My attention fell upon these scriptural verses around recent controversy with Heiser’s ‘Number of Angels’ aka., ‘Sons of God’. Surely, the beliefs of the Primitive church deserve serious attention. Nor do I find anything necessarily contradictory with later interpretation (such as with Church of Englandmen Revs. Patrick or Lowth’s commentaries). Instead, early-modern readings lend a critical sobriety or groundedness– magnifying the role of Princes and Covenantal historic lineages– to what otherwise might be the angelic mystery. That said, primitive angelology compels us to review opinions perhaps outside received scriptural canon as well as truth beyond academic wisdom, admitting more of a Heavenly reality, unbound by weakly & immature material experience, even scoffing.
Within this passage of Deuteronomy there’s much unpack. The verses touch question regarding Jehovah’s special inheritance, his theocracy or government on earth, how the land was allotted to Israel, the iniquity of the Caananites, the predicted taking the seven Canaanite Kingdoms, as well as the recently disputed curiosity ‘who are the sons of God’. It’s this final matter I hope to consider, namely, the identity of God’s children. But, first, from the KJV Deut 32:7-8 reads:
Starting with verse 7, notable is the call to “remember the days of old,… and they will tell thee”, as well as unto verse 10, “He found him [Jacob] a in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness: he led him about; he instructed him. He kept him as the apple of his eye”. These verses resemble the Preface of the Decalogue, Ex. 20:17, declaring Mighty Jehovah’s beneficent acts and deliverance of Israel against hardness of Pharaoh. Yet, verse 7 demands we remember Jehovah by inquiring of those who either have seen or learned. Something of this instructing command is explained by the Rt. Rev. Simon Patrick (1626-1707)–
Ver. 7 Remember the days of old.] Look back as far as you are able. Consider the years of of many generations.] Consult the most ancient Records; which would inform them how God chose their Father Abraham long ago; and promised to bless his Posterity, as he did Isaac and Jacob in a most eminent manner; and sent Joseph by a wonderful Providence into Egypt to preserve them from starving etc. Ask thy Father, and he will show thee; thy Elders, and they will tell thee.] All this is to express the same thing; that they should advise with those that knew more than themselves; and particularly with old Men (as the word may be understood which we translate Elders) who by the benefit of their great Age, had heard and seen more than others; and could tell them how God had dealt with them, ever since he brought them by a wonderful Power out of the Land of Egypt.p. 606-7, Commentary upon the fifth book of Moses
Indeed, we are to search out and preserve the glory of God, not only from the waning generation preceding but also by ancient record. The study of early Noahite and pre-Deluvian mankind, and otherwise ancient civilization, is implied in this command– challenging perhaps progressive spirits. We may search even the beginning of the Age for vindication of our Lord. And, given the following verse (8) touch the boundaries and divisions of men, this subject ought to be better understood than it is today. Adam Clarke’s commentary (1817) is of interest since we discover God’s command for Noah’s sons to divide the land and spread across the earth was prior to the later wicked unity of Babel. So, even this we should ponder. Clarke says:
A final note regarding v. 7, not only is there a mandate in it to keep record of the distant past– even the beginning of times– but the problem of memory was the very reason Deut32 is known as the ‘Song of Moses’. It was written in musical prose so the children of Israel might recall the divine election and tender love of Jehovah, their covenant with him, and special mercy by song. Likely, the same rationale was used by Reformation churches with metered Psalters, even the Coverdale version of Psalms as well as other hymns given in the offices of the Prayer Book? The Rev. Thomas Scott (1747-1821) describes the benefit of singing this Canticle, and why it was given to the youth:
“This song would be in the mouth of great numbers who were unacquainted with the Books of Moses, or had not access to them they were therefore called upon in it, to inquire of their fathers and elders, concerning their origin many ages before who would inform them of the distinguishing kindness which god had shown to their progenitors, and in the children for their sakes. This might both stir them up to the study of the scriptures, as far as they had opportunity and discover to them, in general , their obligations both of gratitude and interest, to adhere to the worship and service of Jehovah.p. 605, The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testament with explanatory notes
Like the promises given to Abraham, we ought to know this Canticle. Such includes not only a general knowledge of the dispersions of Adam, but who Jehovah declares his “Sons”. Lately, much debate over the identity of “sons”, since the term in Deut is actually “Sons of God”, allowing the primitive interpretation of “Angels” rather than natural Israel, gaining much traction. The latter is sometimes called the “Sethite Theory” when ascribed to earthly beings. But the “Sons of God” may also be heavenly spirits or Guardian Angels. I want to explore this controversy a bit, but for now let Bp. Patrick parse various opinions: In discussing ‘sons of God’, Patrick goes back to Gen. 6:1-4 where they take wives from the ‘daughters of men’. Patrick obviously favors the Sethite Theory– that the Sons of Gods were human rulers, saying:
Ver. 2. The Sons o f God.] There are two famous Interpretations’ of these Words, (besides that of some of the Ancients, who took them for Angels). Some understand by the Sons of God, the great Men, Nobles, Rulers, and Judges, whether they were of the Family of Seth or of Cain: And so indeed the word Elohim signifies in many places, and the ancient Greek Version, which Philo and St. Austin used, perhaps meant no more, where these words are translated, The Angels of God, his great Ministers in this World; who in after-times were mistaken for Angels in Heaven. These great Persons were taken with the Beauty of the Daughters of Men, i.e, of the meaner sort and took, by Force and Violence, as many as they pleased; being so potent as to be able to do anything with impunity. For they that should have given a good Example, and punished Vice, were the great promoters of it…
But there are other ancient interpreters, and most of the latter, who by the Sons of God understand the Posterity of Seth, who were the Worshippers of the true God…The plain Sense is, that they who had hitherto kept themselves (unless it were some few) unmingled with the Posterity of Cain, according to a Solemn Charge which their godly Forefathers had given them, were now joined to them in Marriage, and made one People with them. Which was the greater Crime, if we can give any credit to what an Arabick Writer saith, that the Children of Seth had sworn by the Blood of Abel, they would never leave the mountainous Country which they inhabited, to go down into the Valley where the Children of Cain lived. The same Author says, that they were inveighed to break this Oath, by the Beauty of Naamah before-mentioned, and the Musick of her Brother Jubal. For the Cainites spent their time in Feasting, Musick, Dancing, and Sports; Which allured the Children of Seth to come down and marry with them. Whereby all manner of Impurity, Impiety, Idolatry, Rapine, and Violence, filled the whole Earth, and that with Impunity. This Moses here takes notice of that he might give the reason, why the Posterity of Seth, even those who sprang from that holy Man Enoch (except Noah and his family) were overflown with the Deluge, as well as the race of Cain: Because they had defiled themselves with their cursed Affinity; and thereby were corrupted with their wicked Manners.p. 123-5, Commentary upon the first book of Moses
Patrick’s is the established opinion, of course, going easily back to St. Augustine. He basically understands ‘Sons of God’ to be human princes or magistrates. It’s true Romans 13 describes the prince, or civil ruler, as being a ‘minister’ of Jehovah. This is a bit of a bone for something like Anglican Royal Supremacy and the Davidic Throne. Furthermore, Patrick’s account suggests the evil in the days of Noah generalized itself by miscegenation between the sons of Adam. While there’s much merit to this opinion, it might be a bit strained in the face of 2Pe 2.4 and Jude 6 which borrows from existing pseudepigrapha, namely, that Angels took wives. Again, Patrick interprets the ‘sons of God’ in Deut. 32 as pertaining to earthly kings, finally blaming the Primitive theory of Angels to a corrupt text.
How the seventy (LXX) came to translate these words thus, He appointed the bounds of the nations, according to the number of the Angels, it is hard to say. Bochartus hath made the best conjecture about it (which was hinted by de Mais before him) that they had a bad Copy before them, which left out the three first Letters of Israel; and so they read bane-el, the Children of God, meaning the Israelites. Instead, of which some Transcribers put the Angels of God, because they are sometimes called his Sons. Which led the ancient Greek Fathers, who followed this Translation, into great difficulties: and it grew a common Opinion, that every Nation was under the Government of an Angel: which seems to be the meaning also of the Son of Sirach, XVII Ecclus. 17.p. 607-8 Commentary on the fifth Book of Moses
Patrick’s reasoning was a common cope among Long Reformation bible commentators. One consequence of the aplogy, “bad copy”, is it obviously posits the superiority of the Masoretic Text over the LXX or Septuagint. That’s not a position this blog particularly clings to, but the KJV transliteration certainly has precedence with respect to an unsurpassable Anglo- cultural achievement. Nonetheless, the ancient idea of angels leading nations, or each nation under a certain spirit, is intriguing. We might also pay special attention to Patrick’s notice that the reading in LXX, “according to the number of Angels”, generated much confusion, presumably opening routes of vain speculation, even Enochian mysticism. Anyhow, let’s consider Ecclesiasticus as mentioned by Patrick above. Eccl. 17.17 reads:
I am very comfortable leaving the entire matter to “ruler”, as in the Son of Sircah, while giving much room for pondering whether such be mortal kings, forefathers in faith or national apostles, or Guardian Angels– or all the above. Curiously, I see no reason a covenant can’t include both earthly and divine counterparts together, or men as viceroys with God as head? For example, we know Israel was taken to “belong to the Lord”. So, they received a specific law, government, and King (line of David) which they were to keep as part of Covenant, yet they could have no simultaneous ministering Angels or visiting Spirits (or theophanies)? Nonetheless, Jacob belongs, and is directly ruled, by Jah, even enjoying (for a time) Jehovah’s glory in the Temple. So, why not both sorts of ‘rulers’, leaving the term open-ended? Anyway, below is Richard Arnald’s (1698–1756)observations on the verse from Ecclesiasticus, or Son of Sirach, and it’s taken from his contribution to the Church of England’s Critical Commentary (which Bp. Patrick composed the OT part). Arnald says,
Jacob is the Lot of his Inheritance. Both ancient and modern Interpreters have thought, that the Son of Sirach here, and also the passage just cieted, refer to an Opinion, which was pretty common, that every Nation has its tutelar Angel, or ministering Angel to preside over it, but that God himself was such in a more eminent Degree to the People of Israel. The Version of the LXX seems to have given Rise to this Opinion, for the rendering of Deut. 32.8. And accordingly by the Prince of Persia, and of Greece, mentioned in the Book of Daniel, some understand particular Angels which presided over those People, as others have asserted, that the Care of the Jewish People was committed to the Archangel Michael. Indeed, this Opinion of the Kingdoms of the World being subject to the Government of Angels, was maintained by many of the Primitive, especially the Greek Fathers, but it is now plain from whence these, who followed the LXX Translation, borrowed their Notion. Bochart and De Muis agree, that those Interpreters themselves were mistaken through a bad Copy, and that the Omission of some Letters led them to this error.p.92, Critical Commentary on Such Books of the Apocrypha
Again, we see the cope of a “bad copy” scapegoat. Moving on to another contributing author to the Anglican Critical Commentary, William Lowth (1660–1732), we can consider Archangel Michael’s role in representing Jacob-Israel. Lowth’s work regards the Lesser Prophets, namely, the Book of Daniel, an d Michael is mentioned against the Kings of Persia and Greece in chapter 10, starting in verse 13. The KJV states:
It’s probably in the Book of Daniel where national Angels come out plainest, especially chapter 10 with St. Michael. Note, Lowth mentions both private and national Angels of protection. We likely are more inclined to believe the former than the later, but it’s from the era of Captivity as well as Interlinear period that Angelology becomes more systematic among the Jews. Lowth says,
But the Princes of the Kingdom of Persia withstood me] The Princes of the Kingdom of Persia and Grecia, mentioned here (v. 13) and ver. 20 are generally supposed to be the Guardian or Tutelar Angels of those several Countries. That there were such tutelar Angels, not only over private Persons, but likewise over Provinces and Kingdoms, was an Opinion generally received. The four Spirits, mentioned Zech. vi.5 seem to be the Guardian Angels of the four Great Empires. Every Heathen Nation thought their Country under the peculiar Protection of some tutelar Deity, and they looked upon the God of the Jews to be no other than that Deity who presided over that Nation. This Notion was very much countenanced by a Passage in Deut. where the Septuagint translate the Text thus When the most High divided the Nations their Inheritance, he set the Bounds of the People according to the Number of the Angles of God, for the Lord’s portion is his People. As if the Sense were, That the Government of other Nations was committed to so many tutelar Angels, whereas Israel was under under the immediate care and government of God himself. The Opinion I have been hitherto explaining supposes the presiding Angels here mentioned to have been good Angeles, from whence it follows, that the Occasion of their Contention was because neither Party was as yet acquainted with the Divine Will, to which they were all ready to submit.
But others suppose those princes or Angels, who opposed Michael and Gabriel, to be evil Spirits, such as are described by St Paul under the Names of the Rulers of the Darkness of this World, having their Residence in the lower Regions of the Air. These evil Spirits are former times represented as Part of the Heavenly Host, both in respect to their original Station, and because these are the Instruments of Providence, and have a Command over the inferior World, as far as God thinks fit to permit.p. 394, Commentary upon the three lesser Prophets
From Daniel you get a picture of Jehovah’s Heavenly Host and Divine Court, where the Angels argue the cases of the nations, as well as persons (see Job), before the great Throne of the Lord. Here’s Dan. 10:20-21 which is the same tone:
My own sense of this is the Angels are not arguing so much on the merit of nations but the Glory of God. In this case, Judah is God’s elect, continues the seed of David as well as oracle of Holy Writ, and so there is a peculiar interest God has in their relative prosperity among the Greeks. Says Lowth again:
And when I am gone forth, n the Prince of Greece shall come] When I am gone forth from the Divine Presence, the tutelar Angel of the Grecian Empire will appear in the Court of Heaven, and offer his Reasons for translating the Empire from the Persians to the Greeks, that the Jews may enjoy the Benefits of their Dominion, as a Government that will be more favorable to them than the Persian Emperors were. Alexander and some of his Successors bestowed many Favors upon the Jews as may be seen in Josephus.
Ver. 21..Ibid, And there is none that holdeth with me in these Things, but Michael your Prince] None of the Guardian or Tutelary Angels, who have the Care and Presidency of other Nations committed to them, join with me in defending the Cause of the Jewish Nation, but Michael your Prince and Protector. St. Jerome, in his Commentary upon the 13th verse supposes the Prince of Persia to oppose the Jews upon account of their sins, which Reason may be applied to other Guardian Angels, or Ministering Spirits.p. 395-6 Commentary on the Three Lesser Prophets
Conclusion: “Bad Copyists” aside, Patrick’s warning is the LXX reading may spiral into endless and vain speculation. There are some things kept to the secret counsel of God, or otherwise invisible to us. That said, we shouldn’t loose sense of the invisible and spiritual world that the material lives within, and our obligation to “renounce the devil and all his works”. There is indeed spiritual warfare to engage, and such will save also the body as well as soul, at least, ultimately. However, I see no reason to set these readings at odds. The reading in Ecclesiasticus is attractive, keeping the question open-ended, “rulers”. Didn’t even Rulers like Moses (or Judges like Gideon) receive Angelic visitations or Theophanies? God’s covenant with his people throughout scripture seems to include Angels, the Heavenly Court of Assize, their miraculous ministrations, as well as “war in heaven” (Rev. 12.7– which I think is the warring of a Assize trial).
While Bringhamite Mormons tend to flatten distinctions within the Heavenly Court, they’ve kept a belief in angelic supernatural visitations. I hope to comment on this through Benson later. But, there is an interesting connection between the ministry of St. Michael the Archangel, Israel Identity, and Feast of Tabernacles which adds relief to the liturgical occasions like the Annunciation or especially ‘Saint Michael and all Angels’ in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Says the Prayer Book for Michaelmas, “Mercifully grant that, as thy holy Angels always do thee service in heaven, so, by thy appointment, they may succor and defend us on earth”, p.251. There is also a sense of ‘national spirit’ or character that is not wholly physical but represented by the ‘gods’ of a people, even their mortal leaders. I think there a thin line between the two, and that the Masoretic Text ‘alone’ doesn’t always have the final say. Like some Eastern churches, we might want to consider pseudepigrapha like 1Enoch or Jubilees, not as canon (‘who’s authority there is no doubt’) but as examples of life and manners, maybe even certain pious opinion.