Does Deuteronomy 32:8 Refer to “Sons of God” or “Sons of Israel”? -- By: David E. Stevens

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 154:614 (Apr 1997)
Article: Does Deuteronomy 32:8 Refer to “Sons of God” or “Sons of Israel”?
Author: David E. Stevens


Does Deuteronomy 32:8 Refer to “Sons of God” or “Sons of Israel”?

David E. Stevens

[David E. Stevens is a missionary with OC International in St. Péray, France.]

In recent scholarship the Song of Moses (Deut 32:1–43) has been considered an extremely problematic text. Questions of authenticity, date, rhetorical analysis, and textual criticism are numerous. These problems notwithstanding, this famous song remains one of the most impressive poems of the Old Testament.1

This article is limited to verse 8b and its immediate context. An overview of several versions brings to light one of the difficulties of the translation and interpretation of the text. Some understand that when God established boundaries for the nations, as verse 8 describes, it was “according to the number of the sons of Israel.”2 Others read that it was “according to the number of the sons of God.”3 The contrast between the two readings is striking. It would seem that, while the former focuses on the reservation of a territory sufficient for the number of the people of Israel, the latter emphasizes the delegation of territorial rule of the nations to the “sons of God,” or angels.4

The number of interpreters from the time of Origen who accept the translation “sons of God” is impressive.5 More recently White wrote:

Who are they? I believe they were angels of a high order endowed with divine authority and appointed to watch over certain segments of humanity. In short, they were spiritual governors. Scripture speaks of the “council of Yahweh,” heavenly beings who carry out the divine will (1 Kings 22.19; Ps 89.6,7). In the light of the Genesis 6 and Jude passages, it seems that it was possible for these powers to lose their positions of authority (Jude 6), and to come under satanic influence (cf. Ps 82.1, 2).6

Wagner underlines more specifically the textual problem in this passage.

The probl...

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