satan as an agent in the court of God

There is a scene in Job in which Satan approaches God. God asks Satan where he has been. Satan claims he has been running “to and fro” on the Earth. This leads God into a question as to if Satan has considered Job. Here is the text:

Job 1:7 The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
Job 1:8 And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”

This series of events happen twice: once in Job 1 and once in Job 2. This is odd, considering the conversation is casual and at least on face value, the conversation seems genuine. Satan is running to and fro on the Earth, and Satan is “considering” people. Something interesting is happening which is perhaps missed by most people:

Satan is acting as an agent of God. Satan has been tasked with searching the Earth on behalf of God and evaluating human beings. In this capacity, Satan is acting as one of the “eyes of the Lord”, a group of angels who watch over human activity (punishing and blessing people according to their works). This concept is consistent with Satan’s overall role in the Old Testament and the terminology used in Job.

One key concept that most people miss is that Satan is not a proper noun in Job. Satan is called “the satan”, as if he is someone fulfilling a role. “The satan” (the adversary) is just one of the “sons of God” who has been assigned a particular task. There are other satans throughout the Bible, some angelic and some human.

While the satan in Job is paired with an article, other times in the Bible Satan could be a proper noun. We see the term “Satan” being used in 1 Chronicles 21. In this case, also, Satan acts as an agent of God:

1Ch 21:1 Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.

The parallel text replaces Satan with Yahweh, God’s proper name:

2Sa 24:1 Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”

At least one of these authors, and probably both, considered Satan as doing Yahweh’s will. Yahweh is the one inciting David, but Satan is the agent carrying out the action. This is one of three divine references to Satan without an article. Another is in Psalms:

Psa 109:6 Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand at his right hand.
Psa 109:7 When he is tried, let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin!

In these verses, King David is asking God to set wicked (perhaps “brutal” would be a better conseptual translation) rulers over the wicked people who are his enemies. Satan would act as an advisor to this king in order to council the king’s judgment. With both a brutal ruler to punish and Satan to accuse, David is assured that his enemies would be killed. Satan’s role, in this case, is one of prosecutor to a king.

Satan appears again with Balaam, enforcing the will of God:

Num 22:22 But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him.

In this case, an angel (an adversary or “satan”) opposes Balaam. This satan is “the angel of Yahweh”. In the text of Numbers, the satan’s job is to act on behalf of God’s wrath. God is angry with Balaam, and this angel opposes Balaam to stop Balaam.

Other than these verses, all other references to “satan” without the article are in reference to human beings (1 Sam 29:4; 2 Sam 19:23; 1 Kings 5:18; 1 Kings 11:14; 1Ki 11:23). The term, “satan”, in these verses, are just people who generally oppose others, or people raised up by God for specific acts of opposition.

With the article, the angelic satan is seen elsewhere in the Bible. In Zecheriah 3, a satan is standing at the right hand of God. This position suggests affiliation and membership with the court of God. In this text, the satan is rebuked by God:

Zec 3:1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.
Zec 3:2 And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?”

Satan seems to have been accusing Jerusalem (rightly). God was in the process of punishing Israel, but never entirely. Jerusalem (Israel) was a firebrand, burning but never consumed. God silences Satan before Satan can speak. The high priest appears, in this text, and is purified by God. The image is the equivalent of God washing away one’s sins. Satan wanted those sins punished. God wanted them forgiven.

Satan is not being accused or silenced due to evil intent. Satan, instead, wants God to exercise righteous judgment in place of mercy. Satan is acting as a divine councilor in a heavenly court. His role is to advocate justice.

This fits the scene in Job. In Job, God asks the satan if he has “considered” Job. This considering would have been a normal part of satan’s duties as Satan wanders the Earth. The wandering, itself, is interesting. The satan has been going “to and fro”, language associated heavily with God’s angels, who judge the wicked. These angels are known as the “eyes of the Lord”.

The “eyes of the Lord” function much like “the satan” in Job (and possibly are one and the same). In 2 Chronicles, the eyes of the Lord (like the satan in Job) run “to and fro” over the Earth. In this case, they support the righteous:

2Ch 16:9 For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.”

The same running “to and fro” are attributed to other eyes in Zechariah:

Zec 4:10 … For these seven rejoice to see The plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the LORD, Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.” [This is the NKJV because the ESV substitutes “scan to and fro” with “range”]

The “plumb line” was a measuring device, a symbol for judgment. The “eyes of the Lord” are functioning as that tool of judgment. There are seven, and these seven seem to be assigned to Israel:

Zec 3:9 For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.

In Revelation 5:6, there seems to be a reference to these two verses in Zechariah. These seven “eyes” are spirits which God sent into world (Revelation is a book of judgment). These eyes seem to be fulfilling the role of prosecutor. The “eyes of the Lord”, in these verses, are functioning as agents of judgment.

In Jeremiah 5, God’s eyes run to and fro throughout Jerusalem, exposing lies:

Jer 5:1 Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her.
Jer 5:2 Though they say, “As the LORD lives,” yet they swear falsely.
Jer 5:3 O LORD, do not your eyes look for truth?…

This fits one of the Proverbs:

Pro 22:12 The eyes of the LORD keep watch over knowledge, but he overthrows the words of the traitor.

Throughout the Bible, the “eyes of the LORD” watch everyone:

Pro 5:21 For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths.

Pro 15:3 The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.

Isa 49:5 And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength—

The “eyes of the Lord” find all sorts of people both righteous and unrighteous:

Amo 9:8 Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground, except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” declares the LORD.

Righteous: Noah (Gen 6:8). Zadok (2Sa 15:25), David (1Ki 15:5). Asa (1Ki 15:11, 2Ch 14:2 ). Jehoash (2Ki 12:2). Amaziah (2Ki 14:3, 2Ch 25:2 [but not with a whole heart]). Azariah (2Ki 15:3). Pekah (2Ki 15:34). Hezekiah (2Ki 18:3, 2Ch 29:2). Josiah (2Ki 22:2, 2Ch 34:2). Joash (2Ch 24:2). Uzziah (2Ch 26:4). Jotham (2Ch 27:2).
Unrighteous: Ahaz (2Ki 16:2, 2Ch 28:1).

The “eyes of the Lord” also watch the land. The eyes are assigned to a land, and if Israel moves to that land, Israel will gain increased scrutiny by these eyes:

Deu 11:12 a land that the LORD your God cares for. The eyes of the LORD your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.

With all these passages in mind, the satan found in Job can be best understood as an agent of God. This satan is tasked with evaluating human kind. The wager between God and satan is part of satan’s duties, to expose corruption. The satan fails.

None of this requires that New Testament references to Satan have to be the same courtly position. Michael Hiesner suggests that the term morphed into one concerning those who were critical of God. Through this morphology, the label became affixed to “the Devil”:

Basically, “the satan” in Job is an officer of the divine council (sort of like a prosecutor). His job is to “run to and fro throughout the earth” to see who is and who is not obeying Yahweh. When he finds someone who isn’t and is therefore under Yahweh’s wrath, he “accuses” that person. This is what we see in Job — and it actually has a distinct New Testament flavor. (We also see it in Zechariah 3). But the point here is that this satan is not evil; he’s doing his job. Over time (specifically the idea of “being an adversary in the heavenly council” was applied intellectually to the enemy of God — the nachash (typically rendered “serpent”) in Eden, the one who asserted his own will against Yahweh’s designs. That entity eventually becomes labeled “Satan” and so the adversarial role gets personified and stuck to God’s great enemy (also called the Devil). This is a good example of how an idea in Israelite religion plays out and is applied in different ways during the progress of revelation.

God could have an adversary named “the Devil”, but the satans of the Old Testament are probably not him.

Also see:

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Bible, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to satan as an agent in the court of God

  1. Pingback: “Saint Paul’s Disease”? – The Book of Amos

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s