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Sermon : Sodom and Gomorrah


Satan, as we currently believe of him, is far removed from the original, initial perceptions that were held by our predecessors. Satan, it could be said, was non-existent in Ancient Israel; that is to say, the Satan of modern day religion. An underlying reason for this was the theology of the time. The perceptions of God Himself differed greatly from what we are now taught, and have come to hold in our beliefs. The theology of the Old Testament may seem as though it were less developed, that is, their religious ideas were less advanced than those of today; however, it may only seem as such for we believe that we are, indeed, 'advanced', or 'enlightened' more so than those before us. Yet, it is possible for regression, and perhaps, to some extent, this has occurred over time. Of course, this is but one perspective on the matter: yet, playing 'devil's advocate' helps in self-critique, leading to a better hold on what we do, in fact, hold. Therefore, in returning, the Satan that we know is quite different from the Satan that Israel knew, and to some degree, appears to be more holistic. That is to say, the God that they worshipped appears more whole and all encompassing than the God we currently worship and claim to be unrestricted and infinite. Therefore, as will become clearer, Satan's character, role and relationship to humanity and God differed drastically from what is now thought.

Satan was a completely different creature, not even being a specific individual. Western Christians have come to identify Satan as some supernatural leader of an evil spiritual empire. There are various myths surrounding this entity; imaginatively, many associate him with a grotesque monster, such as the goat-man half-breed, with a pitchfork.

Abstractly, he is simply the opposite of good. Such misconceptions may perhaps serve his purpose - that his most effective deception is that many do not believe in his existence.1 There is no lack of evidence throughout the Bible, however, to support his reality. What one finds, in spite of this, are differing perspectives on this being, just as there are so many different positions on various ideas. The satan mentioned is not a concrete individual, nor is the term pointing towards such. The term stn appears several times in the Old Testament, yet, never appears as the name of a specific, consistent adversary - this creature is plainly a member of the heavenly court, albeit, with unusual tasks.2 This Hebrew term, stn, can be translated into English as 'opponent,' 'to place in the way,' or 'to obstruct,'3 as well as 'to act as adversary.'4 Therefore, it has the basic undertone of 'opponent/adversary.' It should be noted that each time the word is used, the definite article is in place before it, translating it literally to 'the satan,' as opposed to 'Satan.'5 The verb is not, in fact, used as a title, but instead as a description of function.6 It is not to say that the being in opposition is a - or the - devil but simply and plainly is in opposition. Supporting this is the fact that it appears as a common noun several times in regards to a human antagonist, such as in 2 Samuel 19:22.7 Neil Forsyth gives the example of 1 Kings 11:14, 25, where an ordinary and earthly human is called a satan, stirred up by Yahweh as an adversary to Solomon - just as Rezon, king of Damascus, is called a 'satan to Israel.'8 These people, of course, are not 'God's opposing force,' but simply persons whom God has chosen to use for the purpose of challenging, or punishing, His own children.

The first time a supernatural being is called a satan is in Numbers 22:22-35, and even here the sense is that of a common, not a proper, noun.9 The angel of the Lord that blocks the road before Balaam and his donkey is merely acting as an obstructer, and nowhere is it implied that this spirit is any particular 'Satan.' Indeed, the angel of God, the mal'ak Yahweh, is referred to as le-satan-lo, 'an obstruction to him.'10 Since Balaam's journey was unauthorised, the angel is simply doing God's will in stopping him. Therefore, a satan plays an adversarial role, and is not the name of a particular character. Instead, it is any angel, or human, sent by God for the purpose of obstructing human activity that God presumably is not pleased with.11 Already, this definition turns upside down our present beliefs. It is quite important to note - crucial, even - the fact that this satan is not a force independent of God, but is, in fact, sent by God. Many identify the satan with that of the mal'ak Yahweh, the 'herald, messenger, angel of God.'12 It is this mal'ak that is often noted as doing 'God's dirty work,' as it were. This creature is defined as the voice of God, the spirit of God, and even as God Himself.13 It is identical to God, such as in Exodus 3:2, where Moses is addressed from the burning bush by the mal'ak, and then in Exodus 3:4, by Yahweh Himself; therefore, it could be said that the mal'ak is the side of Yahweh that humanity perceives - the manifestation of God in relationship with people.14 This spirit is the one who opposes the activity, plans, and desires of humanity - always by God's own order, and permission; it is not necessarily wicked, but is simply sent to perform a task, just as "the angel of death" might.15 Therefore, if the satan is identified with this angel of God, it goes to show that the satan is, in fact, a servant of God, and not, as currently believed of 'Satan,' an opposing adversary to Yahweh. Thus, in the first appearances of the satan, it is not evil or opposed to God, but is one of God's obedient servants.

  1. Robert L. Peterson, Trail of the Serpent: the Story of Satan as told in The Bible - from the Fall to the Lake of Fire (New Canaan, Connecticut: Keats Publishing Inc., 1976), p.11.
  2. Neil Forsyth, The Old Enemy: Satan and the Combat Myth (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), p.107.
  3. Ibid., p.113.
  4. Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan (New York: Random House, 1995), p.39.
  5. David J. A. Clines, Word Biblical Commentary, vol.17: Job 1-20 ( Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1989), p.205.
  6. Clines, Word Biblical Commentary, p.20.
  7. Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity (London: Cornell University Press, 1977), p.189.
  8. Forsyth, The Old Enemy, p.113.
  9. Russell, The Devil, p.190.
  10. Forsyth, The Old Enemy, p.113.
  11. Pagels, The Origin of Satan, p.39.
  12. Forsyth, The Old Enemy, p.111.
  13. Russell, The Devil, p.198.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Pagels, The Origin of Satan, p.40.