The Evolution of Satan - Part 1
The purpose of this study to is look at how Satan has evolved over the centuries. The image we have of Satan now is quite different from the image that Judaism has and when looking at the Old Testament texts, the Satan of today is unrecognisable. How did we get to this position? Are the beliefs we hold today firmly grounded in scripture or affected by other sources? Were the New Testament writers influenced by other sources? How much of our traditions affect how we interpret the Old Testament?
In this study I will not be considering the talking snake of Genesis as this requires a separate hub of its own.
The Supremacy of God
The many gods of the pagan nations divided the world into many parts and domains, and made it appear as the battle-ground of hostile powers. God however renders Earth and Heaven, light and darkness, life and death as one; a universe ruled by His everlasting wisdom and goodness. It is the work of one great designer and ruler who is the beginning and the end, who arranges everything according to His will. Whereas the some sections of the Church have adopted the pagan idea of a god (Satan, Apollyon) ruling over the underworld, this stance has not been accepted by God. In Psalm 139:8 David asks where he can hide from the Lord's presence. If he goes to the Heavens He is there, if He goes to the grave, He is there, light and darkness are not hidden by God. There is nowhere that God's influence and rule is absent.
Old Testament scripture insists upon the unity of God and His government of the world, and recognises alongside of Him no principle of evil in creation. God has no counterpart either in the powers of darkness, as the deities of Egypt and Babylon had, or in the power of evil, such as Ahriman in the Zoroastrian religion.
Satan = adversary
The word 'satan' (Strong's #7854) is simply the Hebrew word for 'adversary'. In a number of instances, the bible translators did not render the word as 'adversary' but retained the Hebrew word and capitalised the 'S' to turn the noun into a proper noun, that is a specific name of a person. In those passages the reference to 'Satan' has been inferred, not because that's what the translation gives us per se, but because the bible translators chose to give us their interpretation of how the word 'satan' should be understood.
The references following are passages where the Hebrew 'satan' is used, but the translators chose to render as 'adversary':
Numbers 22:21-22 So Balaam rose in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab. Then God’s anger was aroused because he went, and the Angel of the LORD took His stand in the way as an adversary (satan) against him. And he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him.
Why wasn't this use of 'satan' retained as 'Satan'? Because the translators didn't want the Angel of the Lord to be called Satan, so the word 'adversary' was given to us.
1 Samuel 29:3 But the princes of the Philistines were angry with him; so the princes of the Philistines said to him, “Make this fellow (David) return, that he may go back to the place which you have appointed for him, and do not let him go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he become our adversary (satan). For with what could he reconcile himself to his master, if not with the heads of these men?
Here the Philistines are complaining about David being amongst them when they were about to go into battle against Saul. Again the bible translators didn't want David to be called Satan, so they gave us 'adversary'.
1 Kings 5:3-5 You know how my father David could not build a house for the name of the LORD his God because of the wars which were fought against him on every side, until the LORD put his foes under the soles of his feet. But now the LORD my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary (satan) nor evil occurrence.
Perhaps the translators didn't want to give us the impression that God had done away with Satan.
1 Kings 11:14 Then the LORD raised up against Solomon an adversary (satan), Hadad the Edomite, from the royal line of Edom.
1 Kings 11:23 And God raised up against Solomon another adversary (satan), Rezon son of Eliada, who had fled from his master, Hadadezer king of Zobah.
1 Kings 11:25 Rezon was Israel's adversary (satan) as long as Solomon lived, adding to the trouble caused by Hadad. So Rezon ruled in Aram and was hostile toward Israel.
Esther 7:6 Esther said, "The adversary (satan) and enemy is this vile Haman." Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen.
Here to say that a man, Hadad, Rezon or Haman, are Satan makes absolutely no sense, just as saying the King of Babylon is Satan (Lucifer) in Isaiah 14 doesn't make sense either.
So if the translators are sometimes translating 'satan' as 'adversary' and other times giving us 'Satan', then they are not giving us a correct consistent translation. They are giving us the Church's interpretation which is quite different.
Adversary Translated as Satan
Now let's look at those passages where the translators gave us 'Satan' to see what they tell us about 'Satan as a specific individual':
Zechariah 3:1-2 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?"
In the Old Testament, the primary purpose of Satan is to act as an accuser. In this instance God is having none of it, and rebukes Satan. None of the powers that are ascribed to Satan today are evident here.
In the book of Job, there are fourteen occurrences of 'Satan'. I'm not going to list them all here, but in these accounts we have a picture of an adversary to Job appearing before God on two occasions accusing him.
Now if at this point Satan is a rebellious personification of evil who has been cast out of Heaven for wanting to be God, then why does God behave in such an odd way in the Book of Job? Why doesn't God call for one of the angels to have him thrown out or rebuke him at least? God has been far more ruthless with rebellious evil people: He killed thousands of Israel during 40 years in the desert; killed hundreds of thousands by bringing Assyria and Babylon against Israel; and virtually the entire human race in the Noahchin flood. But here God has a nice friendly cosy chat with the 'author of all the evil' that led to God killing all those people? Does this make any sense?
God allows Satan in the first instance to destroy Job's property and kill his family. In the second instance God permits Satan to inflict painful sores over job's body. In both cases, Satan is not permitted to take Job's life.
Something that is made abundantly clear in Job is that Satan is tightly under God's control. Satan is NOT permitted to act on his own free will and is totally INCAPABLE of touching Job at all unless God enables him do so. If Satan being a rebellious evil ex-angel, then why does he not simply do as he pleases; why does he complain that God has protected job preventing him from taking any action?
In Judaism, Satan is regarded as the member of the divine council who watches over human activity, but with the evil purpose of searching out men's sins and appearing as their accuser. He is, therefore, the celestial prosecutor, who sees only iniquity; for he persists in his evil opinion of Job even after he has passed successfully through his first trial by surrendering to the will of God.
The only other reference to 'Satan' is found in 1 Chronicles:
1 Chronicles 21:1-3 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are.” But Joab replied, “May the LORD multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?”
For the first time, we now have a change in Satan's behaviour. He appears to have moved on from simply accusing men to now inciting them to do evil. Or is he?
The same event occurs in 2 Samuel:
2 Sam 24:1-3 Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.” So the king said to Joab and the army commanders with him, “Go throughout the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are.” But Joab replied to the king, “May the LORD your God multiply the troops a hundred times over, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?”
In Chronicles we are told that Satan incites David to take a census of the army, but in 1 Samuel, we are told that it is God Himself who incites David. How can this contradiction be resolved? Perhaps God commanded Satan to go and incite David. Or perhaps the writer of Chronicles added his own interpretation of events.
2 Samuel was written around 930BC soon after David's reign. 2 Chronicles was written around 430BC, significantly, after Israel had returned from exile. During their exile, after the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon, Israel would have been exposed to the Zoroastrian belief system. Zoroastrianism has many similarities to Judaism, but one key difference is it's belief in demons and evil spirits in opposition to a single creator god. It is almost certain therefore that these ideas began to affect the beliefs of Israel and resulted in the beginning of the evolution of Satan: the first step being a transformation to a spirit that opposes God and incites men to sin.
No Demons or Fallen Angels
It is also worth noting that demons and spirits as independent beings in opposition to God simply do not exist in the OT, and these ideas did not creep into Israel's national consciousness until after the return from exile. See my hub http://hubpages.com/hub/You-Wait-4000-Years-for-a-Demon-then-Hundreds-Show-up-at-Once
Neither is there any record in the Old Testament to Satan being a fallen angel that has been cast out of Heaven. With reference to Isaiah 14 which is commonly held as supporting this belief, see my hub http://hubpages.com/hub/Who-is-this-Lucifer-Character. With reference to Ezeikiel 28, the other passage used to support this belief, see the hub http://hubpages.com/hub/ezekiel-28-no-satan-here by brotheryochanan.
Jewish commentators don't believe Satan when defined as a singular personification of evil responsible for all the evil in the world, exists at all. Judaism considers angelic adversaries, 'satans', to be fulfilling God's will by testing men's faith. This is consistent with the general Jewish view of angels, in which they are deemed incapable of defying God's will because they do not possess free will / free choice. Satan has his place among the angels of heaven, and is bound to execute the will of God, his master; and though sin and death are occasionally ascribed to him, he can seduce and harm only as far as God permits him, and in the end must work for good. God is the creator of light and darkness, the maker of peace and of evil, Isaiah 45:7.
In summary, satan of the Old Testament is used to simply denote an adversary, both human and angelic. The translators from the Hebrew have capitalised the 'S' in order to reinforce the idea of Satan as a specific spirit entity in opposition to God. We see the first step in the evolution of Satan from a subservient angel to one that is beginning to develop his own will, but find no evidence of him being cast out of Heaven as some fallen angel.