In this series of posts I am going to provide evidence from the Hebrew Bible for the existence of Satan as a spiritual archenemy that opposes God’s people. I primarily do so because it is argued that there are a few scanty references to Satan in the Old Testament that are questionable, since certain scholars claim that these texts are not actually referring to the same spiritual antagonist, which appears in the New Testament.
Here are the OT passages where Satan is mentioned:
“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.” Job 1:6-12 Authorized King James Version (AV) – cf. 2:1-7
“And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” 1 Chronicles 21:1 AV
“And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” Zechariah 3:1-2 AV
With the foregoing in view, it may come as a surprise to the readers that the Hebrew Bible is replete with references to Satan but under a different name, one which the Apostle Paul employs in his letter to the Corinthians:
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? What communion has light with darkness? What agreement has Christ with Belial? Or what part has he who believes with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God…” 2 Corinthians 6:14-16a
- 2 Corinthians 6:15 Or Beliar, a name for the Devil or antichrist in extra-biblical Jewish writings. Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
As the note indicates, Belial is the name given to Satan or his human agent in Jewish sources. The following commentary confirms this fact:
The second set of questions considers the partnership of personal opposites: What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (v. 15). It is widely thought that Belial (Greek Beliar) comes from the Hebrew term beliyya`al, meaning “worthless, good-for-nothing” (Brown, Driver and Briggs 1953). Belial as a name for the devil is found only here in the New Testament. Paul usually refers to the Christian’s archenemy as “Satan” (Rom 16:20; 1 Cor 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Thess 2:18; 2 Thess 2:9; 1 Tim 1:20; 5:15). In the Old Testament beliyya`al also designates the realm of the powers of chaos and so comes to mean destruction, wickedness and ruin (as in Deut 13:13; Judg 19:22; 20:13; 1 Sam 1:16; Ps 18:4; 41:8; 101:3; Prov 16:27; 19:28; Nahum 1:11[2:1]; Kaiser 1980:111). In the Qumran Scrolls beliyya`al is the name of the highest angel of darkness and the enemy of the prince of light (Cairo Damascus Document 5:18), while in other Jewish materials Belial is the absolute enemy of God and chief of demons (as in Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs; Jubilees 1:20; The Lives of the Prophets 4:6, 20; 17:2; Sibylline Oracles 2.167; 3.64-74; Ascension of Isaiah 3-4; Böcher 1990:212). It is because the unbeliever’s mind has been blinded by the devil to the truths of the gospel (4:4) that the believer and unbeliever hold nothing in common. (Linda L. Belleville, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: 2 Corinthians, p. 180 https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/ivp-nt/Unequal-Yoking-Unbelievers)
As the commentary states, this name for Satan actually comes from the Hebrew Bible even though it is hidden in various translations, which choose to translate the term rather than transliterate it.
For instance, the Old Testament refers to evildoers as being the children of Belial, or as those belonging to Belial:
“Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known;” Deuteronomy 13:13 AV
“Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him.” Judges 19:22 AV
“Now therefore deliver us the men, the children of Belial, which are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel. But the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren the children of Israel:” Judges 20:13 AV
“Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto.” 1 Samuel 1:16 AV
“Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord.” 1 Samuel 2:12 AV
“But the children of Belial said, How shall this man save us? And they despised him, and brought him no presents. But he held his peace.” 1 Samuel 10:27 AV
“Now therefore know and consider what thou wilt do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his household: for he is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him… Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send.” 1 Samuel 25:17, 25 AV
“Then answered all the wicked men and men of Belial, of those that went with David, and said, Because they went not with us, we will not give them ought of the spoil that we have recovered, save to every man his wife and his children, that they may lead them away, and depart.” 1 Samuel 30:22 AV
“And thus said Shimei when he cursed, Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial:” 2 Samuel 16:7 AV
“And there happened to be there a man of Belial, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjamite: and he blew a trumpet, and said, We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to his tents, O Israel.” 2 Samuel 20:1 AV
“and set two men, sons of Belial, before him, to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him, that he may die… And there came in two men, children of Belial, and sat before him: and the men of Belial witnessed against him, even against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, Naboth did blaspheme God and the king. Then they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died.” 1 Kings 21:10, 13 AV
“And there are gathered unto him vain men, the children of Belial, and have strengthened themselves against Rehoboam the son of Solomon, when Rehoboam was young and tenderhearted, and could not withstand them.” 2 Chronicles 13:7 AV
This perfectly corresponds with the NT teaching that Satan has spiritual offspring, individuals who are under his control and influence:
“the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;” Matthew 13:38 AV
“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” John 8:44
“He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” 1 John 3:8-12 AV
Certain passages render the term as an adjective in reference to ungodly and evil individuals:
“When the waves of death compassed me, the floods of ungodly men (beliya’al) made me afraid;” 2 Samuel 22:5 AV
“The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men (beliya’al) made me afraid.” Psalm 18:4 AV
“An ungodly man (ish beliya’al) digs up evil, and in his lips there is as a burning fire.” Proverbs 16:27 Modern English Version (MEV)
“An ungodly (beliya’al) witness scorns judgment, and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity.” Proverbs 19:28 MEV
The one problem I have with rendering Belial as an adjective in these places is that these verses can be speaking of individuals used by Satan for his evil purposes, i.e., a man or men of Belial. As such, it is not at all clear that the Hebrew word should be treated as a description characterizing these individuals, as opposed to Satan himself inspiring and/or empowering certain persons to carry out specific evil acts.
Here are a few more cases where Belial is understood in an adjectival sense:
“Beware lest there be a wicked (beliya’al) thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the Lord against you, and it become sin in you.” Deuteronomy 15:9 New King James Version (NKJV)
“Is it fitting to say to a king, ‘You are wicked (beliya’al)’? And to princes, ‘You are ungodly’?” Job 34:18 MEV
“An evil (beliya’al) disease clings to him. And now that he lies down, he will not rise up again.” Psalm 41:8 MEV
“I will set no wicked (beliya’al) thing before my eyes. I hate the work of those who turn aside; it shall not have part of me.” Psalm 101:3 MEV
Again, the word can be translated in such a way as to highlight the satanic origin of these acts, i.e., a disease inflicted by Belial, a man sent by Belial, a thought inspired by Belial etc. This would be similar to someone today speaking of a devilish/satanic thought or disease, or a devilish person.
In any case, the fact remains that the name Belial comes from the Hebrew Bible and not from uninspired Jewish folklore or tradition. It is, therefore, simply not the case that the Old Testament writings do not refer to Satan all that much, since the prophetic writings are replete with references to Belial, which the Apostle Paul himself acknowledged is one of the names for God’s spiritual adversary.
Lord Jesus willing, in a future post I will provide some additional evidence from the Hebrew Bible that the inspired writers were aware of Satan’s existence and opposition to God and his people.