How do I deal with claims that phrases like “God of gods” and “Lord of lords” in Deut. 10:17 show that ancient Israel didn’t believe in absolute monotheism?
To interpret this passage correctly, it must be viewed against what all of Scripture speaks of God. Correlation, or letting Scripture interpret Scripture, is critical because we believe there is One real Author of Scripture, God Himself. The Bible unequivocally teaches absolute monotheism from Genesis to Revelation. So, how do we make sense of passages like these?
The point of passages like these is simple, God is supreme over anything else called “god.” Scripture doesn’t teach the existence of other lesser “gods” anywhere. God says in Is. 46:9, “for I am God, and there is none else;” and in Is. 44:8b, “Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any;” and in Is. 45:6, “That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.” In Deut. 6:4 Moses writes by the Spirit of God, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:” It’s not one substance (yesh – יֵשׁ). You cannot argue for a plurality of persons in one substance, nor can you argue for one higher deity among many lesser.
Further, in Is. 41:24 Scripture says that all idols “are of nothing” (מֵאַיִן). The primitive root of the Hebrew word means “to be nothing” or “not exist.” So Israel was taught that idols are “nothing” or things that “do not exist.” This is affirmed by God in the NT in 1 Cor. 8:4 when Paul is inspired to write “…we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.” This is the biblical, or apostolic, position. We affirm the OT view of God as the absolutely one and only God in existence.
The notion of an evolving “absolute monotheism” in OT Israelite history is based on views popularized in the 1800s by critics of the Bible. Rooted in ideas of an “evolutionary view of human religions,” skeptics like August Comete suggested “stages of development in religious history.” Moving from animism to polytheism, then polytheism to monotheism, and finally from monotheism to “the most brilliant of man’s intellectual history”, atheism. If evolution were true in nature, why shouldn’t it be true regarding humanity’s religious thought? No historical or archeological proof was asserted. Just assertions as “proof.”
Instead of seeing passages like Deut. 10;17; Ex. 12:12; 15:11; Judg. 2:3; 1 Kings 11:4; 1 Chron. 16:25; Ps. 29:1; 86:8; 89:6; 95; 97:7; 136:2 as normal OT ways of speaking of idols that are nothing, human rulers, or even angels, they postulate something foreign to the Bible’s total witness of Itself. From Adam and Even till today, Scripture’s revelation of absolute monotheism is what God has prescribed as true worship. Aren’t you glad to be oneness?
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