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Yahweh Son of the Most High: Yahweh is the Most High!

In the previous segments, I showed how the liberal interpretation of Deuteronomy 32:8-9 comports with Trinitarian beliefs since it would affirm that the Most High is the Father and Yahweh is his eternal Son, namely, Jesus Christ in his prehuman existence.

With that said, the liberal view is not at all the obvious meaning of the passage since it is grammatically and contextually implausible. Rather, the consistent exegesis of the text is that Yahweh is the Most High who divided the nations and apportioned Israel to be his cherished possession.

Noted Evangelical scholar Michael S. Heiser shows why the liberal interpretation is implausible:

First, the separation of El and Yahweh in Deuteronomy 32:8–9 in part depends on the decision to take the  of 32:9 as adversative, thereby denoting some contrast between Elyon of 32:8 and Yahweh of 32:9 (“However [], Yahweh’s portion is his people”).24 Other scholars, however, consider the  of 32:9 to be emphatic: “And lo [], Yahweh’s portion is his people.”25 Other scholars accept the adversative use but do not separate El and Yahweh in the passage.26 Since scholarship on this construction lacks consensus, conclusions based on the adversative syntactical choice are not secure.

Second, Ugaritic scholars have noted that the title “Most High” (‘lyn or the shorter ‘l) is never used of El in the Ugaritic corpus.27 In point of fact it is Baal, a second-tier deity, who twice receives this title as the ruler of the gods.28 LDS scholars who often refer to Yahweh as the second-tier deity under El/elyôn certainly points to El in Deuteronomy 32:8–9. Due to the well-established attribution of Baal epithets to Yahweh, the title ‘elyôn could conceivably point directly to Yahweh in Deuteronomy 32:8–9. It is also worth recalling that if Smith is correct that Yahweh and El were merged by the eighth century bce due to the transferal of Asherah to Yahweh as consort, then a Yahweh-El fusion had occurred before Deuteronomy was composed. Hence it would have been possible for the author of Deuteronomy to have Yahweh as the head of the divine council. Indeed, what point would the Deuteronomic author have had in mind to bring back a Yahweh-El separation that had been rejected two hundred years prior?

Third, although ‘elyôn is paired with El in the Hebrew Bible, as Eric Elnes and Patrick Miller point out, it is most often an epithet of Yahweh.29 Smith and Parker are of course well aware of this but attribute it to “later tradition,” contending that, in Deuteronomy 32:8–9 the title of Elyon should be associated with El distinct from Yahweh. Again, this would be most curious if Yahweh and El had been fused as early as the eighth century. In this regard, it is interesting that other texts as early as the eighth century speak of Yahweh performing the same deeds credited to ‘elyôn in Deuteronomy 32:8–9. For example, Isaiah 10:13 has Yahweh in control of the boundaries of the nations.30 It appears that the presupposition of an early Yahweh and El separation requires the exegete to argue for “a later tradition” at this point.

Fourth, separating El and Yahweh in Deuteronomy 32:8–9 is internally inconsistent within Deuteronomy 32 and Deuteronomy at large. This assertion is demonstrated by the two preceding verses, 6 and 7. Those two verses attribute no less than five well-recognized El epithets to Yahweh, demonstrating that the redactors who fashioned Deuteronomy recognized the union of El with Yahweh, as one would expect at this point in Israel’s religion.31

Last, but not least in importance, the idea of Yahweh receiving Israel as his allotted nation from his Father El is internally inconsistent in Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 4:19–20, a passage recognized by all who comment on these issues as an explicit parallel to 32:8–9, the text informs us that it was Yahweh who “allotted” (hlq) the nations to the host of heaven and who “took” (lq˙) Israel as his own inheritance (cf. Deuteronomy 9:26, 29; 29:25). Neither the verb forms nor the ideas are passive. Israel was not given to Yahweh by El, which is the picture that scholars who separate El and Yahweh in Deuteronomy 32 want to fashion. In view of the close relationship of Deuteronomy 32:8–9 to Deuteronomy 4:19–20, it is more consistent to have Yahweh taking Israel for his own terrestrial allotment by sovereign act as Lord of the council. (Heiser, You ‘ve Seen on Elohim, You ‘ve Seen Them All? A Critique of Mormonism ‘s Use of Psalm 82, pp. 234-237; bold emphasis mine)

  1. See Sanders, Provenance of Deuteronomy 32, 360–61. These verses clearly contain elements drawn from ancient descriptions of El and attribute them to Yahweh. At Ugarit El is called ‘ab ‘adm(“father of mankind”; KTU 1.14:I.37, 43) and tr ‘il ‘abh ‘il mkl dyknnh(“Bull El his father, El the king who establishes him”; KTU 1.3:V.35–36; 1.4: I.4–6). Yahweh is also the one who “created” Israel (qānekā) in verse six. The root *qny denoting El as creator is found in the Karatepe inscription’s appeal to ‘l qn ‘rs (“El, creator of the earth”; Herbert Donner and Wolfgang Röllig, Kanaanäische und Aramäische Inschriften, 4th ed., Band 1 [Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1979]; the text cited is KAI 26.III.18–19). At Ugarit the verb occurs in the El epithet, qny w’adn ‘ilm (“creator and lord of the gods”; KTU 1.3:V.9), and Baal calls El qnyn (“our creator”; KTU 1.10:III.5). Genesis 14:19, 22 also attributes this title to El. Deuteronomy 32:7 references the yĕmôt ‘ôlām (“ages past”) and šĕnôt dôr-wădôr (“the years of many generations”), which correspond, respectively, to El’s description (‘lm; Mitchell Dahood, with Tadeusz Penar, “Ugartic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” in Ras Shamra Parallels: The Texts from Ugarit and the Hebrew Bible, ed. Loren R. Fisher, F. Brent Knutson, Donn F. Morgan [Rome: Pontifical Institute, 1972], 294–95) and title (‘ab šnm, “father of years”; KTU 1.6:I.36; 1.17:VI.49) at Ugarit. Since the El epithets of Deuteronomy 32:6–7 are well known to scholars of Israelite religion, those who argue that Yahweh and El are separate deities in Deuteronomy 32:8–9 are left to explain why the redactor of verses 6–7 would unite Yahweh and El and in the next stroke separate them. Those who crafted the text of Deuteronomy 32 would have either expressed diametrically oppositional views of Yahweh’s status in consecutive verses, or have allowed a presumed original separation of Yahweh and El to stand in the text—while adding verses 6–7 in which the names describe a single deity. It is difficult to believe that the scribes were this careless, unskilled, or confused. If they were at all motivated by an intolerant monotheism one would expect this potential confusion to have been quickly removed. (Ibid., pp. 236-237; bold emphasis mine)

With the foregoing in perspective, note carefully what the immediate and overall contexts of Deuteronomy state in regards to the role Yahweh assumed in dividing the nations,

“When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods; the LORD’s own portion (heleq) was his people, Jacob his allotted share.” Deuteronomy 32:8-9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

“And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, do not be led astray and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted (halaq) to all the peoples everywhere under heaven. But the LORD has taken you (laqah) and brought you out of the iron-smelter, out of Egypt, to become a people of his very own possession, as you are now.” Deuteronomy 4:19-20 NRSV

And his status as the Most High:

“And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High (El Elyon). He blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High (El Elyon), maker (qoneh) of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High (El Elyon), who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’ And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything. … But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have sworn to the LORD, God Most High (YHVH El Elyon), maker of heaven and earth,’” Genesis 14:18-20, 22 NRSV

“the oracle of one who hears the words of God (El), and knows the knowledge of the Most High (Elyon), who sees the vision of the Almighty (Shadday), who falls down, but with his eyes uncovered:” Numbers 24:16 NRSV

It is obvious that according to the Pentateuch Yahweh is not merely the Son of the Most High but that he himself is the Most High, and that he is the One that divided the nations and apportioned them off to others.

On a related note, liberals also believe that the following text shows that Yahweh is distinct from the Most High, whom they identify as El, Yahweh’s Father:

“God stands (nissab) in the assembly of El; in the midst of the gods he renders judgment.” Psalm 82:1 (NET)

“(Mizmor of Asaph.) Elohim standeth in the Adat El; He judgeth among the elohim [See Ps 82:6 and Yn 10:34].” Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB)

It is presumed that since God, who is supposed to be Yahweh, is depicted as standing in the congregation ready to prosecute the other gods of the assembly, he is not the chief Deity. His standing is supposed to imply that he is not seated on the throne as the presiding Judge of the heavenly council.

I will have more to say about this view in a forthcoming post. Suffice it to say, there are problems with this interpretation.

First, the verb nissab (“stands”) is used elsewhere to refer to Yahweh rising up to judge mankind:

“The LORD rises (nissab) to argue his case; he stands to judge the peoples. The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people:” Isaiah 3:13-14 NRSV

It is clear that the verb is being employed metaphorically to denote Yahweh passing judgment upon his enemies. It is not meant to deny that Yahweh presides as the Ruler of the council who sits enthroned over the gods of the nations and the inhabitants of the earth.

This brings me to my next point. The liberal view is at odds with the Psalms, which repeatedly emphasize that Yahweh is the only El/Elohim and that he alone sits enthroned in heaven far above all the gods and over the whole earth:

He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision.” Psalm 2:4 NRSV

“The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven. His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind.” Psalm 11:4 NRSV

God, God the LORD (El Elohim YHVH), has spoken. He calls to the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.” Psalm 50:1 Evangelical Heritage Version (EHV)

“Let them know that you alone, whose name is the Lord, are the Most High (Elyon) over all the earth.” Psalm 83:18 NRSV

“Let me hear what God the LORD (EL YHVH) will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” Psalm 85:8 NRSV

“There is none like you among the gods, O LORD, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O LORD, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God (Elohim).” Psalm 86:8-10 NRSV

“Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones. For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD, a God (El) feared in the council of the holy ones, great and awesome above all that are around him? O Lord God of hosts, who is as mighty as you, O Lord? Your faithfulness surrounds you.” Psalm 89:5-8 NRSV

For the LORD is a great God (El), and a great King above all gods.” Psalm 95:3 NRSV

“All worshipers of images are put to shame, those who make their boast in worthless idols; all gods bow down before him… For you, O LORD, are most high (Elyon) over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.” Psalm 97:7, 9 NRSV

Know that the LORD is God (Elohim). It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 100:3 NRSV

The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, obedient to his spoken word. Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will. Psalm 103:19-21 NRSV

“Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high,” Psalm 113:5 NRSV

The LORD is God (El YHVH), and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.” Psalm 118:27 NRSV

To, therefore, assume that Psalm 82 distinguishes Yahweh from El not only flies in the fact of the theology of the Psalms as a whole, but also means that we are to believe that the redactors/editors of the Psalter were rather careless and/or negligent in their handling of the Psalms.

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