God’s Plurality in Genesis

 

WEUSOURQuestions:  Who is God talking to in Genesis when He says “us?”  Who accompanies God as He interacts with people in the Book of Genesis?  Who is the “us?”  Who is the “we?”  Who is the “our?”

Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Genesis 3:22, “And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

Genesis 11:6-7, “The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.  7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

Genesis 18:1-2, “The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.  2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.”

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Genesis 18:16-17, “When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way.  17 Then the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?

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Genesis 18:22, “The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD.”

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Genesis 19:1, “The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground.”

The answers to these questions are often confounding ones and are often skipped.  It neither needs to be skipped nor should it.  All Scripture is worth our time and effort (2 Timothy 3:16).  We will trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us in our interpretation of these verses (2 Peter 1:20-21) and we will do our best to step back and allow Him to speak to us.  This is key when looking at verses or a passage we do not understand.  Step back mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and ask God to guide you.  Acknowledge assumptions.  Acknowledge background issues.  Then move forward in confidence in the Lord.

What assumptions do we arrive with when we read these passages?  We assume that God is the only God (Exodus 8:10, Deuteronomy 4:29, 1 Samuel 2:2, Acts 17:24-27).  God is the only ultimate eternal being (Daniel 4:34-37).  We also assume that God is not the only spiritual being that exists since various angels (Hebrew: mal’ak; Hebrew: ben elohim; cherubim, seraphim, etc) and demons (Hebrew: shed) inhabit the heavens and other spiritual places (Job 1:6-7, Ezekiel 1, Revelation 4:8-11).  At some point, God created angels and other spiritual beings (Ezekiel 28:13b-15).  God is eternal and uncreated. Other heavenly beings are created.  Human beings are also beings created by God, but are altogether different (Psalm 8:3-5, Hebrews 2:6-9).

Let ‘us’ (Brian and Troy & you) dive into each of the verses above:

#1 Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

As we look at this passage, it is clear that God is definitely not even remotely speaking to human beings since they have not been created yet.  God is not speaking to people’s pre-incarnate souls since that isn’t even a Biblical idea.  Three options then are left to us.

First, God is speaking in the plural of majesty as He creates the world and everything in it but few think this to be the case. Second, God the Father is speaking to Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit in a sort of internal dialogue.  Genesis 1:2 and John 1:1-2 share with us that it is completely plausible that God was speaking with Himself and Moses is inspired by God to share with us His internal dialogue.

Third, God is speaking to spiritual beings (Hebrew: ben elohim) that in the Old Testament understanding would have been “gods.”  They are the ones God Almighty is compared to (Exodus 8:10, 1 Samuel 2:2, 2 Samuel 7:22, 1 Chronicles 17:20) and are often sinfully worshipped by humans seeking to localize their power through idols.  The cosmological understanding of the people who wrote and read the Old Testament is different than ours.  We often group Heaven into God and angels, but there are terms in the Old Testament which lead us to understand the heavens are full of beings that God created… He is First Among All Hosts (Job 1:6, Psalm 81:7, Jeremiah 23:18).  A good passage which peels this back for us in Deuteronomy 32:8-9.  The best way is to think perhaps of classes of angelic hosts where the highest levels have specific management responsibilities on the earth.

So, which is it?

We might be tempted to think the plural of majesty, but I think you have to shoehorn that into Hebrew grammar. Through you should do your own research on that because its hard to get a straight answer about the plural of majesty in the old testament. The idea of the Trinity is simply not present in the Old Testament and we do not want to bring the Trinity into the verse to interpret it.  We would be bringing a preconceived notion (a Biblical one!) into this passage where it does not belong.  The answer then is that God is speaking to lesser beings in Heaven that are like him (“image bearers”).  Also, maybe not all but some heavenly beings have jobs in managing the earth, at the least from the spiritual side of keeping order (“they too are created to rule”) (Deuteronomy 32:8-9, Ephesians 6:12).

#2 Genesis 3:22, “And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

As we look at this passage, it is clear that God is definitely not even remotely speaking to human beings because He is speaking about human beings.  Ditto on the pre-incarnate soul idea.  Again, the same three options exist in this passage because the quality God refers to in 3:22 applies to God Almighty and various classes of beings and angels.  God Almighty has exhaustive knowledge about good and evil for He defines it (Genesis 3:5-6, Psalm 119:66, Romans 7:7).  Angels and other beings in the heavens have finite knowledge about good and evil and they can be affected by their choices of good and evil (Revelation 12:7).  Therefore, the options from #1 above apply here as does the answer.

Before you say to yourself, these two are stinkin’ crazy… please understand that beings described in Heaven are not all the same.  There are named angels (we call them archangels) which may be the ones we are referring to above (Hebrew: gadol sal).  There are “regular” angels (Hebrew: mal’ak).  There are flying creatures (most likely these are symbolic but for the sake of being openminded) with many wings and tons of eyes who do nothing but praise our Almighty God who is the Only One Who is Eternal (Ezekiel 3, 10; Revelation 4).  We aren’t crazy, just open that Scripture is deep and wide and the Hebrews did not think like us.

#3 Genesis 11:6-9, “The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.  7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other. 8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.  9 That is why it was called Babel–because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

As we look at these verses, (keeping in mind we have one more passage to look at), we should note that God is concerned about what is going on among His created humanity.  He loves them and wants the best for them.  Please note this about God.  God Almighty is not a deistic-type god who created everything and then backed off very impersonally, but is a personal God who is deeply watchful over His children.

At Babel, nothing good was happening for humanity.  God speaks and mentions about “us” going down to confuse the language and set humanity on a different path.  We should note that the word “us” occurs in verse 7.  In verse 8, YHWH is used to denote Who went down and scattered the people.  In verse 9, YHWH is used twice to explain Who is was Who went down and confused things and scattered people.  No angel is mentioned.  No other heavenly agent or other being is mentioned.  As we will see in a moment, when such a being is present, they are mentioned.

So… who is the “us.”  As we will see in the next passage, God likes to let others in on His plans.  God sees the issues at Babel and speaks to others in Heaven about His Plans.  They are His Plans.  He carried it out, but He allowed other beings in Heaven to understand what was going on.

Please understand it like this… Jesus of Nazareth had 12 disciples.  He told them all what was going on and taught them day in and day out for three years.  They were His chosen ones (John 6:70).  They were important to Him and He taught them everything.  Note also that inside that group of 12, there was an inner circle that got even more teaching and more insight into Jesus’ plans (Matthew 17:1, Mark 5:37, Mark 9:2, Mark 13:3, Mark 14:33, Luke 8:51, Luke 9:28).  We see in Genesis a reflection back to God on how Jesus acted (John 14:9).  God was letting His inner circle in Heaven (created beings) know what He was about to do.  As a side note, one of Jesus’ 12 rebelled against Him just like…

#4 Genesis 18:1-2, “The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.  2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.”  +  Genesis 18:16-17, “When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way.  17 Then the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?”  +  Genesis 18:22, “The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD.”  +  Genesis 19:1, “The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground.”

This chapter is unique in Genesis on this topic as it is an extended passage showing God’s interaction with Abraham and others.  God arrives on the scene at the beginning of Genesis 18, and Moses is very clear when writing that Abraham sees three men.  The Lord appears (also using the term YHWH and not Elohim or another term) and Abraham sees three.  We see later in Genesis 18 that God speaks and asks about letting Abraham in on the plan.  As before… who is God speaking to?  Is He speaking to Himself?  Is He speaking to angels or some other beings?  And for the first time an actual possibility, is God Almighty speaking to two unnamed flesh-and-blood human beings who are with Him?  These are all worthy questions.

We must continue to read in Genesis for our answer.  Whoever God was speaking to, leave Abraham and YHWH.  Those two leave.  Is it possible God left Himself and was in more than one place?  Yes, it is actually.  God is everywhere at the same time (Psalm 139:7-10, Jeremiah 23:24).  But, that is not what is happening here.  In this instance, God has been accompanied by two angels the whole time.  How do we know this?  Genesis 19:1 says very specifically that the two who leave YHWH and Abraham are two angels whose job it is to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.

What can we draw from this? 

Who is God talking to in these verses?  Who accompanies God as He interacts with people in the Book of Genesis?  Is it God being expressed in multiple persons in the Old Testament and reflecting the Trinity (normally thought of as a New Testament idea) or something else?  Who is the “us?”  Who is the “we?”  Who is the “our?”

It would seem in context that the “us” and “our” and “we” is God speaking to other beings in Heaven.  They are not like Him because they were created.  They have more in common with us (humans) than with the Infinite Creator of the Universe.  It seems the “us” means these beings unless it specifically states He is interacting with other beings like angels.  Genesis 18-19 points out clearly the angels in the mix with God’s interaction with Abraham.

Clear?

Probably not.  That’s why people skip it.

TMB and BMD

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