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Who is Satan?

The Hebrew scriptures record that the Almighty Himself placed both good and the evil into the world, in order that mankind would have the opportunity to exercise freewill. The Torah states:

by Benjamin Leon

Satan

“See, I [God] have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.” (Deuteronomy 30:15)

When describing God’s creation plan, the prophet Isaiah reports that the Almighty created evil in the world:
“I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I the Lord do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

I did not invent these verses, nor did I tamper with them. In fact, the Bible I used in the above quotations is the King James Version, a translation that could hardly be construed as friendly to the Jewish faith.

These edifying verses underscore the fundamental biblical teaching of the Almighty’s divine sovereign plan, which provides that every searching soul must confront evil, as well as good, in order to remain vigilant in one’s personal search for perfect spiritual balance. The Almighty’s gift of freewill to humanity is what separates us from His other creations. For those committed to attaining a higher spiritual existence, the struggle toward a life of virtue is only possible with the existence of evil, which serves as a spiritual counterweight. In other words, righteousness cannot exist unless man is free to choose or reject evil.

Passages in Tanach like Isaiah 45:7 and Deuteronomy 30:15 pose a monumental theological problem for Christians who maintain that God did not create Satan, the angel of evil. According to Christian doctrine, Satan was the highest-ranking angel who, through his own act of spiritual defiance and outright disobedience, became the chief adversary and slanderer of God, and the embodiment of evil in this world, God never created evil according to Christian teachings; He is only the author of righteousness and perfection. Therefore, God could never create something as sinister as the devil himself. Rather, Satan’s unyielding wickedness is the result of his own spiritual rebellion.

Although this well-known Christian doctrine has much in common with the pagan Zoroastrian Persian dualism from which it spawned, it is completely alien to the teachings of the Jewish Scriptures. In fact, this Christian notion that Satan, in an act of outright defiance, ceased to function as God had intended him to, suggests that God created something imperfect or defective.

For the Jewish faith, Satan’s purpose in seducing man away from God poses no problem because Satan is only an agent of God. As a servant of the Almighty, Satan faithfully carries out the divine will of his Creator as he does in all his tasks.

Satan is one of the many angels mentioned in the Bible. It is worth noting that the Hebrew word for angel is malach, meaning “messenger.” The same is true for the English word angel, derived from the Greek word angelos, which also means “messenger.”

Throughout the Bible, an angel is a messenger of God who carries out the divine will of the Almighty. There is not one example in the Jewish scriptures where any angel, Satan included, ever opposes God’s will.

In essence, Satan is an agent of God, and has no freewill or independent existence.

In no part of the Bible is this principle more evident than in the Book of Job, where Satan’s role is prominent. In the first chapter of Job, Satan appears before the Almighty with a host of other angels. Satan suggests that Job’s righteousness was not fully tested. He argues that Job might lose his faith if he were confronted by personal pain and utter destitution. He proposes to God that Job serves Him simply because God protects him. Satan requested permission from God to test Job’s virtue. The Almighty grants this petition; however, He meticulously outlines for Satan what he may and may not do when testing Job. Satan obediently follows his Creator’s instructions.

God removes Job’s protection, allowing Satan to take his wealth, children, and his physical health in order to tempt Job to curse God. Job’s faith is challenged, and by the third chapter he begins to struggle. He questions his Maker as to why he was created and, in a moment of despair, wishes aloud that he had perished in his mother’s womb.

Despite his difficult circumstances, Job does not curse God, but rather, curses the day of his birth. And although he protests his plight and pleads for an explanation, he stops short of accusing God of injustice. Still, by the end of this unparalleled biblical narrative, Job’s virtue prevails over Satan’s unyielding blandishments.

While in Christian terms Job’s personal spiritual triumph is theologically impossible, in Jewish terms it stands out as the embodiment of God’s salvation programme for mankind. In Deuteronomy 30:15, the Torah attests to this principle and in Isaiah 45:7, the prophet echoes this message when he declares that the Almighty Himself creates evil.

This biblical principle, however, was apparently too problematic for the Christian translators of the fundamentalist New International Version Bible. They clearly grasped that a Bible which asserts that God creates evil, calls into question Christendom’s rigid teachings on salvation.

How can the church insist that man is totally depraved, when his God placed him in a world where he is free to choose good over evil? How can the church hold to the doctrine of total depravity and unconditional election, when the Torah commands that man express his freewill? How can Christians maintain that God did not create evil when the Jewish scriptures clearly state otherwise?

*With acknowledgements to Rabbi Tovia Singer

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK

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