I am reading Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm.
His reading of Psalm 82:1 is what led him to question what he had been taught about the nothingness of gods other than the Lord. Sometimes the Hebrew word elohim refers to YHWH, the mysterious name of the God of Israel. But sometimes it is plural. In the one verse, Psalm 82:1, it is both.
First, the psalm says that elohim has taken his place in the divine council. There it is clearly singular and refers to Israel’s God. But then it says that he holds judgment in the midst of the elohim. Clearly this time it is plural and refers to other beings, the members of the divine council.
Heiser gives this listing of the uses of elohim in the Hebrew Bible:
Thousands of times it means the Lord, the God of Israel
Sometimes, as in Psalm 82, it means members of the divine council.
Sometimes it refers a god worshiped by another nation. Examples are Judges 11:24, where Jephthah’s speech to the Moabites refers to what “Chemosh your elohim gave you.” or 1 Kings 11:33 where three different deities of the nations, including a goddess, are called elohim.
In the poem in Deuteronomy 32, demons or evil spirits seem to be called elohim (v. 17).
In 1 Samuel 28:13 the ghost of Samuel is called an elohim.
Sometimes elohim refers to angels or the angel of the Lord. He gives Genesis 35:7 as an example. That requires some explanation. Most people probably think it refers directly to God. I would have used Psalm 8:5 about man being created a little lower than the elohim. But that is also a controversial passage.
It seems that the category, angels, overlaps with the beings that make up the divine council?
The deceased Samuel as elohim raises for me the issue of ancestor veneration and how much the practice of deifying ancestors in other Ancient Near Eastern cultures influenced Israel.
Maybe Heiser will take that up at some point.
Anyway, Heiser wants to open our eyes to the many uses in the Bible of elohim that do not refer to the God of Israel.
He particularly emphasizes the times that a question like “who is like you among the gods” gets asked. This rhetorical question gets asked in the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:11) and in other words in Deuteronomy 3:24. Statements that God is higher than the gods or most high above them occur in other places.
Heiser thinks it is a mistake to say that these gods only exist in the sense that idols exist. He does not take the gods as symbols or illusions.
He does not accept the arguments of those who say that the negative statements in scripture about having no gods besides the Lord or that there is “no god before me” means that the gods do not exist. It would, he says, be a poor form of praise or worship to say to God, “You are greater than something that does not exist.”