Divine Allotment

Cosmic Geography


Chapters 14-15 dealt with what I called “the Deuteronomy 32 worldview” of the Old Testament. They are thus taken together with respect to this website.


The key passages were Deut. 32:8-9 (cp. Deut 4:19-20) and Gen 10-11. I won’t be discussing Deut. 32:8-9 in any more detail here, as the bibliography provides extended commentary, especially in regard to the text-critical issues in Deut. 32:8 (see my Bibliotheca Sacra article for example).


Bibliography from the book


Karel van der Toorn, “Nimrod Before and After the Bible,” Harvard Theological Review 83:1 (Jan, 1990):1-29


Michael S. Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” Bibliotheca Sacra 158 (Jan-March, 2001): 52-74


  • This article goes into detail about the textual evidence for “sons of God” in Deut. 32:8, the presence of that reading in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and why the Masoretic Text does not deserve a priori


Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis (The JPS Torah Commentary; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989


Mark S. Smith and Simon B. Parker, Ugaritic Narrative Poetry (vol. 9; Writings From the Ancient World; Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1997


Michael S. Heiser, “Does Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible Demonstrate an Evolution from Polytheism to Monotheism in Israelite Religion?” Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament 1:1 (2012): 1-24


John Joseph Collins and Adela Yarbro Collins, Daniel: a Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993)


Ronn Johnson, “The Old Testament Background for Paul’s Principalities and Powers,” (PhD Dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 2004


Additional Bibliography


Clinton E. Arnold, “Returning to the domain of the powers: Stoicheia as evil spirits in Galatians 4: 3, 9,” Novum Testamentum 38, no. 1 (1996): 55-76


Richard J. Clifford, “History and Myth in Daniel 10-12,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (1975): 23-26.


Nathan MacDonald, Deuteronomy and the Meaning of “Monotheism” (FAT 2.Reihe 1; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2003


Michael S. Heiser, “Are Yahweh and El Distinct Deities in Deut. 32:8-9 and Psalm 82?” HIPHIL Novum 3:1 (2009): 1-9




I’m often asked how the Deuteronomy 32 worldview relates to today. Since this worldview is the backdrop for Paul’s principalities and powers (and other terms; see Johnson‘s dissertation in the book’s bibliography above), the short answer is that we have New Testament authority to say that the idea of demonic strongholds / geographic dominion is a biblical one. Strongholds might be viewed as either weak or strong in influence  (or large or small in size) depending on the infiltration of the gospel (i.e., the presence of believers). Paul’s sermon in Acts 17 gives us a glimpse of this perspective (note the boldfacing):


22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for


“ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“ ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’


29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Verse 26 clearly alludes to the Babel event described in Deut. 32:8-9, where the nations were divided up among / allotted to the sons of God (and vice versa in Deut. 4:19-20). In several places in The Unseen Realm I noted that this punishment / disinheritance was never intended to be permanent. Deuteronomy 32:9 has Yahweh calling Abraham to raise up Israel as his own “portion” and Gen 12:3 tells us that when he did so and then made a covenant with Abraham, it was with the intention that through Abraham the nations would be blessed. Paul obviously sees his own missionary task — which of course extends from what happened at Pentecost (see Chapter 34 of The Unseen Realm). The nations were supposed to “seek God” (Acts 17:27), something of course they rarely did, instead worshipping the elohim assigned to them (who apparently in turn did not rule the nations according to Yahweh’s justice (Psa 82:2-4).


But injustice wasn’t the only crime of the gods. The people under the administration of the gods “[had] neither knowledge nor understanding; they walk[ed] about in darkness” (Psa 82:5). This suggests (at least) that the gods who received the worship of the peoples in the nations did wrong by doing so — thereby causing the spiritual darkness or keeping the nations ignorant of Yahweh. (If we believe divine being do indeed interact with us to influence us, this reading ought to make sense). The wording may even suggest that the administration of the gods over the nations included some sort of influence or acknowledgement that Yahweh was king of the gods.


The result of the injustice and spiritual darkness caused by the administration of these inept or rebellious sons of God was that the nations of the earth were careening toward judgment. The “foundations of the earth” being “shaken” is a noteworthy phrase. The Hebrew verb behind “shaken” is mōṭ (מוֹט), It is used elsewhere of eschatological judgment. Isaiah 24:19-23 is of interest:


19       The earth is utterly broken,
the earth is split apart,
the earth is violently shaken (מוֹט),
20       The earth staggers like a drunken man;
it sways like a hut;
its transgression lies heavy upon it,
and it falls, and will not rise again.

21       On that day the LORD will punish
      the host of heaven, in heaven,
and the kings of the earth, on the earth.
22       They will be gathered together
as prisoners in a pit;
they will be shut up in a prison,
and after many days they will be punished.
23       Then the moon will be confounded
and the sun ashamed,
for the LORD of hosts reigns
on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem,
and his glory will be before his elders.


(Note that this last line is likely a reference to the [loyal] divine council in Yahweh’s presence; see Unseen Realm, chs. 20, 30).


Paul believed himself living in the time immediately prior to the last day (as did other NT writers). Hence he preached repentance in Acts 17 with urgency. For the nations (as well as his fellow Jews), rejection of the messiah meant doom with the gods who held the nations captive.


We are still living in this same circumstance. That means the eschatological judgment of the gods of the nations is still pending. That in turn means they are still here (and therefore real). From Pentecost on their dominion has been challenged, and is still being challenged. To deny this is to deny the reality of evil supernatural powers in opposition to the kingdom of God — something that is quite transparent in the NT.


So how does this “relate” to today? It doesn’t relate at all if you don’t believe in an unseen reality. If you do, it puts an OT context to what we think of as spiritual warfare — one that goes far beyond mere demons. Demons are light weight in comparison — mere irritants. The gods are something altogether different. We can presume no authority to confront them (unlike demons). They are “celestial ones” (2 Pet 2:10; Jude 8) against whom even angels dare not blaspheme. They will only be dealt with by God and equal spiritual powers God tasks with doing so. We are mere agents on earth tasked with spreading the gospel — which is the thing they fear the most. Spreading the gospel isn’t an intellectual exercise. It’s not a debate to win. People without Christ are under dominion, their minds darkened (Eph. 4:18). The war is spiritual in nature, and so must be engaged in on that level. We are only agents. Opposition, failure, and success must be viewed in that light, not intellect, cleverness, or (God forbid) good marketing. You either believe you are part of something bigger than the reality you can discern or you don’t.


This “relevance” question is also related to something certain segments of popular evangelical Christianity calls “strategic level spiritual warfare.” This link provides a succinct definition and critique. I’m in agreement with the critique, though both the “strategic level spiritual warfare” idea and the critique are very simplistic in approach. In short, neither have a good grasp of the divine council or the Deuteronomy 32 worldview that I discuss in The Unseen Realm. That said, the above discussion is quite relevant. We have no scriptural command to pray in elevated places and demand the gods of the nations leave. If you want to defeat the gods of this nation as agents of the eschatological kingdom of God, moving toward your destiny of displacing the gods of said nations and finally becoming part of the reconstituted divine council (see Unseen Realm chs. 36, 37, 42), do what the apostles did in the book of Acts:


  • Believe that what happened at the resurrection and Pentecost was real
  • Preach the gospel
  • Have all things in common (provide for brethren sacrificially and use your wealth to spread the gospel)
  • Be willing to suffer
  • Don’t be worldly; i.e., don’t live as though this world is your home


One final note. I alluded to the difference between NT demons and the OT gods of the nations (called shedim in Deut  32:17, unfortunately translated “demons”) in a footnote in Ch. 32 of Unseen Realm. However, the difference is summarized much better in Doug Van Dorn’s primer companion to The Unseen Realm. Here are Questions 72 through 75:


Question 72. Are these corrupt sons of God demons or fallen angels?


Demons are neither fallen angels nor the offending sons of God, yet they belong to the same spirit world because they are disembodied spirits.[1] The sons of God who sinned before the Flood were imprisoned until the time of the end,a and so they are not the demons of the New Testament. The corrupt sons of God put over the nations are called shedim, a term of geographical guardianship.[2]


a 1Pe 3:19-20. [Christ] went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah.

  2Pe 2:4. God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment.

  Jud 6. The angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.


[1] In the Hebrew Bible, the inclusive term for any resident of the disembodied spirit world is ʾelohim, while terms like “angel” and “sons of God” refer to a spirit’s function or hierarchical status (see Qs. 26-27). In the New Testament, the word aggelos (“angel”) is generically used for disembodied beings, whether good (Mt 4:11; 24:31; 2 Thess 1:7) or evil (Mt 25:41; Rv 12:9). That term therefore functions similarly to the Old Testament’s ʾelohim. Two other terms (daimon, daimonion [“demon”]) are also used generically for evil spirits, though outside the Bible those two terms can refer to any disembodied being.


[2] See Qs. 74-75.



Question 73. What does the word “demon” mean?


The word “demon” comes from two related Greek words used in the New Testament: daimōn and daimonion. Both words are general terms for a divine being—a being that inhabits the spirit world—whether good or evil.[3] In the New Testament, these terms are used of evil (“unclean”) spirits.a


a Mt 8:16. That evening they brought to [Jesus] many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.

Mt 12:28, 43-44. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. . . . “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself.
Lk 4:33. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon.


[3] See The Unseen Realm, Chapter 37.



Question 74. What is the origin of demons?


Demons are the disembodied spirits of dead Nephilim-Rephaim.a [4] They are therefore by nature disembodied, which is why they seek to inhabit other things.b


a Nm 13:33. And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim.

Dt 2:11. Like the Anakim they are also counted as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim.

Dt 3:13. The rest of Gilead, and all Bashan, the kingdom of Og, that is, all the region of Argob, I gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh. (All that portion of Bashan is called the land of Rephaim.

Is 14:9. Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades (rephaim) to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations.

Is 26:14. They are dead, they will not live; they are shades (rephaim), they will not arise; to that end you have visited them with destruction and wiped out all remembrance of them.


b Mt 8:28. And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs.
Mt 12:28, 43-44
. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. . . . “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself.
Mk 5:10-13. And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

Lk 11:26. It goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there.


[4] See Q. 61. Intertestamental Jewish literature (e.g., 1 Enoch) that the New Testament writers Peter (2 Pet 2:4-5) and Jude (Jude 6-7) draw upon for their understanding of the events of Gn 6:1-4 has much to say about this point of origin (see 1 Enoch 15). The idea is suggested in the verses referenced above.



Question 75. Does the Hebrew word translated “demon” in the Old Testament[5] describe the same evil spirits the New Testament describes as “demons”?


No. The sinister divine beings of Dt. 32:17 (shedim) are those set over the nations (Dt. 32:8), who seduced the Israelites into idolatry. They are never described as Nephilim or the disembodied spirits of Nephilim.


[5] This Hebrew word (shed; plural: shedim) occurs only two times in the entire Old Testament: Dt 32:17 and Ps 106:37. These two verses refer to the corrupt sons of God put over the nations in judgment at Babel (see Q. 66) who seduced the Israelites into worshipping them (see Q. 68). The term comes from Akkadian shadu, which describes a guardian spirit (including over geography, which fits the context of Dt 32:8 and the resulting judgment at Babel quite well). Consequently, The geographical turf guardians of Dt. 32:17 are not the disembodied spirits that come from the Nephilim killed in the flood, which are the demons (see Q. 72). English translations have at times created confusion on these points.