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.