Question: Who was the “Satan” of the book of Job? Was he an angel?

 

The identity of the Satan of Job 1–2 has been the subject of debate within the brotherhood from its earliest days. It is not our intention, except incidentally, to argue with the proposition that in the first two chapters of Job we have the Satan of orthodox Christianity – that ground has been well and truly covered. Nor will we seek to specifically identify and assign a name or names to the Satan. We want to address the view, which has been put forward in the brotherhood, and is still held by some, that the Satan (“the Adversary”) of Job was one of the angels of heaven.

Job 1:6 introduces us to the Satan who came into the presence of “the sons of God” (mortal worshippers, Gen 6:2; Deut 14:1 rsv; John 1:12) on what seems to have been an appointed day of worship (Job 2:1), in the presence of one leading their worship and bearing the name of the Lord. To “stand before Yahweh” is an expression used in respect of God’s appointed representatives, as for example in Deuteronomy 19:17: “the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before Yahweh, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days.”

The record presents a conversation between Yahweh’s representative and the man who stands as Job’s adversary and accuser. The adversary declares he has been travelling to and fro “in the earth”. Then you must have observed, notes Yahweh’s representative that there is no one “in the earth” to match Job in godliness. The Satan is unimpressed: “Doth Job fear God for nought?” he declares in Job 1:9. He proceeds to list all Job’s blessings and then challenges: “touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face” (Job 1:11).

All the calamities that we know of then befall Job’s herds, his servants and his children, leaving him bereft. Job acknowledges, “the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” The final comment of verse 22, “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly” pointedly answers the claim of the adversary in verse 11, “he will curse thee to thy face.”

Chapter 2 describes another meeting day with a similar exchange between Yahweh’s representative and the adversary (v1–2). Again Yahweh’s representative puts Job forward as unchanged in his qualities and in his integrity despite the calamity that Yahweh has brought upon him. And again the Satan demurs. Touch his person then: “… touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face” (v5). And on that happy note, “So went (the) Satan forth from the presence of the Lord” for the last time, to play no further part in the record (unless, of course, the adversary is as some have suggested Eliphaz, or all three of Job’s friends, or Elihu, none of which suggestions seem compelling to me).

Whoever he be, the ways of the adversary, his demeanour and his comments to “the Lord” seem to be utterly human and entirely the opposite of the scriptural depiction of angels.

Angels are God’s ministers, they do His will, they bless Him, as David declared: “Bless ye Yahweh, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless Yahweh, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure” (Psa 103:20–21). Paul says of the angels: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Heb 1:14). Jesus says of the redeemed that “they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God” (Luke 20:36); which means the angels, too, are “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4).

It is difficult, to say the least, to match “the Satan” of Job chapter 1 and 2, with these angelic qualities.

The angels bless Yahweh; they are His ministers having as a primary mission, the salvation of those God has called. Yet when “the Lord” asks the Satan (twice) “Whence comest thou?” (Job 1:7; 2:2), the answer, “from going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it”, carries no sense of an angel engaged on a divine work, but rather suggests the vague flippancy we might expect from a flawed human being.

The answer of the adversary in Job 1:9 does not seem reflective of an objective, caring assessment of a man such as we might look for from an angel charged to “minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation”. The description given by the adversary of Job’s possessions in verse 10 rather suggests an all too human, envious, even covetous enumeration of the assets of a man who had been more successful in life than he. And the very manner of his response to “the Lord” does not reflect a seemly reverence and respect in the presence of Deity if it was an angel. Where is any sense of: “Bless Yahweh … do his commandments … hearkening unto the voice of his word”? Rather, the response is human, defiant, almost aggressive! And the response in chapter two continues in the same vein. The first attempt failed, then hit Job harder. This is hardly an angelic attitude but it fits the inclinations of the human heart perfectly.

One final reflection. If the adversary was an angel, where is his compassion for Job, where is his love for this servant of God? And more telling still – are angels really so lacking in perception of the true character of those whose salvation is their daily task, lovingly pursued?

No, the adversary is a man. Something of a loner; not in the inner circle. Having sufficient means and leisure to go to and fro in the earth, but who has not attained to the spiritual standard and the material wealth of Job, an envious man with a spiteful streak. The term “Satan” describes him well.