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“and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed.” ‭‭2 Kings‬ ‭19:18‬ ‭

Is the passage saying that there are no other gods? Some use this verse to deny the existence of other deities

Or is the passage saying that the gods that were burned up were in fact idols and weren’t really gods, if they would have been gods, humans would not have been able to destroy them like they did?

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The verse literally refers to idols, which indeed are "not gods." In isolation the verse does not teach that there are no other gods in the spiritual realm. However in context it seems to represent a transitional movement in Israelite religion. In the earlier "Yahweh-only" movement, the prophets emphasized that "other gods" must not be worshiped by Israel, even though they might exist. But here, the chapter shows the influence of the prophet Isaiah on the king of Judah (19:2), and the teaching goes beyond a teaching not to worship other gods to affirm a true monotheism. A few lines later, as King Hezekiah implores God to save his nation from the Assyrian enemy, he says:

"So now, O Lord our God, save us, I beseech thee, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou, O Lord, art God alone.” (Is. 19:19)

Here, God is the only God, universally. But other passages show what is probably an earlier attitude in which Israel's deity is more powerful. For example Psalm 86:8 states: "There is none like you among the gods, O Lord..."

Deuteronomy 32 says:

Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you. When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. For the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.

This passage invokes an earlier time when Yahweh is given a "portion" of people: Jacob/Israel. However, other people belong to other deities. It even appears that the Most High (ʿelyôn) here is the Supreme deity while Yahweh is one of the ben-elohim - the "sons of [the]God/s" who each received a portion of the human population.

Psalms 82 also speaks of the God of Israel [elohim] was one among many gods, rather than the only God.

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment... I say, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince.”

Here, the old gods are dying out, so to speak, and Israel's God has become dominant. The passage from Deut. 32 refers to an earlier time, when it was elyon who was the highest deity, and yahweh received an apportionment from him. (Understand that this is not my understanding of what actually happened, only of how I see the Israelite religion progressing from a belief that Elyon was the highest deity to a belief that Yaweh was supreme but not the only God, etc.)

The general attitude prior to Isaiah's ministry seems to have been that while other nations have their deities, Israel must worship only the God of Israel. The commandment was "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt... you shall have no other gods before Me," (Ex. 20) not "I am the universal God for all nations, and no other gods exist." But in 1 Kings 19 we see that God is indeed to be recognized as the sole deity for all people.

So it seems that Isaiah's ministry in 2 Kings 19 represents a transitional phase from henotheism (Yahweh is Israel's only God) to monotheism (Yahweh is THE only God).

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  • your observation (Last sentence) has inspired my deep thinking and after much thoughts, there is still some room to discuss about. I would think if this was a true transitional phase in Isaiah's ministry, it should have evidence that Isaiah recognised the Lord is not just Israel's only God, but He is the only God of whole earth. And the evidences of this transition should show before and after 2 Kings 19:19. But I have difficulty to find the evidence. Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 14:18
  • I wish you had kept to answering the question and not imputing your theological perspectives on the broader subject matter, as not only are you insufficiently clear, you’re wrong and are omitting much scripture in place of your current and lacking understanding of the subject Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 14:22
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    God, the God of heaven, the one you are speaking of, in the OT when referred by the name Elohim is not singular, its plural. Elohim is never said to be yachid singular, only echad which is one (in the English) but is used like in English to mean unified, or ‘one’. My suggestion is read up on echad, yachid, in Hebrew and hen and monos in Greek. Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 14:26
  • I'm aware that Elohim is a plural form. I do not agree that this mean it always refers to "deities" rather than one deity, if that is what you imply. Sometime is does sometimes it does IMO. You seem to have an answer to you own question in mind... I'd be interested it seeing it. Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 15:06
  • @VincentWong thanks for your feedback. I can't prove that Isaiah's ministry was THE transitional moment, so I hedged by using the verb "seems" to characterize it. But I do think there's evidence that "other gods" were seen as real earlier. I provided some but apparently not enough. I'll keep researching, maybe add to my answer later. Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 15:10
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There is no question that 2 Kings 19:18 is discussing idol-gods made of wood, stone and metal. The central argument of this passage is simple - if a god can be destroyed by simply throwing it in the fire, then it has no power to save and thus cannot be a god. Isa 37:19, Jer 2:11 have the same message.

However, let there be any doubt, Isaiah then narrows the field further by declaring in several places that concerning the LORD Jehovah:

  • Isa 44:6 - Thus says the LORD, the King and Redeemer of Israel, the LORD of Hosts: “I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God but Me. (see also v7)
  • Isa 45:5, 6 - I am the LORD, and there is no other; there is no God but Me. I will equip you for battle, though you have not known Me, so that all may know, from where the sun rises to where it sets, that there is none but Me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.
  • Isa 45:14 - ... They will confess to you: ‘God is indeed with you, and there is no other; there is no other God.’ ”

Isa 44 describes why other "gods" are not gods at all:

  • no other god is like the LORD (v7, 8)
  • no other god can tell the future (v7)
  • wooden and metal images do not understand or comprehend (v9, 18)
  • false idol-gods cannot save anyone (v17)
  • idol-gods cannot see (v18)
  • idol-gods do not have a mind to understand (v18)
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At the time of [2 Kings 19:18] YHVH יְהֹוָה was associated with the only Elohim not represented by man-made sculptures, unlike the Assyrian's elohim Nisrokh represented by the inanimate wooden artifact from Noah's Ark which inspired King Sennacherib [Rashi on 2 Kings 19:37].

Israel's Elohim YHVH in [2 Kings 19] was represented by either fiery messengers like Malakh YHVH מַלְאַךְ יְהֹוָה in battle [verse 35] or by human prophets like יְשַׁעְיָהוּ Yeshayahu [in verses 20-34] when defending/interacting with Israel's King חִזְקִיָּהוּ Chizkiyahu.

Hezekiah's prayer : "וְעַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ הוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ נָ֖א מִיָּדוֹ וְיֵֽדְעוּ כָּל־מַמְלְכוֹת הָאָ֔רֶץ כִּי אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהִים לְבַדֶּךָ" in [2 Kings 19:19] was simply for God YHVH to prove His Ultimate Authority over all sculpted idols destroyed by King Sennacherib (including Sennacherib's own נִסְרֹ֣ךְ Nisrokh idol).

The miracle of [2 Kings 19:35] validated a belief of חִזְקִיָּהוּ Chizkiyahu that אֱלֹהִים Forces (Malakim/Neviim) representing יְהֹוָה YHVH had ultimate authority to help cause/inspire earthly events.

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