“[…] I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning!” Yeshua responded to his disciples (Luke 10:18).
For quite some time, I’ve been asked, “What does the Bible say about Satan? What do Messianic Jews say about the matter?” You might imagine that this would be easy enough for me to answer, but the truth of the matter is that questions suchas these are very difficult to respond to in a very unique kind of a way that best supports the Jewish perspective. Why? This is because mainstream Jews do not view Satan in the very same manner the Christians do. Secondly, the larger Christian perspective overwhelms the Messianic Jewish perspective; thus, presenting what Messianic Jews believe about Satan in an objective way makes it that much difficult. If anything, we who follow the teachings of Messiah Yeshua can agree with Yeshua’s claim- he witnessed of Satan’s fall.
In order to understand the Messianic Jewish perspective on what Yeshua testified in Luke 10:18, you’d have to understand what Yeshua meant each instance he used the term Satan.
Satan is oftentimes referred to as "the Devil or Lucifer" (Oxford English Dictionary 2013). Reference the encyclopedia, and you’ll soon discover what many believe about this mythical creature:
"He (i.e., Satan) is spoken of as the prince of evil spirits, the inveterate enemy of Elohim and of Messiah, who takes the guise of an angel of light. He can enter a man and act through him; hence, a man can be called Satan because of his acts or attitude. Through his subordinate demons Satan can take possession of men’s bodies, afflicting them or making them diseased" (Encyclopedia Britannica 2013).
Upon referencing further the Encyclopedia Britannica, it says that "among early Christian writers, the figure of Satan played a larger part in the discussion of the nature of evil […]" (Encyclopedia Britannica 2013). In other words, many were interested in learning the root cause of both diseases and deviant behaviors that opposed the expected the social norms of their day. Provided the lack of proper information pertaining to the root causes of diseases and social maladjustment in the First Century, so too existed the lack of proper preventive measures and treatment for those who truly needed it. Lack of proper treatment and social assistance resulted in the belief that anyone who suffered from an inexplicable ailment or wasn’t able to comply with existing social norms were automatically perceived by common people as either being demonically possessed by the spirit that became known as Satan, an idea that became very popularized among gentiles.
Yeshua’s initially instructed, “7 Go and announce to the lost sheep of Israel that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!” (Matthew 10:7-8) This was exactly what his disciples did. They went into the villages, healed the sick and removed socially deviant people from these impoverished neighborhoods. For once, Israel was able to taste the true essence of the Elohim's Kingdom here on the earth.
Like Yeshua’s disciples, other societies tried to emulate their work but failed because they didn’t receive the proper instructions that Yeshua provided his disciples. In impoverished neighborhoods where crime was high, deviant behaviors were the expected norm, employment was low and sicknesses ran rampant, many early came to believe that Satan was in control of this world and that the world was soon to be destroyed. This led for many early Christians to believe in something that was not biblical. Desiring to live in a safer, healthier environment, the idea of leaving the earth and living eternally with G-d in heaven became a very attractive feature that continues to appeal to the senses of many prospective converts.
As appealing as these features may be to prospective converts, the Bible neither promises mankind with inheriting heaven nor advocates the idea that Satan is in control of the earth. If you were to take an honest approach to the Scriptures and read every single verse that contains the term “heaven,” you’ll soon notice that Hashem never intended for mankind to reside with Him in heaven. In fact, early Christians failed to realize that Hashem’s intended purpose was so that mankind could “[…] reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground” (Genesis 1:26). Because of the high illiterate rate that once existed among the early Christian communities, they also failed to understand that the Bible reveals quite numerously that the Heaven Father is in control of His entire creation, not Satan. As opposed to believing that Satan was in control of the earth, Daniel himself recognized that Hashem was the One who is in control when he said,
20 Praise the name of Elohim forever and ever, for He has all wisdom and power. 21 He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars. 22 He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lays hidden in darkness, though he is surrounded by light. 23 I thank and praise you, Elohim of my ancestors, for you have given me wisdom and strength. You have told me what we asked of you and revealed to us what the king demanded. (Daniel 2:20-3)
So, who or what exactly is Satan? Satan (שטן) is a “Hebrew term which occurs some 27 times in 23 biblical verses” (Strong’s Concordance 2013). This term is best translated as adversary, “one’s opponent in a contest, conflict, or dispute” (OED 2013). We as a society understand that there are varying different views as to who or what Satan may be; however, much of these varying different views are contrary to the Bible's original intent.
Let us first understand what the term adversary means by three examples.
Each one of these contestants is an opponent to the other team players. They’re intending on winning the grand prize. To win the grand prize, each must prevent the other contestants’ success or game development. The winner must meet the criteria set by the rules that govern the game; in other words, the opponents are subjective to both gaining and losing points. At the end of the game, the host decides who wins the grand prize. This is the first example that best describes the Hebrew term for adversary.
In instances of conflict, the Hebrew term for adversary also applies. Take boxing as an example. Two opponents that meet the standards that govern boxing may enter into a bout and win cash prizes. Their objective is to gain points and prevent the other from achieving success or developing a good fighting strategy. Though the sport is physically aggressive, both may either earn points by throwing punches at specific locations or loose points if they purposely violate the rules that govern boxing. At the end of the bout, it is the referee who determines the winner of the bout in this second example that also describes the meaning of the Hebrew term adversary.
This third example is different in that it is based on a dispute, which is “a disagreement or argument” (OED 2013) that manifests itself in a verbal form. Two law abiding citizens are in complete disagreement with the contractual agreement they decided to abide upon. They both agree that the terms of the contractual agreement were not met. Because they cannot peacefully resolve their conflict among themselves, they both decide to take the matter to court, hire lawyers to represent them and see who wins the dispute. Once the case is presented before the judge, the judge determines who was negligent in fulfilling the contractual agreement and compensates the victim.
In essence, an adversary (i.e., Satan) is simply someone who contests, conflicts, or disputes in any particular matter. They abide by the rules that governs those particular instances, present their opposition before a ruling authority and attempts to achieve success. The adversary is not necessarily a fallen angelic being.
So, how did the term Satan become so popular?
Consider the following list of Hebrew words that appear in the Hebrew Bible as adversary.
1. “H341 oyev ( איֵֹ ב )”occurs some 282 times in some 275 verses” (Strong’s Concordance 2013) as either enemy or adversary.
2. “H6862 tzar (צֵר) occurs some 105 times in some 102 verses” (Strong’s Concordance 2013) as adversary.
3. “H6869 tzarah (צרה) occurs some 73 times in some 72 verses” (Strong’s Concordance 2013) as adversary.
4. “H7379 Ish Ribi ( אישׁ ריבי ) occurs some 62 in 61 verses” (Strong’s Concordance 2013) as adversary.
5. “H6887 tzarar (צרר ) occurs some 58 times in 57 verses”(Strong’s Concordance 2013) as adversary.
6. “H7854 satan (שטן) occurs some 27 times in 23 biblical verses” (Strong’s Concordance 2013) as adversary.
The Greek term for adversary is “G476 antidikos (ἀντίδικος) which appears some 5 times in 4 verses” (Strong’s Concordance 2013). It literally means one who verbally opposes in court. Thus, the Greek rendition of adversary was properly rendered when used as antidikos by referencing it to mean an opposing lawyer before a magistrate.
As you have noticed, there exist a number of Hebrew terms that can be translated as adversary. The number of instances that each term appears was used as adversary was placed into a pie chart to include the Greek term antidikos. As you can see, the Hebrew term Satan only appears 4% of the time whereas Oyev appears 46%. Tzar, or its variant terms, appears 39% of the time.
If in the Hebrew Bible the term Satan was among the least used terms for adversary, how is it then that this term became so popular?
You’d imagine that the Israelis were afraid of Satan. The fact of the matter is that Jews do not believe in Satan many non-Israelis express him to be. Believe it or not, there’s quite a logical explanation as to how the term satan became so popular among none Hebrew speakers.
Hebrew is a guttural language, meaning that some words are used with the inflection of back of the throat. Among foreigners of the Mediterranean region, the term oyev sounded odd. The word tzar or its variants was just been too difficult to say, and the discomfort of saying this term would cause Mediterranean speakers to laugh out of their discomfort and embarrassment. Unlike oyev, tzar, tzarah and tzarar, satan was the easiest word to say. Also, the hissing sound that speaker was able to make when saying this Hebrew term made it easy for anyone to associate the term with a snake.
As a result, the Hebrew term Satan was not a term that the ancient Israelis feared; it just so happened that this term was the simplest and the easiest for foreigners to use and personify as something they did not understand, the nature of evil and diseases.
© 2013 by Nehr HaOlam Publications
Winslow, New Jersey, USA
All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scriptures were taken from the New Living Translation of the Bible.
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