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.

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

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