Sounds like: saTahn
There is a large amount of misunderstanding surrounding this word. Somehow it has become the name of the Evil One, although it was never intended to be. Satan simply means adversary or opposer. It may come as a shock to find out that some very good people were called a satan.
David, for instance, was described as a possible satan (adversary). In his attempt to flee from King Saul, David decided to go to the land of the Philistines, where Saul would certainly not follow him. David lived there for a year and 4 months (1 Samuel 27:7) under the employment of Achish, the Philistine king of Gath. But many of the Philistines feared and mistrusted David:
1 Samuel 29:4-5
But the commanders of the Philistines were angry with him [Achish], and the commanders of the Philistines said to him, “Make the man [David] go back, that he may return to his place where you have assigned him, and do not let him go down to battle with us, or in the battle he may become an adversary [l’satan] to us. For with what could this man make himself acceptable to his lord? Would it not be with the heads of these men? Is this not David, of whom they sing in the dances, saying,
‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?”
This David was not to be trusted. There was a very good chance, they figured, that David would turn on them in battle and become their adversary. After all, this guy had a reputation!
Perhaps even more shocking, the Angel of YHWH was also described as a satan!
So Balaam arose in the morning, and saddled his donkey and went with the leaders of Moab. But God was angry because he was going, and the angel of YHWH took his stand in the way as an adversary [l’satan] against him.
Three times the donkey tried to avoid the angel, to save Balaam, and all three times Balaam (who could not see the angel) beat the donkey for her disobedience. And then a very bizarre thing happened. The donkey spoke:
And YHWH opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
Then Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.”
The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?”
And he said, “No.” Then YHWH opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of YHWH standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground.
The angel of YHWH said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary [l’satan], because your way was contrary to me. But the donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you just now, and let her live.”
Here the Angel of YHWH opposed the way Balaam was going. Clearly the Angel of YHWH was not Satan, he was merely an opposer or an adversary to Balaam.
Satan is not only a noun (an opposer, an adversary), it also works as a verb (to oppose, to be adversarial). The Psalmist often described his enemies as his opposers:
But my enemies are vigorous and strong, and many are those who hate me wrongfully. And those who repay evil for good, they oppose me [yi’satenu’ni], because I follow what is good. Do not forsake me, O YHWH; O my God, do not be far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!
So how did this Hebrew word meaning adversary or opposer turn into the name of the Evil One? Well, actually, it was never meant to be a name, only a title. Ha-Satan means The (Ha) Adversary (Satan)/The Accuser/The Opposer. It is a title (not a name) given to the Big Bad and it shows up only in two books of the Tanakh (Old Testament): Job and Zechariah.
Ha-Satan showed up in a vision that Zechariah had. In it, an angel acted as his guide:
Then he [the angel] showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of YHWH, and the Adversary [w’-ha-satan] standing at his right hand to accuse him [l’-sitn’ow]. YHWH said to the Adversary [ha-satan], “YHWH rebuke you, the Adversary [ha-satan]! Indeed, YHWH who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”
The Accuser/Adversary stood to the right of Joshua to accuse him, like a prosecuting attorney ready to burn. But YHWH took the man accused by the Evil One, and put him in charge of the courts!
And the angel of YHWH admonished Joshua, saying, “Thus says YHWH of hosts, ‘If you will walk in My ways and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you free access among these who are standing here. Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My Servant the Branch.’”
Joshua (Yehoshua, in Hebrew), the man accused, takes charge of the courts. Judgement would be under his authority, not the Adversary’s! And he would govern YHWH’s house. But this Joshua, YHWH announced, was a symbol, standing in for YHWH’s Servant, the Branch.
The Branch, also known as the Messiah, would share Joshua’s name. The name and title Jesus the Messiah, (in Hebrew, Yeshua HaMashiach) comes out of the Hebrew name for Joshua, Ye(ho)shua.
Although Jesus was given a name and a title, the word satan is a title, not a name. Strangely though, almost all English translations drop the “Ha” (The), turning this Hebrew title into a name: Satan.
The same goes for Job 1 & 2. This book opens with an interesting scene. A divine council, of sorts, gathered together and presented themselves before YHWH; the Adversary was among them. The first two chapters of Job presents the only back and forth conversation we hear between YHWH and the Adversary. Essentially YHWH said to him, here is someone [Job] who really, really, loves me and no matter what you throw at him, he will never turn his back on me.
But the Adversary doesn’t believe YHWH. He doesn’t understand how this human could possibly have enough faith in, and love for, his Creator in times of trial. If Job was to lose all of his possessions, would he still cling to YHWH as his God?:
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before YHWH, and the Adversary [ha-Satan] also came among them. YHWH said to the Adversary [ha-Satan], “From where do you come?” Then the Adversary [ha-Satan] answered YHWH and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.”
YHWH said to the Adversary [ha-Satan], “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”
Then the Adversary [ha-Satan] answered YHWH, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.”
Then YHWH said to the Adversary [ha-Satan], “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So the Adversary [ha-Satan] departed from the presence of YHWH.
And so the Adversary tested Job, but with all that the Adversary threw at him, Job remained steadfast in his love for YHWH.
In Job 2 the Adversary and YHWH have a very similar conversation. This time the Adversary wanted to test Job by attacking his health. If his body was affected, would he finally curse God?
The Adversary [ha-Satan] answered YHWH and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face.”
So YHWH said to the Adversary [ha-Satan], “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.”
Then the Adversary [ha-Satan] went out from the presence of YHWH and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a potsherd to scrape himself while he was sitting among the ashes.
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
The Adversary told YHWH to touch Job’s bone and flesh, but He did not do it. Instead, it was the Adversary who administered the festering disease. YHWH did not stop it, but He did not cause it.
God’s NAME and the Adversary’s TITLE
There’s so much to this story, but there is one thing, in particular, to note: in this conversation between YHWH and the Adversary, we read God’s name (YHWH), but we NEVER hear the name of the Adversary. Why? Because the Bible does not provide his name! He is a nameless Evil.
But we are very clearly told God’s name:
Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘
The LORD YHWH, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.”
God announced His name to us, His forever memorial-name to all generations! But the Adversary was never given a name, nor does he deserve the right to have one. He should remain nameless. So why has society decided to give him a name, not once, or twice, but at least three times (Satan, Lucifer, Baalzebub)?
“How you have fallen from heaven, O star shining one son of the dawn [helel ben sha’har]! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations!
But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’
Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit.
Those who see you will gaze at you, they will ponder over you, saying, ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a wilderness and overthrew its cities, who did not allow his prisoners to go home?’
This is the chapter that the name Lucifer originates from. Helel, or the shining one, was translated in Latin as lucifer. In Roman mythology Lucifer (meaning light-bringer) was the classical name for the planet Venus… the early one that shines in the morning. There is no star (kokav) in the Isaiah passage (although an awful lot of translations use star). The name Lucifer does not show up in the Bible anywhere. “The Shining One” is a title, just like Ha-Satan is a title (“the Adversary”).
Many have heard the name Beelzabub/Beelzabul or Baalzebub, as the name of the Evil One, but this is also a title, meaning god or lord (ba’al) of the Flies (zebub). Essentially he was the god of dung, death and disease. In the Tanakh (Old Testament) this was the god of Ekron, a god of the Philistines.
2 Kings 1:1-4
Now Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab. And Ahaziah fell through the lattice in his upper chamber which was in Samaria, and became ill. So he sent messengers and said to them, “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I will recover from this sickness.”
But the angel of YHWH said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Now therefore thus says YHWH, ‘You shall not come down from the bed where you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’” Then Elijah departed.
The reply to Elijah’s question, “Is it because there is no God in Israel?” would be “No! Of course there’s a God in Israel”. So then, why inquire after gods of other nations?! This was the great sacrilege that occurred over and over throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament). Ahaziah, king of Israel, and son of Ahab and Jezebel, wondered if he would recover from his illness? He got his answer from YHWH, not Baal-zebub.
This Philistine god, Baalzebub, continued to carry cultural significance for over 1000 years, as he was still mentioned throughout the New Testament. When the Jewish elders saw Jesus casting out demons they accused Yeshua (Jesus) of being Beelzebul himself:
The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He [Jesus] is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.”
But Yeshua immediately addresses the ridiculousness of this statement. Why would the Adversary fight against himself?!
And He [Jesus] called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished!”
The Devil, the Snake, the Adversary, the Shining One, the Lord of the Flies… these are all titles. These are not personal names.
The Monumental Mess-Up!
Somehow we have turned this around. Somehow we turned God’s name into a title, and the Accusers title into a name. How did this happen?
We have taken the name of God, YHWH, and we have turned it into a title, “the LORD”. And then we took the title of the Evil One and turned it into a name, “Satan”. This is a monumental mess-up!
It’s an absolute shame that we’ve done this, that we’ve given the Adversary a name. Names are so important, and personal! It is powerful to have a name, a descriptor of who you are; it gives you a sense of self worth and the ability to share intimacy with other human beings.
The title the LORD takes the intimacy out of God’s name. It puts a separation between us and God. He seems unattainable and distant.
Paradoxically, giving a name to the Evil One, allows him to have intimacy with human beings. It is a great disservice we have done by allowing this to happen… and there is evil behind it. It is possibly one of the Evil One’s greatest successes!
By removing God’s name and substituting “the LORD” we lose the profound intimacy related to us in the Bible. Imagine speaking to your best friend and having to say something like this:
Hey, the FRIEND! How has your day been? Oh, the FRIEND, I’ve missed you.
Listen to how awesome and intimate Isaiah 42 sounds like when you put in God’s name instead of a title:
Thus says God
the LORD YHWH, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it,
the LORD YHWH, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, and I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison.
the LORD YHWH, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images. Behold, the former things have come to pass, now I declare new things; before they spring forth I proclaim them to you.”
The Adversary in the New Testament
In the B’rit Chadashah (New Testament) the Hebrew word Satan shows up much more frequently.
When Jesus was tested in the desert by the Devil (another title), Jesus said to him:
“Go, Accuser/Satan [Satana]! For it is written, ‘You shall worship YHWH your God, and serve Him only.’”
When Peter scolded Jesus for speaking plainly about his own death, Jesus said to him:
“Get behind Me, Accuser/Satan [Satana]; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”
The word Satan appeared only once in the Gospel of John:
After Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit and testified, “Truly, truly, I tell you, one of you will betray Me.”
The disciples began to look at one another, perplexed as to which of them He meant. One of His disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at His side. So Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus which one He was talking about. Leaning back against Jesus, he asked, “Lord, who is it?”
Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread after I have dipped it.” Then He dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. And when Judas had taken the piece of bread, the Accuser/Satan entered into him. Then Jesus said to Judas, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
The Evil One, the Serpent, the Devil, the Accuser, the Adversary, the Opposer, the Shining One, the Lord of the Flies (dung, death and disease) are just a few of the titles given to YHWH’s most powerful nemesis. But he is clever and perceptive. Just like his title, the Shining One, he makes himself sparkling and shiny, like an angel of light:
2 Corinthians 11:13-15
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of the Messiah. No wonder, for even the Adversary/Satan [Satanas] disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.
There is a great power out there that wants us to think that life is all good… life is about YOU! Have pride! Treat yourself! Point the finger, because others are evil and you are right. Put yourself first, because you deserve it. Exalt yourself… you are a shining example of goodness!
But Yeshua (Jesus) opposed this sentiment. We are all made equally in the image of God, and we were never meant to exalt ourselves above others. Life is not all about YOU. Be humble. Put others needs before our own. Do not point your finger at others, but examine your own heart. Put yourself last, and lay your life down for others, because we are all sinners and have gone astray from the path we were meant to follow. It is in this attitude of humility and frailty that we are blessed with the full power of God’s love. Paul understood this:
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of the Adversary/Satan [angelos Satana] to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of the Messiah may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Messiah’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Do not let the nameless Adversary break you down. Every time you feel weak, remember, in the Messiah you are stronger than you could ever imagine. You have a title: daughters and sons of YHWH, but you also have a name, and He knows yours intimately! You are far more important than the nameless evil one, and you are very much loved by your Named Creator! Blessed be YHWH! Blessed be His Name!
Next week: Power