Biblical Theology on Satan

The Biblical view of this world portrays a fundamental conflict between “light” and “darkness”, between “good” and “evil”, between “God” and “Satan”.  This conflict is essential to the Biblical narrative, which portrays God as all-good and Satan as entirely evil.

Although Scripture tells us that evil is fighting a losing battle, it nonetheless presents the war between “good” and “evil” as being very real with very real consequences.  And everyone throughout the whole world is fighting on either one side or the other, with God leading the Kingdom of Light and Satan leading the kingdom of darkness.

In the first part of this two part series, we will look at what the Old Testament says about Satan, and in the second part of this series, we will look at what the New Testament says about Satan.

THE OLD TESTAMENT REVELATION OF SATAN

The Old Testament revelation about Satan begins with his name, which means “an adversary, one who resists”, and continues with various other names and roles to progressively reveal the nature and purpose of the enemy of our souls.

Satan in the Old Testament

Although not featured prominently as a spiritual power, the name “Satan”, which appears eighteen times in the Old Testament (fourteen of which occur in Job), refers to a being who is presented as the one who resists and opposes God’s people.

The Satan depicted in Job is still free to enter heaven’s courts; a being who is Job’s adversary, bent on subverting and destroying all goodness in Job’s life.  While Satan plays a causal role in bringing devastation into Job’s life (1:12; 2:6-7), the supreme authority of God cannot be subverted (6:4; 7:14; 9:17), which is why Satan cannot achieve his ultimate purpose in subverting God’s people.

Satan takes on the role of the accuser in the prophetic oracles as he is shown standing at the right side of Joshua the high priest to accuse him before the angel of the Lord (Zech. 3:1).  Likewise, Satan rose up against Israel and incited king David to evil (1st Chronicles 21:1).

Sometimes humans perform the role of a Satan (1 Sam. 29:4; 1 Kgs. 5:4; Ps. 109:6), an idea that becomes prominent in the New Testament narrative (Matthew 16:23).

The Old Testament portrays Satan as a mere creature of God, subject to God’s authority, who opposes God’s people and stands as a legal accuser to test and subvert their faithfulness; he is the author of evil who led the whole human race astray.

Leviathan in the Old Testament

The Old Testament portrays the mythical figure of the Leviathan as a symbol of God’s chief spiritual opponent among the heavenly powers (Isaiah 24;21; 27:1).  The Leviathan, mentioned only six times in the Old Testament, was a serpent-like sea monster, probably identical to the ‘Rahab’ of Job 26:12 and the dragon of Isaiah 51:9.  The Leviathan appears in Job 3:8-9 and is associated with darkness, appearing to stand in parallel to the rebellious seas that have been subjugated by God (26:12–13) but which may be stirred by incantation.

The most extensive description (Job 41:1, cf. 2–34) is of a fearless, single-headed crocodile-like creature who breathes fire, lives in the sea which boils as he passes through it, and cannot be defeated by humans. Leviathan is presented as God’s most formidable and unequalled enemy, whom he holds in check (Job 7:12).

The Leviathan’s symbol is expanded on in Psalm 74:13–14, where the Leviathan sea dragon is multi-headed (seven-headed in Ugaritic literature) and has already been defeated.  The Old Testament is very clear in presenting Leviathan as subordinate to God, who has secured victory over him (Ps. 74:13; 104:26).

The Old Testament portrays the LORD’s defeat of Leviathan as a symbol of the LORD’s defeat of evil (Isaiah 27:1), which is presented as an eschatological event.

Spiritual powers in the Old Testament

The early writings of the Old Testament acknowledge and assume an array of spiritual beings alongside the LORD, but are not interested in differentiating between “good” and “evil”; the reality of other gods as equals to the LORD is denied (Deut. 4:32-40), but it acknowledges subordinate spiritual powers behind the nation’s idols (Exod. 15:11).

The latter writings of the Old Testament clarify these spiritual powers as being part of God’s angelic host (See Psalms 8:5; 97:7; 138:1).

The Council of Yahweh is the high-seat of all spiritual power and authority (Ex. 15:11; Dan. 7:9-14).  These spiritual beings have a variety of names (Deut. 33:2–3; 1 Kgs. 22:19; Pss. 29:1; 82:6; 89:6), but none is ever compared in any respect to the LORD (Ps. 89:6–7), who created them (Neh. 9:6), presides over them (Ps. 82:1), and is thus called ‘the LORD of hosts’ (Is. 47:4, NRSV). The members of the heavenly assembly can be sent to execute God’s will (Num. 22:32; Josh. 5:14; 1 Kgs. 22:19–23; Job 1:6–12; 2:1–7; Dan. 10:13; 12:1), worship him (Pss. 29:1–2; 148:2; Is. 6), execute his wrath (Ps. 78:49), and act as his heavenly armies (Is. 45:12).  The spiritual powers of the LORD’s council are often ranked with specific roles, like that of Satan as the adversary, or as chief angels (Gen. 22:11–18; Exod. 23:20–21) like those of Gabriel (Dan. 8:16) and Michael (Dan. 10:13–21). In Job 33:22–25 an angel acts as an advocate for the accused before the heavenly council (*cf. Zech. 3:1–5).

Indeed, it is before this council that prophets stood to hear God’s word (Jer. 23:18, 22), and it is to his council that God reveals his activities (Amos 3:7). Therefore, the Old Testament presents all spiritual revelation on earth as originating from the spiritual powers of the heavenly host.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Twelftree, G. H. (2000). Spiritual Powers. In T. D. Alexander & B. S. Rosner (Eds.), New dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed., pp. 796–801). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Dunnett, W. M. (1996). Satan. In Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed., pp. 714–715). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

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