GOD, CHILDREN OF ("bene ha-Elohim," perhaps= "sons of the gods"):
By: Emil G. Hirsch
The "sons of God" are mentioned in Genesis, in a chapter (vi. 2) which reflects preprophetic, mythological, and polytheistic conceptions. They are represented as taking, at their fancy, wives from among the daughters of men. For the interpretations given to this statement see Fall of Angels, and
The Israelites are addressed as "the children of the Lord your God" (Deut. xiv. 1). When Israel was young, he was called from Egypt to be God's son (Hosea xi. 1). The Israelites are designated also "the children of the living God" (ib. ii. 1 [R.V. i. 10]; comp. Jer. iii. 4). They are addressed as "backsliding children" (Jer. iii. 14) that might and should call God their father (ib. iii. 19). Deut. xxxii. 5, though the text is corrupt, seems to indicate that through perverseness Israel has forfeited this privilege. Isaiah, also, apostrophizes the Israelites as "children [of God] that are corrupters," though God has reared them (Isa. i. 4). As a man chastises his son, so does God chastise Israel (Deut. viii. 5); and like a father pities his children, so does God show pity (see Compassion).
The critical school refers this conception to the notion commonly obtaining among primitive races, that tribes and families as well as peoples are descended from gods regarded by them as their physical progenitors; community of worship indicating community of origin, or adoption into the clan believed to be directly descended from the tutelary god through the blood covenant. Hence the reproach, "Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast begotten me" (Jer. ii. 27). Even in Deutero-Isaiah (li. 2) this notion is said to prevail ("Look unto Abraham your father," in correspondence with verse 1: "the rock whence ye are hewn").
That this view was deepened and spiritualized to signify a much sublimer relation between the gods and their physical descendants than that which the old Semitic conception assumed, the following passages demonstrate: "Surely they are my people, children that will not lie" (Isa. lxiii. 8). "In all their affliction he was afflicted" (ib. verse 9). "Thou art our father, for Abraham knows us not" (ib. verse 16, Hebr.). "Thou art our father; we are the clay" (ib. lxiv. 8). "Have we not all one father?" (Mal. ii. 10).
The relation of God to the individual man is also regarded as that of a parent to his child. "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but
Israel as the "first-fruits" () is the "bekor," or first-born, in the household of God's children (Jer. ii. 3; Ex. iv. 22). In the interpretation of the modern Synagogue this means that Israel shall be an exemplar unto all the other children of God (see Lazarus, "Der Prophet Jeremias," pp. 31, 32). According to the teachings of Judaism, as expounded in the Catechisms, every man is God's child, and, therefore, the brother of every other man. Mal. ii. 10 is applied in this sense, though the prophet's appeal was addressed solely to the warring brothers of the house of Israel. In this, modern Judaism merely adopts the teachings of the Apocrypha and of the Rabbis. See Ecclus. (Sirach) xxiii. 1, 4; li. 10; Wisdom ii. 13, 16, 18; xiv. 3 (comp. xviii. 13; III Macc. v. 7; Jubilees, i. 24); Job xiii. 4; Enoch lxii. 11; Psalms of Solomon, xvii. 30; Sifre, Deut. 48 (ed. Friedmann, 84b); Ab. iii. 14; R. H. iii. 8; Yer. Ma'as. 50c; Sifra (ed. Weiss), 93d; Midr. Teh. xii. 5 (comp. Bacher, "Ag. Tan." ii. 437). See Son of God.
- Dalman, Die Worte Jesu, pp. 150 et seq., Leipsic, 1898;
- Taylor, The Sayings of the Fathers, to Ab. iii. 14;
- Schreiner, in Jahrbuch, 1899, pp. 61-62;
- idem, Die Jüngsten Urteile, etc., in Jahrbuch, 1902, pp. 21, 22;
- Perles, Bousset's Religion des Judentums, pp. 127 et seq., Berlin, 1903.