Thursday, November 19, 2015
Old Testament Conception of Satan 1898
OLD-TESTAMENT CONCEPTION OF SATAN, article in Literary Digest, 1898
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H.T. COLESTOCK of the University of Chicago, traces the development in the Old Testament of the idea of a personal satan—a development intimately associated, says the writer, with certain ideas concerning the nature of God. After citing a number of passages from the earlier Hebrew literature, showing that the primary meaning of the term "satan" is an adversary or an opposer, Mr. Colestock continues:
"In the earlier Scriptures, both good and evil are attributed to Divine agency; God is the source of evil as well as of good. He hardens Pharoah's heart (Ex. viii. 15), smites the first-born (Ex. vii. 20), etc. In 2 Sam. xxiv., it is God who is represented as moving David to make a census of the people—an act for which he is punished.
"Later, or perhaps at the same time, other writers try to exempt God from being the source of evil. Evil is therefore ascribed to subordinate beings—who are first merely the agents or servants of Jehovah—who execute the Divine will. These subordinate beings come to have such a hearty sympathy with their office, are so zealous in carrying out the Divine decrees of vengeance that, while they remain faithful servants of God, they are identified with their work of hostility to man, and are regarded as man's adversaries.
“One of the earliest attempts to transfer evil activity from Jehovah to a subordinate supernatural being is found in the naive situation depicted in 1 Kings xxii. 19-23: ‘I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him . . . . . . .
“Who will deceive Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-Gilead?' asks Jehovah.
"And one said on this manner; and another said on that manner. And there came forth the spirit (i.e., a certain well-known spirit, recognized as an adept in carrying out deceptions), and stood before Jehovah, and said:
"‘I will deceive him.’
‘“How?‘ asks Jehovah.
'“I will go forth, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets,' replied the spirit.
"The writer represents Jehovah as well pleased with the spirit's ingenuity as he bids the spirit—
‘“Go forth and do so.’
“This spirit is represented as one of the host of heaven; and his suggestion and his part in carrying out the deception is an attempt to relieve Jehovah from being responsible for the evil. These conceptions reflect the thought of some portion of the second period (i.e., between the beginning of the eighth century and the close of the exile).
"The conception of the satan found in the prologue of the book of Job is similar to the one last mentioned; it is, however, more specific in that the term used is employed as a proper name. Instead of the spirit—i.e., a certain well-known spirit accustomed to carry out the severe decrees of Jehovah—we have the satan. This member of the heavenly host is in good standing among the sons of God. Because of the nature of his work he has come to be called by its distinguishing characteristic. A hangman is known by the function he performs in society; so, with reference to the satan, the term as first used does not reflect moral qualities at all—only function of office. But naturally the agent becomes more and more identified with the functions of his office.
"Mention has already been made of the passage in 2 Sam. xxiv. 1, where God is represented as being the One who moves David to make the census. This account belongs to the oldest literary period—some time before the close of the ninth century. In 1 Chron. xxi. I. Satan is represented as inciting David to make the census. This passage belongs to the third section or later Scriptures, and is placed over five hundred years after the first account given in 2 Sam. xxiv. 1.
"These two passages describe the same events: the first embodies the thought of the earlier period—God is the source of evil as well as of good; the later writer, describing the same historical event puts into the account the interpretation of his own age. lt was not God, but the satan who incited David to number the people. These passages thus represent two distinct stages of thought to the source of evil.
"Another phase of the conception of Satan is brought out in the third chapter of Zechariah. Here the satan seems to have become so much in love with his work—that is, of accusing men and of being their adversary—that Jehovah gives him a sharp rebuke. Here, Satan begins not only to appear, in Hebrew thought, as the adversary of man, but also in opposition to God.
“In the second and third chapters of Genesis, which belong to the second period of literary activity, there is no developmentof the idea of Satan, though an excellent opportunity is presented. In the account given there. we have no attempt to represent the serpent as Satan in disguise. The serpent is as natural to his surroundings as are the fabulous trees.
"A later writer, however, interprets the Genesis narrative in the spirit of his own age. He says, in the book of Wisdom. that God created man for immortality; the satan, disguised as a serpent, because he is man's adversary, seeks to destroy man. This is the first recorded attempt to identify Satan with the serpent.
The writer concludes with the statement that the Old-Testament conceptions of Satan are a natural development in the thought of a monotheistic people, who believed in a good God and sought to account for the evil in the world. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, says Mr. Colestock, is Satan represented as a fallen angel, or as the head of a spiritual kingdom.
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