RELIGION AND ha satan

Copyright © 2003 Victor Shane, All Rights Reserved

Before attempting to treat a disease, a physician has to obtain a correct diagnosis. Before attempting to dispose of the “devil,” we also have to obtain a correct diagnosis. What then is the Biblical “devil” all about? Is he/it something outside us? Is he/it something in our physical constitution? Is he a Manichaean monstrosity with horns and hooves? A poltergeist? A fallen angel? Or a complex metaphor describing a very real and present danger? This question can only be resolved by sounding the depths of the Bible itself. While it would take many volumes to do that, we can at least touch on a few points here.

WILL THE REAL DEVIL PLEASE STAND UP!

We humans are proud anthropocentric creatures, determined to interpret the universe in terms of our own humanity. The word anthropomorphization implies just that—a personification or humanization of something non-personal and non-human. Often the Bible itself uses the language of accommodation, metaphor and anthropomorphism to make the complex understandable to man. Where there is a principle, the Bible may posit a corresponding prince or principality (principle-enforcer). Knowing that we would interpret the universe in our own terms, knowing our foolish pride, our hubris, our vanity, our arrogance, and our anthropocentrism, God responds with all of the familiar anthropomorphisms found in the Bible—“ha satan,  “serpent,” “devil,” “Beelzebub,” “waster,” “devourer,” “thief,” “god of this world,” “principality,” “prince of the power of the air,” “dragon,” “beast,” etc. Knowing that we would anthropomorphize the whole cosmos, God bends the human vice to His own advantage to warn us about the spiritual hazard that we face as mortals created from the physics of this universe. Our Heavenly Father gives that spiritual hazard a man-like face and character that we can identify with, calling it “devil” and “Satan,” using the power of myth to burn the reality of the hazard into our collective consciousness like a brand.   

The first clue to the complexity of the Old Testament ha satan is in the verb root stn, implying “to be at enmity with.” If there were an adversarial, anti-life, anti-humanity PRINCIPLE in the universe, then ha-satan would be the anthropomorphization (personification) thereof.

Let us strive for a rational and holistic understanding. Firemen, for example, may refer to their adversary—fire—as “the devil.” Thus, in the Hebrew idiom, fire would be the ha satan of the firefighter. Similarly, law enforcement officers may refer to crime as their ha satan; or physicians may refer to cancer as their ha satan; so on and so forth. This is the plain sense of the ha satan doctrine found in the Old Covenant, where the noun form of the verb root stn is nearly always preceded by the definite article ha, meaning “the.”

However, there is a salient exception in First Chronicles 21:1, the very first time that the word satan appears in the Bible in the form of a bona fide pronoun, as though a name, like “Bill” or “George.” Perhaps the Rosetta Stone that we are looking for is in the two different accounts of the taking of the census of the people of Israel by David. This is what we read in 2 Samuel 24:1:

The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go, number all the people of Israel and Judah.”

Whereas in 1 Chronicles 21:1 the event is described differently:

And Satan stood up against Israel, and enticed David to take a census of the people of Israel.

What then? Is the Bible contradicting itself, as so many atheists claim? How come in Second Samuel it is God who is telling David to take a census of the people of Israel, but in First Chronicles it is “Satan” who is telling him to do that?

The explanation, of course, is that Second Samuel was written before the Babylonian/Persian captivity, whereas First Chronicles was written during or after. We said that Circa 510 B.C. the Jews of the southern kingdom of Judah were taken captive into Babylon / Persia where some of them assimilated Zoroaster’s dualism and later brought it back with them to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah. It was the prophet Zoroaster (thought to have come on the Persian scene around 660 B.C.) who conceived of the dualism that pitted the forces of the good god Ahura Mazda against those of the evil god Ahriman. Regardless of what Zoroaster had in mind when he modeled the cosmos after a proto-Manichaean struggle between these two “primal spirits,” his dualism grew into a bogeyman of worldwide proportions in the centuries that followed.

So then if the Holy Spirit of God cannot contradict Himself, we can reasonably infer that He has placed a flashing red light in First Chronicles 21:1, as though to say “Caution! Caution!”  The Jews that went into Babylonian captivity took with them the plain vanilla, down to earth, rational and holistic doctrine of ha satan. The Jews that returned from captivity 70 years later brought back with them a Persianized distortion more akin to the Ahriman of Zoroaster—a grotesque, misshapen, malevolent Bogeyman-Alternative of God renamed “Shaytan.” The flashing red light that God has placed in First Chronicles 21:1 would seem to be warning us not to confuse the two.

Some theologians will no doubt disagree and say, “Well then what about Job 1:6, where ha satan is described as one of the ‘sons of God’—a celestial or angelic being?” The problem with this popular interpretation becomes obvious if we substitute “Jack the Ripper” in place of “ha satan:”

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and [the] Jack the Ripper also slipped in among them.

                                                         Job 1:6, altered on purpose

The phrase “among them has been interpreted in a Manichaean frame, assuming that ha satan was an “angelic being” or “regular member of the heavenlies.” However, in many places in the Old Testament the preposition among is actually used to refer to an intruder. Moreover in the complex imagery presented in Job it is precisely because ha satan has no right to be there that he alone is asked his business. Doubtless the Bible is in fact describing something evil here, but there is no dualism to speak of in Job. It is not possible to believe that the purpose of the oldest book of the Bible is to provide us with an explanation of evil that cannot be found in the book itself (after making another brief appearance in Job 2:7 ha satan is not mentioned again).

The theologian may still argue and say, “Yes, but what about ‘the bright morning star’ found in Isaiah 14:12, or the ‘towering cherub’ of Ezekiel 28:14?’” There may be plain vanilla explanations for these as well, as most Jewish rabbis will affirm. Ezekiel 28:14, for example, is describing the king of Tyre in metaphorical language (not "Lucifer the devil”).

The idea that ha satan is a “fallen angel,” after the theme and imagery suggested in the apocryphal Book of Enoch, is very popular throughout Christendom, but can be disproved by the testimony of the Bible itself. Perhaps the closest thing to the Book of Enoch would be the Book of Jude in the New Covenant. Does Jude describe ha satan as a “fallen angel?” No, he suggests otherwise:

And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their posts, God has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day

                                                         Jude 1:6

If God has bound the fallen angels in “everlasting chains,” pending the judgment of the great day, what is ha satan doing running around loose on earth? In which case the ha satan of the Bible must be some thing other than a “fallen angel.” Indeed the construct of a Manichaean fallen angel has no Biblical basis—such a fiend could not run around loose for a single hour without defying the Sovereignty and overcoming the Power of Almighty God.

Doubtless many theologians will still argue, citing the temptation of Christ by the devil in the wilderness as another example. The temptation of Christ in the wilderness must again be understood within the rational context of the syntactical whole of the Word of God. Let us remind ourselves that Yeshua (Jesus) was alone in the wilderness—there was no CNN crew to film the event. From which we can infer that it was Yeshua himself who narrated it to the disciples. In what context? In the contents of gossip? No, Yeshua’s narrative was given to the disciples in context of support and encouragement.  What is Yeshua telling us in this narrative? He is telling us that there is indeed an adversarial principle and pitfall to be reckoned with in this mortal life, a ha satan that will try to implicate himself in the affairs of men as adversary, tempter and accuser. And if this ha satan tried to tempt Yeshua himself, then he will assuredly try to tempt us as well. But in the manner in which Yeshua overcame the temptation, you and I can overcome it as well. 

Similarly, many other passages of scripture, nowadays interpreted in a Manichaean frame, can be demystified in the rational light of the syntactical whole of the Word of the Living God. 

What are we saying, that there is no real “devil” to speak of? On the contrary, the existence of such a principle/principality can be inferred from daily experience. Why is mankind unconsciously aroused by the spectacle of disorder? What principle is there in man that would cause him to find satisfaction and affirmation in the popular spectacles of vice, violence, immorality, degradation, crime, shootings, killings, car crashes, destruction and exploding buildings shown on television and in the movies? Why does the apostate media love to feed on disorder, immorality, nudity, pornography, perversion, murder and corruption? Whence the provenance of this love affair with disorder and degradation? What devil is there in the physical constitution (flesh) of man that would orient him towards everything that is ruinous, degrading, and evil?

That there is some “evil inclination” (statistical tendency to disorder) internal to man can be inferred from many Biblical passages, among them the following:

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name when they saw the miracles that he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men… for he knew what was in man.

                               John 2:23-25, emphasis added

What exactly is there in man that has been productive of so much disorder and evil on earth? Is there a rational, holistic, scientific explanation? Yes there is, and Book of Life zeroes in on it. The whole of the problem is internal to our own physical constitution. Yes, there is a ha satan to be overcome in this mortal life, and yes, he/it is the practitioner and purveyor of disorder and death. But this devil does not hail from a Manichaean universe. He/it is very much internal to the physics of the real universe. The physics from which God created our material existence.

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