Every human has the possibility to make choices. All creatures have an instinct, which direct them to do or not to do things. Human beings have the inner feeling of what they can do and of what can be right or wrong to do.
Satan is described as “going to and fro in the earth”. There is no implication that he was doing anything sinful. Zechariah 1:11 implies that this is a Hebraism for observing. This being is not a special person or anything. It is the evil in our selves. Our bad thinking.
Satan means adversary or accuser. (a noun or adjective, not a proper name) (sa’-tan) (saTan), adversary, from the verb saTan, to lie in wait (as adversary); Satan, Satanas, adversary, diabolos, Devil, adversary or accuser.
It is very easy for us, as we read Bible verses, to give to the terms devil and Satan the meaning which we prefer. And if that meaning is not the same as the Bible writer intended, then we are changing the true sense! In several denominations they gave the devil or Satan a real figure not a representational thing. When Bible passages are read, devil and Satan are being understood by different readers in different senses.
To find the vital key it is important to begin with the Old Testament, and not with the New. To modern ears this may sound strange, but remember that the Old Testament was written first, many centuries before the New. And since they both really form one revelation from God, the New Testament writers knew the Old Testament very well indeed. They quoted from it and they used its terms; and among the terms they used is Satan. (In fact the term “devil” occurs rarely in the Old Testament and is used differently there from the way it is used in the New.)
So we begin with Satan, the Old Testament term. What does the word “Satan” mean? It is not hard to find out. Take the case of Balaam who lived in the days when the children of Israel were wandering in the wilderness. He was a prophet who had been told by God not to go on a certain hired mission to curse the Israelites. But he wanted the money offered him as a reward, so he went. Riding upon an ass, he soon found his way blocked by an angel: “The angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary” (or enemy) (Numbers 22:22, RSV).
The word for “adversary” is Satan (from which we get our “Satan”) and that is just what it means. Notice two things: Satan here is an ordinary word meaning adversary or enemy, and not the name of a person. The word occurs again only 10 verses later: the angel said to Balaam, “Behold, I am come forth to withstand you” (verse 32), literally “to be an adversary to you”.
This is the first time the word Satan appears in the Hebrew record. Notice that this Satan is a good angel, “the angel of the Lord”, who is doing what God wants, and not an evil one! If we look up in a Bible concordance the way the word Satan is used in the Old Testament, we shall find that it means an adversary and an enemy. For example: “Why,” cried David, “should you (Joab and his brothers) be adversaries (satans) unto me?” (2 Samuel 19:22). And so in half a dozen other cases, where the allusion is usually to men.
Here we have one of the most frequently quoted cases in all the Bible. The first few verses of chapter one describe Job as living in the land of Uz, a God-fearing man who had many possessions. Then, verse 6:
“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.”
“There you are”, some people say, “Satan was in heaven among the angels! He must be a supernatural being!” But let us remember our vital rule: we must understand Bible terms in a Bible sense. “Sons of God”, for instance: it is true that once in Job (38:7) this term is used of the angels; but in the Bible as a whole it is often used of men and women who really worship God as contrasted with those who do not. God used it of Israel through the prophet Isaiah:
“Bring my sons from far and my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by my name . . .” (Isaiah 43:6-7)
So in the New Testament the apostle John, referring to believers in Christ, wrote: “Beloved, we are God’s children now” (1 John 3:2). So the “sons of God” among whom “Satan” came (in Job chapter 1) need not be angels in heaven; they could be people on the earth.
But how could they “present themselves before the Lord” if they were not in heaven? Again the Bible itself gives us the answer. Moses and Joshua were once told to “present themselves” in the “tent of meeting”, where God would appoint Joshua as the next leader of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:14-1 5). Many years later Joshua called together all the elders of the tribes of Israel to Shechem, where “they presented themselves before God” (Joshua 24:1). Later still, Samuel in his turn told Israel: “Present yourselves before the LORD . . .” (1 Samuel 10:19).
In the New Testament it is said that Mary, the mother of Jesus, shortly after the birth of her son, came to the temple in Jerusalem “to present him to the Lord . . . and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord” (Luke 2:22-24). The “sons of God” in Job, then, who came to “present themselves before the Lord”, had come together to worship God in the appointed place, and, of course, in the presence of the appointed priest at that time. This is a scene of worship upon the earth, not in heaven.
But what of “Satan” who came among them? Here the English translators have not really played fair with us, for all the Hebrew says is “the adversary”. The capital S in Satan is the translators’ own invention, for Hebrew makes no distinction between capital letters and others. Even in the margin the Authorized and Revised Version translators have printed “the Adversary”, suggesting by their capital A (for which they have no evidence) that this is that special Adversary, Satan. All that the Hebrew justifies us in saying is “the adversary came among them”.
But who could this adversary be? If this was a group come together to worship, he would be one of them; in other words he was a man; and he was an enemy to Job, because he was jealous of him and wished him harm. But how then could there follow a conversation between the Lord and the adversary? Again the Bible itself supplies the answer, for in Old Testament times men often received messages from God through the appointed priest at the time. David, for instance, more than once consulted the priest when he wanted to know what God’s will for him was, and the priest spoke to him on behalf of God. So this jealous enemy of Job-perhaps one who posed as his friend-said to God through the priest, “Job only serves you for what he can get. Just try bringing some trouble on him and then you will see.” And God, because He had a great purpose with Job and desired to see him perfected, allowed the adversary to carry out his envious desire upon Job. But as the book clearly tells us, the power was God’s and not the adversary’s (Job 2:4-6).
So there is in this episode no need for a supernatural satan and no proof of one. All the expressions are commonly used of men. The Old Testament word Satan means an adversary; but as the example of Job shows us, there develops a natural tendency to use it of an evil adversary.
With this valuable background understanding we now look at an example of the use of “satan” in the New Testament. Peter had just made his great declaration of belief in Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” and Jesus had pronounced a blessing upon him as a result. But Jesus then went on to speak of his own fate; he would have to go to Jerusalem and there the leaders of the Jews would seize him and he would be killed, but he would rise again the third day (Matthew 16:21). Peter could neither understand nor accept this and began to rebuke Jesus: “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” In other words, “You must not think of such a thing.” But Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan: you are a hindrance to me.”
Why was Peter a “satan”? Because he was being “an adversary” to Jesus; he was trying to persuade the Lord not to do what he knew had to be done in his obedience to the will of God. If Peter had had his way, Jesus would have rejected his Father’s will and his great sacrifice for sin upon the cross would never have taken place. So Jesus had to tell this “adversary” (satan) to “get behind me”. And then he adds a comment which is most important for our understanding: You are an adversary and a stumbling block to me, says Jesus in effect to Peter, for your mind is not on the “things of God, but the things of men” (verse 23, R.V.).
So this most important New Testament example teaches us some valuable lessons. First, this “satan” was a man; second, he rejected the will of God; third, what marked him out was that he desired to do the will of man instead-a most important clue, as we shall see later.
Let us remind ourselves what we have learned so far: a “satan” is an adversary, and nearly always an evil adversary.
If we go against something or oppose a good thing we become an adversary. If we go against the will of God, we become an evil adversary or a Satan.
The Bible uses personification: that is, something is spoken of as if it were a person when in fact it is not. We do find that when there is spoken about Satan or Lucifer in both instances sin is personified; and in both clearly it is sin that "has the power of death".
And so the Bible is telling us that the real devil is sin. And sin is the wrongdoing, or the evil actions we are able to do by our own choice.
There is no doubt then where we must look for the great enemy of God: it is in our own hearts and minds. So James tells us where we must look for the source of our temptations to do wrong. Are we led astray by some supernatural spirit whispering in our ear? Not at all; for, he says,
"Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire".
So our own "desire" is the origin of our temptations; and James tells us what is the result:
"Then the desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown brings forth death" (1:14-15).
The long history of mankind in the Bible shows how true this teaching is. The first pair of human beings preferred their own desire to obedience to God, and sinned. The human race fell away into "corruption and violence" and God had to judge it at the Flood. Israel, rescued by God from slavery in the land of Egypt and given a special opportunity to be God's people, turned away and preferred to worship idols and to behave in immoral ways like the godless peoples around them. Jesus, the Son of God, demonstrated His Father's truth and grace among men; they rejected and crucified him. And in the centuries following, men have abandoned God's teaching and perverted His ways. Yes, the great enemy of God is men and women rejecting His authority and fulfilling their own natural desires.
With textfragments from Marcus Ampe, Mark Mattison and Duncan Heaster
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