The peoples of the earth served gods that were not the Lord God, Yahweh, the great I AM. Rather, their allegiance was to the sons of God (bene Elohim) who were over the nations. Following the Tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11, in which man was disobedient to God and did go out into the world to be fruitful and multiply as He had instructed Noah and his descendants (Genesis 9:1,7), Yahweh came down in displeasure to scatter mankind throughout the earth and confuse his language. From this event God had finally tired of making himself known to all peoples and determined to raise up a single nation to be His own. To accomplish this, He did two things which are captured in Deuteronomy 32:8-9.
Note: to understand the Biblical narrative correctly, it’s vital to read these verses in a translation that is true to the original text. Only the English Standard Version – ESV – uses the Dead Sea Scrolls for this passage – the gold standard for translation – and gives us the true meaning.
“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.
But the Lord’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.”
In any other Bible except the ESV, the translators make “sons of God” into “sons of Israel” – NIV – or “children of Israel” – KJV. Reading these verses in this way causes the entire meaning to be lost and brings an incorrect understanding to the overall Biblical narrative.
What are these verses saying? When God scattered mankind, He placed people into various nations. At that time, He appointed His divine sons – the sons of God – bene Elohim – to superintend these nations for the purpose of their pointing the hearts of men toward Himself. Following this, He raised up Israel to be His people, i.e. His allotted heritage. (This occurs immediately after Babel in Genesis 12 when God calls Abram out of Ur.)
Why is a translation that says the sons or children of Israel were placed over the nations incorrect? Because God never placed Israel in that position to rule over nations! They had enough trouble ruling themselves according to God’s commands, let alone direct the course of other countries. God raised up Israel to be a blessing to nations, not to rule over them (Genesis 12:3; 28:14).
This rebellion among men brought another rebellion among God’s heavenly host. Psalm 82 shows us God in His Divine Council – among the sons of God – angrily denouncing them for their disobedience. The sons He had placed over the nations had fallen and rebelled like their divine brothers had earlier in Genesis 6. In their disobedience, they set themselves up as gods in place of Yahweh. They received the worship of the nations when they should have deflected it toward God Most High. (For confirmation of this understanding, we have only to reflect on Daniel 10:13,20 in which the Prince of Persia and the Prince of Greece contend with the angel Gabriel as he tries to come to Daniel, but is delayed 21 days because of these evil spiritual rulers.)
All this is background for Moses’ encounter with Pharaoh in Egypt. The primary wicked spiritual prince over a nation appoints a hierarchy in the divine realm to rule under him (think Ephesians 6:12). These demonic entities appear as many different gods. In Egypt there was the river god (of the Nile), a frog god, and a god of every other creature one can imagine. It was in this environment that the children of Israel had been steeped for 400 years. Pharaoh was the representative of the gods on earth in Egyptian thinking. It was against this understanding that Moses was contending. He had to convince Pharaoh that there was a God above all their other gods, the great I AM who was more powerful than any of the Egyptian deities.
Thus, we see in Exodus 7:5,16 the following:
“The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”
“And you shall say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” But so far, you have not obeyed.”
When God turned the Nile River into blood, caused the plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, etc., this action was a polemic, i.e. a hostile attack, on these false, pagan gods. Yahweh showed Himself as superior to them and He wanted both the Egyptians and the children of Israel to know that there was no other God like Him.
Pharaoh and Egypt end up learning this the hard way. God’s chosen people have struggled with this concept for all of their existence. Today most people in the world choose any god but Jesus Christ. This choice has consequences. For Pharaoh, it meant his destruction. For Israel, it has meant millennia of alternating blessings and curses. For people today it means the difference between heaven and hell.
When we believe God’s Word and trust in Jesus, our eternity is secure. Let us not follow any other god. Let us give our hearts to the Lord, the One true God!