It might be a surprise to discover that the word ‘Devil’ doesn’t appear in the Old Testament! The singular word ‘devil’ is not found from Genesis to Malachi.
Why is it that ‘the Devil,’ which is frequently referred to in the New Testament, escapes mention for the 4000 years of recorded Old Testament history? If the Devil is a conniving, supernatural trouble-maker luring people away from God, why would there not be any warnings given about him until New Testament times?
There are 4 references to ‘devils’ (plural) in the KJV, but this is actually the Hebrew word ‘saiyr’ which means ‘shaggy, a he goat, devil, goat, hairy, kid, rough, satyr.’ This same word ‘saiyr’ is translated ‘goat’ or ‘kid’ 53 other times and left untranslated twice as ‘satyr’. The 4 references where ‘saiyr’ is translated ‘devils’ refers to a type of idol that was worshipped, as in Deuteronomy 32:16-21:
“They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods… They sacrificed unto ‘devils,’ not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not… They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities:”
DOES SATAN APPEAR IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?
Perhaps Old Testament believers only knew of this evil being by the name, ‘Satan’?
In the KJV, Satan makes an appearance 13 times in the first few chapters of Job before disappearing from the narrative for the rest of the book. We also read of Satan once in 1 Chronicles 21, once in Psalms 109, and 3 times in Zechariah chapter 3.
Looking up the Hebrew word ‘satan’ (yes, ‘satan’ is the actual Hebrew word) we find that it means “an opponent; especially (with the article prefixed) Satan, the arch enemy of good:” and Strong’s tells us that the word is translated into English in the KJV as, ‘adversary, Satan, withstand.’
If we look up all the places the Hebrew word – Strong’s H7854 – appears in the KJV, regardless of how it is translated, we find a few more references to add to our list, which give some interesting details on who or what ‘Satan’ is:
Beginning in Numbers 22:22, we find an angel standing in the way as an ‘adversary’ (H7854 ‘satan’) to Balaam, in order to stop Balaam from sinning against God! So, a good angel is a ‘satan’ to a misguided prophet!
In the next instance, 1 Samuel 29:4, the Philistines were worried that David might become an ‘adversary’ (H7854 ‘satan’) to them in the battle. So, again we have a good individual, David, potentially being a ‘satan’ to the enemies of God. Remember, when reading the original Hebrew text, this word ‘satan’ would be written as ‘satan’ in all these instances. It’s the English translators who made the decision when to translate this Hebrew word as ‘adversary’ and when to leave it untranslated as ‘Satan.’
David worried that his nephews (sons of Zeruiah) were ‘adversaries’ (H7854 ‘satan’) to him because they were trying to talk him into killing Shimei in 2 Samuel 19:22.
N0 ADVERSARIES – THEN 2 ADVERSARIES
King Solomon was very thankful that he didn’t have any ‘adversaries’ (H7854 ‘satan’) at the beginning of his reign (1 Kings 5:4), but because of his sins, God ‘stirred up’ two ‘adversaries’ (H7854 ‘satan’) at the end (1 Kings 11:4, 23,25) – two men named, Hadad and Rezon.
In 1 Chronicles 21: 1, we read, “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” However, there is a parallel occurrence in 2 Samuel 24:1 which says, “Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” So was God the adversary (H7854 ‘satan’) in this case, moving against Israel because of their wickedness?
Altogether in the Old Testament, it seems that anyone who opposes someone else, for good or bad, can be a ‘satan’. Your opponent is your satan, even if he/she is trying to help you do right.
SO, WHAT ABOUT THE SATAN IN JOB? IS THIS THE DEVIL BY HIS OTHER NAME?
The first two chapters in Job, record conversations between God and ‘Satan’ (H7854 – the same word meaning ‘an adversary’). But then we hear nothing more about Satan for the rest of the narrative! All the trouble that came upon Job is always attributed to God from chapter 3 to 42.
“Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:9)
“Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him:” (Job 42:11)
So, who was this Satan that walked ‘to and fro’ on the earth and was with the ‘sons of God’ when they presented themselves before Him?
SONS OF GOD
This phrase ‘sons of God’ can be used to refer to Divine angels as in Job 38:7. However, it is also used of godly humans, when they chose to marry the attractive ‘daughters of men’ in Genesis 6:2-4, meaning that believers chose to marry non-believers, as has happened many times in the history of the world. In the New Testament, the phrase ‘sons of God’ refers several times to the believers (John 1:12; Romans 8:14; Philippians 2:15; 1 John 3:1-2).
It’s important to note that at the end of the book of Job, God rebukes Job’s friends for speaking wrongly about Him, but nothing is said to ‘Satan’. If Satan was the cause of all Job’s trouble, would it not be appropriate for God to address the adversary and set things right? Because of this, some feel that Job’s three friends were the ‘satan’ as they were inwardly jealous of Job and their wrong perception of God’s dealings with humankind and their accusatory words stirred Job up to say things that he later regretted. Their words were more damaging to Job’s faithfulness than the terrible losses he faced. One, or all of them, may have been praying to God against Job at the beginning of the narrative. John Pople has written a helpful book on this subject, “To Speak Well of God” – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34429479-to-speak-well-of-god
GOD HAS NO RIVAL
If you read through Isaiah 45 and 46, you will see that God claims He has no rival. This passage in Isaiah would be an appropriate place to explain that there is a supernatural Devil who thinks he can rival God if there were indeed such a being.
OUR IMAGINATIONS ARE THE ISSUE
Instead, we find consistently throughout the OT, that it is man’s nature that opposes God and leads us into sin. At the time of the Flood, God saw that ‘the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.’ (Genesis 6:5) After the Flood, God acknowledges that, ‘the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth,’ (Genesis 8:21). There is no mention in the OT of a Supernatural Being drawing people away from the Creator. God blames the violence and wicked thoughts firmly on humankind. Solomon and Jeremiah likewise see the problem of evil stemming from man’s sinful heart:
“What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house: Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men;” 1 Kings 8:38
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” Jeremiah 17:9-10
WHAT ABOUT THE NEW TESTAMENT?
So, why is it then, that the devil features so prominently in the New Testament? Why is it that God waits 4000 years to tell believers about this powerful being – if indeed, the devil is a powerful being? If man’s own heart was capable of bringing about God’s decision to wipe everyone out nearly everyone in a Flood, have our hearts improved? Would a supernatural ‘devil’ add anything that we don’t already struggle with on our own? Why does the language change in the New Testament? We will look at these questions in Part 2 of this blog.
Click on this link for a Discovery worksheet investigating “Who Are Satan and the Devil in the Old Testament.”
All quotes are from the ESV or the KJV unless otherwise noted.