Search Term Friday: Angels Ruling Over Nations

Here were some search terms that recently brought someone to the blog:

angels ruling over nations

In 2009 I was starting to read more about the theology related to "the principalities and powers." I wrote a few posts named "Notes on Demons and the Powers" to collect some quotes and reflections.  One of those posts was about the angels of the nations.

An interesting way to think about the conflation of the spiritual and the political in the biblical imagination is to trace the development of henotheism (monarchical polytheism) to the angels of the nations to the demonic.

The journey starts in noting that parts of the Old Testament are not strictly monotheistic. In some texts of the OT we see God as presiding over a heavenly assembly of gods. Psalm 82 is a good example:
Psalm 82.1-4
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

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.

Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Notice the conflation of the spiritual and the political/economic. Injustice and economic exploitation is attributed to national deities, the gods of the divine counsel.

We also read in the OT how God assigned these gods to their respective nations:
Deuteronomy 32.8-9
When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,
when he divided all mankind,
he set up boundaries for the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
God creates national boundaries and then appoints the "sons of God" over each nation. These "sons of God" are, presumably, those sitting in the divine counsel in Psalm 82.

We start seeing these gods of the nations shift toward the demonic in places like Daniel 10. There we read about how the delay in a divine response to Daniel's prayer was due to angelic interference. The angelic messenger sent to Daniel is opposed by an angel with a regional affiliation, the "prince of Persian kingdom." The messenger was only able to break free after the angel Michael came to his rescue. And here we are very close to the notion many Christians are familiar with, a spiritual conflict between angels and demons.

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3 thoughts on “Search Term Friday: Angels Ruling Over Nations”

  1. This brings the parable of the Sheep and the Goats to mind. Do you seen any relationship between what you've written here and the passage in Matthew 25?

  2. I hadn't really noticed that connection at the start of the parable:

    “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him..."

  3. I've always found the concepts of henotheism and theomachy to be helpful in dealing with the exodus and conquest narratives: the outcomes of the earthly struggles mirror the unseen conflicts with YHWH and the other "gods." In the case of the JE account of the exodus, "Pharoah", consider a divinity by the Egyptians, puts up a struggle against YHWH until he is soundly defeated. In the later Deuteronomic works, probably leaning more towards monotheism, the complete destruction of the Canaanite peoples reflects the belief that their gods were not gods at all and therefore are completely annihilated by YHWH. Reading these narratives with modern concepts and concerns makes us miss the emphasis on the relative status of YHWH against the other gods, probably the central concern of the first writers and readers/listeners. And we do not understand then the anguish of the exile when it appears that the gods of Assyria and Babylon are more powerful than YHWH - an obviously unacceptable conclusion.

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