Last week we opened up with Paul’s question:
- “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (vs. 35).
We noted that with this question Paul was reframing his Romans 8 discussion around God’s love.
- Our security in the Gospel, our future assurance of glorification, etc.
- All of these are seen as an unassailable expression of God’s love through Christ to us.
- He is their source.
We then saw how throughout his letters Paul associated God’s love with…
- Action towards us.
- As such, we characterized God’s love for us as His accomplishing power.
This love – this accomplishing power – was impervious to defeat by all comers…whether they be:
- Impersonal Forces
- Personal Forces
Neither one can sever our connection to God’s love – His accomplishing power.
- Last week we dealt specifically with the impersonal forces or circumstances that seek to do so.
And if Paul’s listed ended with these, Paul’s audience would be troubled.
- They might say that’s all well and good Paul.
- But these forces aren’t personal.
- What about the personal forces?
Only the personal forces possess a will that is actively seeking to destroy Christ’s:
What about those forces?
This leads us into the stranger dimension of Paul’s list.
- A dimension that first-world moderns usually gloss right over.
- The personal forces of the unseen realm.
Personal Forces of The Unseen Realm:
Romans 8:38–39 (ESV) — 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul includes in his list the following personal forces.
- “nor angels nor rulers” – “nor powers”
These, too, are unable to sever us from “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
- They too are casualties of God’s accomplishing power!
But who are they?
To get at the significance of who they are…
- We need to unpack them a bit.
- If you asked anyone in church today…
- Why the world is all jacked up…
- What would they say?
Likely, the answer would contain things like:
- The Fall
If you asked an ancient Jew, why the world is all jacked up…
- What would they say?
They would certainly acknowledge the role of Genesis 3.
- But they would go well beyond it.
Michael Heiser sets up the “well beyond”.
“After Eden, God still intended to dwell with humanity. But there would be opposition. Divine beings in service to Yahweh could defect. Enemies of Yahweh and his rule, from the human to the divine to something in between, lurked over the horizon. Heaven and earth were destined to be reunited, but it would be a titanic struggle” – Michael Heiser.
There are two specific events in Genesis that demonstrate Heiser’s observation.
- (1) The “sons of god” and Nephilim of Genesis 6.
- About which Peter and Jude talk.
- (2) The Tower of Babel incident found in Genesis 11 and Deuteronomy 32.
- About which Paul talks.
In an effort to understand Paul’s personal force list…
- We are going to deal with the second.
- This represents what Michael Heiser calls the Deuteronomy 32 worldview.
- We can unpack this worldview by looking at a few OT texts.
Deuteronomy 32 Worldview (Michael Heiser):
Genesis 11:5–9 (ESV) — 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
Here we see God’s response to the peoples’ effort to build the Tower and make a name for themselves.
- The tower was their attempt to reestablish what was lost at Eden.
- Access to the divine.
- We all know the story.
It is interesting that God’s response in Genesis 11 parallels that of Genesis 1’s creation.
- “let us make man in our image” AND “let us go down and there confuse their language”
- “So God created man in his own image” AND “So the LORD dispersed them”
This is interesting because of the identity of the “us”.
- The “us” is God’s divine council.
- So, in both instances, God lays out a plan to His divine council.
- And then God alone provides the action for the plan.
To flesh this out more, there is one more Babel text – often overlooked.
- Deuteronomy 32:8–9 (ESV) — 8 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. 9 But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.
Here we get more details.
- The scattering of the people was “according to the number of the sons of God”.
The scattering played out like this – according to the text.
- YHWH would soon set apart a portion of the people for himself – “his allotted heritage”.
- “His people, Jacob” = Israel.
And, as for the rest of the folks:
- They were divvied up “according to the number of the sons of God”.
- In other words, each of the “sons of God” had his allotment – his inheritance – of the remaining folks.
So this text shows us how:
“Yahweh’s dispersal of the nations at Babel resulted in his disinheriting those nations as his people” – Michael Heiser.
So what does all this mean?
- Two things.
(1) God’s later call to Abraham in Gen. 12 was how he established His allotment – His inheritance.
- This was done at the exclusion of the other nations.
- This exclusion is part of Paul’s “God gave them up” language of Rom. 1:18-26.
But this was also an act of grace.
- God called Abraham out of the East – the place of exile.
- He called him out of the disinherited and excluded.
- Importantly, God didn’t make a new Adam.
(2) “The rest of the nations were placed under the authority of Yahweh’s divine council” – Michael Heiser.
- These are the plural “us” of the “let us go down”.
- The “sons of God”.
Moses speaks of this event here:
- Deuteronomy 4:19–20 (ESV) — 19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.
Here Moses gives a warning that operates on top of the Deuteronomy 32 worldview.
- God’s inheritance (Israel) is tempted to follow after the “host of heaven”…
- The “sons of God” of the other nations.
In effect, they want to reject their inheritance with Yahweh and choose to be heirs of the “host of heaven”.
- AKA –“the sun and the moon and the stars”.
Moses reminds them:
- God delivered you from this very thing – Egypt and her gods.
- He did so that you might be His “own inheritance”.
- So get a grip!
Rabbit Trail – Naaman and Dirt
- 2 Kings 5:17 (ESV) — 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord.
Naaman had finally submitted to the cure Elisha offered him in the sorry waters of the Jordan.
- The result was his healing and a change in his believing loyalty – he switched it to YHWH.
So why would Naaman request “two mule loads of earth” from Israel to take back Damascus?
- You guessed it!
- Has to do with Deut. 32 worldview and Moses’ warning in Deut. 4.
- Syrian dirt is (currently) under the inheritance of Rimmon.
All of this sets up the next scene in our Unseen Realm drama.
- We know that the disinherited nations become the enemy and foil of Israel.
- The modern reader easily notices this fact.
But what about the “sons of god” of those rebellious nations – what becomes of them?
The Psalmist gives us a glimpse:
- Psalm 82:1–8 (ESV) — 1 God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: 2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah 3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” 5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; 7 nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!
Here the Psalmist gives us a shocking glimpse into the unseen realm.
- Some of the “gods” (“sons of Most High”) – the elohim over the other nations – have rebelled.
- They, like Satan (himself an elohim), have aligned themselves against God and His purposes.
- Their end is to die like men and lose their inheritance – “O God…you shall inherit the nations!” (vs. 8).
Michael Heiser puts it like this:
- “Yahweh [is] judging other elohim, sons of the Most High, for their corruption in administering the nations” – Michael Heiser.
Next week we will flesh out exactly how this informs Paul’s:
- “nor angels nor rulers” – “nor powers”
Heiser gives us a glimpse:
“From the fateful decision at Babel onward, the story of the Old Testament is about Israel versus the disinherited nations, and Yahweh versus the corrupt, rebel elohim of those nations. The division of the nations and their allotment under other elohim is behind the scenes in all sorts of places in biblical history” – Michael Heiser.