The Sôd of YHWH and the Endowment

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Abstract: In the Hebrew Bible, the Sôd of God was a council of celestial beings who consulted with God, learned His sôd/secret plan, and then fulfilled that plan. This paper argues that the LDS endowment is, in part, a ritual reenactment of the sôd, where the participants observe the sôd/council of God, learn the sôd/secret plan of God, and covenant to fulfill that plan.

In its broader sense the Hebrew term sôd (סוד) means a confidential discussion, a secret or plan, a circle of confidants, or council.1 Nearly all scholars now agree that sôd, when used in relationship to God, refers to the heavenly council/sôd of God, which humans may sometimes visit to learn divine mysteries or obtain a prophetic message to deliver to humankind.2 The celestial members of this council are variously called the “host of heaven” (1 Kings 22:19), “gods” or “sons of God” (Ps. 82:1, 6), or “Holy Ones.” Sôd can refer to either the divine council itself or to the deliberative secret results of that council—that is the secret plans of the council—which a prophet is sometimes permitted to learn or to reveal to humankind. Only those who are part of the divine sôd/council know the sôd/secret plan, and only those who are given explicit permission may reveal that [Page 148]sôd to humankind.3 This concept is illustrated in a number of biblical passages:

In 1 Kings 22:19–23, the prophet Michaiah describes his vision of the sôd as follows:

19 I saw Yhwh sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20 and Yhwh said, “Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?” And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before Yhwh, saying, “I will entice him.” 22 And Yhwh said to him, “By what means?” And he said, “I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” And he said, “You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.” 23 Now therefore behold, Yhwh has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; Yhwh has declared disaster for you.4

Notice here that Michaiah participated in the sôd of Yhwh and therefore knows Yhwh‘s secret plan and therefore can accurately prophesy, whereas the other court prophets, with no knowledge of Yhwh‘s sôd, are deceived. Note, too, the important motif that God is sitting on his throne surrounded by his [Page 149]sôd. (22:19). Biblical divine enthronement scenes and throne theophanies often imply a meeting of the sôd.5

In Isaiah 6, Isaiah enters the presence of Yhwh seated on his throne in the temple (6:1). There he meets with the divine council (6:2–3) and is invested with a mission to reveal the deliberations of the council to humankind (6:8–9). Note that in Isaiah the sôd of Yhwh meets in the celestial temple, where Yhwh sits enthroned just as in Michaiah’s vision.

Jeremiah 23:16–18 describes Jeremiah’s response to prophets who prophesy victory for Judah over Babylon. Jeremiah writes:

16 Thus says Yhwh of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the [false] prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of Yhwh. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of Yhwh, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’ 18 But who among them has stood in the sôd of Yhwh to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened?

Jeremiah 23:21–22 continues this theme, when Yhwh himself speaks:

21 “I did not send the [false] prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. 22 But if they had stood in my sôd, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.”

[Page 150]The obvious implications of these two passages is that Jeremiah has “stood in the sôd of Yhwh,” just like Michaiah and Isaiah before him, and therefore knows Yhwh‘s sôd/secret plan, which he can reveal to humankind through his prophecies. The distinction between a true prophet and a false one is that the true prophet has “stood in the sôd of Yhwh,” while the false prophet hasn’t. This precisely parallels the description of Micaiah’s vision of the sôd, while the false prophets don’t know God’s sôd/secret plan.

Psalm 82 offers a fascinating description of the “council of God”:

1 God (אלהים ělōhîm) has taken his place in the council (עדת ʿǎdat) of God (אל ʾel); in the midst of the gods (אלהים ělōhîm) he holds judgment. . . . 6 I [God] said, “You [of the divine council/ʿǎdat] are gods (אלהים ělōhîm), sons of the Most High (בני עליון benê ʿelyôn), all of you.”

In this meeting of the “council of God,” God calls the members of his sôd “gods” and “sons of the Highest.”

Amos 3:7—a passage often quoted by LDS—describes Yhwh‘s sôd as follows: “For the Lord Yhwh doesn’t do anything (דבר dābār) 6 without revealing his sôd to his servants the prophets.” Amos provides here a summary principle paralleling the explicit examples of Michaiah, Isaiah and Jeremiah given above. God reveals the sôd (secret plan) of his sôd (divine council) to his prophets.

Psalm 25:14 adds an interesting covenantal aspect to the sôd. “The sôd of Yhwh is for those who honor him; he reveals his covenant (berît) to them.” In this verse knowledge of the sôd of Yhwh is directly linked with the revelation of his covenant.

[Page 151]Finally, Job provides a description of God’s sôd, composed of the “sons of God,” meeting in council (Job 1:6, Job 2:1). In Job 15:8, Eliphaz insists that Job has not sat in the sôd and therefore cannot understand God’s will regarding Job.

All of this is, of course, familiar to many Latter-day Saints, since these texts have been compared to several passages in LDS scripture which also describe the sôd of Yhwh (e.g., 1 Nephi 1:8–18; Abraham 3:22–23).7 I would like, however, to move one step further and suggest that we should understand the LDS Endowment as a ritual and dramatic participation in the sôd/divine council of God, through which God reveals to the covenanter his sôd/secret plan of salvation—the hidden meaning and purpose of creation and the cosmos. When we consider the Endowment drama in this way—remembering that in Isaiah the meeting place of the sôd of Yhwh is in the temple (Isa. 6:1)—the Endowment fits broadly in the biblical tradition of ritually observing or participating in “the council/sôd of Yhwh” described in these biblical texts.

General Bibliography (Chronological Order)

Robinson, H. “The Council of Yahweh.” Journal of Theological Studies 45 (1944): 151–57.

Cross, F. “The Council of Yahweh in Second Isaiah.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 12/1 (1953): 274–77.

Kingsbury, E. “Prophets and the Council of Yahweh.” Journal of Biblical Literature 83 (1964): 279–86.

Brown, R. The Semitic Background of the Term “Mystery” in the New Testament. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968.

Miller, P. “The Divine Council and the Prophetic Call to War.” Vetus Testamentum 18 (1968): 100–107.

[Page 152]

Mullen, T. The Assembly of the Gods: The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1980.

Miller, P. “Cosmology and World Order in the Old Testament: The Divine Council as Cosmic-Political Symbol.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 9 (1987): 53–78.

Fleming, D. “The Divine Council as Type Scene in the Hebrew Bible.” PhD diss, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1989.

Bockmuehl, M. Revelation and Mystery in Ancient Judaism and Pauline Christianity. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1990.

Malamat, A. “The Secret Council and Prophetic Involvement in Mari and Israel.” In R. Liwak and S. Wagner, eds., Prophetie und geschichtliche Wirklichkeit im alten Israel. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1991. 231–36.

Mullen, T. “Divine Assembly,” ABD (1992): 2:214–17, nicely summarizes the concept.

Nissinen, M. “Prophets and the Divine Council.” In Kein Land für sich allein: Studien zum Kulturkontakt in Kanaan, Israel / Palastina und Ebirnari für Manfred Weippert zum 65. Geburtstag. Vandenhoeck: Universitatsverlag Freiburg Schweiz, 2002. 4–19.

Heiser, M. “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature.” PhD diss., University of Wisconsin—Madison, 2004.

Heiser, M. “Introduction to the Divine Council.” http://www.thedivinecouncil.com/HeiserIVPDC.pdf.

Lenzi, A. Secrecy and the Gods: Secret Knowledge in Ancient Mesopotamia and Biblical Israel. Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2008. 221–71.

Thomas, S. The “Mysteries” of Qumran: Mystery, Secrecy, and Esotericism in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009. 82–95.

[Page 153]

LDS Bibliography (Alphabetical Order)

Barney, K. “Examining Six Key Concepts in Joseph Smith’s Understanding of Genesis 1:1.” BYU Studies 39/3 (2000): 107–24.

Bokovoy, D. “Joseph Smith and the Biblical Council of Gods” (2010). http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences/2010-David-Bokovoy.pdf

Bokovoy, D. “ ’Ye Really Are Gods’: A Response to Michael Heiser concerning the LDS Use of Psalm 82 and the Gospel of John,” FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): 267–313.

Heiser, M. “You’ve Seen One Elohim, You’ve Seen Them All? A Critique of Mormonism’s Use of Psalm 82.” FARMS Review 19:1 (2007): 221–66.

Ostler, Blake, Exploring Mormon Thought, Vol. 3: Of God and Gods. Salt Lake City: Kofford, 2008.

Peterson, Daniel C. “ ’Ye Are Gods’: Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind.” In The Disciple as Scholar: Essays on Scripture and the Ancient World in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson. Ed. Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges. Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000. 471–594.

Shirts, K. “The ‘Adat El, ‘Council of the Gods’ & Bene Elohim, ‘Sons of God’: Ancient Near Eastern Concepts in the Book of Abraham.” http://www2.ida.net/graphics/shirtail/council.htm.
Summary of issues at: http://answering-lds-critics.blogspot.com/

  1. L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 745; J. Botterweck and H. Ringgren, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975–2003), 10:171–77. []
  2. See “General Bibliography” at the end of the paper. []
  3. Part of this is reflected in the Bible, where prophets are often expressly “sent” from Yhwh (Hebrew Yahweh, anglicized as Jehovah) with a message—hat is they are to reveal Yhwh’s sôd. See Exod. 3:10, 15, 7:16; Deut. 34:11; Josh. 24:5; 1 Sam. 15:1; 2 Sam. 12:1, 25; Isa. 6:8–9; Jer. 1:7, 7:25, 19:14, Ezek. 2:3–4; Mic. 6:4; Hag. 1:12; Zech. 2:12,13,15; Mal. 3:23; Ps 105:26. See James Ross, “The Prophet as Yahweh’s Messenger,” in Bernhard W. Anderson and Walter Harrelson, eds., Israel’s Prophetic Heritage: Essays in Honor of James Muilenburg (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 98–107. []
  4. Translations are generally modified by me from the English Standard Version (ESV), which is a modernized and corrected KJV. []
  5. On the significance of throne theophanies, see Timo Eskola, Messiah and the Throne (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001). []
  6. The Hebrew dābār can mean “thing” or “word.” []
  7. See the “LDS Bibliography” at the end of this article for a list of LDS studies. []
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About William J. Hamblin

William J. Hamblin is Professor of History at Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah, USA),
 specializing in the ancient and medieval Near East. He is the author of dozens of academic
 articles and several books, most recently, Solomon’s Temple: Myth and History, with David 
Seely (Thames and Hudson, 2007). In the fall of 2010 his first novel was published (co-
authored with Neil Newell): The Book of Malchus, (Deseret Book, 2010). A fanatical traveler and photographer, he spent 2010 teaching at the BYU Jerusalem Center, and has lived in
 Israel, England, Egypt and Italy, and traveled to dozens of other countries.

19 thoughts on “The Sôd of YHWH and the Endowment

  1. Bill;

    Thank you so much for this simple and insightful article on the sôd of God / YHWH. I recall reading something about this from you several months ago and have waited more to be written on this topic. I immediately linked here via Dan Peterson’s facebook post and link.

    I am particularly glad you spoke about 1 Kings 22:19–23. I was recently shared the part which God authorizing “a spirit” to go out and le among man. My immediate apprehension to accept this passage on its superciafial meaning based upon the paradox that God does not offer lies but truth and also the explicit LDS doctrine in the Book of Mormon which God does not lie:

    ” 4 And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.

    5 And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

    6 And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.

    7 And I said: Lord, how is it done?

    8 And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.”

    (Enos 1)

    Your insight that the prophets who would deceive or be deceived are those which did not stand in YHWH’s sôd makes a lot of sense. I have to say that I still do not get YHWH authorizing “a spirit” to go forth and lie but I do find your insight helpful and applicable. Could Enos mean that since he was hearing God’s [the Father's] voice and thus entered into a sort of personal sôd with God that God could not lie as opposed to God not lying at all, even if one chooses to leave God’s sôd after God invited him in?

    It’s also interesting that, as you pointed out, Lehi entered into God’s sôd and received divine secrets from God. Nephi, for his part, believed in Lehi’s words and through his faith and taking his desire to learn to God, Nephi too received miraculous visions. In other words, the same power which taught Lehi also taught Nephi. Laman and Lemuel, on the other had, mocked and ridiculed Lehi and accused him of being a “visionary man”. Laman and Lemuel’s main concern over Nephi was that Nephi would take their power of governance. It’s interesting that Nephi placed his faith in God’s sôd and was therefore taught divine truth while Laman and Lemuel’s heart and desired focused on worldy power, lied and deceived, even if they personally were convinced that they were correct.

    Again, this is a good piece and I look forward to reading more if more comes down the line.

  2. Br’er Hamblin,

    This article and one other of yours pertaining to a similar topic (the name of the essay escapes me) strike me as being very important. This article also makes me wish we had a more clear translation of the Bible.

  3. It is true that the heavenly court motif is recognized by modern scholarship as being the Assembly of the Gods (Isa 40:25–26, Ps 82), and it is interchangeable with the “banquet of salvation on the World Mountain.” In Hebrew it is termed ʻAdat ʼEl עדת-אל (Ps 82:1), or Sod סוד (Jer 23:18,22), “Heavenly Council; Decision of Council; counsel, secret, mystery” (= Essene/Qumran raz = Iranian/Persian raza = Pauline mysterion), and is the direct corollary of Ugaritic ʿdt.ilm, Pḫr.ilm, Pḫr.mʿd, “The Divine Parliament; The Group of the Assembly (of Gods)” (Akkadian Puḫrum = Sumerian UKKIN). The late Mitchell Dahood and others claimed that that divine assembly included pre-existent or pre-mortal man, along with Seraphim, Cherubim, and other angelic creatures which are to be taken as symbolic of divine power (D&C 77:2–4, Deut 32:43, LXX Hab 3:2, Rev 4:6–8). The importance of a ritual communal meal in connection with such heavenly and earthly assemblies and with covenant-making cannot be overstated, and these include the Jewish Passover Seder and the LDS Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, to name just a couple.

    Yehuda Radday demonstrated long ago that many important biblical books (especially those of the Primary History) center on or have their peak on a special mountain: Genesis on Mt Moriah, Exodus on Mt Sinai, Judges on Mt Gerizim, I Samuel & II Samuel on Mt Gilboa, I Kings & II Kings “a triptych with a centerpiece and two lateral panels” – centering on theophanies on Mts Carmel & Horeb. Jack Welch has shown that the Sermon at the Temple in III Nephi (at the center of the book), and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew are both highly liturgical temple texts.

    It is worth observing that the World-Mountain (like Moriah, Olympus, or Ṣafon) is the Cosmic Mountain, and the archetypal location for the temple and world tree — the location of the Divine Council and Messianic Banquet of Salvation at the end time.

  4. I agree that the LDS temple endowment is part of YHWH’s sôd. LDS temple worship and covenant making are done in the presence of “God, angels, and witnesses”. Likewise, when Jesus Christ visited the Nephites at the temple, there eventually came angels and administered unto the children present.

    ” 24 And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them.

    25 And the multitude did see and hear and bear record; and they know that their record is true for they all of them did see and hear, every man for himself; and they were in number about two thousand and five hundred souls; and they did consist of men, women, and children.”

    3 Nephi

    Looking at the cited verses above, we can determine the presence of YHWH (Jesus Christ) who is God (“the God of Israel and of the whole earth”); angels; and witnesses. Was this not also YHW’s sôd?

    This brings me to wonder, while I do not recall any one moment Joseph Smith stood in the theophonic presence of God and angels, he was indeed instructed by YHWH (Jesus Christ) and angels. Would this not also count as YHWH’s sôd? If so, than entering into YHWH’s sôd would not require one singular event but may also include events over time.

    Interesting stuff. Hamblin’s article definitely has me thinking.

    • D&C 76:20–21 indicates that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon saw “glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father… And saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever.”

      So yes, Joseph Smith was presented before the sod. In fact, in an 1835 account of the First Vision, in addition to seeing “two personages” Joseph reported he also “saw many angels in this vision,” so even his First Vision might have been a divine council scene.

  5. Using the kabbalistic gematria, we have the following result:
    s + o + d = 60 + 6 + 4 = 70
    y + h + v + h = 10 + 5 + 6 + 5 = 26
    Psalm 25:14 “The sôd of Yhwh is for those who honor him; he reveals his covenant (berît) to them”.
    Genesis 17:2 What happens to those with whom Yhvh makes His berit?
    “… I… will multiply thee exceedingly”.
    What would happen if we multiply “sod” by “Yhvh”, that is, 70 x 26 = 1820.
    What took place in the year 1820? The sod of Yhvh was newly revealed to a man (Amos 3:7) by covenant.

  6. The reason I find Br’er Hamblin’s articles important is because they remind us of the way to go, and are extremely plainly stated. The point of the endowments is that they are an invitation to arise and enter into the true divine council in heaven through our faithfulness in all things.

    The Celestial Kingdom is reserved for them who have received the testimony of Jesus (D&C 76:51), or, in other words, the spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10) – meaning if we intend to be exalted, we must do what Joseph instructed us to do: call upon God in faith to receive this blessing, obeying every commandment and every prompting of the Spirit, and not cease praying to enter into His presence until we receive (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith p. 298-299 [see also p.150-151], Luke 18:1–6). Then shall we be true prophets, have power in the priesthood, inherit the covenants of the fathers, and be fit candidates for our Father’s kingdom.

    That other men may have had this experience does not save us, for the covenants and experiences of Joseph Smith and every other true prophet are not our covenants and experiences; sitting through a dramatization of the council is most decidedly not the same as sitting in the real divine council in the heavens above. Without being presented at the divine council, we cannot be true prophets, and our exaltation is in jeopardy.

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