Whenever I walk into a casino here in Nevada, I’m reminded of the story of Job. Gamblers have their favorite places to play, depending on the type of “perks” offered. Some will be thrilled with “free” meal coupons; others “free” drink chips while others enjoy the benefit of discounted event and hotel lodging rates. Most do not understand none of this is truly free. The casinos can afford to give away free stuff and do so liberally, because they want something in return; your money and loyalty. Like Satan, who questioned Job’s loyalty to God, I have to wonder, “how many of these gamblers would continue to worship at the altar of slot machines if these freebies were taken away”?
As you recall, one day God assembled his small counsel apparently to brag about the humans who worship him. “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil”. (Job. 1 8)
Hassantan, (Satan’s original name) replies, “Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land”. (Job 1.10) Satan is questioning God’s assertion because Job seems only too happy to continue to worship and give thanks to God for everything he has. But, what would happen if everything were to be taken away? Would Job continue to worship God? The two enter into a cosmic bet. God allows Satan to take everything away from Job, including his family, in order to test the man’s faith. In the end, after loosing it all, Job continues to worship God even as he question’s God’s actions. Job continues to worship because he thinks there will be a big payoff at the end of his life. So too did loyal gamblers, when, during the recession, casinos pulled back on perks. Like Job they hope for a big payoff.
I don’t bring this up to talk about gambling. This to me is one big cosmic joke; that people continue to spend their hard earned money on slot machines, hoping to strike it rich all while sitting in houses of opulence. Don’t they get that the house always wins?
I bring this up to talk about the Satan we know, or at least think we know. T.J. Wray and Gregory Mobley are the authors of, the birth of satan, Tracing The Devil’s Biblical Roots .(their use of capitalization, not mine) In it, they trace the origin and evolution of Satan. It is a well researched book into the history of how Hassantan (meaning adversary) went from being one of God’s counsel members, the one who tests human loyalty, to being the cause of misery and evil; a being God seems to have little control over.
As the story of Job illustrates, Satan’s original role in the Bible was simply to be an adviser to God. Satan was allowed to roam Earth, checking on human progress and action. He reported back to God. This is why he and God started to discuss Job and why God entered into a bet with him. This is not a story of a clash of Titans; this is a story in which a supreme being allowed a lesser being to bring strife to another creature.
The next time we see Satan is in the book of Zechariah, in which yet another small counsel is formed. This time, a priest named Joshua is being tested to see if he is worthy of being a co-regent in post- exile Jerusalem. Here, Satan is playing “devil’s advocate” as he sits and accuses the priest of being sinful. The Bible does not tell us what sins Joshua has committed, but that God has decided to forgive him. God rebukes Satan and draws his own conclusion about the priest. Yet it is worth noting that once again the two are working together. Satan, it seems, was just doing his job.
What I found most interesting about this book is not so much how the evolution of Satan takes place-as people started to question a God who is both wise and wrathful a physical personality split takes place- but that the Satan we know is not found in the Bible. The hellish creature with a pitchfork and horns is found in stories that did not make it into the Hebrew or Christian bibles. This fascinates me because this means most of what we know comes down to us from oral traditions.
The stories may not have made it into our sacred text, but are stories that were passed around and talked about. People would have heard about the evils of Satan in church and then at home. What we think we know comes from hundreds of years of embellishment to fit the time. Western literature has also had a role in the evolution of Satan. You will find him in all his glory in Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno. We need to keep in mind that the original monotheistic believers did not intend to have opposing celestial beings. Their one true god was equally wrathful and loving. It is only after having so many bad things happen that the chosen people begin to question their god of choice. Something was wrong with this picture.
After reading the book, it became clear that God’s original adversary evolved for two reasons. First, as people became uncomfortable with a God who both gives and takes away and began questioning the value of worshiping him, a split had to take place. We see this evident split in the pages of the Hebrew Bible. In the book of Samuel it is God who incited David to count the people of Israel. Census taking is forbidden in Exodus, but in Samuel, God is mad at the people of Israel and brings a plague upon the people. “Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and count the people of Israel and Judah.” (Sam. 24-1) In Chronicles, written much later, it is Satan who is the cause of the census and plague, “Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel. (Chron 21.1) This later retelling of the same story, shifts the blame from God to Satan. Innocent people died, not by the hand of God, but by the evil of Satan.
The second reason is that as humans we just can’t seem to handle personal responsibility. Maybe this flaw is part of our genetic makeup because early man had little control over his environment. The natural world was a harsh place. Early man had to live with the fact that “shit happened”. From this the first motto of man may have been, “it’s not my fault”. We havn’t seemed to let this one go.
The book isn’t just a look at how Satan evolved in the Bible, but also of how we view him. He is often the embodiment of whatever evil is taking place at the time. We use him to explain that which we cannot control. He is why shit happens. For the authors, this is important and why he matters. I highly recommend the book. Decide for yourself if he is a character worth keeping.
5 thoughts on “The devil you know”
Interesting, the observable reconfiguring of the Samuel story to shift the blame away from God. This theological evolution is one I assumed happened but never as blantantly as this. Great review, giving the issue a contemporary resonance.
Thanks Chris. This was one of my “how would Chris review this” pieces.
Have you read the book of Revelations? It is in here that we finally hear mention of Satan as the serpent in the Garden.
What the author’s failed to mention is that nowhere in the book does God attribute evil to Satan. He is always quoted as saying, “the evil of men”. I would have liked to have seen them address this. How did Satan become the cause of our personal wickedness? I have a feeling it comes down to clergy condemning the masses for their transgressions, thereby relieving them of personal responsibility in order to keep them as believers.
Except that in the books of the Gospel, Christ is tempted by Satan and rebukes him, Christ says that He saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven, He says that hell is prepared for the devil and his angels … in his first epistle the Apostle Peter says the devil is like a lion seeking whom he might devour. And, not to be a curmudgeon, but it’s worth noting, since it’s a fascinatingly common mistake, the last book of the Bible is singular: Revelation, not Revelations.
And really this is a simplification at best:
Job curses his birth and even reckons death would be a relief (and he doesn’t say this with expectation of eternal reward, just an end to suffering). He protests his integrity, laments that he does not understand why he is being made to suffer, and pleads for the opportunity to state his case. He’s a far more complex character than just some kind of “ticket to Heaven” believer.
And Satan’s appearance before God is somewhat sinister. The angels come to God, and Satan follows along, not quite with the rest of them. When he’s asked where he has been, roaming about the earth here and there is his rather dark answer. There’s no doubt that he is an accuser in all of these stories, even a prosecutor, but his motives are never presented as quite honest or unblemished. More so than being God’s adversary, though, by the way, he is man’s: the accuser and tempter of created beings rather than their Creator. However his character has been revealed in different stages of tradition, it’s kind of crass (and contrary to the texts) to say that he was just later transformed into something he never was in the first place in order to appease some shortcomings of human beings or believers.
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your views. Not matter how we view him or is role, it is clear God allowed him to do his job.
I wonder if in tempting Jesus Satan wasn’t again, performing his job? Was it his role to make darn sure Jesus was worthy of the Kingdom? Food for thought.
It’s certainly a perfectly Orthodox view (and probably to predominant views also orthodox with a lowercase ‘o’) that Satan does nothing without God’s permission. It’s also quite Orthodox to view the temptation as part of the fulfillment of prophecy. He’s part of the program, one way or another.