Friday, November 8, 2013

A Brief Biography of Satan

Today is the final day in our 44th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Ezekiel 28-30; John 10.

People frequently ask me, "Where did Satan come from?" Or they might ask, "What does the Bible say about the devil?  Wasn't he an angel or something?"

Today's passage in Ezekiel 28 gives a picture of who Satan is.  Before I share it with you, I want to point out that words of prophecy often have multiple meanings.  For example, this chapter is a lament against the king of Tyre--an actual king whose name was Ittobaal II.  Yet, many of the things said of this this king cannot literally be true of an earthly king.  Figuratively, they are still true, and certainly when metaphor is employed this is great symbolic language about Ittobaal, whose pride was greatly denounced.  Yet, there is something of the supernatural in this language as well.  From the third century onward, Bible scholars have regarded this passage, and also one in Isaiah, as having double meaning.  In one sense, it refers to an earthly ruler.  But in another sense, it speaks of Satan himself.  

At the beginning of the chapter, the words spoken to the King of Tyre clearly indicate a human being.  Verses 1-10* say:

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, say tothe prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God:
“Because your heart is proud,
    and you have said, ‘I am a god,
I sit in the seat of the gods,
    in the heart of the seas,’
yet you are but a man, and no god,
    though you make your heart like the heart of a god—
you are indeed wiser than Daniel;
    no secret is hidden from you;
by your wisdom and your understanding
    you have made wealth for yourself,
and have gathered gold and silver
    into your treasuries;
by your great wisdom in your trade
    you have increased your wealth,
    and your heart has become proud in your wealth—
therefore thus says the Lord God:
Because you make your heart
    like the heart of a god,
therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners upon you,
    the most ruthless of the nations;
and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom
    and defile your splendor.
They shall thrust you down into the pit,
    and you shall die the death of the slain
    in the heart of the seas.
Will you still say, ‘I am a god,’
    in the presence of those who kill you,
though you are but a man, and no god,
    in the hands of those who slay you?
10 You shall die the death of the uncircumcised
    by the hand of foreigners;
    for I have spoken, declares the Lord God.”

Here we see the arrogance of a man who believed he was a god.  Because of his wisdom and financial success, he deified himself, as so many do in their own minds.  So, God pronounces judgment on him.  God reminds Ittobaal that he is mortal, and will die by the hand of foreigners.

Yet in the next verses, we find some things that cannot refer to an earthly king at all.  Verses 11-19 say:

11 Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Son of man,raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God:
“You were the signet of perfection,
    full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God;
    every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
    beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
    and crafted in gold were your settings
    and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
    they were prepared.
14 You were an anointed guardian cherub.
    I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
    in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
15 You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created,
    till unrighteousness was found in you.
16 In the abundance of your trade
    you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
    and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
    from the midst of the stones of fire.
17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
    you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
    I exposed you before kings,
    to feast their eyes on you.
18 By the multitude of your iniquities,
    in the unrighteousness of your trade
    you profaned your sanctuaries;
so I brought fire out from your midst;
    it consumed you,
and I turned you to ashes on the earth
    in the sight of all who saw you.
19 All who know you among the peoples
    are appalled at you;
you have come to a dreadful end
    and shall be no more forever.”

So we see a creature like no earthly one we have ever known.  He was with God in Eden, full of wisdom and beauty.  As a Jewish high priest was covered with a breastplate of jewels, so this creature served as a high priest, covered with stones to indicate his position.  He was a guardian cherub (warrior-angel), blameless and righteous.  "In the abundance of your trade" refers to Ittobaal's commerce, but it also refers to Lucifer's trade--that which passed through his hands as an anointed cherub.  So often he had to deal with holy things that he came to believe he himself was worthy of worship.  So violence and pride filled his heart, and he sinned.  In return, God cast him out of the celestial abode, burning away his heavenly privilege and hurtling him to earth.

Along with Ezekiel 28, Isaiah 14 is used as a similar double-meaning prophecy.  In the physical world, it's a passage about the remnant of Israel taunting the king of Babylon.  Yet, while verses 12-22 can easily be understood as referring to the king of Babylon, Bible scholars from antiquity have believed that verses 12-15 refer to both the Babylonian king and, on another level, to Satan himself:

12 “How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!
13 You said in your heart,
    ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
    I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
    in the far reaches of the north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 But you are brought down to Sheol,
    to the far reaches of the pit.

In Luke 10:18, Jesus says, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven."  Satan fell when he sinned against God, before the creation of the world.  Yet, he is in a state of perpetual fallenness, and has fallen over and over again since his original ejection from Paradise.

The other great passage that's used to depict Satan is found in Revelation 12.  That chapter, in its entirety, reads:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
    who accuses them before our God day and night,
    has been hurled down.
11 They triumphed over him
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death.
12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens
    and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
    because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
    because he knows that his time is short.”
13 When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.14 The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. 15 Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. 16 But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. 17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

The timeline of this passage is a bit shaky, because timelines and prophecy are always a bit wonky.  ("...With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day [2 Peter 3:8.  Cf. Ps 90:4.].")  Some believe that the woman refers to Mary, who conceives Jesus.  Others believe that the nation of Israel is the child that is conceived, and that the woman is Sarah.  Still others suggest that the woman is Eve, and that the child is the Savior (remember the strangeness of timelines?).  In any case, no matter who the woman and child are, the dragon represents Satan, who attempted to thwart the redeeming work of God.  Many Bible scholars believe that when the dragon swept a third of the stars from the sky, this represents Lucifer convincing a third of the angels to follow him in his rebellion (cf. Jude 6).  After a war with Michael the archangel and the hosts of heaven, Satan was defeated and cast down.

Trying to get a clear bead on the timeline of Satan's rebellion is a difficult thing because we mortals operate in one kind of timeline while heavenly beings have a different chronological perspective.  That's why the timelines of prophecy are often so debatable, and why sometimes prophecy refers to more than one person or event at once.

It seems that Satan's rebellion took place before the foundation of the earth as we know it.  Perhaps it is this dark, watery chaos after the war in heaven, that make the spirit of God "brood and fertilize**"  above the waters.  It may be that when the earth was "without form, and void (Gen 1:2)" in the aftermath of this cosmic conflagration.  In that case, it appears that God was re-creating after the destruction of the heavenly turmoil.  Certainly we know that at least from the third chapter of Genesis onward, Satan has been a tempter and foil to humankind.  Indeed his rebellion began before earth was formed, but it continues even today.

Though Satan is cast out of heaven (meaning that He can't live there), apparently he can still visit the higher realms.  Job 1:6-12 says: 

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “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?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason?10 Have you not put a hedge around 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. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

In this passage (and again in 2:1-7), Satan has access to the throne of God.  He stands as an accuser, adversary, and tempter, bringing disaster on humanity and provoking people to evil.  So, 1 Peter 5:8 says, "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."  

Even though he has been cast out of heaven, the devil continues to try to thwart God's plan.  And he is audacious at what he does.  Even as he tempted Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11), he tempts everyone.  His fallen angels, called demons, afflict and oppress people, even possessing some (as we read about throughout the Gospels and the book of Acts).  They are the power-behind-the-power on earth.  Ephesians 2:2 calls Satan "prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience."  Ephesians 6:10-12 reminds us that it against these spiritual powers that we contend, saying, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

But the good news (for us, at least) is found in Revelation 20:1-3, 7-10, which reads:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain.And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while...

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them,10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

So there you are...a brief biography of Satan.  It took me longer to write this than I hoped, but hey--it's my day off!  Hope it illuminates some of the questions you may have about the devil, and his demons.  Remember, though, that "...You are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4)."

*Scriptures are taken from the ESV.
**Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon

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