Satan in the Book of Job

Satan in the Book of Job     

Throughout the centuries, the book of Job has been one of the most interesting pieces of literature in the Jewish and Christian canons.  The book’s major themes include suffering, evil, and the sovereignty of God, among other things.  This brief essay, though, will not seek to interact primarily with those themes.  Rather, this paper will be devoted to answering one single question: what does Job 1:1-2:10 have to say about the nature and character of Satan?  As such, this piece will: 1) explore the phrase “sons of God;” 2) examine the interactions between Satan and God; 3) analyze the nature of the power of Satan; and 4) conclude with some contemporary applications regarding the doctrine of Satan.

Sons of God

The first thing that needs to be established is the meaning of the phrase “sons of God” (Job 1:6).  What exactly does that mean?  Who are the sons of God?  The Septuagint renders the phrase “the angels,” indicating that these are no ordinary humans.[1]  As such, readers should not expect them to have typical human-like qualities.  This will be an important point for the coming narrative.  Another commentator makes a helpful point: “Literally ‘sons of the gods.’  These are lesser members of the ancient pagan pantheon who are retained in later monotheistic theology as angels.”[2]  Thus, these “sons of God” are created beings, angels.  Angels are supernatural, heavenly beings who are of a slightly higher standing than humans.  They are more powerful than humans, as the narrative proves, yet they are not omnipotent.  Accordingly, Satan, rendered “the Adversary” or “the Accuser,” is an angel.  He is not an impersonal force of evil; rather, he is an actual being who presents himself before God.

Meeting with God

Next, observe how the “sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD” (Job 1:6).  Satan came along with them.  One commentator notes, “It is an assembly of the heavenly council, God being pictured as a king surrounded by his courtiers, other heavenly beings neither human nor divine in the full sense, but ‘sons of God,’ their being derivative from his, and their rank superhuman.”[3]  The idea in the text points to the fact that these sons of God had to present themselves to the Sovereign of the universe.  This implies a certain amount of veneration and submission towards God on the part of the sons of God.

Then the LORD engages Satan directly, “From where have you come?” (Job 1:7).  This does not deny the omniscience of God; rather, “The question has a dramatic function in focusing upon the Satan as the one significant member of the ‘sons of the gods’—for this narrative at any rate—and in providing an impetus for the ensuing conversation and its sequel.”[4]  That is, this inquiry acts as a framing device that sets up the forthcoming narrative.   Satan is thrust into the limelight precisely because God interacts with him directly.  His response to God’s question signals at least two things.  First, he is not the initiator of the correspondence.  God is ultimately in control of this Adversary, as demonstrated by the ordering of the interaction between them.  Second, Satan is given a range of freedom under the sovereignty of God, for he came “from going to and fro on the earth, and walking up and down on it” (Job 1:7).

The conversation proceeds: “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:8).  It is not as though God is frantically worrying whether Satan has actually been considering Job (as some students suggested in class).  On the contrary, as the context of the book clearly and obviously demonstrates, God is the infinitely powerful authority in the cosmos, knowing all things.[5]  The purpose of asking this question is to present Job as a test case before Satan, not to show that God is somehow apprehensive about the activity of the Adversary on the earth.[6]  After the LORD makes this statement regarding Job, Satan responds, “Does Job fear God for no reason?  Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side?” (Job 1:10).  Satan reveals that he knows exactly who Job is.  The next statement he makes should send a chill down the spine of all readers: “But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (Job 1:11).  And the LORD gives him permission: “Behold, all that he has is in your hand.  Only against him do not stretch out your hand” (Job 1:12).  This is striking.  First, Satan is audacious enough to suggest that taking Job’s possessions will cause him to curse God.  Second, God actually urges him to do it!  But notice the parameters God places on Satan: he cannot touch him.  Thus, even in this moment the goodness of the sovereign God is on display.

Satan Afflicts Job

Soon, Job’s seemingly perfect world comes crashing down.  Several messengers approach him to report the damage: first, some of his servants have been killed by the sword of the Sabeans; second, the fire of God swallowed up sheep and more servants; third, a group of Chaldean raiders have destroyed his camels and even more servants; fourth, a great wind has caused a house to collapse, claiming the lives of all of his children who were inside (Job 1:13ff).  In one swift moment, it appears, Job has lost everything.  His wealth and family (other than his nagging wife [cf. Job 2:9]) have been taken from him.  Who is responsible for this devastation?  The implication from the conversation in the heavenly realms (Job 1:6-12) is that Satan is to blame.  He has stretched out his hand upon Job, bringing destruction upon him.

Yet observe Job’s reaction: he worships, though the bitterness in his voice is palpable.  “The LORD gave,” he declares, “and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).   Note clearly that Job ascribes this chaos to the hand of God: “the LORD has taken away.”  Job acknowledges that God is responsible for this calamity in one way or another.  That is, though Job is unaware of the reasons for this catastrophe, he recognizes that God is totally sovereign over his creation.  While Satan may have been the agent of devastation, the decree ultimately came from God.   “Be perfectly assured of this,” says one commentator, “that though the reasons for what is ordained by God are beyond us, yet always what is arranged for us by him who is wise and who loves us is to be accepted, be it ever so grievous to endure.”[7]

Consequently, it becomes even clearer that Satan, although he has a certain range of freedom, still resides under the omnipotent sovereignty of God.  That is, he can do nothing unless God allows him.  Yet if God wills, Satan can take away possessions, destroy animals, and even kill humans.  A simple reading of the text makes this last conclusion unavoidable: to the degree that God ordains it, Satan has power of human life.  This is seen by the fact that Job’s servants and his family were killed.  Moreover, Satan afflicts Job with loathsome sores during the second affliction (cf. Job 2:7).  It may be deduced from this that Satan has some authority human health, should God allow it.  Therefore, it can be concluded from this text that the Adversary, extraordinarily powerful as he may be, must exercise said power underneath the omnipotence authority of God.  As a result, Satan can only do what God allows him to do.  But, as the reader can see, when God allows him to act, he can act with extreme power and malice.

Contemporary Application

There are several ways in which this brief exploration of the nature and power of Satan can help modern readers.  C.S. Lewis, the famous 20th century Christian author, once noted, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils.  One is to disbelieve their existence.  The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”[8]  Thus, we should be discerning in our interactions with the world.  The narrative never reveals whether Job knew if Satan was behind the affliction or not.  I gather from this that we should not necessarily be quick to blame every calamity on Satan.  I have heard and seen people who render blame to Satan for the slightest things, such as a flat tire.  Do not misunderstand me: Satan really could be behind that flat tire.  Yet it could also be that the person simply ran over a nail.  An unhealthy interest, as Lewis calls it, will lead us into trouble if we are not careful.

Next, all theology is practical; and so, knowing who Satan is and what power he wields will help in our daily lives.  Specifically, this knowledge will lead us to humility.  I think most Christians would agree that God is sovereign.  A majority might also hold that Satan is powerful.  But knowing just how powerful he is will certainly cause us to humbly rely on God for all of our provisions, especially life itself.  In the narrative, Satan was allowed to destroy all of Job’s possessions, and he even killed Job’s children.  This shows that his power is more potent than many Christians would believe.  Thus, we must continually praise God in humility for reigning over this Adversary.

A third point of application that can be garnered from this study is one for corporate worship.  Preaching the sovereignty of God over all things is the necessary end to which a study of Satan must pertain.  It is not enough simply to sit in a room, considering the deep things of God.  If God is to be known rightly and truly, he must be heralded.  Expository exultation is the endgoal for any consideration such as this.  Sheep must know the infinite power of their Shepherd, even in the darkest night of the soul.  The flock must know the power of Satan (and the sovereignty of God under which this power must operate), and it is the job of the teaching pastor to warn and exhort his followers.  They must know not to trifle with Satan, for he is far more powerful than we generally give him credit for.  They must hear the power of God, who will ultimately render the Adversary powerless on the last day.

Conclusion

From the book of Job, readers get an interesting glimpse into the nature and power of Satan.  Far from being a slouch, Satan (always under the sovereign power of God) has a certain amount of power over the affairs of this world, including life itself.  He is never allowed to act without God’s permission; he is never capable of doing anything outside of the permissive will of God.  Yet his power is immense, and readers would be careful to note it.  Theology leading to humility and preaching are some of the primary application points of a study like this, and the modern church would benefit greatly from a reorientation on this point.  Consequently, let us all, then, humbly rely on our God to provide us with every need, for “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).


[1] Manlio Simonetti and Marco Conti, “Job,” in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 3-4.

[2] Marvin H. Pope, “Job,” in The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1965), 9.

[3] David J.A. Clines, “Job,” in Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Words Books, 1989), 18.

[4] Ibid., 23.

[5] See especially Job 38-41.  Here, the LORD answers Job out of the whirlwind.  Consider the first answer God gives to Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4).  It is plain, then, that God will not be surprised by anything in the created order, for he knows everything in his creation.  It is his creation, after all.

[6] This assertion is contra Clines (“Job,” 28-29), who claims, among other things, “God can agree to the proposal to ‘smite’ all that is Job’s only because he too, like everyone else, does not know what the outcome will be.”  This claim seems unfounded on several levels.  First, as previously noted, it goes counter to the context of the book as a whole.  Second, just because the LORD is personified in this story does not necessarily imply that he loses any of his attributes.  Third, God exercises his power over Satan by not allowing him to touch Job in 1:12.  This shows that the LORD retains his omnipotence and sovereignty, which inevitably leads to the conclusion that he also retains his omniscience (for if God controls all things and has the power to bring all things to pass, he must know with certainty what is going to come to pass).

[7] Simonetti and Conti, “Job,” 8.

[8] C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2002), 183.


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