In the first part of this mini-series on the subject of spirit, I made reference to a controversial section of Scripture. I didn’t include it then because it will inevitably lead to some explanation, as well as some practical application, and I didn’t want to make each part too long. It is a deep subject and bite size portions seem more appropriate.
The Scripture to which I am referring is to be found in the first book of Kings. To set it in its rightful context, God has declared war upon Ahab, king of the northern kingdom of Isra’el. Ahab had married Jezebel, the daughter of a local pagan king. Jezebel had introduced Ahab to worship of Ba’al the sun god, and Ashtoreth the moon goddess. She also set about killing off the prophets of Yehovah, the most high God. Then she surrounded herself with hundreds of prophets devoted to each of the false gods she followed.
Now, God is particularly fond of making use of everyday situations to bring about His purposes. We experience them every day, but often fail to see His invisible hand at work. On this occasion we have the privilege of being able to see that invisible hand at work. In the events leading up to what follows below, Ahab was spoiling for a fight with the Syrians. Jehoshaphat, the king of the southern kingdom of Judah, was visiting Ahab, and Ahab encouraged him to join forces to defeat their mutual enemy. Jehoshaphat, being a man of God, suggested that they consult Yehovah for guidance. Instead of calling upon one of Yehovah’s prophets, Ahab called upon the 400 prophets of Ashtoreth which had escaped the hands of Elijah in an earlier showdown. Jehoshaphat prompted Ahab to find one of God’s own prophets, which he finally did.
Micaiah the prophet was brought forth and was told to agree with what the prophets of Ashtoreth had already said, which was to encourage the king to go up and fight. Here’s what Micaiah had to say. It’s a lengthy passage but it is vital that we include it all because this little window into the spiritual realm goes a long way to understanding the subject at hand.
“Then the messenger who had gone to call Micaiah spoke to him, saying “Now listen, the words of the prophets with one accord encourage the king. Please, let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak encouragement.”
And Micaiah said, “As Yehovah lives, whatever Yehovah says to me, that I will speak.”
Then he came to the king; and the king said to him, “Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall we refrain?” And he answered him, “Go and prosper, for Yehovah will deliver it into the hand of the king!” So the king said to him, “How many times shall I make you swear that you tell me nothing but the truth in the name of Yehovah?”
Then he said, “I saw all Isra’el scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And Yehovah said, ‘These have no master. Let each return to his house in peace.’ “
And the king of Isra’el said to Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?”
Then Micaiah said. “Therefore hear the word of Yehovah: I saw Yehovah sitting on the throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left. And Yehovah said, ‘Who will persuade Ahab to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?’ So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner. Then a spirit came forward and stood before Yehovah, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’
Then Yehovah said to him, ‘In what way?’ So he said, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And Yehovah said, ‘You shall persuade him, and also prevail. Go out and do so.’ Therefore look! Yehovah has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and Yehovah has declared disaster against you.” ” [1st Kings 22:13-23]
Now, there is a lot to cover here so I will get straight to it. Remember that what Micaiah saw take place was in the heavenly realm. In fact, he saw directly into the throne room of Yehovah Himself. Take note that He was surrounded by ‘all the host’. This leads us straight into exactly who the host are. We know from elsewhere in Scripture that there are what we might call classification, or ranks, of beings that exist in that realm. We know of archangels; angels; living beings; cherubim; seraphim; demons; and spirits, to name but some. Part of the problem we have when it comes to our understanding of these beings is our frame of reference for them – we view them often in the way in which they are portrayed on TV or in films or books. Whilst I am sure that on some occasions the descriptions are close to the real thing, more often they are not.
The second problem we have is with the Greek New Testament which often uses the same word for spirit and demon, which leads us to be taught that spirits and demons are one and the same.
Let’s try and break some of this down. Starting with demons, which is the name given to the angels who followed Lucifer’s rebellion against God and were ejected from heaven. We know that they are here on earth but, because we can’t see them, they are often called spirits because that is the form which they take. So, can a demon be a spirit? Yes. Can a spirit be a demon? Only if that spirit once held the rank of angel.
There is an interesting little passage in Matthew’s gospel that highlights something of the nature of demons as opposed to the lower ranked (in spiritual classification) spirits. Take a look at Matthew 17:14-18. Yeshua has just come down from the mountain after being transfigured. The disciples He had left at the foot of the mountain had got themselves involved with trying to eject a demon from a boy and were failing. In verse 15 we see most translations describe the boy as an epileptic when the Greek word used (seleniazomai) actually means moonstruck or what we would call lunacy. Of course, modern science and medicine(our current frame of reference) will tell us that the boy’s condition has nothing to do with the phases of the moon. However, the idea may be more correct than you might think.
When Lucifer rebelled how do you think he managed to persuade so many angels to follow him? What did he offer them that could entice so many (and we are talking thousands upon thousands) away from the worship of the One True God? He offered them what he wanted himself. He offered them adoration and worship from humans in exchange for them worshipping and serving him.
We know from Paul’s letters that much pagan worship was actually the worship of demons. In the spirit realm, they set themselves up as gods and (still) congregate around objects of pagan worship, such as idols, in order to receive the adoration which the humans still freely give them. One of these false gods was the moon god (or goddess, depending where in the world you are). It is likely that mere adoration wasn’t enough for these demons, these fallen angels, and so they took to possessing (and still do) the bodies of humans. In return for Satan (the current ruler of this world) allowing them to do such things, they would worship him. It is clear that the true origin of the moon god is Satan himself. We know that many false religions use lunar cycles as part of their worship system, so if one of their followers was possessed by a demon who would worship Satan every new or full moon, then at regular intervals, that person may do things the demon wishes as part of that worship of Satan. If that person’s behaviour was odd or ‘not normal’ at those times, we used to call them lunatics.
The example in Matthew 17 appears to show just that. However, in order to highlight the problem I described earlier regarding the Greek New Testament when it comes to the words used for demons and spirits, the account of the same event in Mark’s gospel uses the word pneuma (which is translated as spirit), whilst in Matthew’s gospel the word from which the translators get demon is actually daimonion. This discrepancy has led to a synonymous use of the words demon and spirit, which is deeply unhelpful for a correct understanding of such matters.
I have no real desire to get into why this discrepancy appears but I will say what I have said elsewhere on this blog – that Matthew’s gospel was written by a Hebrew man to other Hebrews and would have been originally written in Hebrew. It was only later translated into (first) Aramaic, and then from Aramaic into Greek. I suspect that, with the exception of Luke’s gospel, both Mark and John were also written first in Hebrew and then translated by the same method. The conclusive proof of this is currently unfound, but some evidence has been found in the form of what is known as Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew, which is a manuscript of the gospel of Matthew written entirely in Hebrew. Scholars, such as Nehemiah Gordon, believe that it is from that translation that all other translations of Matthew came. I only tell you this in case your interest is piqued or you are riled by my suggestion that the translators have got it wrong. A translation is only as good as the translator. Look to the original Hebrew as your frame of reference. It won’t let you down.
Sorry about that slight detour.
Back to the text.
So, the host are comprised of various ranks of created beings who are all in spirit form.
Note also (in verse 20) that there appeared to be a debate regarding the best way in which to convince Ahab to go up and fight at Ramoth Gilead. In verse 21 we then have the text that states that a spirit came forward. Now, this being was clearly in spirit form (remember this is taking place in the throne room in the spirit realm), but it is possible that this word spirit also describes a rank of created beings as well as a description of their manifestation. Imagine that in that room were archangels, angels, living beings, cherubim, seraphim, and spirits.
One of the reasons why this passage is often avoided is that some short-sighted commentators have concluded that because the spirit suggests using lies to convince Ahab to fight, it doesn’t sit well with the notion that God cannot lie. It is true that He cannot lie. It is also true that the spirit suggested using a lie to convince Ahab and that God agreed. I suspect that these commentators don’t like the idea of God being advised by a lying spirit. However, read the text carefully and you will see that this spirit is just a spirit who will use a lie to achieve God’s purpose. Verse 20 clearly shows us that God had already purposed for Ahab to fall at Ramoth Gilead. The question was how best to achieve His purpose. I imagine that such meetings still occur. Every day. God is, after all, the same today as He ever was, and ever will be.
Now, after God has accepted the plan of the spirit He orders it so (verse 22). He gives His consent that it will be as He has said. What is decided in heaven will only come to pass here on earth with God’s express permission. The opening two chapters of the book of Job confirm this.
Here’s the real interesting part of the nature of spirit. We know that this spirit, who is clearly identifiable as an individual, also has the ability to influence 400 people simultaneously. We don’t know if they were all in the same place at the same time, but we could look to the example of the Holy Spirit falling upon the disciples in the Upper Room in Acts 2, to see how spiritual influence works. Interestingly, in Acts 2, a wind is described. The Hebrew word for spirit is ruach, which means breath or wind or air. Also the Greek word for spirit is pneuma, which means driven air, hence the use in English of a pneumatic drill.
The point I am making is that a single individual spirit was able to influence 400 people, prophets of the moon goddess, to speak the same lie to Ahab. This means that our understanding of spirit needs to include the notion that a spirit can be so much more than an individual entity.
I’m going to leave this part there, as there is still more to come. In the next part we will look at the notion that each of us have our own individual spirits but can still have other spirits placed upon us or even in us.