First Mennonite Church
October 8, 2017
The Biblical View of Evil
Text: 1Timothy 6:11-16
As I promised, today I will start a new series on the general topic of evil, its source and its manifestations as presented in the Bible. Let me say that pursuing this topic can be understood as rather awkward. Some might say, why not speak about goodness, or some more positive topic than this one? And they would be right to think that way. However, I hope that as we progress through this short series, we will be able to have a deeper appreciation of God’s goodness, power, and perfect will for our wellbeing, which in turn will move us to thanksgiving and greater reverence to the Lord. As a second goal, it is my hope that through this series we will be able to familiarize ourselves with the biblical viewpoint and language about evil.
When speaking about evil, something registers in our mind: the source of it. And most likely, although we usually do not say the name, we think of Satan as the source of all evil. It is curious to know that not only non-believers often do not use the word/name “Satan” when speaking about evil, Christians usually do not either. How many times as of late have you mentioned the name “Satan?” Maybe you cannot even remember when was the last time that name came out of your mouth. So, who is Satan? Who is he or what is it? Let us try to respond to this question!
It might shock you to know that David, yes, King David was suspected of becoming a “satan.” That is what the biblical story says. In 1Samuel 29, is the story of David who deserted to the Philistines when he fled Saul. And one day when the Philistines were going to war, the commander was not happy about David joining them in war. So this is how verse four reads: But the commanders of the Philistines were angry with him; and the commanders of the Philistines said to him, “Send the man (David) back, so that he may return to the place that you have assigned to him; he shall not go down with us to battle, or else he may become an adversary (literally, a ‘saw-tawn’) to us in the battle.
Again in Numbers 22, we find the story of Balaam and his donkey that rebuked him. We are told that the angel of the Lord became an adversary (a satan) to Balaam in order to prevent him from disobeying the Lord.
In this respect, the word “satan” in the earlier parts of the Hebrew Bible does not have the sinister meaning we understand it means today. The Hebrew word “Satan” simply means adversary, someone who opposes another. This can be a person, an angel or as in the Book of Psalm, chapter 109, verse six, someone who takes another to court.
So how did the name come to refer to the master of all evil? Or as Jesus says in John eight, verse 44, that the devil is a liar and the father of lies and a murderer since the beginning?
Let us compare two Old Testament stories about the same incident. In 2Samuel chapter 24 we have the story of David arousing the anger of the Lord for something he did.
This is how the story reads:
Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, count the people of Israel and Judah.” 2 So the king said to Joab and the commanders of the army, who were with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheba, and take a census of the people, so that I may know how many there are.”
Here is the result of David’s action:
Verse 10: But afterward, David was stricken to the heart because he had numbered the people. David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, I pray you, take away the guilt of your servant; for I have done very foolishly.”
We see here that David’s decision to census the people was because the Lord was angry at Israel and the Lord incited David to carry out a census of the people.
Now let us see how this same story is recounted in the book of 1Chronicles, chapter 21:
Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, “Go, number Israel, from Beer-sheba to Dan, and bring me a report, so that I may know their number.”
And here is the result of David’s action:
Verse 7, 8: But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel. 8 David said to God, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, I pray you, take away the guilt of your servant; for I have done very foolishly.”
So why in Samuel, is Yahweh the inciter to David’s action? Why would God incite someone to do what is sinful, as in the case of David? However, the obvious question is why would the writer of Chronicles attribute David’s action to Satan? The book of Samuel was written at an earlier time in the history of Israel. David lived around the year 1000 B.C. and Chronicles were written around 539-38 B.C. By this time Judah had come back from the Babylonian captivity after spending almost 70 years there. Their world view had changed. They had embraced a world view of two opposites: good and evil, light and darkness, etc. In their new understanding of the world, evil cannot come from a perfect God. And Satan must be the source of all evil. Therefore, when this story about David was rewritten, the idea that God incited David to do what was evil was an impossible idea. It must be done by Satan, not God.
In the book of Job, Satan is presented as the accuser of men before God. Satan has access to God’s presence; thus, he is a celestial being, a spirit. This is also the image given in Zechariah 3.
During what we often call the “intertestamental period,” Jewish writings flourished and Satan became defined as the Devil. Satan became known as the inciter of all evil and as the angel of death. His intentions were to separate people from God and from one another. During this period, Satan was presented with various names: Belial, Beelze-boul (lord of the skies/heavens), Beelze-boub (lord of the flies), Ba-al-zibbul (Lord of dung), Mastema and the enemy.
For example, in the Book of Jubilees 10, the evil spirit came to the Lord asking to be allowed to lead astray some men into wickedness; otherwise he would not have ways to exercise his evil powers over men. (See verses 1-8)
Next Sunday we will take a look at the origin, definition, and manifestation of evil as presented in the Bible.
Once again, my intentions with this series is not to exalt evil or Satan. My intention is to see the biblical language used to speak of evil. But my primary goal is to exalt God. So, let me close with the passage of praise found in 1Timothy 6, verses 11-16:
11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.
So often people, including Christians put God, angels, demons, and Satan in the same category. In part, maybe, because they think these are spirit beings. In the Bible, God is never presented in the same category as the demons, angels, or Satan. God is holy, that is, God has no equal (sui generis). He is alone and the only and true ruler of the universe. Our God, in the words of Paul, is the only Ruler, King of kings, and Lord of lords. He dwells in unapproachable light and whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him alone belongs honor and might forever.
This is the God who created us. This is the God who loved us and rescued us through the work of his Son on the cross of Calvary. We owe our lives and very being to him. And just as he is holy, he calls us to be holy. To him be all glory and honor in the church.