Recently, I was reading 2 Kings 3, and it contains an extraordinary line regarding the revolt of Moab against the northern kingdom of Israel. Israel was victorious in the main battle, but at the city or Kir Haraseth, the Moabite king did something desperate to survive:
When the king of Moab saw that the battle had gone against him, he took with him seven hundred swordsmen to break through to the king of Edom, but they failed. Then he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall. The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land. (2 Kings 3:26-27)
Wait, what? Is this biblical evidence that a human sacrifice, something that God detests (Lev. 20:3), was successful? Did the Moabite god Chemosh actually respond to this? What is additionally remarkable about this passage is that the events recorded here find some attestation in an extrabiblical source, something relatively rare for Old Testament studies. This source is called the Moabite Stone, and it gives details that the Bible does not give. The stone records the revolt of Moab and the nation’s success in remaining independent, though it does not record their defeat in the battle in 2 Kings. Also, the stone credits Chemosh for their success. (Read more about the stone here.)
On the one hand, it seems positively absurd to ask if the Bible confirms the existence of other gods. The Scriptures are uniform in their insistence that there is only one God (Deut. 6), which is why worship is reserved for Yahweh alone. Furthermore, there are passages in which it seems like the gods of other nations were completely fake, such as 1 Kings 18 where Elijah taunts the prophets of Baal for Baal’s unresponsiveness. On the other hand, there are surprising passages where there seems to be supernatural powers who are resisting God, such as when a “prince of Persia” stalled the coming of God’s angle to Daniel until Michael showed up (Daniel 10). In addition, the Egyptian magicians seemed to have some limited success in mimicking a few of Moses’ miracles.
One true God does not preclude the existence of other spiritual beings
I do not doubt that many, if not most, of the gods worshiped by other nations outside of Israel were simply fake, being nothing more than wood or stone. However, I think the Bible is not shy about affirming the existence of other supernatural beings, some of whom are in rebellion against God. It is not a subject that is often talked about in the Bible, and it sounds downright kooky to talk about it nowadays, but that seems to be what Scripture confirms. In the Old Testament, they are given the general description “gods.” In the New Testament, they are more specifically referred to as demons, chief of which is obviously Satan who has some cameos in the Old Testament as well.
The existence and power of demons is probably easier to see in the New Testament, Not only does Jesus drive out several demons and have a conversation with Satan, these evil powers are continually referenced in warnings such as in 1 Peter 5 and in 1 John. Furthermore, Paul makes clear who the “true” enemies are for Christians:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph. 6:10-12).
The reason that a metaphorical spiritual armor is needed is because the spiritual forces are anything but metaphorical. Physical armor will not do against such a foe: Only the power of God can protect against and defeat an enemy like this.
This is not dualism in the sense that evil and good are equally balanced. God is the one true God in the sense that he alone is the Creator, the Eternal One, and the Alpha and Omega. However, while we know very little about this, it is clear that God created other beings besides humans and that these beings possess abilities that us modern people would dub “supernatural.” Some remain aligned with God, such as the only two named angels Gabriel and Michael, while others are clearly in rebellion just as many humans are. In this sense, we can say that there are absolutely other “gods” in the Bible, insofar as we are careful to define our terms.
C.S. Lewis, in his introduction to The Screwtape Letters, notes that there are two equal and opposite errors when it comes to demons. One is to completely ignore or disbelieve in their existence, but the other is to be too preoccupied with them. Given how little the Bible bothers to tell us about such beings, it is not healthy to focus too much on them. If you trip over a rock, a demon probably didn’t push you. Similarly, if you get sick, there is no reason to jump to the conclusion that demons are doing something to you. Such viewpoints lead to paranoia and actually detract from the attention we should be paying to Jesus.
However, since the Bible takes the issue of demons very seriously, we should also. We should be on guard, not so much that we sprinkle “holy water” in our closets before we go to bed but that we are continually in the Word and in prayer, walking with God in our daily lives. We should be aware that there are spiritual powers of darkness that will try to tempt us into sin and throw roadblocks in our way. The answer is that we should be looking to protect our spiritual lives first and foremost, making our walk with Christ the utmost priority. The fact that our ultimate enemies are spiritual in nature and very powerful should lead us to seek spiritual protection from the Holy Spirit, and it should alert us to the sober fact that we have no chance to fight such battles alone. We can erect physical walls, security systems, locks, etc. against physical enemies, but this enemy is beyond our scope. It is not for us to inquire too much about the nature of such beings and their specific activities, but it is enough for us to know that they exist, they are active, and that only in Christ can we hope to withstand them.