territorial spirits

Do Angels and Demons Have Assigned Territories?

In recent years, the church has seen an increased interest in demonic activity, due in large part to an element within the charismatic movement involved in deliverance ministries.  This preoccupation has given rise to a relatively new theology of “territorial spirits.” That is, demonic beings are thought to exercise control over certain geographical areas, making these areas virtually inaccessible to evangelism and missions. This theology finds its primary support from Daniel 10:10-21. In this passage, a heavenly unnamed spiritual being is depicted as contending with a demonic being known as “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” (v.13, 20). The determinative nature of this passage for adherents to the theology of territorial spirits is emphasized by Priest, Campbell, and Mullen:

“All other passages which advocates of spiritual mapping, and spiritual warfare based on that mapping, have appealed to, are read in the light of this passage as well as in the light of anecdotes, native beliefs and demonic revelations. This passage is crucial. If this passage is discovered not to teach the notion of demonic territoriality — the notion that demonic power is linked to and exercised over territories — then the other passages fail to persuade.”[1]

Needless to say, a theology based solely on one highly disputed text should cause one to view the teaching of territorial spirits with much skepticism.

Daniel 10

In Daniel 10, the reader is introduced to two heavenly beings. The second is identified as the angel Michael, but the identity of the first is not revealed. The first point to be noticed from Daniel 10 is that these angelic beings do not rule over geographical regions, but rather watch over the people of God. For example, Michael is descried in Daniel 12:1 as “the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people.” This underscores Michael’s protective role toward the people of Israel rather than a geographical territory.

Given the parallel between Michael and the demonic princes of Persia and Greece (Daniel 10:13, 20-21), it is reasonable to conclude that these demonic “princes” are over the people of Persia and Greece, and its rulers in particular, who oppose God’s will for Israel, rather than their geographical boundaries. The concept of territorial spirits is rooted in the cultures of the pagan nations which surrounded Israel (1 Kings 20:23, 28).

It is also plain from Daniel 10:13 that the angelic messenger sent to Daniel was not delayed for twenty-one days by some sort of inability to overcome his demonic foe. Rather, he was delayed because he chose to remain and exercise his superior strength in order to prevent the prince of Persia from influencing the Persian government from enacting some sort of persecution against the nation of Israel. It is clear from the context that the issue was political and ethnic, not territorial. In chapter nine, Daniel recognized that the time for Israel’s exile was drawing to a close, so he began praying for its restoration to the Promised Land.

The political authorities, however, influenced by the demonic enemies of Israel, opposed God’s plan for the nation. In all probability, this opposition took the form of rescinding permission to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and its protective walls and gate (Ezra 4; Nehemiah 4-6; Haggai 1-2). One of Satan’s fundamental strategies is deception, both on an individual level (2 Corinthians 11:3, 14), and a national level (Revelation 20:3, 8). Thus, it is quite rational to conclude that the primary goal of the demonic princes of Persia and Greece was the deception of these nation’s political and social structures rather than their geographical boundaries.

A second point to be noticed is that there is a substantial difference between Daniel’s prayer and what advocates of “territorial spirits” refer to as “strategic level intercession” whereby one seeks the names of the demonic powers, their plans and functions, and employs their names in his prayer — a practice which has more in common with the occult than biblical Christianity (Deuteronomy 18:9-14; 1 Samuel 28:6-7).

In fact, there is no indication in the text that Daniel was even aware of the spiritual battle being waged during his three week session of praying and fasting. It was only after the fact that Daniel received any information regarding the struggle that had been taking place and the identity of the combatants. Even then, the only proper name that is given to Daniel is the angel Michael’s. As far as names are concerned, from a biblical perspective it would seem that the only significant names are the angelic.

For demons, generic names are quite sufficient. Also, the information which was given to Daniel was delivered by means of direct supernatural revelation, not through anecdotal or experiential accounts, extraordinary spiritual gifts, or super-spiritual insight. Daniel was not attempting to cast out or pray against any demonic forces, much less territorial ones. God never instructs believers to pray concerning spiritual demons.

God Is Sovereign

The notion that a demon can exercise control over a geographical region, or that demons can establish a spiritual “strong-hold” over an area of the globe, undermines the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty and flatly contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture (Psalm 24:1; 47:7; 97:9; 135:6). Daniel’s prayer was not focused on the cosmic warfare which he knew nothing about, but on the promises of God (Daniel 9:2-4; 10:12; cf. Jeremiah 25:11; 29:10) and their imminent fulfillment.

Unfortunately, it is a tendency of the spiritual warfare theology to overlook the sovereignty of God in His use of the demonic realm. The Bible is replete with stories where God used the demonic realm to accomplish His purposes. Whether it was for the purpose of chastisement as with King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14), the incestuous member of the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 5:3-5), or to bring about God’s greatest expression of love to mankind, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus through the betrayal of a demonically-possessed Judas (John 13:27; Luke 22:53), God is sovereign over the forces of darkness.  How is one to know if the demonic forces they are opposing are not being used by God to accomplish His will? Perhaps this is why even angels are unwilling to pronounce judgment upon demons (Jude 9).

Rather than getting side-tracked with attempts to identify and cast out demons, believers should be engaged in putting on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17) and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, all the while trusting in the sovereignty of God to work through His Word to bring all His elect to salvation. To do otherwise may put one in the position of acting against God and sowing seeds of confusion within the church, something that the forces of Satan delight in doing.

[1] Robert J. Priest, Thomas Campbell, and Bradford A. Mullen, “Missiological Syncretism: The New Animistic Paradigm,” in Spiritual Power and Missions: Raising the Issues, ed. Edward Rommen (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1995), 23. (Emphasis added)

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