Reading in Exodus this week, I made two specific observations. First, many Christians have been led to believe that monotheism indicates there is only one god. While it is obvious the scriptures declare “One God of Israel”, they are full of others who are called “gods”. For instance, as a point of logic (which some hate when conversing about theological or scriptural matters), what would be the significance of speaking about “the greatest god”(el-shaddai) if there were no others with which to compare? If there is only one “god” than it is a pointless statement, is it not? For God to declare, “against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment” (Ex. 12:12), seems a little schizophrenic if no such entities as “other gods” exist. Does it not imply that there is judgment being brought against someone or something, or are we to suppose it means they were going around smashing idols of gold and silver (which is ridiculous, because those served as markers, representations, and not thought of as the gods themselves)?
The word “god” is a title, not a name. It has several forms (which I won’t bore you with now), but the word used for “god” much of the time is elohim, and it looks like this in Hebrew, אלהים. It is used about 2500 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and depending on the context it is translated as God, god, gods, goddess or human judges as well as spirit beings.
Jesus quotes Psalm 82:1, 6-8 which says, “Elohim [God] stands in the divine assembly; there with the elohim [judges], he judges...“My decree is: 'You are elohim [gods, judges], sons of the Most High all of you. Nevertheless, you will die like mortals; like any prince, you will fall.'" Rise up, Elohim, and judge the earth; for all the nations are yours.”
John 10:33-36 "We are not stoning you for any good deed, but for blasphemy- because you, who are only a man, are making yourself out to be God”. Yeshua answered them, "Isn't it written in your Torah, 'I have said, "You people are Elohim'"? If he called 'elohim' the people to whom the word of Elohim was addressed (and the Tanakh cannot be broken), then are you telling the one whom the Father set apart as holy and sent into the world, 'You are committing blasphemy,' just because I said, 'I am a son of Elohim'?" Perhaps Jesus in this passage is claiming to be the “anointed” by whom God would judge the world (Acts 10:42, 17:30-31). It is on these grounds that the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 1:8) claims this prophecy of Jesus the Messiah, Psa 45:6-7 “Your throne, O God [elohim], is forever and ever; A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God [elohim], Your God [elohim], has anointed You With the oil of joy above Your fellows.”
Deut. 32:17 equates some of these other “gods”(elohim) with demons. When God took His people to Himself out of Egypt, it was likened to a marriage (Jer. 2:2, Ezek 16:8). In the same metaphor, unfaithfulness is treated as harlotry, thus to have other “gods” (lovers) alongside their husband (bridegroom) is condemned as spiritual harlotry/idolatry (this is seen all through the prophets). Revelation deals with this on another level as well.
In the agreement of the covenant, the “ten words” (known in Christianity as the “ten commandments”) begin with the declaration of, “I am the LORD [YHVH] your God [elohim], who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods [elohim] before Me” (Ex. 20:2-3). I love my wife. She is the only woman for me. I will have no other woman before her. That does not mean there are no other women.
The second thing I noticed was in relation to the “destroyer”. Ex. 12:23, "For the LORD [YHVH] will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you.”
They were to be saved if they believed the word spoken by Moses (had originated from God) and subsequently acted in obedience to God’s instruction (not by saying a prayer and asking Moses into their heart). The Lord would then forbid the “destroyer” from going into those houses “marked for salvation”.
We also can see in this passage that the Lord and the destroyer are both used interchangeably with carrying out the destruction. It becomes even clearer when verse 29 is viewed, “Now it came about at midnight that the LORD struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle.” So who carried it out, the destroyer or the Lord (YHVH), and is there a difference? Is this an example of agency, or does this align itself to what the prophet Amos said, “If evil befalls a city, has not the LORD caused it?” Is it possibly along the same lines of Revelation 17:17, speaking of the ten horns; “For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose”?
There are a few examples of this type of speaking in Isaiah. God speaks of men (accomplishing His tasks) as His servants. Isaiah 45:1, "Thus says the LORD to His anointed [mashiyach - Messiah, Christ], To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held-- To subdue nations before him And loose the armor of kings…” Cyrus is a Christ, a servant of YHVH? King Nebuchadnezzar is also used in this type of “agency”: Jer 25:9 “behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,' says the LORD,`and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant…”,
Jer 27:6 “And now I [YHVH, the Lord] have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant;”
Jer 43:10 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will send and bring Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden. And he will spread his royal pavilion over them.’”
Let’s go back to Exodus and examine the burning bush passage. Moses is in Midian, sees a spectacular sight, and turns to see what it is. Here are the opening lines describing the event: Ex. 3:2 “The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush…”, but yet it says, Ex. 3:4 "God called to him from the midst of the bush…I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Is the narrator/writer of this account mistaken? Are we to think that the Angel of YHVH (the Lord) is really God Himself? What are we to make of this? Maybe we are misunderstanding the passage, let’s look at the “inspired” New Testament commentary given by Stephen (a man full of faith) when testifying before the Sanhedrin:
Acts 7:29-32 “MOSES FLED AND BECAME AN ALIEN IN THE LAND OF MIDIAN, where he became the father of two sons. After forty years had passed, AN ANGEL APPEARED TO HIM IN THE WILDERNESS OF MOUNT Sinai, IN THE FLAME OF A BURNING THORN BUSH. When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord: 'I AM THE GOD OF YOUR FATHERS, THE GOD OF ABRAHAM AND ISAAC AND JACOB.' Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look.” It seems as though Stephen has the same insight, an angel of the Lord speaking in the first person as though he is God Himself. Perhaps we are not accustomed to this type of speaking.
A similar situation is in the pillar of cloud/fire, Ex. 13:21 “The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night."
Ex. 14:19 “The angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them."
Which is it, or is it God acting through His messenger (this time an angel)? What about God speaking this way with a human; as though it is He who has done it? Ex. 7:17 “Thus says the LORD, "By this you shall know that I am the LORD: behold, I [YHVH] will strike the water that is in the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned to blood…Aaron did even as the LORD had commanded. And he [Aaron] lifted up the staff and struck the water that was in the Nile, in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, and all the water that was in the Nile was turned to blood." Whose staff, and who did the striking? Just reading the passage, are we to surmise that Aaron is YHVH Himself?
My point with these examples is that context is the determining factor in many cases of “god” and agency. Just because an angel, destroyer, King, or other human vice-regent did/does things which are claimed or done by YHVH does not make them YHVH. He works in and though people. Just like the word given to the prophets, it was YHVH’s Word, delivered by His servants. That did not make the prophets YHVH. In the prophetic books, God speaks of Jesus in the same manner.
Like Ex. 7:1, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘See, I make you as God [elohim] to Pharaoh…”, we are to be “God” (elohim) to those around us. We are commanded to be a “Kingdom of Priests” who are actively bringing the message and action of our Elohim to a broken and hurting world.