The Watchers, Babel, and God’s “Choice” of Israel

Aug 4, 2020 | Article, Divine Council, Podcast, Theology

Why did God choose Israel? Have you ever thought about that?

Throughout the biblical record, we see an emphasis on God’s choosing a people group. In the Hebrew Bible, his choice was Israel. In the New Testament, it is those who become the believing body—the church. Those who become part of the “true Israel” (see Gal. 3:29).

On one hand, many claim this “choice” is not based on anything within an individual. There is nothing an individual can do or say to merit God’s choice of favor upon him. Of course, I agree with this. But without some careful thinking, we could fall into a caveat here.

Namely, if God arbitrarily chooses who’s “in” and who’s “out,” on what basis can he justly punish those who are “out?” The discussion could go a number of ways here, but I am not interested in the question of soteriology, necessarily.

Instead, I believe it can be shown that God’s choice simply is not arbitrary. In both the Old Testament and the New, the choice God makes is always grounded in the choices we make as his imagers.

Let’s start near the beginning.

Adam, Where Are You?

Traditional Christian teaching and theology—at least that with which you and I grew up—make much of the fall of Adam.

Adam and Eve get the vast majority of the blame for the human condition, the entrance of sin into the world, and the wickedness of man even today.

In light of that, I’d like to ask you a question you may have never considered before: Other than Genesis 3, what passage in the Hebrew Bible mentions the sin of Adam?

Given that the whole of the redemption story is often taught as predicated upon the sin introduced into the world by this one man, wouldn’t you think it would be a pervasive theme throughout Scripture?

It’s not.

It’s mentioned one time, in Job 31:33, and is merely an analogy to Adam’s hiding his sin.

What about the New Testament? Being a cornerstone of Christian theology, surely the sin of Adam is discussed pervasively throughout it?

It’s not.

The sin of Adam is mentioned three times in the NT (Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 1 Timothy 2:24). The question quickly becomes, if this single event is responsible for the advent and proliferation of sin into all humanity, and becomes the basis on which all are judged at the end of days, why is it only mentioned four times in the entire Bible?

The reason is that Hebrew theology saw more to the story of sin than just the transgression of Adam. It was only the beginning.

Three Rebellions

The biblical data, along with Second Temple Jewish literature (which is not inspired Scripture but often helps us fill in the gaps), tells us more about the sinful nature of humanity than just what happened at the fall.

Some of these concepts you have definitely heard of before, but maybe you’ve never thought of them in the way I’m about to describe.

For the Hebrews, there was not just one event in ancient history that is responsible for the sin-cursed world we bemoan today. There were actually three such events.

Respectively, they are:

  1. The sin of Adam and Eve in the beginning.

  2. The sin of the “watchers” in Genesis 6:1-4.

  3. The sin of divine and human rulers at Babel in Genesis 11.

Let’s briefly discuss these, and their impact/implications, in turn.

The sin of Adam and Eve in the beginning

Of the three above, for obvious reasons, you are likely the most familiar with this one. This is the event that introduced sin into the world. Humanity had been created as the image of God. Adam was the apex of creation, and Eve was made to be his partner in God’s program.

The divine tempter in the beginning of the story—the serpent, whom we later find out to be Satan, the divine rebel—was sly and cunning. By asking crafty questions, he made Eve to doubt what God had revealed to her.

By tempting her with the same temptations we face today—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—Eve gave in. Adam soon followed. God banished them from the garden, cursed the ground, and sin and death began to reign.

For many Christians, the story of sin’s entrance stops there. The reality is, at least according to Hebrew theology, this was only just the beginning. We get a measly six chapters into the biblical record before we’re introduced to yet another divine rebellion.

The sin of the “watchers” in Genesis 6:1-4

The shroud of speculation has long hovered over the first four verses of Genesis 6. Faithful readers will know that I have recently taken an interest in the work of Dr. Michael Heiser, who has much to say about this portion of Scripture.

Let’s briefly answer some of the basic questions that may arise from a discussion of this passage.

1. Who are the watchers?

The term “watchers” arises primarily from the discussion of this passage found in the book of 1 Enoch, although there are biblical reference which uses the same term found in the books of Daniel (4:13; 4:17; 4:23) and Job (7:20).

In Hebrew thinking, the watchers are the fallen sons of God we encounter in Genesis 6:1-4.

2. Are they mentioned elsewhere in the Bible?

Yes! As I said, they are mentioned in the books of Daniel and Job. However, there is much reference made to this event throughout Scripture. Psalm 82 and 89 both make reference to these sons of God. Job makes reference to them watching as God creates the earth. They appear on the scene in 1 Kings 22 in an effort to pass judgment on King Ahab.

3. How come the Bible doesn’t talk about this more?

It’s a natural question to ask, but perhaps the wrong question to ask. A demonstrable line in the sand can be drawn in the first few centuries AD where these ideas went from commonly discussed and readily observed in Scripture to taboo and not apparent. The reason is that, while the words haven’t changed, the ideas that underly them have fallen in and out of favor, and new interpretations offered.

Modern discoveries of ancient extra-biblical Jewish texts have stood to confirm what was the consensus belief of Hebrew and early Christian scholarship.1 What I’m saying is that these themes are found more often than we realize in the Bible, but it requires a deeper look into the Scriptures than many take in their usual course of Bible reading.

4. How can we be sure the fallen angel view is the correct reading of this passage?

As I alluded to above, one way is to come to terms with the fact that early Christian scholarship knew nothing of the commonly offered alternatives today, such as the Sethite view or the Polygamous Earthly Rulers view (see here for a discussion of this). Again, it was the third century AD before these views were even suggested, let alone accepted widely.

So the question arises: What is so significant about this event?

When we realize what the event was, we can begin to answer that question. Jewish tradition holds that this event is the primary cause of evil’s proliferation on Earth, a supposition that makes complete sense in light of the flood destruction which followed it.

During this particular rebellion, divine beings left their abode, interbred with human women, and taught humanity all manner of sorcery and witchcraft. For Old Testament and Second Temple Jews, this event made a tangible and dramatic impact on the world.

The sin of divine and human rulers at Babel in Genesis 11

The final rebellion is the one we associate with the Tower of Babel event. Have you ever thought this story sounded really weird? Why would it matter that people got together and made a tower? What was the significance?

The significance lies in the nature of the tower. This tower is universally accepted among scholars as being a Ziggaurat—an ancient structure used for worship and communion with the divine realm.

I hope you can see that, in this light, the punishment which followed this event not only makes more sense, but also seems more reasonable. In essence, the people wanted to bring God to them instead of them going to God. They were treating Yahweh as if he were any other pagan deity. And he isn’t.

So God scatters and confuses them. But so much more happened than that. We don’t see it in the narrative itself, but we learn about it later in Deuteronomy 32:8-9:

When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, When he separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people According to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.

The translation “children of Israel” is taken from the Masoretic, which “assumes that the expression “sons of God” refers to Israel (cf. Hos. 1:10), while LXX has assumed that the phrase refers to the angelic heavenly assembly (Pss 29:1; 89:6; cf. as well Ps 82). The phrase is also attested in Ugaritic, where it refers to the high god El’s divine assembly. According to the latter view…the Lord delegated jurisdiction over the nations to his angelic host (cf. Dan. 10:13-21), while reserving for himself Israel, over whom he rules directly.”2

The all-important question is, “when did God divide the nations?” Notice, we are not talking about tribes of Israel. We are asking, when did God divide the nations of the world according to their inheritance? And what does that mean?

The answer to the first question is the Tower of Babel. The answer to the next question follows.

Why God Really Chose Israel

It’s commonplace to think, as I alluded to in the beginning, that Yahweh’s choice of Israel was somewhat arbitrary. God chose Israel because he wanted to. But what if there’s more to it than that?

Ask yourself this question: If God desires that both Jews and Gentiles be saved (as he later makes provision for), why does 2/3 of the Bible focus on God’s working within only one nation? Some answer by claiming that God used Israel because he knew they would reject him and make way for the salvation of the world. But this is more the effect or result—it does not seem an adequate reason.

God created Adam not as a Jew, but as a human. It’s not until immediately after Babel that God chooses to make a nation for himself out of Israel. Before this time, communion with God was available to anyone who chose it.

What changed?

The other nations of the world rejected him, so God chose Israel for himself, through supernatural intervention (the pregnancy of Sarah).

But the other nations were not “godless” now. No, Deuteronomy tells us they were divided up according to the number of the sons of God (or, heavenly assembly).

Haven’t you ever wondered why the other nations each had gods of their own that they worshipped and served? The reason is that God disinherited those nations and created a people for himself: Israel.

Some make the mistake in thinking that this was necessarily God handing the nations over to evil beings. While this is a possible reading (since the Bible does not tell us when the other gods became hostile toward him), it is not necessary.

Tim Chaffey, a scholar and authority on the subject at hand, explains:

A question naturally arises from this discussion: had the bene ’elohim [Sons of God] already rebelled against God when He placed them over the nations? The Bible does not give us a clear answer, so let’s look briefly at each option. If the bene ’elohim placed over the nations at Babel had not fallen yet, it would mean that they were not the same beings who rebelled prior to the flood. This view is probably more palatable for most readers since it would mean that God put good creatures in charge of the nations. On the other hand, if the bene ’elohim given authority at Babel had already rebelled it would show that the judgment was more severe than most imagine. It was so much more than the confusion of their language resulting in the scattering of the people. The Lord had recently judged the world with the flood, and yet within a few generations, Noah’s descendants refused to follow the Lord’s command to fill the earth (Genesis 9:1). Since they rejected the Lord, He gave them over to the rule of ungodly leaders. It would likely follow that these angelic beings were the same bene ’elohim mentioned in Genesis 6. Which view makes better sense of the text? I prefer the latter option, but since the Bible is apparently silent on the issue, I think either view is consistent with Scripture.3

I prefer the view opposite of Chaffey, because I think it is more consistent with Chaffey’s own reading (as well as my own) of Psalm 82 (discussed in this post). If, as Psalm 82 suggests, God was judging the Sons of God for their failure to properly treat those whom he had given them rule over, it stands to reason he gave them charge with an expectation of fair and proper treatment.

Although, one must also keep in mind that, considering God had just destroyed the entire world and everyone in it save Noah and family a few chapters prior, it would not be out of the question for God to turn the world over to the forces of evil in favor of his own people. I just don’t think that is the view that arises from a comparison of Scripture with Scripture.

Besides, God knew all of this would happen from before the foundation of the world. God had a rescue plan.

The Regathering of the Nations

The bigger picture is beginning to form. In this way of thinking about Old Testament theology, the rescue plan initiated by Christ takes on a greater significance.


Because, while Christ’s mission was certainly the rescue of a lost and dying the world, the nature and depth of the rescue lies beyond salvation from sin; it involves God’s regathering of the scattered nations.4

Those nations whom God had disinherited, he has now taken back under his control. By defeating the forces of evil and death, Christ made possible the redemption necessary to heal the fissure between God and man. The Balm of Gilead did heal that relationship. Now, rather than God disinheriting all people and choosing one for himself, the ability for any man to choose to believe in Yahweh has been restored.

This leads us to the expression of a concept Dr. Mike Heiser calls believing loyalty. It is based upon two fundamental biblical principles: That salvation cannot be earned or lost via works, and that only believers have eternal life. No one is in heaven that does not believe, and no one is in heaven because they pleased God through human effort.

No matter how many prayers have been said, no one is in heaven who does not believe. No matter how many acts of goodwill have been performed, no one is heaven because of them.

One who spends eternal life with Yahweh is one who believes with his head and trusts with his heart that Christ is who he said he was, and that his work on the cross was sufficient to save mankind from his sinful and separated condition.

And in the final redemption, we become the sons of God, who rule and reign with Christ.

See how the entire narrative becomes cohesive now? Rather than a matrix of seemingly unconnected ideas, the biblical storyline is a complex but cohesive narrative that is fundamentally integrated into the fabric of history. What was broken in the beginning becomes new and restored in the end, and for eternity.


  1. See Tim Chaffey’s Fallen for an in-depth discussion.
  2. See the NET Bible notes here.)
  3. Chaffey, Tim. Fallen: The Sons of God and the Nephilim (pp. 96-97). Risen Books. Kindle Edition.
  4. For those interested in exploring this deeper, it’s worth noting that the beginning of this process seems to be Acts 2, where the people are given the Holy Spirit and are tasked with taking the message of Christ back to their own nations—the same 70 nations which were disinherited at the Tower of Babel.

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