Should “sons of God” in Job 38 poetry be used to interpret historical narratives in the Old Testament about the "sons of God"?
B. Hodge, Biblical Authority Ministries, May 11, 2020.
Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. (Genesis 6:1-4, NASB)
Should Job 38:7’s use of the sons of God, a metaphorical and poetic instance, be used to interpret historical narratives like Genesis 6 and Job 1 and 2? Should we reinterpret the plain meaning of Scripture in light of this allegorical language. Is that the way we should be treating Scripture?
First, there is the issue of interpreting literal history in light of a poetic book. It is customary to interpret passages that are unclear with the clear, which are commonly literal historical accounts, which are straightforward, to interpret poetic areas (i.e., proper hermeneutics).
Dr. Hugh Ross and Dr. Fuz Rana (as well as their ministry Reasons to Believe) are well-known for their tact at taking poetic/metaphorical passages in the Bible as the baseline to reinterpret historical accounts. Mr. Tim Chaffey and Dr. Jason Lisle refute this notion in the book Old Earth Creationism on Trial, when they say:
“It has become popular lately for old-earthers to try and use poetic sections of the Bible to override the plain teachings of historical sections. Since a straightforward reading of Genesis does not support their view, some old-earth creationists hope to reinforce their position by selectively quoting poetic passages like Psalms or Proverbs. Hugh Ross states:
. . . not all the answers are in Genesis. And in particular, there’s three of them: Proverbs 8, Psalm 104, and Job 38 and 39 that actually take you through each of the six creation days of Genesis 1. And when you do that (integrate those four in particular) you discover that it’s not possible to take that word “yom” in any context other than a long period of time. (“Heart and Soul” BBC radio broadcast. (Hugh Ross is interviewed by Eugenie Scott.) Accessed March 30, 2007. 19:46–20:12. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/programmes/heart_and_soul.shtml>. Accessed 3/30/2007.)
But, when read in context, there is nothing in these poetic sections of Scripture that would contradict a straightforward reading of Genesis: that God did indeed create in six literal days. After all, the same God that inspired Genesis also inspired these sections of the Bible. But since poetic books, like the Psalms, Proverbs, and Job, contain figures of speech, metaphors, and other non-literal imagery, many people feel a greater liberty to interpret these passages as they wish, rather than according to the standard rules of biblical interpretation. Some old-earth creationists have even mislabeled poetic passages as “accounts of creation,” presumably in an attempt to revise the biblical history by pulling certain poetic sections out of context.
In one of his more recent books, Hugh Ross lists 21 “major creation accounts in the Bible.” (Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004), p. 66.) Many of the passages are from poetic sections of the Bible; four of the listed passages are from the Psalms, two are from Job. (For that matter, many of the narrative passages Ross cites do not pertain to the initial creation at all, such as Genesis 6–9; these verses describe the Flood.) Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are also included. Sections of the Bible such as the Psalms are not “accounts” at all, but rather poetic songs of praise to God. They are just as inspired and true as the rest of God’s Word; however, they require knowledge of the historic narrative sections of the Bible in order to fully understand and properly interpret the poetic language.
One of the most important rules of hermeneutics is that the unclear should be interpreted in light of the clear; therefore, poetic sections using symbolism and literary imagery should be interpreted in light of the more straightforward historical narratives. This is not to say that poetic sections never shed light on narratives; they can. But they should never be used to override the clear teaching of historical narratives.”
Essentially, there exists a problem of taking poetry and metaphors as the absolute standard and reinterpreting historical narratives. This problem persists regarding the sons of God in the instance of taking Job 38, which has a clearly allegorical/metaphorical nature and reinterpreting Genesis 6, a historical narrative. Such a fallacious methodology should not be tolerated. We should be able to get a better understanding of Job 38:7 due to historical accounts. Let’s view the context of Job 38 first:
4 "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone,
7 When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8 "Or who shut in the sea with doors, When it burst forth and issued from the womb;
9 When I made the clouds its garment, And thick darkness its swaddling band;
10 When I fixed My limit for it, And set bars and doors;
11 When I said, ‘This far you may come, but no farther, And here your proud waves must stop!’ (NKJV)
It should be notable that there is immense imagery here. This is not an historical narrative. Job 38 appears to be in reference to some form of heavenly host, singing during creation week being called “morning stars” or as “sons of God” shouting for joy. That is if this interpretation is correct.
Granted, if this is talking of angelic or heavenly beings during Creation Week, then it is obviously prior to sin which occurred later in Genesis 3. So this term is used of holy angels or holy heavenly host at best in this context. In fact, I would not dispute this interpretation, but anytime we interpret something in a psalm or metaphor, we need to be cautious because this interpretation is, after all, how we, as fallible, sinful, human beings, perceive it.
But should this metaphorical interpretation be used to override historical narratives as to their meaning? Therein lies the problem. It would be better to interpret historical narratives with common uses in other historical narratives and not forget about the New Testament that gives us a more complete revelation on interpretations of the Old Testament.
Should Job 1 and 2, the historical portion of Job where the sons of God are mentioned, be interpreted by Job 38:7?
But what of Job 1 and 2? These, unlike the rest of Job are written in the style of historical narrative. Are these mentions of the “sons of God” men or of angels? Was the scene in Job 1 and 2 with the sons of God on earth or in heaven? Let’s take a look at the pertinent passages:
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.
7 And the LORD said to Satan, "From where do you come?" So Satan answered the LORD and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it."
8 Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?"
9 So Satan answered the LORD and said, "Does Job fear God for nothing?
10 "Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.
11 "But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!"
12 And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person." So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (NKJV)
1 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD.
2 And the LORD said to Satan, "From where do you come?" So Satan answered the LORD and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it."
3 Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause."
4 So Satan answered the LORD and said, "Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life.
5 "But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!"
6 And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life."
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. (NKJV)
It is commonly argued that when the sons of God presented themselves to God, that it was in heavenly realms such as “God’s throne room” and hence Satan comes with them to heaven. And at the end, Satan then leaves the presence of the Lord in both cases to strike at Job. Hence, this is used to say the sons of God is in reference to angels, not men, by saying that men have no access to go to heaven and present themselves to God.
But notice the big picture here. The metaphorical nature of Job 38:7’s understanding of the sons of God is being used to reinterpret the historical accounts in Job 1 and 2’s use of the sons of God. There are obviously some biblical problems with this. Many commentators have noted there are problems with this as they try to understand Job 1 and 2 in light of the sons of God being angels (more on this in a moment).
When one insists that this has to be a heavenly scene to present oneself to God, it limits the God of the Bible to one place (e.g., it diminishes His omnipresence.). This is a subtle attack on the God of Scripture, to whom one can present themselves to God virtually anywhere without having to “go to heaven” and stand before the throne like a commoner to a king in the physical world.
Also, adhering to Scripture interpreting Scripture, how is the phrase “presence of the Lord” used elsewhere in the Old Testament?
Genesis 3:8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (NKJV)
Genesis 4:16 Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden. (NKJV)
Genesis 27:7 ‘Bring me game and make savory food for me, that I may eat it and bless you in the presence of the LORD before my death.’ (NKJV)
Judges 18:6 And the priest said to them, "Go in peace. The presence of the LORD be with you on your way." (NKJV)
Psalms 97:5 The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the LORD, At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. (NKJV)
Psalms 114:7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, At the presence of the God of Jacob, (NKJV)
Jeremiah 4:26 I beheld, and indeed the fruitful land was a wilderness, And all its cities were broken down At the presence of the LORD, By His fierce anger. (NKJV)
Jonah 1:3 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. (NKJV)
Jonah 1:10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, "Why have you done this?" For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. (NKJV)
Zephaniah 1:7 Be silent in the presence of the Lord GOD; For the day of the LORD is at hand, For the LORD has prepared a sacrifice; He has invited His guests. (NKJV)
Haggai 1:12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him; and the people feared the presence of the LORD. (NKJV)
Regarding these passages, not one of these is sitting in the throne room of God in Heaven, but most are strictly on earth such as in the Garden of Eden or Cain being exiled form where others were living after sin. Even Jacob’s home seemed to be in the presence of the Lord and Jonah attempted to flee from God’s presence on earth! In Judges, the priest even claimed the presence of the Lord could go with someone. So, one needs to be extra careful here in being adamant that this is a heavenly scene. There are other places that have angels in heaven say so (Genesis 28:12, Revelation (numerous places), John 1:51, etc.).
Angels need not go to heaven to present themselves to God in light of Jesus statement in Matthew 18:10 that says that while watching over people on earth their angels can also see God in heaven: “…for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (NASB).
So, there is no reason to assume that that the scenes in Job 1 and 2 with the sons of God are anywhere other than on earth. According to Scripture, people could freely present themselves to God per other Scriptures where godly people indeed presented themselves before God. In fact, you can present yourself to God right now!
This makes sense in light of the context as well. Why would Satan join the sons of God? I suggest it was for the same reason he joined Joshua the High Priest who presented himself before the Lord in Zechariah 3 (2 Corinthians 2:11). Or the same reason he stood against Israel in 1 Chronicles 21:1. Or the same reason he went after Peter in Luke 22:31. Satan came to oppose, accuse, and destroy.
In the same way he tried to oppose Joshua, Satan came to oppose the sons of God when they presented themselves before God in Job 1 and 2. Satan didn’t need to counter the ungodly, he already had them “in his grip.” But the godly, that is who he wanted accuse, which is Satan’s nature (adversary, father of lies).
This becomes clear in the context when God calls out Satan as to where he’s been and why hasn’t he tried to oppose Job. Satan pointed out that God had a hedge around him, obviously unlike these sons of God that he came to resist. God allowed Satan a certain access to him now. But Satan’s antics still failed as Job worshiped God and did no wrong and charged God with no wrong doing (Job 1:20-22).
This is why Satan left him and wandered again to and fro (still on the earth) waiting for someone else to oppose. This is why we find him again coming to oppose the sons of God – the godly people in Job 2. And again God asked if considered opposing Job, which leads into the rest of the book. There is no need to appeal to a heavenly scene.
Furthermore, Satan need not attend heaven to speak with God as proved by Zechariah 3:1-2. But with all this, it would then call into question the interpretation of sons of God in Job 1 and 2 as angels as well. But how can Satan enter into heaven, the highest heaven or “abode of God” anyway? How is Satan able to freely come and go to heaven which seems easily refuted by Revelation 21:27 where nothing impure will ever enter into heaven. Satan is least of all, pure. However, one could argue that this is referring to the new heavens and new earth that is yet to come, implying Jesus has not yet started on it.
John 14:2-3 "In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
But also there are other Scriptures that that yield Satan’s punishment as a limitation from being allowed into heaven such as “cast out of the mountain of God (Ezekiel 28:15-17)”, “cut down to the ground (Isaiah 14:12)”, and “cast to the earth and his angels were cast out with him (Revelation 12:9)”. The last I knew, being “cast of someplace” was not a license to come and go as one pleases.
But notice what is happening here. People are taking an interpretive guess at Job 38 as the absolute and forcing this interpretation on historical narrative accounts in Job 1, Job 2, and as well as Genesis 6. And it is without warrant.
Are popular classic commentaries in agreement with the sons of God in Job 1 and 2 being angels?
Commentators even struggled over this in Job 1 and 2. Some had angels and other had men, though more went the errant route of angels due to Job 38:7 (using metaphors to interpret literal history). Leading Baptist commentary Dr. John Gill was even torn over it.
Dr. Gill was split on the on the sons of God in Job 1-2. In Job 1, he points out this is generally thought of as angels but in Job 2 he says of them: “When good men, professors of religion, met together by agreement to worship the Lord;”
Dr. Gill clarifies on his position about where this event takes place and this is significant: “and it points at the place of Satan’s abode, the earth, with the circumambient air, #Eph 2:2 and the extent of his influence, which reaches not to heaven, and to the saints there, out of which he is cast, and can never reenter, but to the earth only, and men on it;”
Right now, I can present myself to God, but that doesn’t mean I’m in heaven! Priests often presented things before the Lord, but they were not in heaven (e.g., Ezekiel 43:24, etc.) If two Christians meet together to present themselves to the Lord (Galatians 3:26) we can rightly say that “the sons of God presented themselves to the Lord.” And this would not be a heavenly scene.
Adam Clarke says in his commentary notes on Job 1:6:
Verse 6. There was a day when the sons of God] All the versions, and indeed all the critics, are puzzled with the phrase sons of God; בני האלהים beney haelohim, literally, sons of the God, or sons of the gods. The Vulgate has simply filii dei, sons of God. The Septuagint, οι αγγελοι του θεου, the angels of God. The Chaldee, כתי מלאכיא kittey malachaiya, troops of angels. The Syriac retains the Hebrew words and letters, only leaving out the demonstrative ה he in the word האלהים haelohim, thus, [Syriac] baney Elohim. The Arabic nearly copies the Hebrew also, [Arabic] banoa Iloheem; to which, if we give not the literal translation of the Hebrew, we may give what translation we please.
Coverdale (1535) translates it, servauntes of God. The Targum supposes that this assembly took place on the day of the great atonement, which occurred once each year. And there was a day of judgment in the beginning of the year; and the troops of angels came, that they might stand in judgment before the Lord. But what are we to make of this whole account? Expositions are endless.
That of Mr. Peters appears to me to be at once the most simple and the most judicious: "The Scripture speaks of God after the manner of men, for there is a necessity of condescending to our capacities, and of suiting the revelation to our apprehension. As kings, therefore, transact their most important affairs in a solemn council or assembly, so God is pleased to represent himself as having his council likewise; and as passing the decrees of his providence in an assembly of his holy angels. We have here, in the case of Job, the same grand assembly held, as was before in that of Ahab, #1Ki 22:6-23; the same host of heaven, called here the sons of God, presenting themselves before Jehovah, as in the vision of Micaiah they are said to stand on his right hand and on his left. A wicked spirit appearing among them, here called Satan or the adversary, and there a lying spirit; both bent on mischief, and ready to do all the hurt they were permitted to do; for both were under the control of his power. The imagery is just the same; and the only difference is in the manner of the relation. That mentioned above, Micaiah, as a prophet, and in the actual exercise of his prophetic office, delivers, as he received it, in a vision. I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the HOST of HEAVEN standing by him, on his right hand and on his left, and there came forth a LYING SPIRIT, and stood BEFORE the Lord, and said, #1Ki 22:19-22. The other, as a historian, interweaves it with his history; and tells us, in his plain narrative style, There was a day when the sons of God came to PRESENT themselves BEFORE the Lord, and SATAN came also among them. And this he delivers in the same manner as he does, There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job.
Matthew Henry states:
Satan among the sons of God (#Job 1:6), an adversary (so Satan signifies) to God, to men, to all good: he thrust himself into an assembly of the sons of God that came to present themselves before the Lord. This means either,
1. A meeting of the saints on earth. Professors of religion, in the patriarchal age, were called sons of God (#Ge 6:2); they had then religious assemblies and stated times for them. The King came in to see his guests; the eye of God was on all present. But there was a serpent in paradise, a Satan among the sons of God; when they come together he is among them, to distract and disturb them, stands at their right hand to resist them. The Lord rebuke thee, Satan! Or,
2. A meeting of the angels in heaven. They are the sons of God, #Job 38:7. They came to give an account of their negociations on earth and to receive new instructions. Satan was one of them originally; but how hast thou fallen, O Lucifer! He shall no more stand in that congregation, yet he is here represented, as coming among them, either summoned to appear as a criminal or connived at, for the present, though an intruder.
Even Charles Spurgeon was split on some of these points. He had angels as the sons of God, but the scene was definitely not in heaven “Into heaven? Oh, no! The presence of God is very widespread, and there was no need to admit the evil spirit again into heaven in order that he might be present before God. ”
We could go on and on about commentaries. But at the very least, if one is not certain if the historical narratives of the sons of God in Job 1 and 2 should follow the metaphorical nature of Job 38, then how can one profess to know the exact meaning of historical narrative of Genesis 6:2 which is much farther removed from Job 38:7? Why must the sons of God in Genesis 6 follow the metaphorical nature of Job 38? This is illogical.
It is good to interpret Scripture with Scripture but it best be done properly for even Satan used the Word of God to make an interpretation in the historical situation between he and Christ, but incorrectly (Matthew 4:6). Did you realize that Satan tried to use a metaphorical understanding of a psalm and his understanding of it to try to interpret Jesus’s historical situation that He was in? This was the very tactic that Satan used to attack the Lord Jesus. Take note that Satan quoted from a Psalm (91:11-12) to refute Christ using Deuteronomy [which discussed a historical situation about hunger (which Christ was fasting and hungry) regarding the Israelites and the manna God provided for them.]
Christ used a passage that teaches the correct theology about His current situation built an historical account. Satan counters by trying to reinterpret the situation by taking a Psalm of metaphorical nature to supersede the interpretation that Christ used which was not of metaphorical nature. Of course, Christ saw through this and re-quoted from Deuteronomy again. We need to have extra care when someone uses a song/allegory/metaphor/ etc. to reinterpret historical narratives, because that is exactly what Satan did to confuse the situation.
Do Psalms and Job have their place? Absolutely, but not as a means of taking metaphors as the absolute over literal historical narratives.
Furthermore, if we assume that sons of God in Job 1, 2 and 38 are all in reference to holy angels, and then the proper thing to do is interpret sons of God in Genesis 6 as holy angels as well, not fallen angels. So good godly angels were wrongly marrying and wrongly taking women for their own pleasure? This doesn’t make sense and is reduced to absurdity.
As we’ve seen there is no need to take metaphors and make them the definitive interpretive means to interpret literal historical narratives.
 If you would like to see this from their own words please watch their presentations on reinterpreting Genesis at the Fullerton debate, entitled: A Question of Age: Conference on Creation, the Bible and Science. http://www.answersingenesis.org/PublicStore/product/A-Question-of-Age-Conference-on-Creation-the-Bible-and-Science,5633,229.aspx
 Why would Satan come to oppose godly angels who have not sinned? This makes no sense. God knows when angels sin and their punishment befalls like it did Satan (e.g., Ezekiel 28:15-17).
 See John Gill Commentary Notes on Job 1:6.
 See John Gill Commentary Notes on Job 2:1.
 See John Gill Commentary Notes on Job 1:7
 See Adam Clarke Commentary Notes on Job 1:6.
 See Matthew Henry Notes on Job 1:6.
 “Angels and all kinds of intelligent spirits had, as it were, a special, solemn, general assembly, — a great field day, or levee. Perhaps, in stars far remote, in various parts of the universe, there was celebrated that day a high festival of honor unto Jehovah, but since sin has come into the world, since even among the twelve apostles there was a Judas, so in every assembly, even though it be an assembly of the sons of God, there is sure to be a devil: “Satan came also among them.” If he is not anywhere else, he is sure to be where the sons of God are gathered together. Yet what impudence this is on his part, that he dares to come even into the assemblies of the saints! And what hardness of heart he must have, for he comes in as a devil, and he goes out as a devil! The sons of God offer their spiritual prayers inspired by the Holy Ghost, but the devil offers diabolical petitions suggested by his own malice.” Job’s Resignation, No. 2457-42:133. A Sermon Intended For Reading On Sunday, March 22, 1896, Delivered On Thursday Evening, March 11, 1886, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
 God’s Firebrands, No. 3233-57:25. Delivered By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, A Sermon Published On Thursday, January 19, 1911.