16-2-14 Devil

First Sunday Of Lent

The Devil is feared by all of us, but who is he?

Luke 4: 1 to 13: [1] And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan (from his baptism), and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, [2] Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered. [3] And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. [4] And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. [5] And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. [6] And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. [7] If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. [8] And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. [9] And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: [10] For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: [11] And in [their] hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. [12] And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. [13] And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.

Here the word for devil is diabolos which means the slanderer or false accuser. In John 6: 70 Jesus said, ‘Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?’ The word just means false accuser or betrayer.

Matt. 4: 1 to 11 tells the same story. In verse 10 Jesus addressed him as Satan (satanas). This is probably the word which Jesus actually used since he is reported to have spoken Aramaic. In this language there is a verb satan, which means to resist. It occurs in the Tanakh or the Old Testament six times. Five times it has been translated as the noun adversary.

The Hebrew word satan just means adversary and it has been used in quite a mundane manner. For example when Solomon sent to Hiram of Tyre to ask for cedar trees to build the Temple, he began by saying that his father David had wars on every side, ‘But,’ 1. Kings 5: 4, ‘now the LORD my God hath given me rest on every side, [so that there is] neither adversary (satan) nor evil occurrent.’ Here the word is just used for an enemy or opponent. Later (1. Kings 11: 14) ‘the LORD stirred up an adversary unto Solomon, Hadad the Edomite,’ again a very mundane military enemy.

The word also occurs in 1. Chr. 21: 1, ‘And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.2. Sam. 24 tells the same story only this time it was LORD himself who moved David to take the census, since his anger was kindled against Israel. Was he angry at David also?

What had David done in the previous chapters? In 2. Sam. 23 he spoke his ‘last words’, or maybe his last important words? His very last words and final instructions to Solomon, his son, are recorded two chapters later in 1. Kings 2.

In 2. Sam. 23 he raved about his warriors. In 2. Sam. 22 he praised God throughout all the chapter. In verse 45 he claimed, ‘Strangers shall submit themselves unto me: as soon as they hear, they shall be obedient unto me.’ Did this cause God’s anger?

In 2. Sam. 21 the house, or rather the family, of Saul, the king before David, was exterminated except for one man, a cripple. The chapter puts it that this was the punishment of Saul for something he had done to the city Gibeon, but this deed is nowhere recounted in the Tanakh. May this incident have been made up by David to give him an excuse to kill the descendants of Saul to avoid future challenges to his rule? Was that the cause for God’s anger in chapter 24?

Anyway, in 2. Sam. 24 God moved or incited David to number Israel, while in 1. Chr. 21: 1 Satan or an adversary (not the adversary, NET, YLT, both versions claiming to be literal) is recorded to have done so.

Some Scholars put the difference down to the different dates when these books were written. The book of Samuel was written before the captivity, while Chronicles were written in or after the captivity, maybe by the prophet Ezra. These scholars claim that the concept of satan, not just as a human adversary or opponent, but as a higher power entered the Tanakh from Zoroastrianism, the religion of King Cyrus who released some of the people to rebuild Jerusalem. Zoroastrians believe in a god of good, Ahura Mazda, and his adversary Ahriman.

But isn’t what the Bible says God’s word? Why are there then two contradictory accounts of this story? Whether this incident was initiated by God or by the devil is obviously a very important question! Or could it be that the version in Chronicles really meant just a human adversary, someone who talked King David into doing this, according to God’s will?

The book in which the word satan most frequently occurs is the book of Job. Job. 1: 3 says that he was the greatest of all the men of the east. In other words, this may very well also mean that Job himself and also the writer of the book were influenced by Eastern religion and that is why there is competition between God and satan.

Is this God’s word. Maybe. There is an holy text in Hinduism, called the Sruti. This means ‘what is heard’ which accounts for the possibility that the listener has misheard.

The word satan also occurs in Psalm 109, verses 4 and 6. In verse 4 it has been translated as adversary in verse 4, only in verse 6 it has been left untranslated by King James, while most others have translated ‘wicked man’.


So why is there this image of the devil with two horns? It may well be a personification of evil which has grown in the late Middle Ages. At the end of the eleventh century celibacy was introduced, maybe as a means to control overpopulation. At the beginning of the fourteenth century there was a great famine for years on end and later that century the plague struck for the first time in Europe.

People were devastated and they saw these disasters as punishments from God, even though they were not quite sure what had caused God’s anger. The plague recurred for centuries and so theories flourished about the cause and Europe lived under a great influence of a feeling of guilt. This may well be the reason which caused the personification of the Biblical slanderer or adversary into the horned demi – god of meanness.

The change of Christianity from a joyful religion into a religion of bad conscience is described in more detail in the chapter ‘The Great Darkness’ in Greetings from Paradise.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.