Is Satan in the Old Testament a Good Guy?

SatanThere is a common trend of contrasting the Old and New Testaments. Often it is comparing God as wrathful in the Old and loving in the New Testament. But there are also comparisons of different treatments of Satan. The comment that I have heard from many sources is that Satan in the Old Testament is not evil but rather is simply one of God’s angelic servants. Is this true?

The first thing we need to do is explain what “Satan” means. Satan is not a name but is a Hebrew word for adversary or accuser. In Job, the main Old Testament appearance of Satan, the Hebrew is actually ha-satan, meaning “the accuser.” The imagery is that of a prosecuting attorney.

And that is why some people see Satan in Job as simply fulfilling his role as an attorney in the heavenly court. Since he is doing what God as assigned him to, he cannot be evil and is world away from the New Testament Satan.

It would be helpful to quote the relevant passage.

Now the day came when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord—and Satan also arrived among them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” And Satan answered the Lord, “From roving about on the earth, and from walking back and forth across it.” So the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a pure and upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Is it for nothing that Job fears God? Have you not made a hedge around him and his household and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock have increased in the land. But extend your hand and strike everything he has, and he will no doubt curse you to your face!” So the Lord said to Satan, “All right then, everything he has is in your power. Only do not extend your hand against the man himself!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6-12)

One observation is that Satan requires God permission to afflict Job. This is part of the argument for Satan not being evil but acting according the will of God.

But notice how the subject of Job comes up. This is not a case of God being concerned about Job’s motives and assigning Satan to put forward his best case against him. The accusations against Job (remember the meaning of Satan) are initiated by Satan. Satan was aware of the godly reputation of Job and wanted to demonstrate that the reputation was unwarranted. Rather than being a sincere faith, Satan was determined to show that Job was faithful only so long as God prospered him.

In many ways this was an attack on both God and Job. It was an attack on Job as to the quality of his faith. but it is also an attack on God, in that Satan was suggesting that people would love him only if he paid them off with blessings.

From what I can see, Satan in Job is acting on his own initiation and is not just fulfilling a role assigned by God. Satan, in the Old Testament like the New Testament, seeks to accuse God’s people for his own evil purposes.

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