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Territorial Spirits: According to the Angels

I remember an interesting discussion in seminary many, many years ago. We were discussing the Book of Daniel, when we reached the passage on how the prophet Daniel sensing a time of conflict was brewing began to pray and fast for thirty days seeking an answer from God (Daniel 10:1).

God dispatched an angel with the answer to Daniel’s prayer. When the angel finally shows up, the angel says the “Prince of Persia” had thrown up road blocks hindering the delivery of the message for three weeks, but Michael the Arch angel was sent to help and the two broke through to deliver the message.

13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia. (Daniel 10:13 NASV)

After delivering it, the angel said he was returning to fight the Prince of Persia and Prince of Greece (Daniel 10:20-21).

When I mentioned the Prince of Persia was a demonic angel that ruled the Kingdom of Persia (a principality and power mentioned by Paul in Ephesians,) I was shocked by the uproar this caused.

I was holding to the position, that Satan has ruling angels who are put over nations. Their goal is to try to influence secular politicians, judges and governments of every type to do satan’s bidding.

Many in the class were absolutely shocked that I was proposing a satanic hierarchy in the demonic realm.

Though most agreed the being talking to Daniel was an angel, many were adamant that he was not going back to fight a demonic angel, but rather the human King of Persia himself.

If that was the case why was the term Prince and not King used. The King is the top ruler, and princes were subservient, lower in the political hierarchy. The use of the term prince says there was something higher in the hierarchy.

So has satan put angels over the nations in the demonic realm?

In Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, satan actually offered Jesus the nations of the world if Jesus worshipped him:

And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. (Luke 4:5-6 NASV)

Satan added the nations had been given to him and he could dispense them to whoever he wanted.

Notice that Jesus never challenged satan’s ownership of the nations or his ability to give the nations over to whomever he wished.

But one wonders did satan make similar offers to fallen angels, if they followed him?

There are also several verses in the Old Testament that hint of angelic involvement in nations. The first is found in Deuteronomy:

 8 When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, When he separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the people according to the number of the sons of Israel.

9 For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance. (Deuteronomy 32:8-9 NASV)

At first glance, it’s difficult to see any angelic connection in this verse. But F.F. Bruce, a respected New Testament scholar, says in his commentary on Hebrews that another translation of this verse has a more correct reading.

He referred to how it is translated in the Septuagint. Written between 280 BC  and 200 BC, Hebrew scholars translated the Hebrew version of the Old Testament into Greek for the Jews living in Alexandria. It was to the Greeks what our English versions of the Bible are to us.

Arguably the translators had older versions of the Hebrew Scripture to work on when they translated the Septuagint than we have today for our English Bibles.

In the Septuagint, this verse in Deuteronomy takes a slightly different twist.

“When the Most High divided the nations, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God.  And his people Jacob became the portion of the Lord, Israel was the line of his inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 32:7-9 Jerome’s version of the Septuagint)

Instead of saying the nations were divided according to the “sons of Israel” it says the nations were divided according to the “sons or angels of god.” This single word change has enormous spiritual implications for the church.

The verse is found with exactly the same Hebrew rendering in the Dead sea scrolls and the phrase “sons of God” is “bene  elohim” which is used in Genesis 6.

With both the Dead Sea scrolls and the Septuagint saying “sons of God,” most Bible scholars now agree that this is the correct translation for this verse. My survey of Bible Commentaries found eight of nine of them considered angels of God the correct translation.

Many of the newer editions of the Bible are noting this change. The Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the New English Bible and the Revised English Bible use the term “sons of God” or “angels of God” in their text.

The inclusion of this term in the marginal notes in the New International Version is probably the first step in “sons of God” becoming part of its actual translation.

Christopher Wright in his commentary on Deuteronomy says, “almost certainly the reading given in the NIV footnote is the preferred in this case. The Dead Sea scrolls and LXX (Septuagint) have the “sons of God.” This expression usually means angelic beings not simply gods (as NRSV).”

One of the first Bible versions to incorporate the “sons of God” in its actual text was The Jerusalem Bible (TJB) copyrighted 1968. In addition to including this phrase, the TJB adds this footnote to the verse, “i.e., the angels, meaning the guardian angels of the nations, cf Dn. 10:13. But Yahweh himself takes care of Israel.”

But what does it mean when it says the boundaries of the nations were set according to the “sons of God” or angels?

F.F. Bruce says, “This reading implies that the administration of the various nations has been parcelled out among a corresponding number of angelic powers.”

In his commentary on Deuteronomy, Ian Cairns agrees. He writes that God, “allots each nation their territory and places each under the guidance of a “son of God” or angel.”

Warning: Do not Worship

With these angels or supra beings playing such a critical role in the unfolding human society, there was also a great danger associated with this. This problem is outlined in Deuteronomy 4:19, when God warns the Israelites not to worship the stars or moon and particularly the “host of heaven” which God says are “allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.”

The word ‘host’ means armies and is used to describe the angels of God. In 1 Kings 22:19, the host of heaven is portrayed as angelic beings arrayed to right and left of Jehovah.

The word allotted (halag) means to divide or to apportion. It is often used in a legal sense, going beyond the idea of simply dividing up, to actually “parceling out shares.”

This is how the word is used in Number 26:53 when each Israeli tribe received their territory in the Promised Land. The same word describes the strict legal guideline on how a man’s wealth was divided among his heirs. Interestingly, this same word is used at the Tower of Babel when man was divided into groups based on their language.

God commanded Israel not to worship the ‘angels’ or ‘host of heaven’ because they had been ‘allotted’ to the nations. However, Israel was God’s inheritance or more exactly God’s allotment.

The prophet Daniel describes the archangel Michael as the protector of Israel and as one who will play a significant role in the end times:

12 “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. (Daniel 12:1 NASV)

This prohibition against worship presumes that the gentile nations were actively engaging in this practice, as the angelic beings were now looked upon as gods.

During this period, between creation and the flood, people were tempted to worship these angelic beings or supra humans that were all around them. When this happened, were some of these angels tempted into the same sin of pride as satan? Was satan then able to draw a number of these angels to join him in his rebellion against God?

Angels and gods

The idea of allotment surfaces again in Deuteronomy 29:26. In this verse, God warns Israel of impending judgement if they serve other gods. When they are judged, the Lord says, the nations will ask what happened. Then people will answer and say, “they (the Israelites) went and served other gods and worshipped them, gods whom they have not known and whom He (the Lord) had not allotted to them.”

In this verse, we see a slight change because now the Israelites are accused of worshiping other gods that were not allotted to them. This verse connects the host of heaven or angels with the gods of the other nations. The transition is now complete. The peoples of the earth had now deified the angels allotted to them.

Patrick Miller, in his commentary on Deuteronomy, says, “In these verses other nations of the world are clearly understood as having been created by the Lord, with each apportion territories and each allotted one of the gods, that is the aegis (protection) of one of the gods.”

When Moses confronted the Jews in his song written about their rebellion in the wilderness, he said (Deuteronomy 32:17), “They sacrificed to demons who were not God, to gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately.”

The Hebrew word translated demon is “sedim.” It probably has a similar root to “sedu” a word used by the Babylonians/Assyrians which described both good and evil spirits. This word referred to evil spirits unless some type of adjective was added to denote the spirit as good. In these cultures, the ‘sedu’ was commonly portrayed as a bull with wings.

The word demon used in this verse shows us that the evil spirits and gods were basically the same thing. This should not surprise us as the primary goal of satan was to achieve god-like status (Ezekiel 28:13). This suggests that reference to the ‘gods’ of the gentiles is nothing more than a psuedonym for fallen angels – which is why Paul calls satan the “god of this age.”

The reference to the demonic behind the idols is seen in another Old Testament passage – Psalms 106:35-39. In this passage, the Israelites were condemned for their child sacrifices required by the horrid worship of Molech while they were in the wilderness.

But in this verse, the Lord says, “They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons (sedim). And shed the blood of their sons and their daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan. And the land was polluted with their blood” (vs 37, 38). By becoming involved in occult practices, the Psalmist adds that the Israelites were snared or trapped by them (v 36).

This verse unites the worship of idols and fallen angels in the same way a Paul described it in Corinthians.

Why were the angels allotted?

But why would God allot fallen angels to the nations?

In his speech to the Jewish council, before his stoning, Stephen gives the answer to this question. In his defence, the church’s first martyr described Israel’s condition during its forty-year vacation in the wilderness. Stephen said that the Israelites worshipped Molech (Acts 7:43) which involved child sacrifice and the “star of the god Rompha” (v.43).

He said God “delivered them up to serve the host of heaven” (v 42) because of the people’s own desires.

The apostle Paul said the same thing in his sermon to the people of Lystra who had just mistaken him and Barnabas for the Greek gods Hermes and Zeus (Acts 14:16-17). He said that God allowed the nations to go their own ways, but added that the Lord also left a “witness” of Himself with each of these groups.

Because the people were so intrigued by these supra-beings, God turned the people over to these gods.

So this helps us understand what the Apostle Paul is referring to when he says that our real battle is not physical but spiritual:

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12 NASV)


  • Jerome version of the Septuagint
  • Page, Sydney, Powers of Evil (Baker Books:Grand Rapids, MI 1994) p 45
  • Mayes, ADA, Deuteronomy (The Attic Press:Greenwood, SC 1979) p 384
  • Wright, Christopher, New International Biblical Commentary (Hendrickson Publishers: Peabody, Mass 1996) p 306 & 307
  • The Jerusalem Bible, Reader’s Edition,  Alexander Jones Editor (Doubleday & Company Inc: Garden City New York, 1968) p 223
  • Bruce, F. F., The Epistle to the Hebrews (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.:Grand Rapids, MI, 1964) p 33
  • Cairns, Ian, Deuteronomy (Wm B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.:Grand Rapids, MI) p 283
  • Miller, Patrick, Deuteronomy (John Knox Press: Louisville 1990) p 229

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