Supernatural Session 10 (2)

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The satan

So everyone who claims to be a Christian has some sort of Theology when it comes to the enemy of God. But the bigger question is where do we get that theology? Of course we would say from the Bible. But as we have seen thus far. Everything we know may not always be so easily understood. Now my point thus far in our study is not to confuse or confound you. Nor is it to suggest that any of the information I am giving you will be heretical or go against any of the main doctrines of Christianity. That is not my point or objective. But it is to get you to actually deal with the text. And to deal with the text requires more than just simply reading some English words in a book that happens to have the letter B.I.B.L.E. stamped on the front of it. So when we see the letters in our Bible S.A.T.A.N. How do we interpret that word? Do we base all of our understanding of that word on what we have heard in church over the years. I hope by now you see that my answer and yours should be no!
One of the main goals of the Bible is Theological messaging. And when it comes to the enemies of God, things are no different. If I want to understand a word in the Bible. Where should I begin.? Well one place is a good Bible dictionary. So here is the entry on satan.....

Satan The Hebrew word שָׂטָן (satan) means to oppose, obstruct, or accuse. The Greek term (σατάν, satan) literally means “adversary.” In the New Testament, it refers to a title or a name—(the) Satan. The term שָׂטָן (satan) is rendered as diabolos in the Septuagint.

The Use of the Term “Satan” in the Hebrew Bible

In the Old Testament, the word satan is both a noun and a verb. When used as a verb, it means “to oppose as an adversary” (e.g., Pss 38:20; 71:13; 109:4, 20, 29; Zech 3:1). It is applied to a human adversary as a noun (e.g., 1 Sam 29:4; 2 Sam 19:22; 1 Kgs 5:4; 11:14, 23, 25). In four books of the Old Testament, the term is attached to a supernatural being (Num 22:22, 32; Job 1:6, 7, 8; Zech 3:1; 1 Chr 21:1).
In biblical Hebrew, the definite article (the word “the) is a single letter (heh). Hebrew prefixes (attaches) the definite article to a noun (or participle to make it a substantive) so that, like all languages that have definite articles, the noun is made specific. Biblical Hebrew does not, however, put the definite article (the word “the”) on proper personal nouns (personal names). In this respect, Hebrew is like English. I don’t call myself “the Mike”. No one (except maybe Donald Trump ) puts the word “the” in front of their first name. Hebrew simply does not do this at all. As the well known biblical Hebrew reference grammar by Jouon-Muraoka notes: “No proper noun of person takes the article, not even when it has the form of an adjective or a participle.”1
Without exception, the word “satan” in Job occurs *with* the article. This indicates quite clearly that “satan” is *not* a personal name. It is generic, and means “the adversary”. The word can be used of human beings (1 Sam 29:4; 2 Sam 19:23; 1 Kings 5:18; 1 Kings 11:14). All of these examples have “satan” without the article, but the referent is a human being, not a divine being, so we don’t have “Satan” here either.
In terms of statistics, the noun “satan” occurs 27 times in the Hebrew Bible, ten times *without* the article.

The Term “Satan” Applied to a Human Adversary

The word “satan” occurs as a noun at various points in the Old Testament to designate a human opponent. It is translated in English Bibles as “adversary” or “enemy.” For example, King Solomon speaks of the opportunity he has to build a temple because of the absence of any “satan” or “adversary” to hinder him from this endeavor (1 Kgs 5:4). The term is also used by King David to speak of Abishai as an opponent or adversary (2 Sam 19:22).

The Term “Satan” Associated with a Supernatural Figure

In the Old Testament, the word “satan” is also used in association with a supernatural figure. This is the case in the book of Numbers, where an Angel of the Lord is referred to as a “satan” when it obstructs the road being traveled by Balaam and his donkey (Num 22:22). The angel is not a “satan,” but “opposes” Balaam.
Of these ten, seven refer to human beings and two refer to the Angel of Yahweh for sure. The lone outlier is 1 Chron 21:1. This is the famous passage where “Satan” provokes David to take a census, but in the parallel passage, 2 Sam 24:1-25, it’s Yahweh provoking David to take the census. Due to this parallel, and due to the fact that “satan” here has no article, this is viewed by some as the single instance of an evil, cosmic figure called “satan” in the OT. It actually isn’t, though. If you’re familiar with my work on the two Yahwehs in the OT, the parallel (Yahweh-satan) is striking to you. The “satan” figure here is none other than the Angel of Yahweh — and so this instance without the article is akin to the two instances in the book of Numbers where “satan” was used of the Angel. This relieves the “is Yahweh Satan?” question and any notion of contradiction — since it would mean BOTH passages have Yahweh provoking David — one appears to be the invisible Yahweh; the other is the visible Yahweh.

The Book of Job

The book of Job has a supernatural “satan” figure, which operated under the authority of God as Job’s faithfulness was tested (Job 1:6). In this context, the author placed a definite article (“the”) before the noun (“the satan”), which suggests the term is not a proper name, but rather a title or an office. The figure appeared as an angel, a part of the divine council along with the sons of God, whose special task might have been to investigate the affairs of humanity on earth. “The satan” of God’s court in the book of Job manifested himself more as an accuser than as a rebellious being.
In response to the Lord’s inquiry as to his whereabouts, “the satan” says he has been patrolling the earth (Job 1:7). This could suggest that acting as a “satan” was a divinely given assignment (Tate, “Satan,” 462). It is interesting that the Lord does not rebuke “the satan” in this context. Rather, “the satan” is presented as one who may simply be skeptical about the religious integrity of Job (Tate, “Satan,” 463).
Job is an odd book. That’s part of what makes it so interesting. The story opens with a divine council scene—the sons of God appear before Yahweh (Job 1:6). During the council meeting the satan shows up. His rank is not clear. The language is ambiguous with respect to whether he is of the same level as the sons of God or is on the scene as a servant official to the council. The lower status is more likely, given what we learn about his job.
I use the phrase “the satan” deliberately. The Hebrew (satan) means something like “adversary,” “prosecutor,” or “challenger.” It speaks of an official legal function within a ruling body—in this case, Yahweh’s council. When Yahweh asks the satan where he has been, we learn that his job involves investigating what is happening on earth (Job 1:7). He is, so to speak, Yahweh’s eyes and ears on the ground, reporting what he has seen and heard.
The satan in Job 1–2 is not a villain. He’s doing the job assigned to him by God. The book of Job does not identify the satan in this scene as the serpent of Genesis 3, the figure known in the New Testament as the devil. The Old Testament never uses the word saṭan of the serpent figure from Genesis 3. In fact, the word saṭan is not a proper personal noun in the Old Testament.
Old Testament scholars are well aware of all this. Their conclusion that saṭan is not a proper personal name in the Old Testament is driven by Hebrew grammar. Like English, Hebrew does not attach the definite article (the word “the”) to proper personal nouns. English speakers do not refer to themselves (or to another person) with phrases like “the Tom” or “the Sally.” I’m not “the Mike.” English doesn’t use the definite article with personal names. Neither does Hebrew.
Most of the twenty-seven occurrences of saṭan in the Hebrew Bible, however, do indeed have the definite article—including all the places English readers presume the devil is present (Job 1:6–9, 12; 2:1–4, 6–7; Zech 3:1–2). The satan described in these passages is not the devil. Rather, he’s an anonymous prosecutor, as it were, fulfilling a role in Yahweh’s council—bringing an accusatory report. The instances of saṭan in the Old Testament that lack the definite article also don’t refer to the devil or the serpent figure. Those occurrences describe either humans or the Angel of Yahweh, who is occasionally sent by God to “oppose” someone or execute judgment (e.g., Num 22:22–23).
The function of the office of the satan is why later Jewish writings began to adopt it as a proper name for the serpent figure from Genesis 3 who brought ruin to Eden. That figure opposed God’s choices for his human imagers. The dark figure of Genesis 3 was eventually thought of as the “mother of all adversaries,” and so the label satan got stuck to him. He deserves it. The point here is only that the Old Testament doesn’t use that term for the divine criminal of Eden.
In Job 1 the satan and God converse about Job. The satan gets a bit uppity, challenging God about Job’s integrity. We know the rest of the story—God gives the satan enough latitude to prove himself wrong, albeit at Job’s expense.
The beginning of Job is of interest to us because of two statements later in the book. In Job 4, one of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, responds to Job’s lament and wish for death (Job 3:11). He’s not much of a comfort. He questions Job’s belief that he has done nothing deserving of suffering (Job 4:6), something the reader knows is actually true (Job 1:8). Eliphaz says at one point:
17 Can a human being be more righteous than God,
or can a man be more pure than his Maker?
18 Look, he does not trust in his servants
and he charges his angels with error.
19 How much more dwellers in clay houses,
whose foundation is in the dust?
They are crushed like a moth (Job 4:17–19).
Who do you think you are, Job! A man isn’t more righteous than his Maker! Why would God consider you blameless when he doesn’t even look at his heavenly messengers that way? Eliphaz repeats the thought in Job 15:14–15:
14 What is a human being, that he can be clean,
Or that one born of a woman can be righteous?
15 Look, he does not trust his holy ones,
and the heavens are not clean in his eyes.
What Eliphaz says is significant. Here are two scriptural statements that God’s heavenly council members are corruptible; they are not perfect.
That’s not terribly profound on the surface. The only truly perfect Being is God himself. God never actually said that Job was incorruptible and perfect, only that he was blameless at the time of the council meeting. God knows that Job could indeed fail—just like the divine beings in his council. Even the lesser elohim cannot be completely trusted.[2]

So where does this leave us?

Basically, “the satan” in Job is an officer of the divine council (sort of like a prosecutor). His job is to “run to and fro throughout the earth” to see who is and who is not obeying Yahweh. When he finds someone who isn’t and is therefore under Yahweh’s wrath, he “accuses” that person. This is what we see in Job — and it actually has a distinct New Testament flavor. (We also see it in Zechariah 3). But the point here is that this satan is not evil; he’s doing his job. Over time (specifically the idea of “being an adversary in the heavenly council” was applied intellectually to the enemy of God — the nachash (typically rendered “serpent”) in Eden, the one who asserted his own will against Yahweh’s designs. That entity eventually becomes labeled “Satan” and so the adversarial role gets personified and stuck to God’s great enemy (also called the Devil). This is a good example of how an idea in Israelite religion plays out and is applied in different ways during the progress of revelation.
At the end of the day it may make little difference to you and your theology about how precise your are in describing what the nature of evil was like in the minds of a first century Jew or ancient Israelite. (i.e was it truly Satan or just another evil advisory). There can be an inherent vulnerability in being imprecise about the dangers that surround us. So, what if the nature of supernatural evil is wholly different (and I would say in much more sinister) than what we may image. Does knowing the difference make a difference to you? I think as we move forward I hope you will see that it should!
[1] Seal, D. (2016). Satan. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
[2] Heiser, M. S. (2015). The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (First Edition, pp. 56–58). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
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