ONE OF THE JOYS of Bible study is discovering layers of meaning that you’d missed on your first reading.
This week, we run into another instance of the English phrase “worthless idols” (Ps. 97:7b). We think the context indicates that the Hebrew word elîlîm refers to supernatural beings (angels, if you like), not carvings of wood and stone. This is emphasized by the exhortation to the unseen realm in the sentence that follows: “Worship Him, all you gods!”
We submit that David, who wrote Psalm 97, knew full well that lifeless sculptures are not capable of worship. Those small-G gods are real. David’s point, which we read in Psalm 97:9, is that YHWH is “exalted far above all gods.”
As we mentioned in our study of 1 Chronicles 16 (GHF #369), elîlîm is derived from the name of the Mesopotamian father-god, Enlil, which was rendered “Ellil” in Akkadian. The elîlîm, then, were not the “imaginary friends” of Israel’s pagan neighbors, but small-E elohim who had followed Enlil (AKA El, Dagon, Molech, Kronos, Saturn, and Shemihazah, among other names) into rebellion against their Creator.
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