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The Hebrew Satan-Old Testament Satans-The Satan of Job
Chaldean and Persian Influences—Hebrew Angels-Rabbinical Demonology-Ahriman-Demonology and Hagiology of the Fathers—Satan after the Reformation—The Satan and Devil of the New Testament–The Orthodox Devil of the Modern Christian.
The devil of the present day is known by the name of Satan ; portrayed by Milton, and brought within the compass of the ordinary human mind. There was a Satan in the Old Testament, but not Milton's : the old Hebrew Satan was either an adversary or an accuser : he was a sort of public prosecutor in the spiritual world, wandering up and down in the earth, spying out men's conduct, weighing their motives, and reporting their failings to Jehovah, the God of all mankind; taking a grim pleasure in his work, but still fulfilling a necessary office. Man, a sinful, stumbling creature, did not like this vigilant accuser,always lying at the catch to throw the worst colour on his actions, and hold up his sins to the light of heaven : but after all, this Satan was but a public prosecutor on a large scale, and was only different in degree from the policeman who detects and prosecutes the modern thief, and thereby becomes his Satan.
No: our devil is not the Satan of the Hebrews, nor the Asmodeus of the Jews, nor any of the demons of nature or mythology, nor any dethroned god who has seen better days, although he combines many of the characteristics of each of these: but we look in vain amongst them for the unmixed spirit of maiignancy which is the central idea of Satan, the modern devil. Christians are the natural successors of the Hebrews in the main features of their creed, but whatever spirits of evil the Hebrews acknowledged, they never realized the existence of a Spirit of malignancy, incapable of good, and only existing for the purpose of creating evil, until they heard of Ahriman the supreme evil spirit of the Persian system. Throughout all the creeds and mythologies of the ancient world, he alone possessed the germ of that which has become the exclusive and distinguishing characteristic of the modern Devil.
The term “Satan” and “Satans” which occur in the Old Testament, are certainly not applicable to the modern conception of Satan as a spirit of evil; although it is not difficult to detect in the old Hebrew mind a fruitful soil, in which the idea, afterwards evolved, would readily take root. The original idea of a “ Satan is that of an" adversary,” or agent of “opposition.” The angel which is said to have with
stood Balaam is in the same breath spoken of as “ The angel of the Lord,” and a “Satan.” When the Philistines under Achish their king were about to commence hostilities against the Israelites under Saul, and David and his men were about to march with the Philistines ; the latter objected, lest, in the day of battle, David should become a “Satan” to them, by deserting to the enemy. When David, in later life, was returning to Jerusalem, after Absalom's rebellion and death ; and his lately disaffected subjects were, in turn, making their submission ; amongst them came the truculent Shimei : Abishai, David's nephew, one of the fierce sons of Zeruiah, advised that Shimei should be put to death: this grated upon David's feelings, at a time when he was filled with exuberant joy at his own restoration ; and he rebuked Abishai as a “Satan." Again, Satan is said to have provoked David to number Israel, and at the same time, that “the Lord moved David to number Israel :" a course strenuously opposed by Joab, another of the sons of Zeruiah. Solomon in his message to Hiram, king of Tyre, congratulated himself on having no “Satans,” and that this peacesul immunity from discord enabled him to build the Temple, which had been forbidden to his warlike
* Num. xxii. 22, 32.
1 Sam. xxix. 4.
2 Sam. xix. 22. 41 Chron. xxi. I.
52 Sam. xxiv. I.
father David.' This immunity was not, however, lasting; for Hadad, the Edomite, and Rezon, of Zobah, became “ Satans” to Solomon, after his pro. fuse luxury had opened the way for corruption and disaffection.” In all these cases, the idea is simply identical with the plain meaning of the word : a Satan is an opponent, an adversary. In the elaborate curse embodied in the rogth Psalm, the writer speaks of his enemies as his “ Satans,” and prays that the object of his anathema may have .“ Satan” standing at his right hand. The Psalmist himself, in the sequel, fairly assumes the office of his enemy's “Satan,” by enumerating his crimes and failings, and exposing them in their worst light. In the 71st Psalm, enemies (v. 10) are identified with “ Satans,” or adversaries (v. 13).
The only other places in the Old Testament where the word occurs, are in the Book of Job, and the
prophecy of Zechariah. In the Book of Job, Satan appears with a distinct personality, and is associated with the sons of God, and in attendance with them before the throne of Jehovah. He is the cynical critic of Job's actions, and in that character he accuses him of insincerity and instability; and receives permission from Jehovah to test the justice of this
1 Kings v. 4.
3 Ps. cix, 4, 20, 29.
accusation, by afflicting Job in everything he holds dear. We have here the spy, the informer, the public prosecutor, the executioner ; all embodied in Satan, the adversary: these attributes are not amiable ones, but the writer does not suggest the absolute antagonism between Jehovah and Satan, which is a fundamental dogma of modern Christianity.
In the prophecy of Zechariah, Satan again, with an apparent personality, is represented as standing at the right hand of Joshua, the high-priest, to resist him : he seems to be claiming strict justice against one open to accusation; for Joshua is clothed in filthy garments—the type of sin and pollution. Jehovah relents, and mercy triumphs over justice: the filthy garments are taken away, and fair raiment substituted. Even here, the character of Satan, although hard, is not devoid of all virtue, for it evinces a sense of justice.
The Hebrews before the Captivity seem to have held no specific doctrine respecting evil spirits; or, if they did, such doctrine was not in conflict with that held by other peoples, for no controversy on the subject is recorded. When they were carried away captives to Babylon, they successively came into contact with the Chaldean and Persian elements; and