Day 119—the satan—“The Advocate” Job 32:1 – 37:24
April 29, 2021, 8:00 AM

Day 119—the satan—“The Advocate” Job 32:1 – 37:24

Why I decided to write about this now, I’m not sure. As much as I appreciated young Elihu’s arguments against both Job and his friends in our selection today, I felt as though I had heard/read enough. Elihu himself says “I am full of words,” (32:18a)

I decided to find out more about satan in the book of Job, or as he is properly termed ha satan, or The Adversary. He is not the devil, as we picture that being. He is not representative of all the forces of evil in the world, but he is a curious figure who has the right to be in the presence of God.

First we need to understand more about the beliefs of the Jewish people. For Jews, satan or the devil as we know it does not exist. “Well,” you might say, “here he is right in the book of Job!” Not exactly. The person described as The Adversary belonged to the court of heaven somehow. When he appears to God in the first chapter of Job, God does not seem surprised to see him, but he does ask ha satan where he has come from. And the answer is that ha satan has been roving the earth, much like any one of God’s other heavenly messengers.

Ha satan engages in dialogue with God, enough so that God gets to do a little bragging about one of his earthly servants, Job. And then ha satan (remember that this means opponent or adversary) counters God’s faith in Job by saying that all of Job’s blessings created a false security and a false hope. Take all those away, says ha satan, and Job will curse God, and be no longer blameless.

For Jews, ha satan represents the impulse in each of us to do things counter to God’s will. Jews believe that they are born, not with original sin, but with original choice. Jews are always presented with two inclinations: Yestzer Tov and Yetzer Hora—the inclination to do good—Tov (as in Mazel Tov), and the inclination to do evil (Hora). This ha satan figure simply personifies that choice in humans. God will always command his people to do good, but they have a choice.

WAAAAAYYYYYYY back in Deuteronomy), Moses said this to his people in some of his final words: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19) The duality of life, and the ability to choose good or evil freely, was a clear part of the Jewish understanding of human nature. A personified evil devil was not, and is still not part of the Jewish belief system.

Maimonides, a medieval Jewish teacher and philosopher, derives from the Hebrew word ha satan that it means “to turn away”. Maimonides presented ha satan as a symbol of the inclination in humans to turn away from God, something that diverts people from the paths of truth and righteousness, in other words, away from the will of God and towards the will of Self.

So there is a bigger picture, a much bigger picture in all of Job, and it is a picture of the entire nation of chosen people, the Jews, who have been given everything by God necessary to choose goodness and to be in good relationship with the One God, these chosen people have been cared for and saved by God (think Red Sea) who suffer, who are exiled, who are marginalized by even those close to them, and yet who ultimately return to God and are restored to perfect relationship.

So here’s what Job, or any of his friends, cannot say: The devil made me do it!

Ha satan is not the devil as we Christians know it. The serpent in the garden is not the devil as we know it. Ha satan presents simply the ways that God’s people are tempted by choices that can, and do, turn them away from God or towards God. This, of course is very familiar to us as Christians, but we often see evil as an outside force working on us. Jews see these forces as coming from within themselves only, but as affecting the entire nation.

Christians focus on personal salvation; Jews are interested in national salvation—the saving of an entire people group. These are very different understandings, but both bear great importance to a life of faith. As I said before, if Christians could embrace the idea of being part of a ‘nation’ more, we may have a sense that God is calling us to work together, to pray together, to worship together and to BE together, despite our differences in these polarized times.

Be blessed and be a blessing to others,

ML

 

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