The strange truth is that very little reference to a specific entity named Satan in the Old Testament.
The snake who tempts Eve in Genesis doesn’t have a name. We don’t encounter the word satan until the book of Job, when “the adversary” challenges Job’s character and is instructed by God to test him.
In fact, the word “satan” is used to mean “adversary” in the generic sense throughout the old Testament. For instance, in Samuel, the word we read today as “adversary,” describing a military opponent, was originally the Hebrew word “satan.”
And the princes of the Philistines were angry with him; and the princes of the Philistines said to him, Make this fellow return, that he may go again to his place which you have appointed him, and let him not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he be an adversary to us: for with what should he give pleasure to his master if not with the heads of these men?1 Samuel 29:4
In Numbers 22:22 this same word for “adversary” – “satan” – is used to describe the angel of the Lord opposing Balaam. In other words, there is no negative connotation inherent to the word except in the sense that it represents a figure who is oppositional to what we want.
It is actually from Hebrew tradition, most of which did not make it into the Christian Bible, that we draw our understanding of Satan as a specific entity of evil influence.
Much as God introduces himself to Moses as YHWH, satan (the unnamed accuser) has a name according to Jewish texts: Samael. It is in the book of Enoch and other Apocryphal and Gnostic texts – that didn’t make it into the Bible – that we have the stories of the fallen angels rebelling against God, the snake named Samael, and so on.
Our assumption that snake = satan = devil all come from books that are not actually in the Bible.
Jesus was speaking to a culture that knew those stories, some of them considered canon. When he says “Get behind me,” he is speaking to a specific figure his disciples are familiar with. The writers of the Gospels understood this tradition, as did Paul, documenting nothing new when Jesus is tempted by the devil after being baptized, Peter is influenced, and Judas inspired by this evil entity.
Yet for some reason, most of the stories relating the origins and history of the evil one didn’t make it into the Christian Bible. Reading it today there is literally no way to correlate the snake to Job’s adversary to the devil who tempts Jesus – except through oral tradition – that which your pastor teaches you.
Where am I going with all this? I’ve been obsessing on one word: “accuser.”
Prince of the demons, and an important figure both in Talmudic and in post-Talmudic literature, where he appears as accuser, seducer, and destroyer.Jewish Encyclopedia
a person who accuses, especially in a court of law:
a trial in which the accuser and accused may freely speak.Dictionary.com
We’re most familiar with this role in the book of Job. God points out Job’s integrity to “the adversary,” who accuses Job of being simply privileged. Remove his blessings, he argues, and Job will show his true colors. God instructs the adversary to then test Job.
The David Straight material I keep linking to describes a corporate structure “overlaid” on top of our God-given Constitutional, representative government. There is no indication we’re going to tear this overlay off by being polite about it. Most of us are struggling to confront a system that is “accusing” us of breaking laws that don’t exist, hurting people based on nonexistent science, and foolishly believing misguided “conspiracy theories.” In other words we feel gaslighted all the time, and the only way out of it is to find a way to stand our ground psychologically and establish that, No, I am not a criminal, I am not needlessly selfish or stupid, and I am not crazy.
Built into the fabric of our Judeo-Christian tradition is the idea that evil is not simply a force that leads us astray or inspires cruelty and harm. It is, in fact, an entity that simultaneously throws despair and distraction at us, and then accuses us of being what it is trying to make us.
The adversary says Job ain’t that great, takes his wealth, family and health, and then sits back and waits to say, “See? Watch him curse God.”
We are standing in a courtroom every day – at the dinner table as children accuse us of being racist or science-deniers, in schools as teachers challenge their students’ basic identity, in the media, in government.
They accuse us of being hateful while at the same time pushing harder and harder to give us reasons to hate.
The challenge is to not become what we are accused of. This is my point. Pop Christian culture focuses on evil as being temptation to misbehave, or as a force that causes fear. It’s a My Little Pony version of evil, that can keep you from getting out of bed in the morning or encourage you to have one too many margaritas with your girlfriends.
But evil is more complex than that. Evil doesn’t just want you to go astray, it wants you to believe you are one who goes astray. The end effect can be the same. After all, how many Christians and patriots have been silenced over the years because they don’t want to be called homophobic or a Nazi… and how many silently wonder if they are?
The essential truth built into the fabric of Judeo-Christian culture is that evil is a force that can not only test and torment us, it can also accuse us of being exactly what those tests and torments are trying to push us into becoming.
The challenge, and where words like “love,” and “Jesus,” and “worship,” come into play – is to not.
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.
His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”
He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.Job 2