Genesis 3: 1-7
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Job 1: 6-12
One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and the accuser (Ha Satan,) also came among them. The Lord said to the accuser, “Where have you come from?” The accuser answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to the accuser, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” Then the accuser answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence 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. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to the accuser, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!” So the accuser went out from the presence of the Lord.
Mark 1: 12-13
And the Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tested by Satan, and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him.
The Devil. Of all things I could talk about from the pulpit, Demonology is probably the one that can potentially rile the most feathers. We all have our way that we see evil in the universe, and many of us have strong feelings about just what kind of threat the Devil is in our life. Many of you will have lived through the Satanic Panic of the 1970s and ‘80s, in which just about everything was seen as a potential entryway for Satan into the hearts of humanity. Whether it was rock music, back masked metal albums, or horror films, there was an expectation of a war for the souls of humanity – waged in culture and in the Heavenly realms.
Yet, that image of a Devil who is secretly running the show is something largely alien to scripture. We have built a powerful image of Satan up in our minds and so we see him as much more than scripture has shown to us. The Devil is in the Details, and today we look at the Details of the Devil, as we plumb the depths of the Bible and beyond to see what we can make of the Father of Lies and Prince of the Spirits of the Air.
Firstly, we have to establish just how foundational our misunderstandings of the Devil are. Our first scripture was from Genesis, which is where most people see the Devil as rearing his ugly head. Yet, if you read the scripture and take it at its word, this snake is only a “beast of the field.” This is no devil, this is just a serpent that took issue with God’s limitations of human life. I’ll go further to say that no canonical book of scripture sees this snake as the Devil. There is one mention of Satan bringing death to the world in Ecclesiasticus, a book which we do not have in our Protestant Bibles. 1 Enoch says a different being named Gader’el took the form of the snake in the Garden. Even Revelation, which describes the Devil as an “Ancient Serpent,” uses a word (οφις/δρακων) which just as easily means dragon as it does literal snake. I say all this to point out, most of what we say about the Devil is not something God has told us, but something we have told ourselves.
The Devil next occurs, if we are looking just at page order, when David conducts a census in Israel and courts the wrath of God. The Chronicler says that Satan tempted David to do this, but it is interesting to note that 2 Samuel places the inspiration for the Census in God’s hands. Making God the architect of David’s own punishment. This vision of Satan as tempter shows up in his only other Old Testament appearance. In the book of Job, “Ha Satan,” the Adversary, is a member of God’s court. He serves as the inquisitor who walks the earth and tests humanity on behalf of God. For the pre-exilic community it seems that that is how they saw the Devil. God’s employee, a member of the Heavenly courts, but not as some grand evil working against humanity.
This view emerges in the post-exilic Jewish world. When God’s people are in Babylon they run into new religions that ask questions about where Evil comes from and how it is combatted. Judaism develops in diaspora alongside religions like Zoroastrianism and the various apocalyptic cults that emerge in the latter parts of the first millennium BCE. They all need to explain how trouble entered the world, and what God was fighting against, and so this sharing of religious language produces a new conception of evil. Personified evil begins to be a way to understand trouble, and this figure of personable evil is given many names. The most enduring in our minds are Satan – plucked straight from scripture “The adversary,” – and the Devil – a derivation of the Greek for “accuser.”
By the time the New Testament was written the Devil was seen as the source of all evil. Even in texts that make no attempt to place the Devil in Eden, this evil force is at least supportive of Adam’s sin against God. Enoch imagines a long list of demons that helped humanity found civilization, gifting them metal working and farming technology before finding themselves cast into Hell, leaving behind the spirits of their Nephilim children to haunt humanity.
It would be easy at this point, maybe even convenient, to suggest that the Devil was just an idea to explain how evil found its way into the world. That cannot be the case though, because as our Gospel passage explains, Jesus ran into the Devil. Revelation describes conflict with these Spiritual entities and Jesus frequently runs into people with demonic influences of one kind or another. To say that a person of faith can just wave off demons as a relic of the past is to put at risk a lot of our more spiritual beliefs. The truth is, even if the Devil and our understanding of it have changed over time, there is a reality to this personification of all things wicked. The problem comes that we take what scripture tells us, and we rewrite it to be more compelling.
The image of the Devil as a fallen angel, tragic in some ways, is something that comes from sources outside the Bible. Jude does describe the Devil and “his angels,” as being wrapped in chains awaiting Judgement, but that is borrowed from Enoch and its exact meaning is unclear. Revelation likewise describes a third of the stars falling from the sky when a tail swipes across the heavens, but nowhere in the Bible is there a description of a great angelic rebellion. This comes later as people take those different pieces of scripture and make them tell a single story.
Even our most popular name for the Devil, “Lucifer,” comes from us mixing our scriptural stories. Isaiah 14 begins, “You will take up this taunt against the King of Babylon,” and continues on later, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Morning Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!” This title, “Morning Star,” became “ἑωσφόρος” (heosphoros,) in Greek and then “Lucifer” in Latin. The title became a name and the association with Nebuchadnezzar shifted to an association with the Devil. Dante would immortalize this connection in his Divine Comedy and John Milton would make it a solid part of the English literary and cultural canon when he wrote Paradise Lost.
Much of what we make of the Devil comes from the culture around us. We imagine hooves and pitchforks because that is what different societies over time gave to the Devil. The Devil could look like any other person for all we know, or like something completely inhuman. The vision of the Devil up till now in our discussion has been about the accidents of this being, not anything substantial to what he can and cannot do. So, let us cut to the chase, what impact does the Devil have on our daily life.
I would say, not much at all. Shocking I know, but I am not a man who lives in fear of the Devil. I do not think that if you watch horror movies a demon can sneak into your life, or that there are ways to accidentally align oneself with demonic entities. I would go further to say that there is no grand satanic conspiracy at work in the world – outside of the reality of sin and our capacity to participate in it. I believe that the devil has lost all power on this earth, and I believe that because of the cross of Calvary and the blood of Jesus Christ.
Paul describes us as having been freed from Sin and Death, and Satan’s only tool against us are those things. We cannot be compelled to sin by Satan, because we have been purchased for righteousness by Jesus Christ. Peter, in his epistle, describes the Devil as a lion waiting to pounce on our weakness, and I believe it, but I think we are not assailed by the Devil so much as by ourselves. We are not tempted except in the ways that Christ was tempted long ago, and like Christ, we are freed for freedom’s sake, to not give into the Devil.
The Devil, the old enemy of humanity, is a shadow to the Christian. The Light of Christ is sufficient to chase him away with a single word. There are not witches that can conjure him, nor demons lurking in the dark, nor any fear or oppression except what we take on ourselves. Fear not the darkness of the evil one, for we have a Lord in Jesus who has delivered us from all evil. – Amen