John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 12

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 12

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We now come to the question on which we have already touched, and expressly reserved for separate consideration. This has regard to Satan, whose appearance by name here, as the chief of man’s spiritual enemies, in accordance with the views which, it is alleged, are developed in the later, but not in the earlier books of Scripture, has been urged as the chief objection to the early date of the book; and, indeed, as rendering it impossible that it could have been composed before the Babylonish exile, during which, it is contended, the Hebrews first acquired those distinct views respecting Satan which we have indicated. If it were admitted that the knowledge of the nature and attributes of the evil one was attained only at a period so late, the difficulty would be fully as great as is stated. It assumes, in fact, that what the Hebrews eventually knew of Satan they learned from the Persians, who became their masters by the acquisition of the Babylonish empire; or, in short, that the Hebrew doctrine of Satan is borrowed from the Persian doctrine of Ahriman, the evil principle.

Now, before proceeding further, we may ask the pious reader how he likes this idea—of the people chosen of God from among the nations of the world, borrowing part of their religion, a part sanctioned by the prophets, by the apostles, and by Christ himself, from the heathen; of a people enlightened by a revelation directly from God, having a very important and almost essential part of it left out, to be in a later age supplied by instruction from a people who had no revelation, and whose religion was but a cunningly devised fable, with only so much truth in it as might have been derived from those traditions of primitive truth, of those primeval revelations of which all the descendants of Noah partook, and of which the seed of Abraham, apart from their special revelations, inherited as large a share, at least, as any other people. The notion seems to us no less absurd than shocking; the point in question being not a mere rite or ceremony, but a religious doctrine of serious importance, which the nation instructed of God were not likely to be left to learn from any people. And, further, if they had to learn it from others, they need not have waited until the captivity; for they could, ages before, have learned more in this matter than the Magians could teach from the Egyptians, whose evil being, Typhon, bore more likeness to the Satan of Scripture, than did the Ahriman of the Magian theology. In fact, there is a most essential difference between this Ahriman and Satan, which ought alone to preclude the idea of imitation. Satan is a creature, a fallen creature, powerless for more evil than the Lord, for eventual good, may, as in the case of Job, permit. But Ahriman is not an evil creature but an evil principle, a co-ordinate power with the good principle Ormuzd; an evil god, waging a not unequal warfare with the good god, though destined to final defeat and overthrow. This is not only averse from, but abhorrent to, the Scripture idea of Satan; indeed, so much so, that a plain protest against it is recorded long before the captivity, in the name of the Lord, by Isaiah, who, in his magnificent and extraordinary prophecy respecting Cyrus, King of Persia, a hundred years before he was born, declares to him, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. I, the Lord, do all these things.” A passage which, among other things, shows that the doctrine which they are alleged to have borrowed from the Persians during their captivity, was not only essentially different from theirs, but that it was known to them historically as a Persian doctrine, and was, as such, abhorred by them and protested against long before the captivity.

This difference between the evil one of Scripture and him of the eastern mythology, is of very essential importance; and the comparison which is inculcated by the allegation to which we have referred, will, if closely pressed, lead us to exactly the opposite conclusion to that for which it is advanced. If the Jews borrowed from the Chaldeans during the captivity certain ideas respecting the enemy of mankind, which, as is urged, are to be found in their writings; then the fact that the ideas which are developed in the Book of Job, are altogether different from those which might have been so acquired, becomes a strong argument for the early antiquity of the book, and if we attempt to form a conception of such a being at all, what possible difference can be greater than between that view which makes him co-ordinate, if not co-eval, with God, and the immediate and proper author of the actions he is represented as performing, and that which makes him a real though unwilling and rebellious bond-slave to the behests of the Most High, with a will most powerful for evil, but ever restrained, curbed, and controlled, in the exercise of that will, by the strong chain of inevitable subservience to the will and designs of the Almighty? There is nothing in common in the attributes or even in the character of the evil ones of the Chaldeans and of the Jews.

But as thus there is no identity of character, so is there no identity of name. And this is an important consideration, when it is found that so much stress is laid upon the first occurrence of Satan by name in the present book. If the ideas of the Jews respecting this being were manifestly derived from the Chaldeans, how is it that they did not take the name as well as the character? Yet no one has urged that the name Satan was derived from the Magian religion, which possessed a very different name for the evil one. If it be urged, as it is urged, that the Jews did not previously know the name or character of the evil being, what evidence is given of their then coming to know it, in a book which, in fact, gives him no name? for here, in the Book of Job, “Satan” is not a name at all, but an appellative with the article prefixed—“the Adversary.”

We are not disposed to deny or to affirm that the Jews may have picked up certain notions respecting the devil from the Magian religion during the captivity; for that is utterly beside the question. Nearly all the Old Testament was written before the captivity; and our business is not with the notions of the Jews, but with what the Scripture teaches. That, and not the opinions of the Jews, is to be our guide. The notions entertained by the Jews are often enough condemned in Scripture; and we should as little care to be responsible for their opinions about Satan after the captivity, as for their opinions about the golden calf in earlier times. All this is nothing to us. The Scripture view is consistent in itself, and we do not see that it is different in the books written after the captivity from those written before.

It is clear that the doctrine concerning the evil spirit which this book contains, existed from the earliest times among the Hebrews; and the belief in such an evil spirit must surely have been prevalent, to explain in any tolerable way the history of the Fall. Indeed, in the narrative of that event the doctrine involved clearly appears, although the word in the sense in question does not appear—“I will put enmity between thee and the woman,” etc., which virtually constituted the tempter an enemy; a term synonymous with Satan, and occasionally used in the same sense. In the instance already referred to, Note: 1Ki_22:22-23. exactly the same view of his character appears historically in the time of Ahab. The word Satan is of very early occurrence in the sense of an adversary in war, or of one who in any way opposes or accuses another; Note: See particularly Num_22:22. and it was, therefore, natural to transfer this word to man’s great adversary. In Zec_3:1-2, the name Satan is used in the same sense as in Job, to denote the great adversary of God’s people appearing before him. Here Satan is introduced as one whose name and character are well known. We do not lay stress on this for antiquity, seeing that it was after the captivity; nor on 1Ch_21:1 (which is in the very same predicament): but it is important to note the correspondence with what by this time we may assume as the earlier books, as showing that the Hebrew theology had not in this matter anything to learn from the mythology of the East.