The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, Michael Heiser

Well.. This book has given me fits since I picked it up 4 days ago. Yes, I read nearly 100 pages a day of this book, probably more in the first couple of days. This was the most thought provoking, thrilling, insightful book I have read all year. And I don’t even know what to think about it. I’ve been kept up at night because of it (as I write this at 11:00 PM and have to get up at 6:00 AM), I’ve sent emails (including one to Dr. Darrell Bock of Dallas Seminary; he replied and schooled me), I’ve talked with friends.. So I guess what I want to accomplish with this review is NOT to say I support or don’t support Dr. Heiser’s conclusions, but merely lay them out. But please, before you read any further or judge the conclusions I’m about to explain: please READ this book. Even if you don’t agree, it is really quite interesting.

Dr. Michael Heiser was in a graduate program when he was handed a Hebrew Bible by a friend and told to read Psalm 82:1. This is what it says: “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he hold judgement.”

He explains that the word for God in both places is “Elohim,” a traditional Hebrew word used for Yaweh (God). But interestingly enough, the second word for gods is Elohim but it is plural in Hebrew. This set up out on a quest to discover what this all meant.

What he came up with after 15 years of intense research is a theory called the “Divine Council.” Through countless hours of study, Dr. Heiser has come to the conclusion that there is a council of divine beings that are superior to angels that surround God. They are the “us” in Genesis 1:26. They are also referred to as the “morning stars” in Job 38:7 (since morning stars are the first to be seen before dawn, so too was the Divine Council in existence before the creation of the world). He talks about how it is strange that Eve was not startled at a snake talking to her in the Garden. Most commentators say this is because all the animals may have talked at this time. Dr. Heiser’s says that he is convinced that the Hebrew wording for “serpent” could be misleading and therefore comes to the conclusion that this “serpent” was actually a Divine Council member whom God is judging in Psalm 82:1.

He moves to Genesis 6: the flood story. Verse 2 talks about the “sons of God.” This has been interpreted a lot of different ways. Dr. Heiser believes these are Divine Council members who forsook their place in heaven to create a tainted race of humans that were to thwart God’s plan (a concept looked at in a book I review earlier this year called “The Glory and the Darkness“). He talks about how the “Nephilim” were the product of this arrangement. In perhaps the most thought provoking section of the book, a chapter entitled “Holy War”, he speaks about how the Nephilim were perhaps giants like Goliath and others (most famously, Og King of Bashan in Deuteronomy 3:11). Therefore, he justifies the genocide in Joshua and in Samuel (David’s wars) by saying they were to cleanse the land of the impurity of the work of the Divine Council in Genesis 6.

In another thought provoking section, he talks extensively about the “Deuteronomy 32:8 worldview.” This passage of scripture says, “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.” This harkens back to the Tower of Babel. The nations were spread across the land in different geographical areas. The thought Dr. Heiser proposes is that each of these areas had a different god or goddess whom they worshipped (for example, Baal). He says that these gods (notice, little g and not ACTUAL gods) were corrupted Divine Council members who acted like gods (this is too superficial to flesh out the entire argument in full here. Read the book if you want to know more).

I want to go on, but there is simply too much and not enough space. Bottom line: read it. Here’s what I take away from this book:

1) Dr. Heiser makes clear in the beginning that the things he writes about are hard for us to understand. We have been conditioned by 2000 years of philosophy (see: rationalism), creeds, catechisms, and Church history. He is seeking to understand the text in a way that an ancient Hebrew Israelite would have understood things. Which is interesting.

2) Even if you don’t believe in everything he says, there is still an element of spiritual warfare that is beyond our comprehension. I think this book gives you an interesting look at some of the possibilities, but I also think we get bogged down in our rationalistic tendencies. The Apostle Paul understood that we battle not “flesh and blood” but literal spiritual warfare everyday that we are not even aware about. This book gives you a greater awareness of this.

3) Dr. Heiser is really. REALLY smart. I am still refraining from stating whether I’ve accepted his theory, but I will say this: this man has a passion for the scriptures and for trying to understand what they say. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have spent 15 years writing this book. So, if you do pick this book up and read it, just understand that what I’ve written here can not even come close to the sense that he makes as far as his approach goes. He systematically works through the Bible and each individual issue with such clarity that it appeals to both the layman and the seminarian as well as the pastor. The things that lie in this book will challenge you and for that I am grateful for reading it.

4) Let’s not go name calling because you don’t understand a particular view. As much as I cringe to write this, I give Darrell Bock some credit for schooling me. He said, “Am I nervous simply because this is saying something different than what I have heard and is that fear justified given the biblical evidence the writer presents?” In recent days, I’ve had a lot of discussions with folks about this book because I want to hear their insight. Unfortunately, what has happened is a mesh of calling me a heretic or looking at me like I’m crazy. Some of Dr. Heiser’s conclusions still make me uncomfortable but I think it’s an interesting topic to discuss. I’ve already encouraged you to read it if you have questions. Let’s not go around throwing out the H-word when you have a preliminary understanding of what is being presented.

I have a passion for the truth. I think that’s part of why this book was so unsettling for me. I suppose I wanted to take everything he said as truth, but I know that in this day and age, that simply cannot be. Which is why I’ve asked men, whom I have come to trust on these matters, to give me their opinions. And I will continue to wrestle with this issue.

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