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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Satan

Satan

In Job 1:6-12, God and ‘the satan’ have the following exchange.


One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.”

Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 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. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.


I refer to Satan as ‘the satan’ (lower case ‘s’) because ‘ha-satan’ in Hebrew is a title, not a name. It means ‘the adversary,’ or ‘the accuser.’ Several of the writers who approach Job via critical Biblical studies do not see in this ‘satan’ the same being of evil Jesus refers to as ‘the enemy’ (Matthew 13:39) or Beelzebub (Mark 3:22-23). The feeling is the one in Job is not evil at all.

Leo Perdue (Brite Divinity School, Professor of Hebrew Bible) describes ‘satan’ as a “member of the divine council [who] has the responsibility to search out and discover evil on the face of the earth and to make a report to the divine judge.” Furthermore, based on his reading of Job he writes that God is “a suspicious ruler of the divine council [who] falls prey to the temptation of ‘the satan’ and turns over to him the hero [Job]” (Perdue, Wisdom & Creation, p.129).

Now listen to Gerald Janzen (Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, Professor of Old Testament). He identifies ‘satan’ as a “proper member of the divine council.” He feels God’s question to ‘the satan’ amounts to a check. God is asking ‘satan,’ “Have you been doing your job?” Janzen recognizes that this book is not about ‘satan.’ He is a minor (but important) character. Janzen’s reading suggests that the appropriate behavior for ‘satan’ is to go about the earth, notice, and report to God what he sees.

Edwin M. Good (retired from Stanford University): “‘the satan’ … a divine district attorney, poking his nose here and there through the world in order to bring wicked people to divine justice. Far from being God’s adversary he is the divine law and order officer. He is not the principle of evil, however much he became so in later Jewish and Christian mythologies, but on the contrary in Job is a principle of good, of justice (Good, essay – “The problem of evil in the book of Job” in the book The Voice from the Whirlwind, p.52).

Upon reading Job and listening to the comments of leading authorities like Perdue, Janzen, and Good, I am not sure what to make of ‘satan’ in the book of Job. First, I would reiterate that the book of Job is not about ‘satan.’ He functions as a catalyst in the action, and then, he’s off the stage never to return. I am tempted to entertain the idea that this being we meet in Job 1 & 2 is not the same being that Jesus refers to as the devil, Beelzebub, Satan, and the enemy. I am tempted to hypothesize that that being is totally different, but I don’t have any particular good cause for such a conclusion other than my own reasoning.

I don’t agree with Edwin Good’s conclusion that ‘satan’ is a “principle of justice.” Good is taking it too far. It does seem that God is quick to show off Job, and then it backfires on God. The exchange of God & Satan in the divine council is unsettling. Clearly God is in charge and all movement is dependent upon God’s will. But God seems out of control regarding Job’s actions once Job is released to the destructive designs of the ‘satan.’ For ‘satan’s’ scheming to harm Job, even if it is in order to prove God wrong, I see ‘satan’ as malevolent.

It was not God’s intent that Job suffer. However, God allowed it just so God could prove a point. God allowed the death of 10 young adults (Job’s children; this number does not account for spouses and servants who also died). God allowed Job to go from prosperity and health to poverty and disease. God did it all to win an argument.

The whole notion of “divine council” (see also Psalm 82:1; 1 Kings 22:19-23; Zechariah 3:1-2; and Ephesians 6) is quite troubling if this is how divine councils function. People are just tools in the hands of gods – is this true? If so, from a human perspective, God’s hands are no cleaner than ‘satan’s’. However, it may be that one of the things the book of Job tells us is the human perspective is of limited importance to God. Other passages of scripture would contradict this theology (Matthew 6:35-43), but that’s one of the realities that makes Job so intriguing.

The ‘satan’ we meet in Job is something – something otherworldly. What he is exactly, I don’t know. He doesn’t appear as God’s enemy. He is most definitely God’s subordinate. And I am sure he does NOT have humanity’s good in mind. But, what he is, I am not sure.

14 comments:

  1. hasatan = the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan.

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  2. That is actually not what 'hasatan' means. 'Ha' is an article, which means 'the.' 'Satan' is a word that means accuser or adversary. Your comment does not account for the change in the way Satan is understood from Job to Zechariah 3 to the days of Jesus. In Jesus' day, Satan is an evil being opposed to humanity and opposed to God's purposes. It's not the same in Job. In Job, the adversary is a part of God's divine council. There is no indication that 'ha-satan' is an enemy of God.

    Also, your comment doesn't really refute any of the views put out by the scholars I quoted. It seems you are taking something that evolved over maybe 1000 years of interpretation and trying to boil it down to something simple. It isn't that simple.

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  3. I don't know how hasatan can be viewed as anything other than an opponent of God and a slanderer of his creation. You didn't supply arguments in support of your commentator's views so I couldn't address them directly.

    Other than some commentator's unsubstantiated opinion, what casues you to think hasatan is part of God's divine council?

    Scripture is the best commentary on scripture and if Jesus says something about hasatan in the NT it is also true of hasatan in the OT. (In NT greek hasatan is transliterated as Satanas).

    Names mean things in the OT. I don't know why you don't want to let Satan be his name (that means 'the adversary'). Who other than Satan is the accuser of the faithfull?

    How can I take a scholar seriously if he states that God fell prey to Satan and lost control of what happened to Job? I'm not against scholars so much as I'm against the heresies that they fill their commentaries with.

    David

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  4. So then, why did God allow Satan to harm Job? A straight reading of text allows only one conclusion. God bragged about Job's righteousness. Satan challenged God. God succumbed to Satan's challenge. Job initially blessed God. But then, in his dialogues, Job challenged God to a court hearing and declared that if he could get a fair trial, he would have victory. If Satan is the enemy in Job, why does he go off stage after chapter 2? Why, from that point on, is it a contest between Job & God?

    You make the statement, "if Jesus says something about hasatan in the NT it is also true of hasatan in the OT." Says who? Jesus did not declare that Satan never changes. Jesus did not declare Satan to be the enemy of Adam, of Abraham, of Moses. Jesus operated within a system of rabbinic assumptions which included the assumption that there was an evil being called Satan. That theology of evil developed after the exile, not before.

    Just because we believe something today, does not mean was normative in the theology of the community of faith in Abraham's day, or Moses' day, or David's day. Theology evolves. And it has in the case of beliefs about Satan.

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  5. Certainly when Moses wrote Job (using Elihu's description of the dialogue), he had a different understanding of Satan than we have today. But we have the benefit of Jesus's teaching to instruct us. If Jesus says Satan is something, than it is true of Satan even in the OT (even though OT characters may not have understood it that way). I believe Satan was the accuser than as he is now. He was not a good guy as part of God's divine council policing/prosecuting human behavior as many scholars postulate.

    You didn't really mean to say Jesus based his comments on rabbinic assumptions did you? Jesus is God and is therefore fully 'in the know' about Satan without having to use some rabbi's evolved position.

    Satan is off the stage after Ch.2 because he is God's enemy and the scene in heaven is covered in ch.1-2. Satan didn't go to God as Job's enemy, rather he challenged God, as God's enemy, about the nature of God's relationship with humans who worship God. 'You put a hedge about him.' This is what hasatan complained about.

    That the NT develops Satan more clearly does not mean the OT hasatan was a different creature.

    Job's three friends attempt to impose hasatan's thesis on him. That is the the righteous get prosperity and the evil get whats coming to them (retribution principle). Job's life was destroyed and therefore he has evil that he needs to repent of. The book of Job is the antidote for this incorrect understanding of the world. Satan's case is shown in Ch.4-27 to be groundless and so there is no reason to mention him after that point in the book.

    Why did God allow Satan to harm Job? So that, through the book of Job, we learn that the retribution principle is wrong and we can take comfort in that in our own suffering. To point to Christ, who though he was righteous, suffered and died. But more importantly, that he rose again in victory. In eternity, we will have victory through him.

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  6. I would simply add that in my original post, I said I believe that the Satan of the book of Job is malevolent and an enemy of humankind and does not have humanity's best interest at heart.

    As for Jesus, I meant he spoke against a backdrop of rabbinic assumption and rabbinic learning. In order for him to be 100% human during his days on earth, I think he forfeited, temporarily, his omniscience. He knew what the father told him. That's why he says he didn't know the time of the end (Mark 13:32). That is clearly evidence that there were things Jesus did not know.

    I believe Jesus was God and is God. But, to be 100% human (the incarnation) he limited his divinity, including his divine perspective. I think Jesus' vast knowledge points to his superiority of wisdom and learning.

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  7. Just my opinion, I don't know everything. :)

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  8. AMEN, brother - the more I read, the more I realize how much I don't know, and may never know! I am grateful for the dialogue and grateful for dialogue with people who love scripture and read scripture. Keep up the good work and we'll keep chasing this stuff. Most likey, the Holy Spirit will teach us much.

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  9. I have enjoyed this dialogue, and would like to add to it my own humble remarks, coming from a non-theological viewpoint, and as someone who has never studied Job in depth. Therefor coming from a clean slate. Three things came to mind. First, "Does Job fear God for nothing?", made me think of "Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden?" Sounds like it comes from the same mouth, using the same tactic.
    Secondly, I was actually blown away by Job's faithfulness. Serving as priest to his children, "just in case they might have sinned unintentionally". Surely don't most of us forget God, when we healthy, wealthy, and not needy in any way. Not even his family seems needy.
    Third, I was thinking how appropriate it is for Job to be just before Psalms.
    I liked David's words "The book of Job is an antidote for the incorrect understanding of the world."

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  10. Good observation about the question put to Eve and then to God in Job 1; I had not previously made that connection and I need to consider it.

    Also, excellent point about Job's faithfulness while he was healthy; history has shown that Christianity thrives in systems where Christians are persecuted. Christianity becomes diluted when there is economic prosperity and political dominance by Christians.

    And, yes, many scholars would affirm the affinity of Job and many of the Psalms.

    As I said in a previous post, there are no guarantees. Sometimes people go through suffering and are drawn closer to God. Sometimes, during periods of suffering, people flee from God or they blame God. There are no guarantees, so it is important to seek God in God's word and in prayer in all times - good, bad, and everyday/nondescript times.

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  11. I am a non-theologian and my question will make that obvious. Is there any historical evidence that Job existed? The introductions to the book that I found on the internet describe Job as a dramatic poem rather than actual events.

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  12. There is no non-Biblical evidence. Chapters 1-2, and 42 seem to be a unit.

    The Elihu dialogue seems to be a unit, chapters 32-37.

    The whirlwind speeches seem to be a unit, 38-41.

    The dialogues with the friends seem to be a unit, 3-27, 39-31.

    And finally, the independent poem on wisdom, ch. 28, appears as a unit.


    The question? Did the same author write all these units, or were they all composed separately and compiled by a later editor? Scholars come from several different angles on this. I am not sure the questions can be answered with certainty.

    Nor do I think there is certainy whether or not Job was a historical person. Or, is Job simply a grand poem-parable inspired by God to teach us that things are always so simple and that suffering is real and there aren't always good answers for it.

    Whether one takes Job to be a historical person and the story of Job to be history, or one takes the book of Job to be poem/poetry to me is not the main issue. Either way, I think Job is inspired word of God and speaks the truth of God. I just think it is harder to hear and understand than in other books of the Bible.

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  13. IMHO, Job was a real person. Ezek 14:14,20 refers to Job along with Noah and Daniel as persons who lived righteously. James 5:11 refers to Job as steadfast. I don't think inspired Biblical authors would refer to Job as a real person if he were not so. (Of course the scholars might not believe in Daniel and Noah either.)

    "There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job" - Job 1:1

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  14. 1. just like a positive charge attracts the negative charge, same is in this universe, the more gulliable you are the more you are likely to find a cheater. they are like negative charges, they will come in your life, they will fool you. and all you can do is to cry.. cry on your fate. but you know what? fate is written by the so called all powerful god. and it is fixed.. he is not and never going to change it..

    lets ask a simple question to the god...
    1. oh god why, why the hell you made a universe in which you make gulliable persons in your image, and then send cruel peoples to take advantage of those gulliable persons...why always good peoples suffer...why not we see those criminals suffering? are they dear to you? are they like you? are you like them? (cruel and asshole?)

    http://fkgod.blogspot.in/

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