Who is Satan? Is Satan attacking people in the Old Testament or is this God’s judgment? The bible says God doesn’t tempt us (James 1:12-15), but it is Satan that tempts us (Matthew 6:13). Yet oftentimes in the old testament when bad things happen scripture says that God was testing Israel (Deut 8:16, Deut 13:3, Judges 2:22). It seems that the revelation of Satan’s role is revealed more and more throughout scripture until the time of the messiah. The Gospel reveals him as the true enemy because he is the serpent whose head will be bruised by the messiah (Gen 3:15). Satan is rarely mentioned in the old testament so some people believe that Satan either is a metaphor or is an agent of God to exact judgment, rather than a rebel. However, Jesus and the apostles pointed to a real spiritual enemy of God seeking to devour us (1 Pt 5:8).
Satan isn’t fully revealed as an antagonist in Jewish writing until the second temple period (after the exile). Jews have different views of satan ranging from spiritual enemy to metaphor for evil. We see this in old testament language, often times it will say God brought upon a plague in response to their sins, like in Numbers chapter 25. Satan (שָׂטָן) in Hebrew simply means accuser or adversary. The word satan is often applied to human adversaries, but when adding “the” it gest translated as a unique being. In Zech 3:15, Zechariah has a vision of “The Satan” condemning Jeshua the high priest, but God rejects his accusations and has angels bring him new clothes to serve in. In Job chapters 1 & 2, it was “The Satan” that came and asked God if he could test Job and God allowed it. Satan’s role in the book of Job indicates that God isn’t testing because he knows us but rather Satan is, yet God allows it because he has given us the choice to trust him and follow his instruction or succumb and rebel at Satan’s suggestion. It’s the same choice Adam and Eve had in the garden, obey or rebel. The beginning of this is in the Genesis 3 narrative, and it is implied through the Old and New Testaments that this theme continues. Revelation 12:9 makes the final connection between the serpent and Satan. Rev 12:9 (NLT) This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.
In Genesis 3, humanity sins against God by eating from the forbidden fruit because of Satan’s deception. God goes through a series of curses, cursing both the serpent (Satan) and the ground. Previously, God blessed the man and the woman and told them to be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth and subdue it (Gen 1:28). The curse however is a new obstacle because it limits and opposes the blessing, however, God provided a way to receive the blessing again through covenants.
Gen 3:(NLT) 14 Then the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all animals, domestic and wild. You will crawl on your belly, groveling in the dust as long as you live. 15 And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” 16 Then he said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” 17 And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. 18 It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. 19 By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”
In Gen 3:14-15 The serpent is cursed below all of the other creatures, and will constantly fail and “eat dirt”. Then God prophesies that there will be a conflict between the woman’s offspring and the serpent’s offspring. He says the woman’s seed and the serpent’s seed will continue this conflict across generations. However, the woman’s seed will bruise the serpent’s head while the serpent will bruise his heel. In verses 16-19 there are consequences for the woman who will now have difficulty producing children, a prophecy of conflict between the woman and the man, and the man will struggle to work the ground because the ground is cursed to fail. Notice only the serpent and the ground are cursed, not the humans. Yet the humans will be affected by the cursed ground since the ground is where food comes from.
Let’s look at two key factors in understanding all of this. How do curses work and who is the serpent’s “seed”? Throughout ancient history in various cultures, contracts between business owners, kings, and various people have had blessings and curses. Even pharaoh’s tombs have curses against anyone that breaks in and steals his things because a grave robber is in violation of a contract between the Pharaoh and his people concerning the sanctity of the tomb. Curses in the bible are also contractual and governed by conditional statements (Deut 11:26-28).
In Gen 3:18-19 there is a curse on the ground because the humans violated the terms of their covenant with God. He gave them a conditional statement allowing them to eat from any tree except the one that is forbidden, but if they ate from the forbidden one, they would die. In Deuteronomy 28 God lays out the covenant conditions for the Israelites. In the first 14 verses, he gives the blessing for keeping the covenant, which includes good health, wealth, victory against their enemies, multiplication of their assets, and children. However, in verse 15, God says if they break the commands the opposite will happen and it will be a curse. The rest of the chapter list out promises of poverty, sickness, death, destruction, and exile. In Malachi 3:11 God says when they return to giving tithes he will, “will rebuke the devourer for your sakes”. The devourer is referring to swarms of locusts and such just like the plagues in Egypt. Some have interpreted that as Satan’s role, just like how God allowed Satan to attack Job, he allowed Satan to attack his people when they break the covenant.
This framework can be summed up here in Deut 30:15-20:
Deut 30:15 “Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. 16 For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy. 17 “But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, 18 then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy. 19 “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! 20 You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
God’s covenant offers protection from the dangerous cursed world we live in. Every human has the choice of life or death from Deut 30, just like Adam and Eve in the garden. The curse affects all of Adam’s descendants because of the sinful nature we inherited from him. The curse itself is what makes us vulnerable to Satan. Remember we are sheep and God/Jesus is the shepherd (Psalm 23:1-6, John 10:1-16) but Satan represents predatory creatures like the “roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Satan as the lion is the thief that comes to steal, kill and destroy God’s sheep (John 10:10). He is “the serpent” who bruises our heels and seeks to destroy us, and he can’t kill us through God’s protection, but he does tempt us to violate the covenant so that we expose ourselves to the curse. Jesus solves this problem, in Gal 3:13 Paul says “Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing.”
We can see God’s protection breakdown because of sin in Numbers chapters 22-25, and 31. In Numbers 22-24 Balaam a corrupt prophet, was hired by the Moabites to curse Israel but he couldn’t because he said only God has the power to curse and bless people, and since there is a blessing on Israel he couldn’t curse them. However Balaam realized that the blessings and promises of God are conditional, so the Israelites had to keep God’s commands in order to stay in the blessing, but breaking their covenant exposes them to the curse. Balaam then told the Moabites to use Midianite shrine prostitutes to seduce the Israelite men into worshipping their sex idols at their temples. This would cause them to be under the curse from Deut ch. 28. The Israelites get involved with idolatry prostitution in Numbers 25, which causes 24,000 Israelites to die of the plague. In Numbers 31 God sends the Israelites after the Midianites to nearly wipe them out for what they did, and they killed Balaam in the process because he is the one that instigated this for Moab’s benefit. Bad things happen when people break the covenant with God, and Satan takes advantage of that. He is the accuser (Rev 12:10) and he uses his role to point out our sins for condemnation. Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. Sin is translated from the Hebrew word chatah (חַטָּאָה) which means failure. Therefore, sin is simply a failure to keep God’s commands and this by itself leads to death. Yet Christ who never sinned and died in our place overcame death and granted us the option of the new covenant which promises total defeat of sin and death, leading to eternal life.
That still leaves the question who is the serpent’s seed? Gen 3:15 is not talking about a war between humans and snakes. The woman gives birth to all of humanity from that point so her seed is in reference to all people. However, the serpent (spiritual rebel from heaven) is not producing biological children but rather corrupting the seed of the women. Think of how snake venom is injected into the snake’s target. The serpent “injects” lies and temptations (like venom) into humanity (the woman’s seed) because he is trying to destroy us. The venom is sin nature and this is what humans need salvation from. In Genesis 4 before Cain kills his brother Abel out of jealousy, God warns him that “You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master”(Gen 4:7). The tempter won the battle and Cain killed his brother. One could say he became a seed of the serpent and bruised Abel’s (the woman’s seed’s) heel. This pattern continues through the bible with sibling rivalries like Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, to nation conflicts between the Israelites (descendants of Shem) and Egypt and Canaan (descendants of Ham). Every human fails against the serpent except one. The Messiah (the promised seed) defeats the serpent and bruises his head. Notice the promised seed of the woman, doesn’t target the serpent’s seed (wicked humans) but rather the serpent himself. He wants to rescue the children of the serpent by defeating the serpent and bringing them back to the woman’s side. Anyone who chooses righteousness is a seed of the woman, but anyone who rebels against God is a seed of the serpent.
In Matt 3:7-8 John the Baptist called the corrupt Sanhedrin council a “brood of snakes”, and in Matt 23:33 Jesus says to the Pharisees “Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?”. In John 8:44 Jesus calls the rebellious people “children” of their father the devil. 1 John 3:7-10 distinguishes children of God from the children of the devil (serpent’s seed). In John 1:10-14, John says the word became flesh and came to his own people (the Israelites), but they didn’t recognize him. However, anyone that does believe him will be called children of God (seed of the woman) because they are reborn by the spirit.
In John 8:42 Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me. 43 Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me! 44 For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me! 46 Which of you can truthfully accuse me of sin? And since I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Anyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God.”
1 John 3:7 Dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous. 8 But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. 9 Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life[his seed] is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. 10 So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers[his brothers] does not belong to God.
The New Testament fully reveals Satan’s agenda and how he operates based on Jesus’ teachings. Christians are in a new covenant with God through Jesus and have the Holy Spirit making them the true seed of the woman. Seeds of the serpent will inherit the serpent’s punishment but the seed of the woman will be joint-heirs with Jesus and will inherit eternal life. The woman is “God’s wife” which is a reference to Israel/the Church, so her offspring are the children of God. In John 3:16-21 Jesus says the reason someone would reject eternal life is because “they love their sins more than the light and those who prefer darkness refuse to come to the light because their sins will be exposed (serpent’s seed), but those who love God and righteousness will come to the light to be free from sin (woman’s seed)”. The light according to John 1:6-13 is Jesus. Those who receive Jesus as Lord are joint “heirs” with Jesus (Rom 8:12-17), and they share in his heritage as the seed of the woman. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:12 that we are not at war with “flesh and blood” (seeds of the serpent), but rather the dark spiritual forces working with the serpent himself. For those who are the seed of the woman, their enemy is not other people, the enemy is the one who corrupts humans as his seed by poisoning them and using them to fight against God’s kingdom.
Revelation chapter 12:1-9 makes the final connection with the conflict between the dragon (serpent) and the woman (Israel) from Genesis 3:15:
Rev 12:1 Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth. 3 Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. 4 His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born. 5 She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne. 6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days. 7 Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. 8 And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. 9 This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.
Origins of Satan:
When looking for the origins of Satan most will reference Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. The passage in Isaiah 14:12 is not all about Satan, some of it is a reference to the king of Babylon. It is understood that the King is influenced by Satan. In this view, God is talking to both the human ruler and the spiritual power behind them. Others who don’t believe in Satan, believe it is all about the king and not a supernatural entity. Most Christians believe it is in reference to a supernatural entity because of Jesus’ revelation of Satan falling like lightning from heaven in Luke 10:18. Just like Isaiah 14 references Satan through the Babylonian King, Ezekiel 28 references Satan through the king of Tyre. This is the passage that references the “anointed cherub”, and most connect this with the heavenly rebel that “fell like lightning from heaven” in Luke 10:18.
Picking up on the anointed cherub image, in Isaiah 6 there is a vision of God’s throne featuring seraphs. Cherubs are often depicted as humanoid-animal hybrid creatures with wings and sometimes multiple heads, and there are four of them. The animal heads they have feature the head of an ox, bird, lion, and human (Ezekiel 41:18, Ezekiel 10:14, Revelation 4:6-9). However, seraphs appear in Isaiah 6:1-6 instead of cherubs. Seraphs are serpents with wings and there are two of them. There is a theory based on numerology that suggests there is a missing seraph. Some repeating numbers of importance in the bible are three, four, seven, and twelve. Adding 3 and 4 gives us 7, and multiplying them gives us 12. Seven represents completion like the seventh day at the end of a week (sabbath) representing the end of creation week. Based on this, what if there were actually seven creatures, four cherubs, and three seraphs? However in Isaiah’s vision we only have two seraphs, so where is the third one? Could this be the rebel in the garden? If so, this would explain why he comes as a snake. After the fall we see cherubs guarding the garden to prevent humanity from getting back in and taking from the tree of life in Gen 3:22-24. So this would not be the only time we see spiritual beings in the garden besides God himself. This implies the garden itself functioned as a space between heaven and earth since cherubs never come to earth outside of this one instance. Angels, on the other hand, are messengers that travel back and forward.
It is clear in from Jesus’ teachings that Satan is a real foe but he is also a defeated foe. Those who are in the covenant with God can trust that they have been rescued from Satan, sin, and death. Ep 6:12, and 2 Cor 4:4, say Satan has been behind the scenes this entire time deceiving humanity. However, Jesus bruised his head and gave believers the power to overcome him with the holy spirit. In the end, Satan will be defeated by Jesus and thrown into the Lake of Fire for eternity with all of the people that decide to stay his seed (Rev 20:10-15). Eternal damnation was for the serpent & co (2 Pt 2:4), but humans who are his seed will inherit his punishment.
Bible Project Video on Satan and Demons