The divine council is the Jewish theological idea that Yahweh holds court in heaven and consults other divine beings (best understood as spirits and angels). In several Biblical descriptions is the setting of a royal court. God has a throne room and His subjects approach Him. Sometimes these divine beings report their activities to God, sometimes God consults these beings, and sometimes God reprimands these beings. From this setting God rules the heavens and the Earth.
The earliest clear reference to this divine council is in the book of Job. In the book of Job, angels report to God:
Job 1:6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.
The sons of God (a term often used for angels) report to Yahweh. They circle around God, and from the conversation that ensues, it is likely that the angels are in turn reporting their activities to God. An angel labeled “a satan” (probably not to be misunderstood as the traditional character of Satan) explains to God where and what he was doing. God and satan quickly enter into a frank discussion about human motivations. Together they agree on a test for a righteous man.
This scene repeats itself in the very next chapter with satan answering the exact same questions about his whereabouts. The test is discussed again and the terms are reevaluated. In this account, God is seen conversing with other divine agents. God is shown as entertaining the ideas of these agents. And God is shown exercising kingly sovereignty (both in granting allowance of the test and establishing the limits of the test).
1 Kings 22
In 1 Kings 22, the prophet Micaiah describes a heavenly scene that he has witnessed. In this scene, God is again in this divine courtroom. God sits on a throne surrounded by angels. God queries the angels for ideas. God is intent that King Ahab goes to battle and is slain in the process. God either does not know the best way to accomplish this or is not resolved on a solution. God queries the angels for ideas.
The text describes various angels offering their own ideas (ideas which the text censors as not important). Finally, one angel offers the idea to deceive King Ahab through the use of false prophecy. The angel offers up himself as being a deceiving voice to all the false prophets to tell King Ahab that he will succeed in battle. God endorses this idea and tells the angel to accomplish it.
In this account, there is Kingly imagery of a throne and of a host of subordinate beings. God, exercising sovereignty, solicits ideas and selects the most advantageous idea. Unspoken is the idea that God alone has decided to kill King Ahab, although God’s advisors assist in the method. No beings can or will oppose God in either His decision to kill King Ahab or God’s decision of the method to kill King Ahab.
In Psalms 82, again there is a scene in which the angels approach God. God is again surrounded by divine beings. God is portrayed as the ultimate authority. God judges among the “gods”:
Psa 82:1 A Psalm of Asaph. God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods.
The word el-o-heem is used for “gods”, a term often used of Yahweh. Sometimes this term is used of spirits (1Sa 28:13) and sometimes it is used for angels (Psa 8:5). It seems to hold connotation with the divine realm.
In this psalm, God is judging among the lesser gods. These angels have been delegated authority by Yahweh to rule the pagan nations and they have failed miserably. As such, God revokes their immortality. God disposes them all of rule and assumes rule of the entire Earth for Himself.
Similar ideas to this lesser tier of divine rulers are found throughout the Bible:
Exo 12:12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.
Deu 32:8 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. [ESV uses the Dead Sea Scrolls for this wording.]
1Co 10:20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.
In Isaiah 6, Isaiah sees God sitting upon His throne in heaven. God is surrounded by seraphim, singing God’s praises. Isaiah worries because he is seeing the God of Israel and there might be deadly ramifications. A seraphim absolves Isaiah of his sins such that Isaiah does not have to worry.
God then queries the angels, much like 1 Kings 22:
Isa 6:8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Isaiah instantly responds. Isaiah is operating as part of the divine council and is answering God’s query. God accepts Isaiah’s offer and informs Isaiah to preach until the people are sick of hearing him. The text offers a small exchange between the two in which Isaiah is allowed to ask questions about his task.
In much the same way as 1 Kings 22, God is commissioning a divine agent. God is willing to accept input and consider options. God is not shy to clarify what He means, even if that means condescending to the questions of mere mortals. In all of this, God is the one deciding on the plan. God is exercising His Kingly duty and exerting His authority. But that does not mean God does not accept input.
In Ezekiel 10, Ezekiel is allowed to glance into the heavenly court. God sits on His throne and is surrounded by cherubim. The scene is very similar to the one described in Isaiah 6. In the text, God acts unilaterally. God commands a man to take burning coals and scatter them over a city. God then positions Himself over the cherubim. The scene is one in which God is view directing normal heavenly operations.
In Zerchariah, the prophet is shown a scene in heaven in which Joshua (the high priest of that day) stands before Yahweh in the heavenly courtroom. Satan, the accuser, stands on the left of God. Satan appears to have engaged in a bet, not unlike the bet in Job, concerning the fate of Israel. God proclaims that Joshua is part of the remnant that passed the test. In this scene, God issues a unilateral decree dressing Joshua in clean robes and then promising to bless Joshua if Joshua continues to follow God. This is a sovereign act of Kingship.
This scene could be meant as metaphorical by the author as there are humans entering the divine realm and the context is another possibly metaphorical vision of an angel measuring Jerusalem with a measuring line (Zec 2:1). But even in this case, the author is most likely drawing upon common notions of the normal operations of the divine council.
In Daniel 7, Daniel has a vision (a dream) of heaven. God is in heaven and is surrounded by the angels. The text numbers the angels:
Dan 7:10 A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.
A legal proceeding occurs. Some books are consulted (possible historical records) and judgment is passed on a beast (metaphorically representing a pagan king). The beast is killed and several other beasts are deposed of their kingdoms. These kingships are passed to “the Son of man”. In this vision, God gives Israel an eternal kingdom through this shadowy figure.
This scene, very explicitly metaphorical, shows God executing sovereign judgment in heaven. God is unopposed. God judges based on evidence. God engages in formal legal action.
In Revelation 4, God is sitting on His throne in the midst of heaven:
Rev 4:2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.
In this case, 24 other thrones sit around God’s throne. God has given position and authority to 24 other individuals. Like Ezekiel, Daniel, and Isaiah, God is surrounded by interesting divine creatures. All the individuals along with the creatures are seen worship God. In chapter 5 the number is placed at “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands”. This is the same number as mentioned in Daniel 7.
The next chapter details some events in this courtroom. Scrolls are opened and the Earth is judged. This again is echoing the events in Daniel. Throughout the book of Revelation, the Earth is judged until finally there is a scene in which heaven and Earth merge:
Rev 21:2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Rev 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.
In this new city on Earth, God will move His divine council:
Rev 22:3 And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.
The conclusion of Revelation predicts that God will have abolished the heaven/earth divide and will entertain His divine court from Jerusalem. Human beings will be invited to join, but none which are evil or defiled.
The Genesis accounts
In the very first chapter of Genesis, there is some interesting dynamics within the wording of the text:
Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Gen 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
El-o-heem is the creative power throughout Genesis 1, but finally in verse 26 El-o-heem consults some sort of audience on the value of creating man in a collective image. In verse 27, El-o-heem creates man in His own image. What is likely happening here is that God is consulting the divine council for advice or objections to creating man. When none exist, God presses forward and creates man.
In Genesis 18, God invites a human being into the divine council. This man is Abraham:
Gen 18:17 The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do,
Gen 18:18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
Gen 18:19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”
In this passage, Abraham is not transported to the divine realm. Instead, God consults Abraham on Earth as if Abraham was in the throne room. Abraham is told about God’s plans and God accepts Abraham’s feedback. In this case, Abraham is personally worried that his nephew will be killed by God and argues that it will be unjust to kill the righteous with the wicked. God concedes this point after a brief conversation on acceptable collateral damage in a national judgment.
In both these Genesis account, God remains sovereign. God makes the decisions. God is the creative or destructive power. But God solicits and accepts advice from others.
Deu 26:15 Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the land which You have given us, just as You swore to our fathers, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” ‘
Psa 80:14 Return, we beseech You, O God of hosts; Look down from heaven and see, And visit this vine
2Ch 20:6 and said: “O LORD God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You?
Psa 11:4 The LORD is in His holy temple, The LORD’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.
Psa 103:19 The LORD has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all.
Psa 115:3 But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.
Psa 119:89 Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven.
Every time the Bible references God looking down from heaven and judging, this is a reference to the divine courtroom. God sits in heaven, consulting angels and tasking His agents with missions. God looks down on Earth and passes decrees. This idea is so thoroughly believed throughout the Biblical authors that it could be a book unto itself, all the subtle references.
Even Jesus mentions several places that God is in heaven. Jesus’ prayer is that God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. The idea is that God should more fully judge the Earth to the same extent that heaven is judged. This could very well be in line with the merging of heaven and Earth described in Revelation 22. In fact, Jesus says “Your kingdom come”. Jesus was praying for God’s divine council to be brought to Earth.
The divine council is very well attested Jewish theology. God established a court in heaven. In this court, God entertained angels, passed judgment, issued decrees, and engaged in all types of Kingly functions. God is shown with absolute power, but often entertains the ideas of His subjects. Subjects are allowed, at times, frank conversations with God. God hears them out and answers them. In all of this, God is portrayed as obliging yet sovereign.