God uses suffering to help people grow. Incredibly, as we suffer, He does good––and the fact that we suffer is a testament to His love for us. He longs so deeply for His people to grow that He is willing to suffer with us. Suffering comes from God. Suffering is God’s tool. Suffering draws us closer to Him.
But where does Satan fit into all this? Didn’t God give Satan the power to torment Job? Wasn’t it Satan who was bringing adverse circumstances into the lives of the Israelites when they attempted to follow Him (Zechariah 3:1-2)? Didn’t Satan take the Lord Jesus into the wilderness to tempt him?
Indeed––Satan was involved in all of those things.
Because Satan simply means “adversary” (the word is actually translated as “adversary” 7 times in the King James Version). It’s a Hebrew word that came into Greek (and thus found its way into the New Testament), and subsequently into English––but its actual meaning is adversary. Thus, if we hold the traditional view of Satan, some of the uses of the word may surprise us:
- Numbers 22:22 - Balaam, a prophet who attempted to prophesy against the Israelites found himself confronted by “the angel of the LORD.” For Balaam, this angel was an adversary to his goal––prophesying against Israel. Thus, the angel is called Balaam’s adversary, or Satan (the word is שָׂטָן, Satan, in the Hebrew).
- 2 Samuel 19:22 - David, when speaking about his nephews, the sons of Zeruiah, stated that they were “adversaries” to him––or Satans in the Hebrew.
- 1 Kings 11:14 - Hadad the Edomite, one of the descendents of the king of Edom, was a Satan, or adversary, to Solomon.
- 1 Kings 11:23 - the same was said of Rezon the son of Eliadah––another adversary, or Satan, to Solomon.
In fact, consider one of the most surprising uses of this word:
“Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1).
David was moved by Satan to take a census of his people. While this might not at first seem surprising, the shock comes when the parallel record in Samuel is compared. Both records are about the same event––David’s numbering of Israel––yet note who provoked David to number the people in Chronicles versus who provoked him in Samuel:
“Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah’” (2 Samuel 24:1).
Did you see what just happened there?
One record says that Satan prompted David to number the people, and another said that God prompted David to number them!
The Biblical record isn’t blasphemous––rather, Satan doesn’t mean what it is so often said to mean. It’s simply an adversary, and in fact, in the examples above, can actually be an adversary against us doing something wrong. The angel of the Lord was an adversary against Balaam when he was going to prophesy against the Israelites! Hadad and Rezon were satans against Solomon whom God raised up to bring him back to Him!
So what is Satan’s role? Well first of all, Satan isn’t a proper noun––it’s general and it means “adversary.” And, often these adversaries can be used by God to bring us to Him. Thus, much like suffering, Satan, or more properly, satans can actually help us grow.
Instead of being against God or undermining God (would God really even allow something like that?), a satan is often something that God uses to help His people grow! Thus, it was a satan to whom God gave the power to torment Job (Job 1:12). And it was the spirit of God that led Christ to be tempted of Satan (Mark 1:12-13).
And thus the apostle Paul could write the following: “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5). Giving this believer over to satan would actually work for his salvation. Because Satan isn’t some supernatural being who is out to fight against the work of God. A satan is simply one who stands against someone else––and at times, as in the Chronicles and Samuel passages, can even be God Himself.
- Jason Hensley