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The seraphim of Isa 6 are best understood as serpentine, divine throne guardians.2 The message to Israelite readers of the day: Yahweh is on the throne, ruling Egypt and every other nation, not Ra or Pharaoh. Isaiah uses these guardians of Egypt’s Pharaoh (who was hailed as a god) to demonstrate the supremacy of Israel’s God. The seraphim work for the Lord of hosts, and so appealing to Egypt is a waste of time (Isa 30:6). Anything Egypt has to offer, God already controls. Anything the powers of this world have to offer, the Lord already rules. As Jesus said to Pilate just before He was sentenced to death: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11 esv). So don’t waste your time appealing to the powers of here and now.

The leading authority on Israelite iconography in its ancient Near Eastern context is Othmar Keel. See his book, co-authored with Christoph Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in Ancient Israel (translated by Thomas H. Trapp; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), pgs. 270–77.

1

Philippe Provençal, “Regarding the Noun ‫ ׂשרף‬in the Hebrew Bible,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament (2005): 371–79.

2

Seal with an Israelite name and a four-winged serpent. Paleo-Hebrew inscription reads: yhmlyhw [bn] msyhw (Yahmelyahwu son of Mesyahwu). Artistic rendering based upon Keel and Uehlinger’s rendering (image 274b on pg. 275; inscription on pg. 273).1

Get the Context of Scripture at Logos.com/COS Pick up the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible at Logos.com/DDD Jacob P. Massine specializes in ancient languages and English literature. He is a columnist for Bible Study Magazine.

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