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4-2-2 Case Study: Resheph

I now want to bring together much of what I've been saying by considering a widely believed in demon called Resheph. He is mentioned by name in documents found in such widely separated places as Mari, Ugarit, Egypt, Cyprus and Carthage. This indicates the popularity of belief in him amongst Israel’s neighbours - neighbours who constantly tempted Israel to accept their beliefs, hence God’s allusion to Resheph in the prophets. He was thought to be responsible for plague and violent death. A dictionary defines him as: “Probably a War God. Lord of the Arrow. Has gazelle horns on his helmet. He destroys men in mass by war and plague. He is the porter of the sun Goddess Shepesh (this seems to resemble Khamael of the Hebrews). He is also called Mekal (Annihilator), and could be related to the Hebrew Michael (Mikal) who is also a War God (ArchAngel)”. He was thus set up as the pagan demonic equivalent to Michael, the Angel that stood for Israel (Dan. 12:1). This demon was widely believed in throughout the nations surrounding Israel (1). So common was this belief that we might expect a specific denunciation of his existence from Yahweh. But not so. We read of Resheph in the Hebrew text of the Bible; and always Yahweh is demonstrating that what Resheph is supposed to do, actually He is responsible for. The miracles of plague and destruction wrought by Yahweh at the Exodus would have been attributable by the surrounding nations to the demon Resheph; in their eyes, such things were exactly his calling card. But the Biblical record is at pains to emphasize that the nations were brought to realize that Yahweh God of Israel had done these things, they came to fear His Name – and thereby Resheph was shown to be non-existent and powerless. Commenting on the Exodus miracles, Habbakuk 3:5 describes how “before him (Yahweh manifest in the Exodus Angel) went the pestilence, and Resheph (AV “burning coals”) went forth at his feet”. To be at someone’s feet is a Biblical idiom for humiliation and destruction. Israel were being taught that at the Exodus, the credibility of Resheph’s existence had been destroyed; the things (e.g. pestilence) he was supposed to do had so evidently been done by Yahweh God of Israel. Notice how in Hab. 3:4 it is God, as manifest in the Angel Michael who brought Israel out of Egypt, who has “horns” and who was responsible for the mass destruction of Egypt and the Canaanite nations.

The sudden destruction and plague in Egypt would have been thought of first of all as the work of Resheph. But Psalm 78:48-49 comments on this: “He (this is where the emphasis should be) gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to Resheph (AV “hot thunderbolts”). He cast upon them the fierceness of His anger (not that of displeased demons), wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending angels of disaster amongst them”. The idea that Resheph had the power to do these things of his own volition is being utterly ridiculed and exposed as pure fantasy.

The spiritually weak within Israel would have been tempted to believe in the existence of Resheph. The sudden destruction of the Assyrian army outside Jerusalem would have perhaps seemed like the work of Resheph. But Psalm 76:3 comments: “There (on that battlefield, see context) brake he (God) Resheph” (AV “the arrows of the bow”).


(1) See R.K. Harrison, “Demonology” in Merril Tenney, ed., The Zondervan Encyclopedia Of The Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982) Vol. 2 p. 96.