5-4 Job’s Satan

Job 1:6: “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them”.

Popular Interpretation

Satan in Job is an angel who came among the angels in heaven and criticized Job, whom he had been watching whilst walking around in the earth seeing what trouble he could make. He then brings lots of problems upon Job to try and turn him away from God.


1. “Satan” is only mentioned in the first two chapters of Job and nowhere in the book is he explicitly defined as an angel.

2. We have seen in our comments on Genesis 6:2 , that the phrase “sons of God” can refer to those who have the true understanding of God (Rom. 8:14; 2 Cor. 6:17-18; 1 Jn. 3:7). Angels do not bring false accusations against believers “before the Lord” (2 Pet. 2:11)

3. It cannot be conclusively proved that Satan was a son of God - he “came among them”.

4. Satan is described as “going to and fro in the earth”. There is no implication that he was doing anything sinful. Zechariah 1:11 implies that this is a Hebraism for observing.

5. How can Satan be in heaven and also on the earth in Job’s time when, according to popular belief, he was thrown out at the time of Adam, or in 1914, according to the “Watchtower”?

6. Remember that there cannot be sin or rebellion against God in heaven (Ps.5:4-5; Hab. 1:13; Matt. 6:10; Ps. 103:19-21).

7. The major theme of the book of Job is that God brought the problems into Job’s life and that eventually they made him a more righteous person (Job 2:10; 16:11; 19:21; 23:16; 42:11). Notice that Job did not believe that only good things came from God; he nowhere complains about Satan bringing the problems. Job realized that his sufferings had made him come to know God in practice rather than just in theory - “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee” (42:5). Seeing that problems make us more righteous people if we respond correctly to them (Heb. 12:5-11), why would a sinful, wicked being, who wants to turn us away from God, bring these things into our lives, when actually they only make us more righteous and closer to God?

8. The fact that Satan and the sons of God were in “the presence of the Lord” and presented themselves “before the Lord” (2:7; 1:6) does not necessarily mean that they were in heaven. The representatives of God carry the name of God, e.g. the angel which led Israel through the wilderness was called “the Lord” because it carried God’s name (Ex. 23:20-21), but it was not God himself in person (Ex. 33:20 cp. v. 12). Similarly, priests represent God (2 Chron. 19:6) and to come before them was to come “before the Lord” (Deut. 19:17). Cain “went out from the presence of the Lord” (Gen. 4:16) - not out of heaven but probably away from the presence of the angel - cherubim. Jesus was presented as a baby “before the Lord” (Lk. 2:22)- i.e. before the priest.

9. Notice that Satan had to get power from God (Job 2:3-6); he had none in his own right, indeed, God brought Job to Satan’s notice (1:8). Job comments about God being the source of his sufferings: “If it be not he, who then is it?” (Job 9:24 RV). Job didn’t believe anyone apart from God was responsible.

10. There is no indication that anything Satan did was sinful. Satan never actually says or does anything wrong; he simply makes the observation that there may well be a relationship between Job's service of God and the material blessing which God has given him. He is them empowered by God to bring calamities into Job's life. Time and again is it stressed, really stressed, that God brought the problems upon Job, not satan independently (1:12,16; 2:3,10; 6:4; 8:4; 19:21; 42:18).

11. Even if the “satan” (adversary) to Job was an angel, there is no reason to think it was sinful. An angel asked Abraham to offer Isaac to find out exactly how obedient Abraham would be, hence he said, “Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Gen. 22:12). Similarly the angel which guided Israel out of Egypt, “led thee these forty years in the wilderness to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no” (Deut. 8:2). God himself knows all things, but the angels bring problems into the lives of their charges in order to see how they will respond. It may be possible to understand Job’s satan like this. Remember that an evidently righteous angel was called a “satan” in Numbers 22:22.

12. Much has been made of the fact that in Job 1 and in Zech. 3:1,2 we read of ha satan, the adversary. In Hebrew as in English, the definite article is significant. If I refer to myself as a personal, specific individual / being, I say "Duncan". To speak of "the Duncan" would be a description of a function, more than a reference to my personal name. Sitting at a restaurant table, you might call out: "Waiter!", intending a specific individual. You'd only speak of "the waiter" when describing his function- e.g. "The waiter served me badly". Hebrew and English operate in the same way here. So when we read in Job 1 and Zechariah 3 of the satan, ha satan, we're not reading of 'A specific person whose personal proper name is 'Satan''. Rather we're reading of a person who functioned as a satan or adversary. Dianne Bergant makes the point: "The word 'satan' appears with an article indicating that here the word is a title or description and not a proper name" (1). In other words, 'the satan' isn't the personal name of a personal being called Satan. It's a description of the function of a character, as an adversary. Note that the man Haman is called ho diabolos in Esther 7:4 LXX.

13. We read and receive the style of the book of Job in a way far different to how its original readership would've done. Continuing the point made in [12] above, the Russian literary analyst Vladimir Propp has shown that all stories, folklore etc. of that time contained characters with a set function- there was the hero, the companion, the friends / bystanders, and the adversary (2). Whilst I accept that Job was a historical character, the way the book is written in such structured Hebrew poetry shows for sure that the events were 'written up' in story / ballad form. And so when the initial readership encountered "the adversary", ha satan, they wouldn't have thought of him as a cosmic being of evil. The presence of someone functioning as "the adversary" would've been quite normal to them.

14. If we follow through the argument of the book, the logical answer of Job to the friends' allegations would have been "I'm suffering because Satan has it in for me! He's doing this, not God!". For the friends were reasoning that God was bringing such affliction into Job's life because Job was a sinner. The fact Job doesn't make this obvious retort indicates to me that "the Satan" wasn't understood by either Job nor the friends as a personal supernatural being of evil.

15. We have demonstrated in chapter 1 how Jewish thinking came to be influenced by Babylonian ideas of a dualistic cosmos, split between God and some 'Satan' figure. The book of Job is a corrective to this, in that it teaches that evil comes from God, and any Satan figure is under His total control. Yet a mere skim reading of the prologue to Job has led some to the very opposite conclusion. Significantly, the apostate Jewish writing The Testament Of Job completely twists the intent of the Biblical record, and adds into it the common misconceptions concerning Satan- e.g. it claims of Job's wife: "Satan followed her along the road, walking stealthily, and leading her hear astray... [Job warns her] 'Do you not see Satan standing behind you and unsettling your reasoning?'" (23:11; 26:6). These classical images of 'Satan' have to be added in to the Biblical record- because they are simply not there in the Biblical text.

Suggested Explanations

1. We have seen that coming “before the Lord” may describe coming before a representative of God, such as a priest or an angel. The “sons of God” - the believers at that time - presented themselves before a priest or angel, perhaps at a religious feast. Someone there, maybe one of the worshippers, reflected that it was not surprising that Job was such a strong believer, seeing that God had so richly blessed him. God gave that person the power to afflict Job, to demonstrate that Job’s love of God was not proportionate to the blessings God had given him.

2. Maybe the Satan was composed of Job’s three “friends” - they are rebuked at the end of the book (notice that “satan” is not rebuked by name). Their discussions with Job indicate that they had their doubts as to his integrity and suspected that his faith was now weak because God had taken away the blessings from him - “But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest: it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled...who ever perished (which it looked as though Job was going to), being innocent?” Eliphaz pointed out (Job 4:5 & 7).

3. It has been suggested that the prologue to Job is in fact a literary device to place theological problems before us, e.g. of the relationship between service of God and receipt of blessing, and sin and suffering. But we must remember that later Scripture takes the experiences of Job as literal, and Job himself as a real historical person. However, it is not impossible that the account of the conversation between God and the satan was not a literal occurrence, but simply a way of setting up the problems which the historical narrative then addresses. It's worth meditating on this one. But it isn't a view which strongly commends itself to the present writer, not least because there seem few, if any, examples of this kind of device in the rest of Scripture.

4. The friends insist that "the destroyer" [by which they surely meant an early equivalent to 'the devil' of popular belief today] had touched Job- whereas Job insists that it is God who had destroyed him (Job 15:21 cp. 19:10; 13:21). In some ways the book of Job is a deconstruction of the popular Persian and Canaanite myths about a 'satan' figure. Job, both in the story of his sufferings and his specific words, seeks to demonstrate that the essential issues in life is being "just with God", and not whether or not we are touched by the hand of an evil being; for the hand of God which touched Job (Job 19:21) is the hand of 'satan' into whom God delivered Job temporarily (Job 1:12). Job says that the attitude of the friends is wrong- they should be looking into themselves, rather than fantasizing about the action of some unseen evil being they imagined: "Ye should say, Why persecute we him, seeing the root of the matter is found in me?... know that there is a [personal] judgment"(Job 19:28,29).

5. It can be argued that the book of Job is a dialogue concerning evil and suffering, with three popular views being represented by the three friends. These views are examined and corrected by the personal history of Job, as well as by the epilogue and prologue to the book. Eliphaz seems to be representative of the idea that Job is being hit by supernaturally controlled evil- Eliphaz speaks of a force of darkness (Job 22:10,11) and sinful or faulty Angels living in an unclean Heaven (Job 4:18; 15:15). Yet the answer to all this is that the Satan figure is under God's control, all Job's misfortunes come from God and His Angels- one of whom may have been called 'the adversary' ('Satan')- are in fact perfectly obedient to Him and not disobedient. And finally, Elpihaz and the friends are rebuked for their various wrong understandings, with God declaring Himself supreme and ultimate sovereign. Likewise Bildad's view of Angels in Job 25:5 "The stars are not pure in God's eyes" is corrected by God in Job 38:7, when He says that "the morning stars sang together and all the Sons of God shouted for joy".


(1) Dianne Bergant, Job, Ecclesiastes (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1982) p. 27.

(2) Vladimir Propp, Theory And History Of Folklore, ed. Anatoly Liberman (Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 1984); Morphology Of The Folktale (Austin: University Of Texas Press, 1968).

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