Christianity and Judaism view the role of Satan differently. Judaism views Satan as a fearfully and wonderfully created agent of God whose distinct purpose is to serve Him as an accuser or adversary. He acts as an obstacle in the way of God’s people so they will learn to overcome the hindrance. The Hebrew word satan means an opponent, an adversary. The first usage of the word appears in Numbers 22:22 in the story of Balaam and his donkey. In this story, the angel of the Lord is standing in the road to oppose Balaam.
“Then God’s anger was aroused because he went, and the Angel of the LORD took His stand in the way as an adversary against him. And he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him.” Numbers 22:22
The word, adversary in the above passage would read satan in the Hebrew. Another passage that references Satan is found in 1 Chronicles 21:1. We studied this passage in the Week 6 Lesson Plan in reference to God’s use of angels to carry out His judgment.
“And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” 1 Chronicles 21:1
The use of the word Satan in this passage is not the viewpoint of Satan that Christians take. He is only serving as an adversary under God’s permission not as an evil deity in opposition to God. The Hebrew word for provoked means to prick, to stimulate, to entice, or to seduce. This passage shows David was enticed by the adversary and he failed to overcome the adversary’s seductive temptation and succumbed to his own desire.
The nature of the Jewish Satan is best seen in the books of Job and Zechariah. These portions of scripture indicate a specific adversary. The literal translation from Hebrew would read, the satan rather than satan without a definite article. In the first and second chapters of Job, Satan, the accuser, enters the throne room of God. God and Satan begin to discuss about the faith of Job. Satan feels that Job’s faith is based solely on God’s abundant blessings upon him. God, therefore, allows Satan to test Job. Throughout all of the trials that Job faces, the loss of his children, his property, his health, and his livelihood, he does not sin by cursing God.
The vision found in the third chapter of Zechariah is of Joshua, the high priest, standing before the angel of the LORD and Satan. Satan stands at the priest’s right side to accuse him and bring witness against him. Finally, Satan is rebuked by God for his accusations against Joshua. This example bears the hint of a court room setting with Satan as the prosecutor and Joshua as the defendant before God, the righteous Judge.
The Jews developed an expanded idea of a central figure personifying evil in opposition to Jehovah God as they were influenced by other cultures around them. These beliefs particularly grew during their time spent in Babylon and the subsequent years prior to the New Testament. By the time of Jesus, Satan was becoming fully formed as an entity.
A Christian’s concept of Satan is as the arch-enemy of God and His people. Some Christian groups see this relationship between God and Satan as equal in power while others regard the relationship as unequal with God reigning supreme. In the Old Testament, the first introduction of a Christian’s view of Satan is seen in Genesis 3.
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Genesis 3:1
This story has always made me wonder why Eve didn’t think it was strange for a creature to speak to her. The Hebrew word for serpent is nâchash which can be translated as snake or serpent but the fuller definition according to Strong’s Concordance means “to hiss, i.e. whisper a (magic) spell; generally, to prognosticate.” The serpent is successful in his endeavor and Eve fails to resist the temptation to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This verse is used as a support passage to another describing Satan as a serpent found in the book of Revelation.
“The great dragon was hurled down —- that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was furled to the earth, and his angels with him.” Revelation 12:9
These bookend books of the Bible connect and support the Christian idea of Satan as the ancient serpent from the Garden of Eden. This passage from Revelation also serves as a complement to the Christian thought that Satan is a fallen angel. This belief found its beginnings in a passage from Isaiah.
“How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!” Isaiah 14:12
This verse and those that follow from Isaiah 14 are considered prophetic of Satan’s fall among some Christian scholars. This particular verse is also the source of Satan’s alternate name, Lucifer. The Latin Vulgate (late fourth century Latin translation of the Bible) translated the Hebrew word, heylel, to Lucifer which in English is rendered the morning star. Over time, the use of this Latin word changed and became a proper name for Satan.
The verses pertaining to Satan in the New Testament predominantly use two Greek words, diabolos and satanas. The Greek word diabolos is related to the Hebrew word satan and has a similar definition. This devil is a false accuser and a slanderer. Does the Greek spelling remind you of any English words?
Paul, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, encourages them to handle their emotions properly. In these verses, we have a glimpse of the work of the devil.
‘“In your anger do not sin’. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Ephesians 4:26,27
John, in his first letter, addresses the believers to not be lead astray but to continue to do what is righteous. He continues by adding these words about the nature of the devil.
“He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” 1 John 3:8
The Greek word diabolos is used in both of the above passages. A second Greek word is also used of Satan and is of Chaldean origin ( the Babylonian area). This word, satanas, is used in passages when Satan is called by his proper name. Jesus uses satanas twice when talking with Peter. The first example is during the time Jesus is explaining about his upcoming death and resurrection. Peter rebukes Jesus for saying such things. He responded to Peter in this manner:
“Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.’” Matthew 16:23
The Gospel of Luke records the second moment when Jesus talks with Peter about Satan. Peter is called Simon in this passage. Jesus tells Simon Peter:
‘“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”’ Luke 22:31,32
This reference sounds similar to the Job account in the Old Testament, doesn’t it? Simon Peter did stumble but his faith held and he endured the sifting of Satan.
In the movie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the character Hermione states regarding the evil Lord Voldemort that “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” Whether Satan is called the Devil, the accuser, the serpent, or Lucifer, we need not fear him. He will use everything at his disposal to tempt us and accuse us but we need not fear for God is with us. We would do better to view these moments of sifting as opportunities to grow spiritually, producing the telltale signs of one who has overcome and bears the fruit of victory.
If you are interested in a more in depth look at Satan, I will be covering him in this week’s lesson plan. You can find the Angels of the Realm Week 7 Lesson Plan by clicking here.