As we’ve been reading through the whole Bible as a congregation, I have fielded a few questions about Scripture’s apparent references to divine beings other than God. The answer to the following question on that topic has a lot to do with worship, so I’m sharing it with you here.
In Psalm 138, what does it mean by “I will sing praises to You before the gods” in verse 1?
That’s a great question. The Hebrew word is elohim, which really can (in this context) be translated as gods.1 I think the simplest explanation is that David is expressing his complete commitment to worshiping the Lord, even when surrounded by other nations who worshiped idols. Israel lived in the midst of idol worship, and that worship often pushed its way into the land of Israel and proved to be a stumbling block to God’s people. But David declares that the presence of idols will not cause him to fear false gods; on the contrary, he strengthens his resolve to worship the Living God. This is fitting for us as we live in a culture which increasingly gives itself to the worship of idols. We should not be afraid to continue praising God’s name in the presence of the gods of our culture, nor should we be ashamed to do so in the presence of those who worship such gods.
I also think David had in mind the invisible demonic powers at work behind the nations’ idols. Many theologians believe (and I’m inclined to agree) that when the Old Testament refers to “gods” (or sometimes “sons of God”) in contexts like this, it refers to angelic beings, whether good or evil, who have been given real authority in the world in various ways. We get glimpses into this invisible realm of spiritual forces in passages like Daniel 10, which talks about Michael the archangel’s conflict with the “prince of Persia” and the “prince of Greece.”2
There are demonic powers at work in the world who seek to draw worship away from the one true God to themselves. While they are not gods in the way that God is, Scripture does refer to these spiritual beings as “gods.” Of course, when it does so, it always makes it clear that they are nothing like the one true God who alone is worthy of our worship.
For example, Deuteronomy 32:17–18 says,
They sacrificed to demons who were not God,
To gods whom they have not known,
New gods who came lately,
Whom your fathers did not dread.
You neglected the Rock who begot you,
And forgot the God who gave you birth.
“Gods” here is used comparatively to show why it’s foolish for Yahweh’s people to give themselves to worshiping any other so-called god besides Him. They are “gods” who are “not God.” Scripture often applies the word “god” to something which people do worship, even though that thing should not be worshiped. But we should also understand that spiritual forces exist and have real power and influence in our world. Some are obedient to God, and some have partaken in Satan’s rebellion. Either way, we should not worship them. Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God. He alone is worthy.
|↑1||Elohim is a plural noun which can mean “gods,” but it is also used (the vast majority of times it occurs in the Old Testament) to refer to the one true God: “I am the Lord your God [elohim], who brought you out of the land of Egypt . . .” (Exod. 20:2). The context almost always makes it clear how the word should be translated.|
|↑2||This is perhaps alluded to in Jude 1:9.|