Everything You Wanted to Know About the Devil

Where Did the Devil Come From?

Satan is first mentioned by “name” in Job 1:6-7:

One day the angels came to present themselves before Yahweh, and Satan also came with them. Yahweh said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered Yahweh, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”

Here God asks where it is that Satan comes from; however, it is not a question of ultimate origins, but of “what have you been doing lately?” From the story of Job, we learn that Satan is responsible for bringing misery and suffering to people. In 1 Chronicles 21:1 we see him active in tempting a person to sin. The only other place that Satan is mentioned in the Old Testament is Zechariah 3:1-2, where he is seen accusing the saints; and of course that is exactly what his name “Satan” means: “the accuser,” or more colloquially, “the tattler.” In fact, in the Old Testament “Satan” is always preceded by a definite article in Hebrew, from which we gather “Satan” is more a designation of his character than an actual personal name. His actual first appearance in the Bible is generally assumed to be at the very beginning, in the form of a serpent, when he convinces Eve to doubt God’s goodness. If this serpent is indeed Satan (there is no explicit biblical indication that it is), then Satan is responsible for creating all the misery that exists in our world today.

How Did the Devil Turn Bad?

Since God is not the author of evil, then Satan, as a created being, could not have begun wicked. What happened to him?

Some commentators have taken Isaiah 14:12-15 as a reference to Satan’s fall. The King James translation has contributed to this interpretation by translating 14:12 as follows:

How art thou fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How art thou cut down to the ground,
who didst weaken the nations!

The word “Lucifer” for some reason has been accepted as a name for “Satan”, although this is the only occurrence of the word in the entire Bible; it was taken over from the Latin Vulgate, and means simply “morning star” — which is the proper translation of the underlying Hebrew word. There are several problems with an interpretation of this passage as a reference to Satan:

First, the person referred to in 14:12-15 is explicitly said to be the king of Babylon (14:3).

Second, he is called a man (14:16-17).

Third, he is said to be dead (14:9, 11, 19).

Fourthly, he is said to have destroyed his land and his people (14:20).

Finally, no other reference to this passage in the Old or New Testament indicates that Isaiah 14:12-15 should be interpreted as a reference to anyone other than the king of Babylon, a man filled with great pride (cf. Daniel 4:28-32; 5:18-30). Instead, all the evidence points to it being a description of a human ruler. To interpret it any other way necessitates taking the passage out of context.

The other passage which is mentioned by some theologians in relation to how Satan became evil is Ezekiel 28:12-15. Again, the problems faced by those who wish to interpret this as a reference to Satan are insurmountable. 28:12 itself identifies the individual in view: the king of Tyre. If one looks back to earlier portions of the same chapter, one finds that this king was guilty of the most incredible pride, a pride not especially unusual in kings of this time and region. Look at 28:1-10:

The word of Yahweh came to me:
“Son of man, say to the ruler of Tyre,
‘This is what the Master Yahweh says:
“’In the pride of your heart
you say, “I am a god;
I sit on the throne of a god
in the heart of the seas.”
But you are a man and not a god,
though you think you are as wise as a god.
Are you wiser than Daniel?
Is no secret hidden from you?
By your wisdom and understanding
you have gained wealth for yourself
and amassed gold and silver
in your treasuries.
By your great skill in trading
you have increased your wealth,
and because of your wealth
your heart has grown proud.
“’Therefore this is what Master Yahweh says:
“Because you think you are wise,
as wise as a god,
I am going to bring foreigners against you,
the most ruthless of nations;
they will draw their swords against your beauty
and wisdom and pierce your shining splendor.
They will bring you down to the pit,
and you will die a violent death
in the heart of the seas.
Will you then say, “I am a god,”
in the presence of those who kill you?
You will be but a man, not a god,
in the hands of those who slay you.
You will die the death of the uncircumcised
at the hands of foreigners.
I have spoken, declares the Master Yahweh.’”’”

These words about the king of Tyre could be compared to those of Suppiluliumas, a Hittite king. At the beginning of one of his decrees he wrote:

These are the words of the Sun, Suppiluliumas, thegreat king, the king of the Hittites, the valiant, the favorite of the Storm-god….

Just like the king of Tyre, it was common for Near Eastern kings to picture themselves as gods incarnate. For instance, the Pharaoh was always, even as late as the time of Alexander the Great, pictured as the incarnation of the Sun god Re. Alexander, because it made his Near Eastern subjects happy (and padded his ego), declared himself to be a god.

In any case, the author of the lament that is then raised for the king of Tyre in 28:12-16 does not have the fall of Satan in mind at all. This has not prevented some from taking the words in verses 12-16 as being absolute proof that this has to be Satan, forgetting the very context of these words. Let’s look at the objections raised against a purely human setting for this passage.

In verse twelve we are told that this king was “the model of perfection”; those who wish to see Satan in this passage argue that this is an indication of Satan’s sinlessness before he rebelled against God, and since all people are sinners, this statement can hardly be applied to a human king. But in answer to this, since when does the word “perfect” when applied to people indicate sinlessness? Are not many Old and New Testament persons called perfect? No special significance can be found in the current use of the term.

Verse 13: “You were in Eden, the garden of God…” What does this mean? Look back one chapter to Ezekiel 27, where the trading empire of Tyre is described. In 27:23, Eden is mentioned as one of the places Tyre traded with. Notice that all the precious objects with which the person of Ezekiel 28:13 is decked are the items Tyre traded for in 27:1-24. Please note also Ezekiel 31:9 and 16-18, where, in a message to the king of Egypt, Lebanon (where Tyre was located) was called Eden:

I made the nations tremble at the sound of its fall when I brought it down to the grave with those who go down to the pit. Then all the trees of Eden, the choicest and best of Lebanon, all the trees that were well-watered, were consoled in the earth below [vs. 16].

Eden, because it was the perfect place from which humans had fallen, was taken into Israelite thought as the picture of the ideal place; it became a figure for God’s favor. Look at how it is used in Ezekiel 36:33-36, which speaks of a restored Israel:

This is what the Master Yahweh says: “On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. They will say, ‘This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations around you that remain will know that I Yahweh have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I Yahweh have spoken, and I will do it.”

In verse 15 Ezekiel talks about the king’s ways being blameless since “the day he was created.” Obviously, say those who see Satan here, this refers to the creation of Satan. But in Ezekiel 21:30 the same word “created” is used of the Amorites — human beings, not the devil. Isaiah uses it in Isaiah 43:1 and 7 in speaking of the origin of Israel and in Psalm 102:18 it is clearly referring simply to birth. Though the word is used to describe the creation of the universe (Gen. 1:1), we must be careful to recognize the full range of its meanings.

So what about the “guardian cherub” of verses 14 and 16? Explain that! Okay. Please look at 1 Kings 6:23-30:

In the inner sanctuary he made a pair of cherubim of olive wood, each ten cubits high [approximately 15 feet]. One wing of the first cherub was five cubits long, and the other wing was five cubits — ten cubits from wing tip to wing tip. The second cherub also measured ten cubits, for the two cherubim were identical in size and shape. The height of each cherub was ten cubits. He placed the cherubim inside the innermost room of the temple, with their wings spread out. The wing of one cherub touched one wall, while the wing of the other touched the other wall, and their wings touched each other in the middle of the room. He overlaid the cherubim with gold.

Also notice Genesis 3:24, the only place that mentions cherubim in association with the Garden of Eden:

After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

Genesis 3:24 seems to strike the final blow against an identification of the personage of Ezekiel 28 with Satan, because the guardian cherubs were those who came after Satan had done his foul deed (assuming the serpent in Genesis 3 is to be equated with Satan). The guardian cherub cannot be identified with the devil. Notice too, the two characteristics of the cherub: one, they guarded the way to the tree of life, or two, were decorations at the entrance to the Most Holy Place in the temple, where the high priest made atonement for the sins of the people. Likewise, the king of Tyre was guardian for the livelihood and wealth of count-less nations, and he bore responsibility for his own people’s welfare. Notice the reaction to the downfall of the king of Tyre:

The ships of Tarshish serve
as carriers for your wares.
You are filled with heavy cargo
in the heart of the sea.
Your oarsmen take you
out to the high seas.
But the east wind will break you to pieces
in the heart of the sea.
Your wealth, merchandise and wares,
your mariners, seamen and shipwrights,
your merchants and all your soldiers,
and everyone else on board
will sink into the heart of the sea
on the day of your shipwreck.
The shorelands will quake
when your seamen cry out.
All who handle the oars
will abandon their ships;
the mariners and all the seamen
will stand on the shore.
They will raise their voice
and cry bitterly over you;
they will sprinkle dust on their heads
and roll in ashes.
They will shave their heads because of you
and will put on sackcloth.
They will weep over you with anguish of soul
and with bitter mourning.
As they wail and mourn over you,
they will take up a lament concerning you:
“Who was ever silenced like Tyre,
surrounded by the sea?”
When your merchandise went out on the seas,
you satisfied many nations;
with your great wealth and your wares
you enriched the kings of the earth.
Now you are shattered by the sea
in the depths of the waters;
your wares and all your company
have gone down with you.
All who live in the coastlands
are appalled at you;
their kings shudder with horror
and their faces are distorted with fear.
The merchants among the nations hiss at you;
you have come to a horrible end
and will be no more.
(Ezekiel 27:25-36)

In the final analysis, it must be concluded that the Bible simply does not reveal where Satan originated. The odd interpretations of a passage in Isaiah and another in Ezekiel are the result of the human desire to know and understand: we would certainly like to know where Satan came from. For whatever reason, God never thought it worthwhile to actually let us know. It is enough that we are told he exists, and that he must be resisted (James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:8-9). Apparently, that’s all that’s really important as far as God is concerned.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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