By Ian Thomas Wilson
I want to talk about the Devil. I know, dark subject, but it’s important that we understand who and what the Devil is and what he does. We should be very cautious when we talk about the Devil because we can fall into a morbid fascination with all things Devilish. We see the Devil and his demons where they are not, and he is equally happy when we do that as when we pretend he does not exist at all. He does his best work under these circumstances. He can distract us with something useless, and sneak in under our noses.
In our limited understanding, we often portray the Devil juxtaposed with Jesus Christ, as though he were equal and opposite of Christ, or that he was sort of the same “thing” as Christ. This is the position of Mormonism, but is nowhere supported in canonical Scripture. Jesus is, in the words of the Nicene Creed, He is “The only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made”. The Devil is none of these things. The Devil is a fallen angel. A created being. He had a beginning. He is not a member of the Trinity. I’m sure most of us know this, but I felt the need to say it.
Now, what do I mean by “fallen angel”? The angels are spiritual beings in the Heavenly realm. I’m of the opinion that angels are not pure spirits; I think they have a physical aspect, otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to do things like eat. But I do think that they are far more mighty than humans. Now, there are different ranks of beings we call angels. Cherubim and Seraphim are among the highest ranks. They’re the only angels that are specifically described as winged. Then there are Thrones and Dominions, about whom we know very little. Then there are archangels, who are in charge of groups of guardian angels, the lowest rank, who are charged with protecting individual humans, or groups, or nations. Two, Michael and Gabriel, are named in canonical Scripture (another, Raphael, is named in the Apocrypha) but there are probably many more that we do not know about.
The Book of Revelation tells the tale of a war in Heaven. The angels fought a great red dragon, with 7 heads and 10 horns. It says that a third of the stars fell from Heaven. This story is told in fragments throughout the Old Testament as well. Now, in Hebrew cosmology, each star, each planet, each heavenly body is an angel. The term “star” simply refers to those beings. The red dragon is, of course, the entity we know primarily as the Devil. The serpent or dragon is the personification of chaos in cultures the world over.
So the Devil rebelled against God’s created order. We do not know why he rebelled, only that he did, and he took a third of the angels with him. He introduced chaos into God’s world. The apocryphal book of Enoch describes in detail the fall of the angels (referred to as “watchers”) and how they introduced various sins to early humanity, sowing discord wherever they went. They exulted themselves as false gods over the people.
The word “Devil” comes ultimately from the Greek diabolos meaning “slanderer” or accuser”. The name “Satan” is Hebrew and means “adversary”. “Satan” is not a proper name, the way it’s used today. It’s actually a title for a class of demonic beings. Various individuals are referred to as “Satan” in Hebrew texts. In more literal translations of the book of Job, the definite article “the” is added before “satan” thus denoting a title rather than a name. There are multiple “satans”. Their chief is known as Samael, the angel of death. He is the persecutor of the Jewish people and the accuser. In the Court of Heaven, he is the prosecuting attorney. Fortunately, we have an advocate in Jesus Christ. Not only does He plead our case, but he takes our crimes on Himself. He is pierced for our transgressions, thanks be to God.
Just as there is a hierarchy of angels in Heaven, the Devil has his own twisted parody of that order; a “lowerarchy” as C.S. Lewis refers to it. The Satans are the most powerful, of course. Then there are the Shedim, who are associated with storms and other weather phenomena in Hebrew literature. They were sometimes erroneously worshipped by the Hebrews and their Semitic neighbors. The false god Ba’al is probably one of them.
The Liliths are another class of demonic entities, usually described as feminine. Modern translations render the word “screech owl”, but this misses the mark in my personal opinion. In Hebrew myths, Lilith was the name of Adam’s first wife, before Eve. After refusing to submit to Adam’s authority, Lilith was exiled from the Eden and coupled with Samael. The union brought all forms of monstrous beings into the world. This is, of course, an error; Adam didn’t have a wife before Eve. In the canonical Scriptures, the name Lilith refers not to an individual being, but instead to a class or species. The Liliths were blamed for the deaths of young children and various prayers, charms, and incantations were employed throughout the Middle East to ward them off. They are usually described as having the head and upper body of a beautiful woman, and the lower half of something less than human, such as a bird or a serpent. Usually, they are winged.
There were Se’irim, who are mentioned a very few times in Scripture and in commentaries on the scripture. The word is usually translated as “wild goat” nowadays, but I believe this translation to be incorrect. The Authorized (King James) Version translates it “satyr” which I believe to be much closer to its true meaning. They were malevolent spirits of uninhabited places, and are usually portrayed as humanoid, but with beast-like features, such as excessive hair, horns, hooves, or wings. According to Jewish custom, one should never leave the window open at night, lest a Se’irim enter the house. According to some Hebrew traditions, they were the result of the union of Samael and Lilith. Other traditions say that God started to create more humans besides Adam and Eve but left them unfinished on the evening of the sixth day, and these unfinished people became the se’irim. Se’irim were often blamed for crop failures or sickness in animals or humans.
Now, there’s a lot of talk in Christian circles about how the demons enter our lives; some blame certain types of music, others blame fantasy books, or games or what have you. There’s confusion about what it really means to invite or invoke demonic powers (i.e. witchcraft). My definition of witchcraft (do with it what you will) is this: communicating, utilizing, worshiping, or otherwise invoking supernatural powers apart from, or opposed to God. Reading omens, such as tarot cards, consulting mediums, or trying to communicate with the dead is all witchcraft. Playing Dungeons and Dragons, reading fantasy novels such as Harry Potter, and listening to heavy metal music are all morally neutral or benign practices (though I’ll admit that there are some truly satanic books, movies, and songs out there). I think the devils actually like it when we attribute benign things to their influence; it gives them power over us, which is what they desire above anything else.
Take this example. Moses was able to turn a staff into a snake, but he was able to do so because he relied on the power of God. The Egyptian magicians were able to do the same thing, but that was only because they were in communication with the gods of Egypt. As I already stated, pagan gods were actually demonic entities. When the Devil tempted Eve in the garden of Eden, he told her she could be “like God”. This is the very essence of witchcraft; Adam and Eve took the fruit because they wanted to be like God, but in their own strength, and apart from Him.
But in the end, the demonic powers, in whatever form they manifest themselves, are already defeated. Christ has promised that He shall throw the satans into the lake of fire for all eternity. In Psalm 82:7&8, the Lord says to them “I have said, “You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High.’ But like mortals you will die, and like rulers you will fall.” We can take courage in this.