Who is “Satan” in Job?

November 6, 2012

Say what you will about the devil, Underwood deviled ham is delicious!

Eight years ago, I had to attend a five-day retreat called “License to Preach School” as one part of the lengthy licensing and ordination process in our denomination. For one assignment, we had to preach a sermon in front of our peers, all of whom were also going into ministry. One of them preached on Job. She referred several times to the wager that Satan—the one and only devil from hell—made with God.

The sermon raised many questions in my mind, the foremost of which was, Why would God grant Satan an audience in his heavenly court, much less entertain a wager from him? Why are God and Satan on such friendly terms? Besides, while I hadn’t yet been to seminary, I did read a lot. I took Disciple Bible study. I knew a few things. I shared my concerns with another classmate, who had already completed his first year of seminary.

I told him, “My understanding is that ‘Satan’ in Job is not a proper noun; it’s ‘the satan,’ the accuser. He’s an angel alongside other angels in God’s heavenly court.” My classmate simply said, “I wouldn’t rest too comfortably in that understanding”—which was kind of a jerky thing to say. Tell me why I’m wrongif you think I’m wrong!

It’s eight years later. I’ve now been to seminary. I’ve read even more. And I’m no less convinced that the accuser mentioned in Job is not Satan of the New Testament. By all means, our English translations do us a disservice by capitalizing the name (and omitting the definite article). But still…

I’m happy, therefore, that a blogger at Scot McKnight’s blog has taken up the cause, using a couple of theologically conservative evangelical commentaries to back him up. Of this “satan,” he writes:

The setting is a divine assembly where God as the supreme king is consulting with his court. Heaven is described in analogy with an ancient Near Eastern royal court. Most English translations translate “the accuser” as Satan, capitalized to indicate a proper name. The dramatized audio I listened to cast the voice as a stereotypical diabolical Satan. Both Walton and Longman point out that this is wrong. Walton prefers to use the term “Challenger” while Longman calls him the accuser. Not only is the accuser not Satan, but there is nothing particularly diabolical about the exchange. The accuser is not out to destroy mankind in general or Job in particular. Rather he is challenging the policy of reward and retribution.

Walton summarizes his conclusions about the Challenger (p. 74 – Walton):

He is one of the “sons of God” (a member of the divine council)

He serves as a policy watchdog.

He uses the ambiguity of Job’s motives and concept of God to challenge God’s policies.

He does not act independently.

He is not inherently evil.

He cannot confidently be identified with Satan in the New Testament.

All of this accords well with everything else I’ve read and studied. I have a friend who got a Ph.D. from Emory. Her dissertation was on Job. She agrees with all of the above as well.

2 Responses to “Who is “Satan” in Job?”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Okay, so, here’s a big surprise–I don’t agree! First, I believe that “sons of God” in this context refers to angels in general, whether they later rebelled and fell or remained faithful. Thus, in the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3, Luke says Adam was the “son of God.” In other words, created directly by God, with no intermediary. (As a total aside, Jesus referred to himself as the “Son of man,” meaning that he did have a human intermediary in part through Mary, and was thus both fully human as well as fully divine.)

    Second, Satan’s statement that he was “wandering around on the face of the earth, walking to and fro on it” fits well with the New Testament characterization of Satan as walking around on earth as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Whereas, this hardly seems like what you would expect a “good” angel to be doing.

    Third, I don’t see how there can be much confusion as to whether the “angel” is antagonistic to Job. He immediately argues that if God will simply allow Satan to attack Job, then Job will “curse God to his face,” i.e., lose his spiritual integrity. How is that likely to be something a good angel would say? Also, why would a good angel be requesting leave to attack Job? This is not just some generalized “theological” discussion between God and some “friendly” angel.

    Fourth, this is not the only instance of a “heavenly council” of this sort. There is another with respect to Ahab’s death, where God inquires as to how Ahab will be brought down, and one “angel” says he will put a lying spirit in the mouths of Ahab’s false prophets. God says, “Go, and you will succeed.” It strikes me as unlikely that a “good” angel would be putting a “lying spirit” in someone.

    Fifth, it is clear that although Satan acts on his own evil initiative, he is “on a leash” and cannot do worse than what God “allows” him to do. Otherwise, we would have chaos, and God’s sovereignty undermined, as well as our faith in God’s protection. “Deliver us from the evil one.” Recall that when Peter was tempted to deny Christ, Jesus told him, “Peter, Peter, Satan has desired to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you.” This again suggests that Satan sought “permission” to so tempt Peter, but that Satan was “limited” in what he could do by God. Jesus says to Pilate, “You could have no power over me at all, except as it was given to you.”

    So, I see no reason not to think that this was “Satan,” capital “S,” who is “the accuser of the brethren.”

  2. brentwhite Says:

    Tom,

    At least you put forth an argument! Thanks. If you have a chance to look at the NIV Application Commentary on Job that the original blogger refers to, I’d be curious what you think. I don’t yet have the volume on Job, but I have Walton’s volume on Genesis. It’s excellent. He’s a very credible Bible scholar.


Leave a Reply to Tom Harkins Cancel reply

%d bloggers like this: