Updated: Jul 29, 2019
The following is the ninth post in a series looking closely at the teachings of Robert Henderson found in his book Operating in the Courts of Heaven. I first suggest some theological questions that require answers before the teaching is embraced whole-heartedly, then evaluate the biblical passages used to back-up the teaching.
The heavenly books
Henderson uses Daniel 7:10; Psalms 139:16; Hebrews 10:5-7, cf. Psalms 40:6-8; Revelation 10:8-11; and again Psalms 40:6-8; Romans 8:29-30 to justify the existence of heavenly books. He states that Dan 7:10 teaches us that understanding these books is foundational to an understanding of the courtrooms of heaven; Psalms 139:16 tells us that these books contain the destinies and kingdom purpose for our lives; Revelation 10:8-11 the same but adds nations have destinies written down as well; and Hebrews 10:5-7 tells us of Jesus’ heavenly book and something about what is written there.
I will look at each of these claims in order, both to see if the text justifies the existence of a literal heavenly book, and if merely metaphorical in nature, what the contents of that book would be.
Daniel 7:10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.
This is the wrong genre of literature to confidently assert the existence of a literal heavenly book. It is apocalyptic literature like that found in Revelation, which is filled with symbolic and metaphorical imagery.
The contents of the books do not seem to fit Henderson’s model either. Rather than containing God’s kingdom purposes for individuals, etc., it seem more likely it is a record to aid in a judgement. In any case, the contents of the books is not spelled out. Which is far from what one desires from a foundational text said to justify the courtrooms model. See also this verse in Heaven’s council.
Psalms 139:16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
This scripture speaks in awe-inspired tones of the wonder of God’s knowledge and creative genius. As a psalm (song or prayer) of David, this is written for the choirmaster to sing. It is a genre of writing that is by nature lyrical and poetic, and therefore, once again, not the kind of literature to aid the confident assertion of the existence of a literal heavenly book. Psalm 56:8 is by the same author and likewise uses the imagery of a book, a record or a scroll. You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?
Is God literally putting tears in a bottle too? And then recoding them in a book? Is he tallying your hours of sleeplessness in a ledger? No. This is poetic imagery, not for taking literally or spiritualising, but to explain in vivid and colourful terms the meaning of the Psalmist; in this case, the inexhaustible nature of God’s knowledge even down to minutiae of human suffering.
Psalms 40:6-8 6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire— but my ears you have opened— burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. 7 Then I said, “Here I am, I have come— it is written about me in the scroll. 8 I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”
Hebrews 10:5-7 5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. 7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’”
The nature and location of this scroll will naturally be determined by an examination of the context, and chiefly, the person whose speech this.
Reading the Psalm without the benefit of the Hebrews interpretation, the person speaking here would be the blessed one of the previous verse who; trusts in the Lord (v4), is awestruck with an incomparable God and of his wondrous and innumerable plans and deeds (v5), knows that the Lord does not desire or require burnt offerings as atonement for sin, but rather desires our obedience (v6), and who has, as a result, come to desire to do his will (v7).
From the description, and the very nature of the case being a psalm of David, we would do well to think that the speaker is David himself. This would support either the scroll being a coronation decree (Psalms 2:7; cf. 110:1) or, as most interpreters hold, that the scroll is the law of Moses with decrees that are binding upon him personally. The young king Josiah viewed his discovery of the law in a similar way. He saw that though it was not written to them personally, it was written about or for them (2 Kings 22:13). Just as an American might view a discovery of the constitution on his grandfather’s bookshelf.
In addition, the psalm is intended to be sung by others, for it is written for the Director of Music (v1). The “I” this verse refers to is, therefore, any person who is singing the song. Like someone singing the song Majesty by Delirious, though Martin Smith originally penned the words, “Here I am, humbled by your majesty…”, the intended “I” is meant to be whoever is singing those words. In doing so the singer identifies himself with the aforementioned attributes.
The author of Hebrews adds an extra dimension to these verses. He sees this psalm as prophetically pointing to Christ. With the words of the psalm placed in the mouth of Christ, all the attributes of the author’s voice become his. It is Christ saying “Here I am…”, and so his coming becomes a messianic fulfilment. In so saying, he is offering his body as a sacrifice that both fulfils and replaces the ancient sacrificial system. We can now understand that these verses refer to the obedient servant of the whole psalm, who with his death and subsequent resurrection announces the old sin-offerings are to be done away with, his sacrifice being sufficient to cover all sin (Hebrews 10:1-18).
In this prophetic context, the scroll of Psalm 40:7 is all the law and the prophets that testify of the Messiah. Agreeing closely with the Lord’s assertion, ‘Moses wrote of me’ (John 5:46; cf. Luke 24:27).
The conclusion is this: Hebrews 10:5-7 and Psalms 40:6-8 together or apart do not justify the existence of the heavenly books of the Courtroom model, and the scroll referred to there is inspired scripture.
Revelation 10:8-11 8 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: “Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 9 So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’” 10 I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. 11 Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.”
Just as for Daniel 7, this is the wrong genre of literature to provide one with any confidence of the existence of literal heavenly books. Revelation is full of symbolic language, thus any imagery found there could well signify some other meaning.
The first thing you will notice about the scroll in this passage is that it is eaten. It may be reasonable to assume that the content of the scroll described the prophetic density of “many peoples, nations, languages and kings” (v. 11) which is outlined in the next few chapters of Revelation. That interpretation is however pressing the text a little too far, for the connection is tenuous. The imagery echoes Ezekiel 3:3 and Jeremiah 15:16, where words and scrolls are likewise eaten, symbolising living according the words of God. The difference here in Revelation is the scroll is not only sweet but also bitter; suggesting the price of being a disciple will involve struggles.
Even so, we are not from this text justified in thinking there exists other undigested scrolls. Neither are we sound in the conclusion that the content of this scroll represents the prophetic destiny of nations.
Romans 8:29-30 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
The reality of being called and predestined does not entail the existence of literal heavenly books in which these destinies are written. Neither does it say anything about such content being written down anywhere. See The five stage process for further discussion on this passage.
In “The Courtroom on Trial?” series of posts, some theological problems with the Courtroom model of intercessory prayer are discussed. These include;
- Is the nature of the Courts of Heaven obscured by the limitations of human language?
- Does the courtroom model suggest God is not the ultimate?
- Does the courtroom model suggest either God is not all-knowing or heaven is imperfect?
- Does the courtroom model suggest Christ’s atoning death on the cross was inadequate?
- Does the courtroom model suggest a theology of works?
- Does Operating in the Courts of Heaven imply a theological method that prioritises personal experiences over biblical revelation?
Following these the exegetical problems are discussed. These include;
- The persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8)
- The heavenly books
- Heaven’s council
- The five stage process (Romans 8:29-30)
- Simon Peter’s courtroom trial (Luke 22:31-32)
Finally, I provide my own conclusion and recommendations.