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Supernatural Session 11 (The Giant Problems with Demons)

Supernatural  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  40:52
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GIANT PROBLEMS

The expulsion of Adam and Eve was followed by a series of episodes that pitted the descendants of Eve against the spiritual children of the original enemy. The opposition to God’s plan came in both human and divine form. explicitly described a transgression of the domain boundary between heaven and earth that God wanted observed. Then there was the rebellion at Babel ().
Israel was reborn as a nation in the exodus from Egypt. After receiving the law, building the tabernacle, and establishing the priesthood, they departed for the promised land. They soon arrived at the border of Canaan, where Moses sent twelve spies to reconnoiter the territory (). The spies returned with confirmation of the abundance and desirability of the land. Nevertheless, most of them were in despair. The land was occupied by people in walled cities—some of whom were giants descended from the Nephilim: Numbers 13:32-33.
32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” ( esv).
Understanding the trauma of Israel in is essential to understanding the subsequent conquest accounts. Any Israelite or Jew living after the time of the completion of the Hebrew Bible would have processed the wars for the promised land in terms of this passage, since it connected Israel’s survival as the people of Yahweh with the defeat of the Nephilim descendants.

NEPHILIM BEFORE THE FLOOD

How do we understand the note in , that the Nephilim were upon the earth at the time of the flood “and also afterward.” How do we process their original presence?
The events described in were part of Israel’s supernatural worldview. We cannot pretend they saw things as most modern readers would. Since the Nephilim were part of Israel’s supernatural worldview and their descendants turn out to be Israel’s primary obstacle for conquering the promised land, the conquest itself must also be understood in supernatural terms.
There are two possible approaches to the origin of the Nephilim in that are consistent with the supernatural understanding of the sons of God in the Israelite worldview. The first and most transparent is that divine beings came to earth, assumed human flesh, cohabited with human women, and spawned unusual offspring known as Nephilim. Naturally, this view requires seeing the giant clans encountered in the conquest as physical descendants of the Nephilim ().
A second view takes a supernaturalist approach to that takes the sexual language as euphemistic, not literal. In this perspective, the language of cohabitation is used to convey the idea that divine beings who are rivals to Yahweh are responsible for producing the Nephilim, and therefore are responsible for the later giant clans.
This approach uses Yahweh’s relationship to Abraham and Sarah as an analogy. While there is no suggestion of a sexual relationship between an embodied Yahweh and Sarah to produce Isaac and, therefore, the Israelites, it is nonetheless true that the Israelites came about through supernatural intervention.10 In that sense, Yahweh “fathered” Israel. The means God used to enable Abraham and Sarah to have a child are never described in the Bible, but Scripture is clear that divine intervention of some sort was necessary. The Bible’s silence on the nature of the supernatural intervention opens the door to the idea that other rival gods produced offspring to oppose Yahweh’s children.
As we’ll see in the following chapter, this belief on the part of the biblical writers (with respect to either approach) became the rationale for the extermination of certain people groups in Canaan. Either the giant clans are the result of literal cohabitation, or the sexual language is merely a vehicle to communicate the idea that, as Yahweh was responsible for the Israelites’ existence, so the giant clans existed because of some sort of supernatural intervention of rival gods.
Both approaches therefore presume that the Nephilim and the subsequent giant clans had a supernatural origin, but they disagree on the means.

NEPHILIM AFTER THE FLOOD

pointedly informs readers that the Nephilim were on earth before the flood “and also afterward.” The phrase looks forward to , which says with equal clarity that the oversized descendants of Anak “came from the Nephilim.” The sons of Anak, the Anakim, were one of the giant clans described in the conquest narratives (e.g., , ; ; , ). The text clearly links them to the Nephilim, but how is this possible given the account of the flood?
The problem is one that has puzzled interpreters since antiquity. As I noted in chapter 13, some Jewish writers presumed the answer was that Noah himself had been fathered by one of the sons of God and was a Nephilim giant. clearly wants to distance Noah from the unrighteousness that precipitated the flood, so this explanation doesn’t work.
There are two alternatives for explaining the presence of giants after the flood who descended from the giant Nephilim: (1) the flood of was a regional, not global, catastrophe; (2) the same kind of behavior described in happened again (or continued to happen) after the flood, producing other Nephilim, from whom the giant clans descended.
The first option, a localized flood, naturally depends on the coherence of the arguments in defense of a local flood, especially those arguments dealing with the wording in the biblical text that seems to suggest the flood was worldwide. Many biblical scholars, scientists, and other researchers have marshaled the evidence in favor of this reading. For our purposes, this option would allow human survival somewhere in the regions known to the biblical authors (), specifically the ancient Near East, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Aegean Sea.
The second option is a possibility deriving from Hebrew grammar. tells us there were Nephilim on earth before the flood “and also afterward, when the sons of God went into the daughters of humankind.” The “when” in the verse could be translated “whenever,” thereby suggesting a repetition of these preflood events after the flood. In other words, since points forward to the later giant clans, the phrasing could suggest that other sons of God fathered more Nephilim after the flood. As a result, there would be no survival of original Nephilim, and so the postflood dilemma would be resolved. A later appearance of other Nephilim occurred by the same means as before the flood.
All of this sets the stage for . Fear of the giant clans results in a spiritual failure that means wandering in the desert outside the land of promise for forty years. The generation who came out of Egypt is sentenced to die off outside of holy ground. The new generation under Joshua will wind up facing the same threat.
In , the Israelites had arrived at the border of Canaan. Moses sent twelve spies into Canaan to report on the land and its inhabitants. They came back with the news that what God had said was true—the land was “flowing with milk and honey” ()—but then added, “there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (esv).
The very next chapter of the book of Numbers tells us that, despite the miracles of their deliverance from Egypt, the people refused to believe that God would help them defeat the Anakim (“sons of Anak”). Because they rebelled, God sentenced them to wander in the desert for forty years until all who did not believe had died off. Only then would God bring them back to the promised land ().
Who were the Anakim? Were these giants the kind of monstrous beings we read about in Greek mythology? How many of them lived in the land? The text clearly connects them to the Nephilim, but how exactly were they connected?
Answers to these questions can only be understood when framed by the original ancient context of the biblical writers who put the Old Testament account of Israel’s history in its final form. It is no accident that, by all accounts, this work was finished in exile in Babylon. The biblical writers deliberately connect the giant clan enemies Israel would face in the conquest back to the ancient apostasies that had Babylon at their root: the sons of God and the Nephilim, and the disinheritance of the nations at the Tower of Babel.
These incidents inform the Israelite supernatural worldview. They are at the heart of what’s at stake in the war for the promised land. Israel will encounter two deadly forces: the descendants of the Nephilim and the people of nations under the dominion of hostile gods. The two are at times conflated in the narrative. Both must be defeated, but one in particular must be annihilated.

THE GIANTS OF THE TRANSJORDAN

As the forty years of wandering neared completion, God directed Moses to lead the new generation of Israelites (and the few members of the old generation whose faith had not failed) back toward Canaan. But instead of heading into Canaan from the south as before, God brought them alongside Canaan through territory to the east (the “Transjordan”). (See map on next page.)
This was no accident. (esv) picks up the story.
8 So we went on, away from our brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir, away from the Arabah road from Elath and Ezion-geber.
9 “And we turned and went in the direction of the wilderness of Moab. 10 And the Lord said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the people of Lot for a possession.’ 10 (The Emim formerly lived there, a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim. 11 Like the Anakim they are also counted as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim. 12 The Horites also lived in Seir formerly, but the people of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them and settled in their place, as Israel did to the land of their possession, which the Lord gave to them.) …
17 … the Lord said to me, 18 ‘Today you are to cross the border of Moab at Ar. 19 And when you approach the territory of the people of Ammon, do not harass them or contend with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a possession.’ 20 (It is also counted as a land of Rephaim. Rephaim formerly lived there—but the Ammonites call them Zamzummim—21 a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim; but the Lord destroyed them before the Ammonites, and they dispossessed them and settled in their place, 22 as he did for the people of Esau, who live in Seir, when he destroyed the Horites before them and they dispossessed them and settled in their place even to this day. 23 As for the Avvim, who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorim, who came from Caphtor, destroyed them and settled in their place) ().
We learn several things of significance in this passage and its geography. Proceeding from south to north, the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites were to be left unmolested by the Israelites because God had long ago allotted that land to Abraham’s nephew Lot and his grandson, Esau, Jacob’s brother. It is fascinating to note (vv. 10–11, 19–20) that giants had once lived in those territories prior to the arrival of Moses, Joshua, and the Israelites. These giant clans were known among the Moabites and Ammonites as the Emim and the Zamzummim. Other inhabitants had also been driven out: the Horites, the Avvim, and the Caphtorim. These tribal groups are never themselves referred to as being unusually tall, though they surface in connection with giant clans in a number of other passages. The thing to observe here is that these giant clans had already been removed from the land promised to Abraham’s descendants by the descendants of Esau and Lot, who were also descended from Abraham, like Israel (vv. 12, 21).
These giant clans were related to the Anakim (vv. 10–11), who were, of course, “from the Nephilim” (). We aren’t told specifically how the bloodline lineages worked, but we are told a relationship existed. Additionally, all of these groups seem to also have been referred to as Rephaim (vv. 11, 20). A name that we have encountered before. Now why does all this matter?

THE UNSEEN COMBATANTS: General Terminology

We saw earlier that the Hebrew Bible uses the term elohim to speak of any inhabitant of the spiritual world. The word itself provides no differentiation among beings within that realm, though hierarchy is certainly present. Yahweh, for example, is an elohim, but no other elohim is Yahweh. Nevertheless, the term elohim tells us very little about how an ancient reader would have parsed the pecking order of the unseen realm. The same is true of certain Greek terms that are used in the New Testament.

When the subject of spiritual warfare surfaces, most students of Scripture think of angels and demons. Those terms are very broad and don’t shed a great deal of light on how New Testament writers thought of rank and power in the unseen world.

There are roughly 175 references to angels in the New Testament (aggelos/angelos). Like the Hebrew counterpart (malʾak), the term means “messenger.” Fundamentally, the term describes a task performed by a divine being, not what a divine being is.

The use of the term angelos increased in the Second Temple period on through the New Testament so that its meaning became more generic, akin to daimonion. That is, it can be found on occasion outside the context of delivering a message in descriptions of a group of divine beings (e.g., Luke 15:10).

This widening of the term’s semantics is shown in Hebrews 1:4–5; 2:7–9. In the second of these passages, the word angelos is used when the writer quotes Psalm 8:4–6, so that Hebrews 2:7 describes humankind as being “a little lower than the angels,” whereas the Hebrew text of Psalm 8:5 has humanity being “a little lower than elohim.” While the original Hebrew text could mean that humankind was created “a little lower than God [elohim],” the Greek translation that the writer of Hebrews is using (the Septuagint) interpreted elohim as plural, and translated the word with angeloi (“angels”). This shows us that angelos had become a word deemed appropriate to generally describe a member of the supernatural realm, just as elohim is used in the Old Testament.

The two Greek terms translated “demon” in the New Testament are daimōn and daimonion. Our word “demon” is actually a transliteration of the Greek, not a translation. In classical Greek literature, which preceded the time of the New Testament, the term daimōn describes any divine being without regard to its nature (good or evil). A daimōn can be a god or goddesss, some lesser divine power, or the spirit of the departed human dead. As such, it is akin to Hebrew elohim in its generic meaning.

The New Testament is silent on the origin of demons. There is no passage that describes a primeval rebellion before Eden where angels fell from grace and became demons. The origin of demons in Jewish texts outside the Bible (such as 1 Enoch) is attributed to the events of Genesis 6:1–4. When a Nephilim was killed in these texts, its disembodied spirit was considered a demon. These demons then roamed the earth to harass humans. The New Testament does not explicitly embrace this belief, though there are traces of the notion, such as demon possession of humans (implying the effort to be re-embodied).

Not surprisingly, in the New Testament, the terms daimōn and daimonion are nearly always used negatively. That is, they refer to evil, sinister powers.8 This is likely due to the use of the terms in the Septuagint, though the influence of Second Temple Judaism may be a factor. The Septuagint translators use daimōn once (Isa 65:11) of a foreign god. Daimonion occurs nine times to refer to idols (e.g., Psa 96:5 [Septuagint: 95:5]) and foreign gods of the nations whom Israel was not to worship (e.g., Psa 91:6 [Septuagint: 90:6]).

In the New Testament, the verb equivalents to these nouns (daimonao, daimonizomai) refer to being possessed by a daimōn and are always negative. Daimonion occurs in parallel to “unclean spirit” in several passages (e.g., Luke 8:29; 9:42; cf. Luke 4:33).

Oddly enough, only one verse in the Bible mentions Satan and demons together: “So if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I expel demons by Beelzebul” (Luke 11:18). The verse strongly implies that Satan has authority over demons, but does not make it clear that all demons are under his authority or how this authority emerged. The Old Testament is silent on the matter since the noun saṭan was not a proper name and was not used of the enemy in the garden.

THE UNSEEN COMBATANTS

We saw earlier that the Hebrew Bible uses the term elohim to speak of any inhabitant of the spiritual world. The word itself provides no differentiation among beings within that realm, though hierarchy is certainly present. Yahweh, for example, is an elohim, but no other elohim is Yahweh. Nevertheless, the term elohim tells us very little about how an ancient reader would have parsed the pecking order of the unseen realm. The same is true of certain Greek terms that are used in the New Testament.
When the subject of spiritual warfare surfaces, most students of Scripture think of angels and demons. Those terms are very broad and don’t shed a great deal of light on how New Testament writers thought of rank and power in the unseen world.

angelos

There are roughly 175 references to angels in the New Testament (aggelos/angelos). Like the Hebrew counterpart (malʾak), the term means “messenger.” Fundamentally, the term describes a task performed by a divine being, not what a divine being is.
The use of the term angelos increased in the Second Temple period on through the New Testament so that its meaning became more generic, akin to daimonion. That is, it can be found on occasion outside the context of delivering a message in descriptions of a group of divine beings (e.g., ).
This widening of the term’s semantics is shown in ; . In the second of these passages, the word angelos is used when the writer quotes , so that describes humankind as being “a little lower than the angels,” whereas the Hebrew text of has humanity being “a little lower than elohim.” While the original Hebrew text could mean that humankind was created “a little lower than God [elohim],” the Greek translation that the writer of Hebrews is using (the Septuagint) interpreted elohim as plural, and translated the word with angeloi (“angels”). This shows us that angelos had become a word deemed appropriate to generally describe a member of the supernatural realm, just as elohim is used in the Old Testament.

The two Greek terms translated “demon” in the New Testament are daimōn and daimonion.

daimōn
Our word “demon” is actually a transliteration of the Greek, not a translation. In classical Greek literature, which preceded the time of the New Testament, the term daimōn describes any divine being without regard to its nature (good or evil). A daimōn can be a god or goddesss, some lesser divine power, or the spirit of the departed human dead. As such, it is akin to Hebrew elohim in its generic meaning.
describes any divine being without regard to its nature (good or evil). A daimōn can be a god or goddesss, some lesser divine power, or the spirit of the departed human dead. As such, it is akin to Hebrew elohim in its generic meaning.
The New Testament is silent on the origin of demons. There is no passage that describes a primeval rebellion before Eden where angels fell from grace and became demons. The origin of demons in Jewish texts outside the Bible (such as 1 Enoch) is attributed to the events of . When a Nephilim was killed in these texts, its disembodied spirit was considered a demon. These demons then roamed the earth to harass humans. The New Testament does not explicitly embrace this belief, though there are traces of the notion, such as demon possession of humans (implying the effort to be re-embodied).
Not surprisingly, in the New Testament, the terms daimōn and daimonion are nearly always used negatively. That is, they refer to evil, sinister powers.8 This is likely due to the use of the terms in the Septuagint, though the influence of Second Temple Judaism may be a factor. The Septuagint translators use daimōn once () of a foreign god. Daimonion occurs nine times to refer to idols (e.g., [Septuagint: 95:5]) and foreign gods of the nations whom Israel was not to worship (e.g., [Septuagint: 90:6]).
In the New Testament, the verb equivalents to these nouns (daimonao, daimonizomai) refer to being possessed by a daimōn and are always negative. Daimonion occurs in parallel to “unclean spirit” in several passages (e.g., ; ; cf. ).
Oddly enough, only one verse in the Bible mentions Satan and demons together: “So if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I expel demons by Beelzebul” (). The verse strongly implies that Satan has authority over demons, but does not make it clear that all demons are under his authority or how this authority emerged. The Old Testament is silent on the matter since the noun saṭan was not a proper name and was not used of the enemy in the garden.[1]
[1] Heiser, M. S. (2015). The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (First Edition, pp. 323–326). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
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