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Sermon : Sodom and Gomorrah


In pre-exilic times, God was believed to have created everything in earth and in heaven, much like is believed now; however, it was much more literal, believing that God not only created good, but also evil16- everything that is is because He has allowed it to be. This leads to the fact that in this belief 'the Devil,' as we think we know him, did not exist. As has already been defined, "Satan" in ancient times was not a specific character, but merely a spiritual, angelic, or human servant of God. He was not perceived to be an evil, malevolent leader of a band of fallen angels in constant spiritual warfare with the powers of God. Jeffrey Burton Russell identifies four interpretations of the Hebrew satan that have influence on our thinking now, and some problems with each. First, Satan as a demon among demons who rose to be leader; however, there is no evidence of a demon, per se, by the name of 'Satan' - there are many manifestations of evil, but none approach being an epitome of it.17

Secondly, Satan as a personification of the evil impulse within humanity; however, Satan is considered an objective reality, and not a psychological projection.18 Third, Satan as one of God's officials whose morals and motivations declined in time; yet, there is no explanation as to why this would occur.19 Lastly, Satan as the personification of the dark side of God: an element in Yahweh obstructing good - since Yahweh is identified as the one God of the universe, He, therefore, had to be an "antinomy of inner opposites".20 God here is both light and dark, good and evil.

The question then arises of what exactly is evil - that is, from where does it come? Is God responsible for evil, or did a satan bring it into the world? Perhaps 'Satan' merely tapped its potential. Could God actually be the source of both good and evil? Following the thoughts explained earlier, it was, indeed, believed that God was the source of both. Isaiah 44:24 describes God as 'the Lord, who has made all things,' while Isaiah 54:16 has God as the creator of 'the destroyer to work havoc.' Amos 3:6 poses that 'when disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?' Yahweh is the almighty, powerful God, yet is not afraid to 'get dirty.' After all, God has the first born males of Egypt killed as a plague to free His people; He destroys Sodom and Gomorrah and floods the entire world for their sins - God is not above doing what we perceive as "evil"; still He is not without a balance of good, such as the grace and salvation shown to Noah, and Lot. The aforementioned episode of Balaam and his donkey goes to show that not all that people think is good is, indeed, good. Instead, humanity tends to believe that if its path is good, the obstruction is bad - indeed, all opposition is seen as evil - whereas with Balaam, the reverse is true: the path was bad, therefore, the obstruction was good.21 It should now be noted that in this argument we meet again with the satan for if God's Word is true - if He, in fact, is the Creator of all things - then it follows that this satan is created, and, therefore, subject to its Creator.22 It has been noted that the satan is identified with the spirit of God known in Hebrew as the mal'ak Yahweh. This spirit, or angel, is, undeniably, still a servant of God, even if hostile to human creatures. This mal'ak, though associated with conflict, is still clearly an aspect of God Himself.23 If Yahweh is ambivalent, this spirit, therefore, must be as well. Exodus 12:23 has God killing the first born of Egypt, as earlier observed, but the Hebrew notes that it is the mal'ak doing the 'work.' Still, the spirit, or "destroyer", is sent by God.24 It can then be said that God is not above dealing harshly - even brutally - with the human race. God being transcendent, is beyond what any being could possibly grasp - His work and will is beyond our narrow knowledge. This dark side, and mysteriousness of Yahweh is further revealed when He seeks to murder Moses in Exodus 4:24. Unlike most believers now, the ancient Israelites had not reduced God to the one side of good, but instead He encompassed all characteristics - God was both creative and destructive, and 'evil' was not alien to His nature.

Humanity's vision is limited, thus, there is no way to induce the true reasons of affliction, or why God allows some of the things which He allows. The Book of Job is a prime example to maintain this fact, for it is among the few books of the Bible that attribute such an ambivalence to Yahweh as described above. The story places the reader in a heavenly scene, after an introduction to the main character himself, where the ben ha-elohim, or "sons of God", gather to present themselves to Yahweh.25 The Hebrew verb used is that for the appearance of "courtiers" who present themselves before their king in order to make reports of their efforts, and to receive instruction.26 Among these angels comes the satan. What is important to be aware of is the fact that at every instance "satan" is used, the definite article is present before it, therefore, preventing any identification with the modern "Satan".27

  1. Russell, The Devil, p.174.
  2. Ibid., p.176.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., p.177.
  6. Forsyth, The Old Enemy, p.113.
  7. Peterson, Trail of the Serpent, pp.13-14.
  8. Russell, The Devil, p.198.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Pagels, The Origin of Satan, p.41.
  11. Clines, Word Biblical Commentary, p.19.
  12. Ibid., p.20.