Satan in the Old Testament and

In Early Jewish Apocryphal Writings




The name Satan is derived from a root meaning ‘to oppose’ or ‘to be or to act as an adversary.’ In some cases, he is not necessarily malevolent and he may have even been sent by the Lord to prevent worse harm (such as in Numbers). Examples of passages using this early interpretation include:

"But God was incensed at his going; so an angel of the LORD placed himself in his was as an adversary [Hebrew: satan]" - Numbers 22:22

"He shall not march down with us to the battle, or else he may become an adversary [Heb: satan] in battle." - 1 Samuel 29:4

"Appoint a wicked man over him; may an accuser [Heb: satan] stand at his right side. - Psalm 109:6

Satan possesses no real demonic qualities in the OT writings. He is mentioned as a distinct personality in 3 passages. These passages are thought to be post-exilic and are dated between 519 and 300 BCE.

  • "He further showed me Joshua, the high priest, standing before the angel of the LORD, and the Satan standing at his right to accuse him." - Zechariah 3:1
  • Here, "Satan" becomes an official title of a distinct personality, but it is not used as a proper name because it is still used with the article "the."

  • "One day the divine beings presented themselves before the LORD, and the Satan came along with them. The LORD said to the Adversary, ‘Where have you been?’ Satan answered the LORD, ‘I have been roaming all over the earth.’ The LORD said to Satan, "Have you noticed my servant Job?" - Job 1:6-8
  • In this passage, the Satan is the servant of God, whose job is not only to accuse man, but he also urges God to test Job. He does nothing without the permission of God. He appears along with the other ‘ben Elohim’ (sons of God) implying that he is one of the angel-ministers of Yahweh. Also, this passage shows that while he acts in accordance with God’s permission, he seems as if he would be pleased if he could prove that Job wasn’t as loyal to God as God claimed. Despite this, he remains an angel.

  • "Satan arose against Israel and incited David to number Israel." - 1 Chronicles 21:1
  • This passage is a later version of the passage in 2 Samuel 24:1 "The anger of the LORD again flared up against Israel; and He incited David against them, saying, ‘Go and number Israel and Judah.’" While the author attributes the census to Satan, he insists that David was personally responsible for his actions and therefore guilty of breaking God’s law. Satan’s substitution for the Lord indicates that he was thought of as the destructive power of God.

    Rabbinical Literature gives two accounts for the origin of Satan. The first is that Satan was created on the sixth day at the same time as Eve. This ties in with the tradition that Satan played some part in the fall of man. The second and more prevalent tradition is that Satan is one of the fallen angels. Satan is identified with Sammael and his deeds.

    In T.B. Baba Bathra (16a), Satan is identified with the Yetzer ha Ra, which is the ‘evil impulse’ in man. The Talmud distinguishes between the personified Satan outside man, and the Yetzer ha Ra that exists within man. It is this evil impulse within man that allows Satan the opportunity to work his will against man.

    Rabbinic writings also foreshadow the destruction of Satan. T.B. Succah (52a) talks of the destruction of the evil angel, while the Yalkut Jesaj (359) implies that Satan will be overthrown at a future time by the Messiah, referring to Psalm 36:9.

    The general belief is that there are a class of Satan’s with a chief Satan. For example, in 1 Enoch, there are 5 Satan’s. The first and second are said to have been responsible for leading astray the angels and for bringing them down to earth, where they sinned with the daughters of men (69:4), while the third brought about the fall of Adam and Eve (69:6). The Satan’s are allowed to access heaven in order to accuse men, but they are not confined to heaven.