The Devil (or Satan)




The Devil: A name derived from the Greek Diabolos, "slanderer." The name for the supreme spirit of evil, the enemy of God and man. In primitive religious systems there is no conception of evil, and the gods are neither good nor bad, as we conceive these terms, but many possess "good" and "bad" attributes at one and the same time. Thus we have very few traces or beings which are absolutely evil in the older religions, and it may be broadly stated that the conception of Satan as we have it to-day is almost purely Hebrew and Christian. In Egypt and Babylon, figures like Apepi and Tiawath, although clearly in the line of evolution of a Satanic personality, are by no means rulers of the infernal regions. Again the Hades of the Greeks is merely a ruler of the shades of the dead, and not an enemy of Olympus or mankind. It is strange that in Mexico, Mictlantecutli, lord of hell, is a much more directly Satanic figure than any European or Asiatic ruler of the realms of the dead. But in some mythologies, there are frequent allusions to monsters who may quite easily have colored our conception of Satan. Such is the Hindu serpent Ahi, and the Hebrew Leviathan, the principle of Chaos. In the Teutonic mythology we have the menacing shape of Loki, originally a god of fire, but afterwards the personification of evil. The conception of Satan, too, appears to have some deeply-rooted connection with the ancient serpent-worship, which seems to have penetrated most oriental countries. Thus we find the Tempter in the Old Testament in the guise of a serpent. The serpent or dragon is being generally regarded as the personification of night who swallows the sun and envelopes the world in darkness.

The Hebrew conception of Satan it is thought, arose in the post-exilic period, and exhibits traits of Babylonian or Assyrian influence. It is not likely that before the captivity any specific doctrine respecting evil spirits was held by the Hebrews. Writing on this subject, Mr. F. T. Hall in his book The Pedigree of the Devil says:

"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 withstood 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 peaceful immunity from discord enabled him to build the Temple, which had been forbidden to his warlike father, David. This immunity was not, however, lasting; for Hadad, the Edomite, and Regon, of Zobah, became 'Satans' to Solomon, after his profuse 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 109th 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 his 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, 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 virtue, for it evinces a sense of justice."

The Babylonians, among whom the Hebrews dwelt during the Captivity, believed in the existence of vast multitudes of spirits, both good and bad, but there is nothing to show that the Hebrews took over from them any extensive pantheon, either good or evil. Indeed the Hebrew and Babylonian religions possessed many things in common, and there was no necessity that the captive Jews should borrow an animism which they probably already possessed. At the same time it is likely that they adopted the idea of an evil agency from their captors, and as the genius of their religion was averse to polytheism, the probabilities are that the welded the numerous evil forces of Bablyonian into one central figure. Again, it must have occurred to them that if the world contained an evil principle, it could not possibly emanate from God, whom they regarded as all-good, and it was probably with the intention of separating all evil from God that the personality of Satan (having regard to the amount of evil in the universe) was invested with such importance.

In later Judaism we find the conception of Satan strongly coloured by Persian dualism, and it has been supposed that Asmodeus of the Book of Tobit is the same as Aeshara Daewa of the Ancient Persians. Both "Satan" and "Satans" were mentioned in the book of Enoch, and in Ecclesiasticus he was identified with the serpent of Genesis, and in the "Book of the Secrets of Enoch" his revolt against God and expulsion from Heaven are described. In the Jewish Tagrinn, Samael, highest of the angels, merges with Satan into a single personality. The Satan of the New Testament is merely a reproduction of these later Jewish forms. In Matthew he is alluded to as the "Prince of Demons," and in Ephesians is spoken of as ruling over a world of evil beings who dwell in the lower of heavens. Thus he is prince of the powers of the air. In Revelation the war in Heaven between God and Satan is described, and his imprisonment is foreshadowed after the overthrow of the Beast and the Kings of the earth, when he will be chained in the bottomless pit for one thousand years. After another period of freedom he is finally cast into the lake of brimstone for ever. According to the orthodox Christian belief of the present day, Satan has been endowed with great powers for the purpose of tempting man to prove his fortitude. In the middle ages, the belief in Satan and Satanic agencies was overwhelming, and was inherited by Protestantism from Roman Catholicism. This is not the place to enter into a discussion as to the likelihood of the existence of an evil being, but the great consensus of theological opinion is in favor of such a theory.


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