, via Disney's Fantasia
The “character” of Satan, via Disney’s Fantasia

If you spend any time at all in academia–or with pseudo-academic skeptics–inevitably you will run across a discussion on the “evolution” of the “character” of Satan. The basic formula usually comes down to the claim that Satan in the Old Testament is more like a prosecuting attorney, and only becomes elevated and vilified as the enemy of God in the intertestimental period (the four hundred years separating Malachi and Matthew). The skeptic is quick to jump on this supposed change in characterization as evidence of a major change in the Bible’s narrative, and therefore of its human–rather than Divine–origin.

That pre-supposes, of course, that the being we commonly call Satan isn’t really found in the Old Testament, at least not insofar as being portrayed as the enemy of God and his people.

At first glance, that would seem to indeed be the case. Other than a few references in Numbers 22, Job, 1 Chronicles 21:1, and Zechariah 3, Satan is nary to be seen. Furthermore, in 1 Chronicles, it’s possible that the verse simply means, “Then an adversary”–that is, a human foe–”stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel” in preparation for a normal, physical war, thus moving David to want to number his own forces. Likewise, Numbers 22:22 describes the angel of Hashem as being “an adversary” to Balaam–as in 1 Chronicles, the Hebrew word satan is a description rather than a name. That leaves only the Job and Zechariah references, and those are pretty darn vague about whether Satan is the bad guy or not.

But as it turns out, the Adversary (HaSatan) is quite active in the Hebrew Scriptures; he’s just going under a different name: Baal.

Apparently they had Baal action-figures back in the day.
Apparently they had Baal action-figures back in the day.

The first mentions of Baal are found in the names of people and places (Gen. 36:38-39; Exo. 14:2, 9), but his first mention as a god is in Numbers 22:41, in the story of Balaam. (Interestingly, this chapter also contains the first instance of the word satan in Scripture; perhaps this is a remez, or hint, to us.) Balaam is an interesting figure, as the text clearly identifies him as a prophet who communes with Hashem (vv. 8-9). Though later rabbinic material identifies him instead as a sorcerer, the New Testament presents him as the archetypical figure of one who knew the truth but fell away for material gain (2Pt. 2:15, Jude 11, Rev. 2:14). Even so, when he goes to curse Israel, he specifically does so “from the high places of Baal.” This is best understood in the light of the pagan beliefs of the day, in which each of Israel’s neighbors recognized an original uncreated High God, but worshipped lesser gods alongside him, and often instead of him. To a pagan like Balaam, utilizing the high places of Baal, thought to be the viceroy of El (God), to call upon El would not have seemed unusual.

Balaam’s attempt to curse Israel of course was turned into blessing instead, so he proposed an alternate route of cursing Israel to Balak, his employer: Aware that Hashem had taken Israel to be his peculiar people who would worship him alone among all the “gods,” Balaam suggested that Balak send beautiful women to entice Israel into worshipping Baal instead (Num. 25:1-5, 31:16). The attempt was very nearly successful, with only the zeal of Phinehas turning back God’s resultant wrath (Num. 25:11). However, while Hashem did not destroy Israel for her sin that day, the worship of Baal would continue to be a snare for many centuries to follow. Practically from the moment of Joshua’s death, Israel began turning aside and worshiping Baal and Ashtoreth.

When used as a proper name (ba’al in Hebrew also means, “lord,” “master,” and even “husband”), Baal is usually identified with the Aramaean weather-god Hadad or Adad.[1] Like all the Canaanite gods, he was considered to be a son of El, but because he was believed to bring the winter storms that were so vital to life in that region (unlike Egypt or Mesopotamia, which were watered by mighty rivers) he was the de facto head of the sons of El and the most revered deity in the Canaanite pantheon. Even today, the Arabs use the word ba’al to describe farming done without the aid of irrigation, depending only on rainfall.[2] Since he was associated with the coming of the rains, Baal was considered to be the one who rode on the clouds,[3] again a title tha that the Bible gives in truth to both Hashem (Jdg. 5:4; 2 Sa. 22:12; Job 22:14; Psa. 18:11f, 78:23, 97:2, 104:3; Jer. 10:13; Nah. 1:3; Zec. 10:1) and his Messiah (Dan. 7:13; Mat 24:30, 26:64; Rev. 1:7). The Biblical references to the Baals in the plural (Ba’alim) or to local Baal-figures (e.g., Baal-Peor or Baal of Peor) are not meant as individual gods, but as local cults or idols to the one Baal.

Kinda looks like the sterotypical image of Zeus in your textbooks, doesn't he? There's a reason for that.
Kinda looks like the sterotypical image of Zeus in your textbooks, doesn’t he? There’s a reason for that.

In the Baal Cycle the story is told of how Baal became chief of the Canaanite pantheon and of his striving with his brothers Yam (the Sea) and Mot (Death). After an initial setback, in which Yam temporarily defeats Baal and is consecrated as king of the gods (possibly an echo of the Flood, told in a uniquely Canaanite fashion[4]), Baal defeats Yam with two maces forged by the smith Kothar-wa-Khasis (“Skillful and Wise”). In the Baal steele recovered at Ugarit, on the other hand, Baal is shown holding a mace in one hand and a thunderbolt as a spear in the other, suggesting that his real weapons are thunder and lightning–as apropos for a storm god. However, he is not able to so easily defeat Mot, and is in fact portrayed at being in fear of Death incarnate and eventually slain by him. However, El has a dream in which Baal returns and after a second battle on Mt. Zaphon that draws to a stalemate, it is announced to Mot that El has given kingship to Baal, and Death cannot defeat him again. As a result, Mot comes to fear Baal and reveres him as El’s appointed king.

The story of Baal being devoured for a time by Mot is not simply a symbolic representation of the summer or winter, but seems to hearken back to a time when the land was sterile due to drought, specifically for a period of seven years.[5] This story, mythological and pagan as it is, gives us several key insights into the Ugaritic / Canaanite theology that the Biblical prophets contended with. First, it admits that Baal, though first in the hearts of the people of Canaan, was not the supreme God, but received his kingdom on the earth only at the sufferance of El, a name that is used nearly 250 times in the Bible of the true God, the Eternal Creator. Second, it admits that Baal apart from El was not able to defeat Death. We saw in the previous chapter that all of the ancient pagan religions admitted the existence of a High, Father God above their gods that they nevertheless did not give their greatest devotion to. It establishes a close, though adversarial relationship between Baal and the Sea and Death, which will be shown to be important shortly.

There are numerous passages of Scripture that are written specifically to refute the claims of Baal. For example, Psalm 29 was originally written as a hymn of praise to Baal, but was co-opted by David to praise Hashem instead.[6]

In 1935, H.L. Ginsberg proposed that Psalm 29 was originally a Phoenician hymn which had found its way into the Psalter. In support of his hypothesis, he noted several aspects of the psalm which suggested to him that it had been composed initially in honor of the storm god, Baal; he drew upon the Ugaritic texts to substatiate his hypothesis. . . Today, although debate continues on the details of the hypothesis, almost all scholars agree that Psalm 29’s background is Baal worship, as portrayed in the tablets from Ugarit.[7].

The claim of Baal to be the god of the storm, of thunder of lightning, comes to a head in 1 Kings 17-18, where Elijah, the prophet of Hashem, first demonstrates the true God’s power over the rains which were supposedly the domain of Baal (17:1; cf. Jas. 5:17, Rev. 1:6), and then challenges the prophets of Baal to summon “fire” from heaven: that is to say, lightning (1Ki. 18:24). In every way, Elijah gave up the advantage to the prophets of Baal–and yet it was Hashem who proved himself in fire from heaven, fulfilling David’s’ Psalm that it is Hashem who is revealed in the voice of the thunder.

Baal being a storm god also links him to the Adversary (Satan) in the book of Job, who uses “fire of God . . . from heaven” (lightning; 1:16) and “a great wind” (likely a tornado; v. 19) to destroy Job’s flocks and children. The attacks of the Sabeans in v. 15 and Chaldeans in v. 17 also fit with Baal, a warrior god, and his violent consort Anat. It is quite likely that Job was adapted from an earlier story regarding a contest between El and Baal which was adapted and edited, perhaps during the reign of Solomon, to remove the direct references to Baal and deal with the problem of evil and suffering from a uniquely Israelite perspective.

Jebel al-AqraaOne of the titles of Baal was Zebul, “the prince.” In 2 Kings 1:6, Elijah the Tishbite mockingly changes this title to Baal-Zebub, “Lord of the Flies,” essentially calling Baal a dung heap that his followers fly to. This title carries over in the New Testament, as we shall see in a moment. He is also known a Baal-Tsaphon for his holy mountain north of Ugarit which is today known as Jebel al-Aqraa, in the far northwestern corner of Syria. The word Tsaphon became the Hebrew word for “north,” as in Isaiah 14:12-14:

12 “How  you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star (Heylel),  son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!

13 You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north (Heb. Tsaphon);

14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High (Elyon).’ (ESV)

In fulfillment of Heylel’s/Baal’s desire, the Ugaritic writings give the title Aliyan / Elyon to Baal rather than to El, though acknowledging that Baal received his throne and his house from El, and that Baal was created while saying of El, “Indeed our creator is eternal, Indeed ageless is he who formed us.”[8]

Cows-of-Bashan-with-Mount-Hermon,-tb032905276-bibleplacesBaal actually claimed two sacred mountains: Tsaphon (or Tsaphanu) in northern Syria, and Hermon in northern Israel (Jdg. 3:3, 1Ch. 5:23). The name Hermon comes from the Semitic word charem, which means something devoted to a god, a devotion that may mean destroying it so it can never again be used for common purposes (Lev. 27:28f, Deu. 7:26). Renowned Orientalist and Biblical scholar Edward Lipinski has argued that both Tsaphon/Sapan and Hermon were originally mountains dedicated to the worship of El, but which Baal co-opted:

El was earlier venerated as the patron of navigators on Gebel el-Aqra’, the ancient Mount Sapan [Tsaphon], which became subsequently the mountain of the Storm-god Ba’al. It does not seem, nevertheless, that this mountain was ever conceived as the Mount of divine Assembly. This quality was instead attributed to Mount Hermon, at least from the Old Babylonian period on, so that, in the second half of the IIth millennium and in the Ist millennium B.C., we must deal with at least two Semitic Olympus.[9]

We’ve already looked at the significance of Bashan and Israel’s conquest of it, but to quickly sum it up:

For the ‘Canaanites’ of Ugarit, the Bashan region, or a part of it, clearly represented ‘Hell’, the celestial and infernal abode of their deified dead kings, Olympus and Hades at the same time. It is possible that this localization of the Canaanite Hell is linked to the ancient tradition of the place as the ancestral home of the rpum. The Biblical text also recalls that “all Bashan used to be called the land/earth of the Rephaim” (Deut 3:13 [NEB]), an ambiguous wording that could equally be translated as “the ‘hell’ of the Rephaim”.[10]

Baal had a special relationship with the race known in Scripture as the Rephaim, who dwelt in Bashan: “Mythological fragments not belonging to the Baal Cycle have increased our knowledge of this side of the god. Baal is called with the epithet rpu (Rapi’u), ‘healer,’ (cf. Hebrew rope). Dietrich & Lorenz have shown that Baal is called rpu in his capacity as leader of the rpum, the Rephaim. . . Baal is their lord in the realm of the dead, as shown by the circumlocution zbl b’l ars (‘prince, lord of the underworld).”[11]

It is this title of Baal, Baal-Zebul or “Baal the Prince,” which links him to the NT Satan:

22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said,  “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said,  “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”

25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul,  by whom do  your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is  by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then  the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or  how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. (Matthew 12:22-29, ESV)

Yeshua outright calls Satan by his ancient name and title, Baal-Zebul, in this passage. The importance of this has generally been overlooked due to the slight variant spelling (which actually was done to avoid saying Baal’s name: cf. Deuteronomy 12:3 and Hosea 2:17). He also agrees with the Pharisees that Baal is the prince of the demons, aka the Rephaim or Rapum, exactly as described in the Ugaritic texts. This also fits well with the description of the Devil as being “the one who has the power of death” (Heb. 2:14) and “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in  the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2).

Baal was not, as it turns out, a uniquely Canaanite god.

Bel (‘lord’) came to be used as a designation for Marduk [the patron deity of the city of Babylon; cf. Dan. 4:8] . . . During the period of the Middle Kingdom, if not earlier, the cult was adopted by the Egyptians, along with the cult of other Canaanite gods (S. Morenz, Agyptische Religion [RdM 8; Stuttgart 1977] 250-255). In the wake of the Phoenician colonization it eventually spread all over the Mediterranean region.[12]

A text discovered in Qal’at Gandal and dating from 292 A.D. is dedicated by a priest to Zeus Megistos . . . who is likely to be the Ba’al Hermon of the Bible. Zeus is in fact the Greek equivalent of Ba’al, the Canaanite storm-god. . . The Greeks equated Ba’al with Zeus from at least the beginning of the fifth century B.C., since Herodotus, The Histories, I, 181 and III, 158, explicitly identifies Zeus with the Babylonian Belos, i.e., Marduk. Now, this equation implies a previous identification of Zeus with the Phoenician Ba’al, since the nature of Marduk would not justify by itself an equation with the Greek storm-god.[13]

The Bible likewise identifies Baal/Satan with Zeus. The designation of Satan as “the prince of the power of the air” or “the atmospheric region”[14] would have fit well with Zeus in the minds of Paul’s audience, who knew Zeus as “the Gatherer of Clouds,” “He Who Thunders High Up,” “He Who Enjoys Lightning,” and “the Master of the Tempest.” “Zeus rains” was likewise a common Greek expression.[15] All of these appellations would have been quite comfortable to followers of Baal.

The Pergamum Altar in Berlin, Germany.  They built this in 1930.  Do you think maybe that was a sign?
The Pergamum Altar in Berlin, Germany. They built this in 1930. Do you think maybe that was a sign?

Zeus is also identified as Satan in Revelation 2:13: “I know where you dwell,  where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not  deny my faith even in the days of Antipas  my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.” “Satan’s throne” in Pergamos refers to an altar-temple to Zeus which was shaped like a throne, which was discovered by the German engineer Carl Human in 1878.  (A scale model of this altar was built at the Pergamum museum in Berlin, Germany in 1930.)  On a spiritual level it was also “a reference to the cult of emperor worship, because Pergamos was a center where this form of loyalty was pledged to the emperor of the Roman Empire.”[16] The emperors, of course, claimed to be the gods incarnate, whether Augustus as Zeus or Nero as Apollo.[17]

Zeus is also associated with the “serpent of old” in the Bible (Rev. 12:9, Gen. 3). “The Diasia, ‘the greatest Athenian festival of Zeus’ (Thucydides 1,126,6) . . . took place in honor of Zeus Meilichios who had the form of a huge snake.”[18] The Hebrew word for serpent is nachash, which originally had the meaning (as reflected in the Akkadian nachsu) of “to shine” or “the Shining One.” This meaning of the word is preserved in the Hebrew term for bronze, n’choshet, a shining metal which can be easily heated to the point of glowing. This leads to the wordplay in Numbers 21:9, “Moses made a bronze serpent (nachash n’choshet),” which Hezekiah later called Nechushtan, a “piece of bronze” (2Ki. 18:4). The name Zeus comes from an older Indo-European word (Diw) which “refers specifically to the bright daytime sky, as it is derived from the root meaning ‘to shine.’”[19] Thus Zeus was both the “serpent” and the “shining one” who tempted Mankind in the Garden of Eden.

Three BeastsMost kids learn that Zeus had two brothers: Poseidon, who took dominion over the sea; and Hades, who took dominion over the realm of the dead. Zeus / Poseidon / Hades perfectly parallels the Canaanite triad of Baal / Yam / Mot. The same relationship is surprisingly found in the Bible (Rev. 12-13) as well, with Satan the Dragon, “the serpent of old,” finally being cast down from heaven before being joined with two beasts: one from the sea, a picture of Yam / Poseidon; and one “coming up out of the earth” (Rev. 13:11) as if from its underworld, just like Mot / Hades.

Finally, let us consider the traditional Christian view of Satan: As generally taught, Satan was the greatest and most beautiful of God’s creations, and served as the Eternal Creator’s viceroy until he became proud, and fell (cf. Ezk. 28:11-19, Isa. 14:12-15). This fits in well with the understanding that Satan is simply a later name for Baal that came into employ as the Jewish prophets and teachers destroyed Baal-worship. In Ugaritic myth (reflecting northern Canaanite beliefs to about the period of the Judges), Baal was the viceroy of El and derived his kingship from El. However, by the time that the Greek city-states had reached their heights, the myth had turned far more violent, with Zeus overthrowing his father Cronus (equivalent to the Roman Saturn and the Canaanite El) and seizing the throne in his place.

Of course, the real El was not overthrown and still sits upon the throne of the universe, but the mythology of the Greeks aptly reflects the Adversary’s desires and fantasies. Ultimately, it will not be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who will be cast down into Tartarus (aka the Abyss), but the being calling himself Baal (Master) and Zeus (the Shining Lord of the Sky).

Shalom

Bibliography

“The American Heritage Dictionary Entry: Zeus.” American Heritage Dictionary Entry: Zeus. Web. 5 Jul. 2015. https://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=zeus

Dahood, Mitchell J. The Anchor Bible. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1968. Print.

Editors El In The Ugaritic Texts. “El’s Abode.” El in the Ugaritic texts (1955): 61–81. Web. http://www.theology.edu/ugarit.htm

Finegan, Jack. Myth & Mystery: an Introduction to the Pagan Religions of the Biblical World. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989. Print.

Grimm, Carl Ludwig Wilibald, Christian Gottlob Wilke, and Maurice A. Robinson. The New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1981. Print.

Oldenburg, Ulf. The Conflict between El and Baʼal in Canaanite Religion. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1969. Print.

“The Roman Cult Of Emperor Worship.” Reading Acts. N.p., Feb. 2010. Web. 5 Jul. 2015. http://readingacts.com/2010/04/02/the-roman-cult-of-emperor-worship/

Toorn, K. van der., Bob Becking, and Pieter Willem van der. Horst. Dictionary Of Deities and Demons in the Bible DDD. Leiden: Brill, 1999. Print.

“Ugarit.” Ugarit. Web. 5 Jul. 2015. http://www.theology.edu/ugarit.htm

Wyatt, N. The Mythic Mind: Essays on Cosmology and Religion in Ugaritic and Old Testament Literature. London: Equinox Pub., 2005. Print.

Youngblood, Ronald F., F. F. Bruce, and R. K. Harrison. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1995. Print.


[1] This is the general consensus, though there is some scholarly debate on this identification. See The Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, “Baal,” pp. 171ff.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baal, accessed on July 5, 2015

[3] DDD, “Rider Upon the Clouds,” p. 704, cf. Isa. 14:14

[4] Wyatt, p. 301

[5] Oldenburg, p. 37; cf. Gen. 41

[6] Dahood, Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50

[7] Exerpted from http://www.theology.edu/ugarit.htm on November 25, 2014

[8] Finegan, p. 138

[9] Lipinski; retreived from http://rbedrosian.com/Downloads/Lipinsky_Elsabode.pdf on November 26, 2014

[10] DDD, “Bashan,” p. 162

[11] DDD, “Baal,” p. 135

[12] ibid., 132, 133

[13] Lipinski

[14] Thayer’s, #109, αηρ

[15] DDD, “Zeus,” p. 934

[16] Nelson’s, “Pergamos”

[17] “The Roman Cult,” Reading Acts

[18] DDD, ibid., 936

[19] American Heritage Dictionary, “Zeus”

The Day Israel Conquered Hell

It’s been a while since I really wrote on spiritual warfare, and that’s not because my life has lacked it. I’ve actually been frustrated with how subtle the battle tends to be. It’d be much easier if the demons would just pop out in full manifestation so that they could be driven out in the Name of Yeshua–which is, of course, why they try to avoid that around Yeshua’s true disciples.

In fact, when the battle goes from spiritual cloak-and-dagger to open and aggressive warfare, it’s most often the Holy One who has pushed it into the open. When God’s people are walking blameless, they win every time; it takes sin in the camp, like that of Achan (Jos. 7), to turn an otherwise certain victory in the Lord into a rout. Therefore, the Adversary has every reason to hide his presence while he probes, digs, tempts, angers, and subverts God’s people.

Today’s post isn’t really about that: It’s about what happens when the Holy One takes off the gloves and leads his people into war–and why he picks the battlegrounds that he does. Let’s talk about Bashan:

They turned and went up by the way of Bashan: and Og the king of Bashan went out against them, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. The LORD said to Moses, “Don’t fear him: for I have delivered him into your hand, and all his people, and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” So they struck him, and his sons and all his people, until there was none left him remaining: and they possessed his land. (Num. 21:33-35)

For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the Rephaim; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; isn’t it in Rabbah of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, after the cubit of a man. (Deu. 3:11)

This little incident seems tucked away in an innocuous place in your Bible–some have never read it before. It’s mostly famous among Christians who study the Nephilim (usually connecting them to the hybrids of UFO lore), due to the fact that Rephaim and Nephilim are connected in the Scriptures (cf. Num. 13:33 and Deu. 2:11). However, it’s absolutely crucial to understanding some events in Yeshua’s ministry over a thousand years later.

Image from http://alwaysproventrue.com/
Image from http://alwaysproventrue.com/

Cows-of-Bashan-with-Mount-Hermon,-tb032905276-bibleplaces

Let’s start by explaining how the Canaanites saw the land of Bashan. In their own language, it was called Bathan, which means “serpent.” Where Mt. Hermon, whose melting snows kept Bashan green, fertile, and perfect for raising cattle (cf. Num. 32:1ff), was one of the two sacred mountains of the Canaanites (the other being Tsaphon/Tsaphanu in the northwestern corner of modern Syria, overlooking the ancient city of Ugarit), Bashan was clearly identified by the Ugaritic texts as being the underworld:

“For the ‘Canaanites’ of Ugarit, the Bashan region, or a part of it, clearly represented ‘Hell,’ the celestial and infernal abode of their deified dead kings, Olympus and Hades at the same time. It is possible that this localization of the Canaanite Hell is linked to the ancient tradition of the place as the ancestral home of their dynasty, the rpum [the Biblical Rephaim].” (The Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd Ed. (Eerdmans, 1999), “Bashan,” p. 162)

The Rephaim/Rapum are the subject of an entire set of tablets retrieved from the ruins of Ugarit, where they are described as “the gods” (tablet 1, line 1), and “the divine ones . . . the warriors of Baal and the warriors of Anat [Baal’s consort]” (tablet 3, lines 6-7). In Kirta, they are called “the Rephaim of the underworld . . . the assembly of Ditan’s company” (tablet 2, column 3). In the Baal Cycle, we are told that “Sun rules the Rephaim, Sun rules the divine ones: Your company are the gods, see, the dead are your company” (tablet 6, column 6). (All quotes are from Mark S. Smith and Michael D. Coogan’s Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition.)  These descriptions are consistent with those of the Bible, which uses rephaim to denote not only several tribes of giants in Canaan (e.g., Gen. 14:15ff, 1Sa. 17, 2Sa. 21:16ff), but also the spirits of the dead (e.g., Psa. 88:10; Pro. 2:18; Isa. 14:9, 26:14 & 19), including at least some that were slain in the Flood (Job 26:5).

I’ll do a whole study connecting the Nephilim of the Antediluvian world to the post-Flood Rephaim at some future date, but suffice to say there is complete a complete agreement between the Ugaritic texts, the Biblical texts, pagan Greek tradition (specifically Hesiod, as noted in Dic. of Deities, p. 235), the ancient Jewish tradition (e.g., Enoch 15:8ff, Jubilees 10:5ff) and the ancient Church tradition (e.g., Justin Martyr, Athenagoras) that the demons were the souls of a race of “heroes” (in the Greek term), “gods” (the Ugaritic texts), or hybrid human-angelic race (the Biblical, Jewish, and Christian tradition) who once walked the earth, died, but whose spirits remained and could be contacted by mortals now.

Suddenly, the terror shown by the Midianites (Num. 22) and the Canaanites (Jos. 2:9) makes perfect sense. It wasn’t just a general sense of dread that Hashem sent to paralyze them. They were confronting a mysterious people who walked under the visible Presence of the Holy One, a God who had destroyed Egypt to take his people out, and who had just marched that people through Canaanite Hell and killed its king, Og of Bashan–as the warm up to the conquest of the Land!

Fast-forward some thirteen centuries to two events in the Messiah’s earthly ministry. The first is the exorcism of a “Legion” of demons from a man in “the country of the Gerasenes” (Luke 8:26, cf. Mark 5:1). When confronted by the Son of God, the demons initially resist being cast out, begging not to be sent “away into the Abyss” (Luke 8:31) or even “out of the country” (Mark 5:10). Why?

What if I were to tell you that the country of the Geresenes was within the ancient boundaries of Bashan? Don’t take my word for it. Take a look at the maps in the back of your Bible and compare the locations of Old Testament Bashan with New Testament Khersa/Gergesa.

The demons begged not to be sent from that particular plot of real-estate because they were the spirits of the Rephaim, who had dwelt there for thousands of years, being alternately sought-after and feared by the mortal inhabitants.

Not actually the gate of Hell, but definitely a sign-post along the way
Not actually the gate of Hell, but definitely a sign-post along the way

Nor would this be the last time Yeshua would reference the land of Bashan. The following year, Yeshua would bring his disciples to a place called Caesarea Philippi. The Arabs today call the place Banyas, but in Yeshua’s time, it was named by the Greeks as Panias, the place of the goat-god Pan. Even today, you can see the remnants of an ancient Greek temple built into a shallow cave–and the Greeks were just the latest pagans to have built a worship-center there.

It was in the midst of that pagan place that Yeshua asked a question on which all of history would turn:

“Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” They said, “Some say Yochanan the Immerser, some, Elijah, and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Yeshua answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. I also tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of Sheol will not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven; and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.” (Mat. 16:13-19)

It was not the simple affirmation of his Messiahship that Yeshua was after–they had, after all, started recognizing him as the Messiah from their very first encounters with him (John 1:41). Rather, there is something significant about Peter’s declaration: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” that Yeshua links to his declaration, “I will build my assembly, and the gates of Sheol [Gr. Hades, Lat. Hell] will not prevail against it.”

What if I told you that Caesarea Phillipi was right on the border of ancient Bashan–that it was very literally at “the gates of [Canaanite] Hell”?

And what if I told you that some eight days later, when Yeshua’s transfiguration took place, it was most likely on Mt. Hermon, showing Yeshua’s dominion not only over Canaanite Hell, but Canaanite Olympus as well–and that his ascent there was prophesied in Psalm 68?

But that’s another story and will be told another time.

When I teach someone on spiritual warfare, this is one of the two books that I consider required reading
When I teach someone on spiritual warfare, this is one of the two books that I consider required reading

So what’s the point of all this? The point is that the Bible presents spiritual warfare to take place on specific geographical grounds on earth. We are called not only to redeem people, but to redeem sacred space. I remember reading in George Otis’ Twilight Labyrinth: Why Spiritual Darkness Lingers Where It Does (which I can’t quote from directly due to having loaned it out, so I’ll have to get the quote later) that missionaries often find themselves stymied in their efforts until they make a point of praying along the pagan pilgrimage routes and right before the pagan holy days.

Unfortunately, all too often we have failed to redeem those sacred places, and let the demons of the past linger among us. I’m not talking about destroying historical sites (if we were in the habit of doing that, we wouldn’t have all of the wonderful contextual information from Ugarit that I’ve used above), but re-sanctifying them. I’m not talking about military conquest and seizing other peoples’ property, but spiritual conquest and taking authority over our own property.

Those of a Pentecostal or charismatic persuation are used to this idea already, but I’ve known enough who are skeptical that the practices of dedicating a home with oil or walking the boundary line of a piece of property in prayer is really Biblical. I’m hoping to show in this series of posts that not only are such practices Biblically permissible, but that they are Biblically commanded.

Shalom

Just What Is An Apostle, Anyway?

One of my favourite blogs to follow lately is Cryptotheology (recently added to my blogroll here). Matthew Malcomb does a fantastic job at posting short, informative, eminently readable posts that frequently delve into how the original readers of the New Testament may have read certain terms differently than we.

Case in point, he recently published a short post titled, “What does ‘apostolos’ mean?” in which he quotes Benjamin Edsall’s Paul’s Witness to Formative Early Christian Instruction:

[There is an] absence of an analogous use of the term [that is, analogous to Paul’s use] in Greek literature, where it is used with a variety of meanings and only rarely in reference to a messenger of any kind. (p123)

As in Herodotus Hist. 1.21.4; 5.38.8; Plutarch Phoc. 11.1. Other meanings include an expedition (military and naval), a list of colonists and a colony in Dionysius of Halicarnassus Ant. rom. 7.5.3, 9.59.2; and 7.13.3 respectively. Note also the ‘sending’ of Jewish emissaries: Josephus A.J. 17.300. See Regstorf 1964, 407-408. (p123, n.7)

“Perhaps, then, it might have meant something like ‘delegation’??” Malcomb asks.

Actually, the definition of expeditionaries and colonists make perfect sense. Apostles aren’t just messengers who go out, deliver the message, and come back–they are going forth to colonize the world in the name of the Kingdom of Heaven, to conquer the local “gods” and demons in the name of the Messiah.

Which means that we do still have apostles today (in the general sense, not the The Twelve sense). We just call them missionaries. Having grown up around missionaries who received their calling in literal visions and who saw Acts-of-the-Apostles-level miracles and spiritual warfare on the field, that makes perfect sense to me.

Shalom

A Word of Praise

Sorry for the slow updates lately. Just a quick note for my readers: I’ve been in an extensive interview process for what would be my dream job in the secular world, and today I passed the last hurdle and got an offer that suits us both. While not quite as high as I’d hoped for, it’s an excellent starting salary and much better than I’ve ever earned before, with some good opportunities for advancement. So basically, Baruch Hashem! (Praise the Lord! for you Sunday folk.)

I’ve been working on a few things that I’ve not had the time to turn into blog posts, but rest assured that I’ll be getting back into the swing of things soon. Once I get the family resettled in a place a bit closer to work, I’ll have a subway ride to and from work to do my reading and writing on. Until then, I’m in for some long days so please bear with me.

Shalom u’vrekha (peace and blessings)

Iron Show Back On Tonight

IronShowLogoAfter taking a week off due to Iron Johnny sustaining yet another injury (what’s with that guy?), the Iron Show is back, with Johnny, Matthew Millar, and myself hammering away on the book of Judges again. More cool stuff on the prophetess Deborah to satisfy your classical (i.e., non-man-hating) feminist side! We’ll be starting about five minutes late (that’s 10:05 pm EST) while Johnny takes a remedial course in podcasting.

Our Usual Warning: The Iron Show is not recommended for listeners who like their Bible teaching quiet and inoffensive. Side effects of listening to the Iron Show include conviction, repentance, obsession with ancient texts, a desire to learn Hebrew, loss of sleep for those on the East Coast, reverence, irreverence, being on the fringe, wearing fringes, rocking out, irritating your pastor with weird questions, loving sinners, hating sin, tipping better, sharing the Gospel, philo-Semitism, a craving for matzah, the sudden desire to make a pilgrimage to Israel, believing in Yeshua the Messiah, being born again, receiving the Holy Spirit, and a changed life. Women who may be pregnant should not listen to The Iron Show unless they want their sons to have hair on their chests. If you experience sudden bleeding from the ears, turn down the volume and consult your doctor after you finish listening to the show.