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95 Discerning the Devil in the Old Testament Part 2

Updated: Mar 26, 2023

We conclude our two part series with this eye-opening lens to see the God of the Old Testament in a way that is more consistent with the way Jesus understood the character of God. It is so very helpful to realize the Hebrew writers didn't have an understanding of the devil that Jesus gives us in the New Testament. With that understanding it is necessary to go back into the Old Testament and clarify what is actually happening in many situations when evil is attributed to God.

94 Discerning the Devil in the Old Testament-4
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Discerning the devil in the Old Testament

Once Adam and Eve had eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil humans believed the origin of both good and evil was from God (Genesis 3:22) . Here are a few passages which demonstrate the truth of this claim. Deuteronomy 28:63; 32:39-42; Ruth 1:20-21; 1 Samuel 2:6; Job 1:21; 2:10; Psalm 50:22; Isaiah 41:1-4; 43:27-28; 45:7.

The Greek paradox with regard to God was that if he was all powerful and all good then evil could not exist. But evil does exist. What they missed was the primary characteristic of God is love, and love does not demand its own way and love is vulnerable (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Only abuse can have its own way all the time. This concept would have to wait in the wings until Jesus revealed it specifically on the cross.

The Hebrews did not have the Greek paradox as they believed God created both good and evil as the above passages demonstrated. They had no need of a devil to originate evil, and definitely not a supernatural being to challenge their unique, monotheistic God. If they did allow for a devil then it would have been because God created him but they were not willing to go the route of having another supernatural being around with their God.

Jesus was adamant that there is no evil in God (John 8:44; 10:10; Matthew 13:28). Furthermore we are warned by Paul as follows “But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14 NLT).

The Old Testament writers in general and one or two New Testament writers did not need any source of evil other than God and so the existence and actions of the devil escaped them and the devil was able to infiltrate their thinking and writing. This means that the Old Testament at times attributes the working of the devil to God. By contrast Jesus pulls the veil aside and fingers the devil as the cause of evil (John 8:43-45; 10:10). He is indicted many times in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament as the source of evil. We now identify the devil in some Old Testament passages where the writers attributed his work to the LORD.


1. Job was convinced the LORD was the cause of his affliction. We know it was Satan or the devil.

Job 1:21 NLT He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”

Job 2:10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Jobdid not sin in what he said.

Job 6:4 the arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God’s terrors are marshalled against me. (Cf. 10:2, 3; 13:21; 16:7-9; 17:6; 19:6, 22)

For 31 chapters Job maintains his innocence and begs God to stop afflicting him. Although the first two chapters indicate that it was the Satan who was afflicting him, Job seems to be ignorant of the first two chapters of the story and continually blames God for his suffering. His friends agree that God is punishing him for wrong doing even while Job maintains his blamelessness. The friends of Job could not empathize with him because of their theology. The Satan in the first two chapters is not the devil that Jesus revealed but a prosecutor whose function it is to reveal the truth.

2. The LORD sent a tormenting spirit to depress King Saul

1 Samuel 16:14 Now the Spirit of the Lord had left Saul, and the Lord sent a tormenting spirit that filled him with depression and fear. 15 Some of Saul’s servants said to him, “A tormenting spirit from God is troubling you. 16 Let us find a good musician to play the harp whenever the tormenting spirit troubles you. He will play soothing music, and you will soon be well again.” (Also 11:6-7; 18:10-11; 19:9)

It is hard to imagine Jesus doing something like this. This means it is just as hard to imagine a holy God doing so since Jesus claimed he was identical to God in character (John 14:9).

3. The LORD, through prophet Samuel, fatally depressed king Saul

1 Samuel 28:6-20 NLT 6 He asked the Lord what he should do, but the Lord refused to answer him, either by dreams or by sacred lots or by the prophets. 7 Saul then said to his advisers, “Find a woman who is a medium, so I can go and ask her what to do.”

His advisers replied, “There is a medium at Endor.” 8 So Saul disguised himself by wearing ordinary clothing instead of his royal robes. Then he went to the woman’s home at night, accompanied by two of his men.

“I have to talk to a man who has died,” he said. “Will you call up his spirit for me?” 9 “Are you trying to get me killed?” the woman demanded. “You know that Saul has outlawed all the mediums and all who consult the spirits of the dead. Why are you setting a trap for me?”

10 But Saul took an oath in the name of the Lord and promised, “As surely as the Lord lives, nothing bad will happen to you for doing this.”

11 Finally, the woman said, “Well, whose spirit do you want me to call up?” “Call up Samuel,” Saul replied.

12 When the woman saw Samuel, she screamed, “You’ve deceived me! You are Saul!” 13 “Don’t be afraid!” the king told her. “What do you see?” “I see a god coming up out of the earth,” she said. 14 “What does he look like?” Saul asked. “He is an old man wrapped in a robe,” she replied. Saul realized it was Samuel, and he fell to the ground before him.

15 “Why have you disturbed me by calling me back?” Samuel asked Saul. “Because I am in deep trouble,” Saul replied. “The Philistines are at war with me, and God has left me and won’t reply by prophets or dreams. So I have called for you to tell me what to do.”

16 But Samuel replied, “Why ask me, since the Lord has left you and has become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done just as he said he would. He has torn the kingdom from you and given it to your rival, David. 18 The Lord has done this to you today because you refused to carry out his fierce anger against the Amalekites. 19 What’s more, the Lord will hand you and the army of Israel over to the Philistines tomorrow, and you and your sons will be here with me. The Lord will bring down the entire army of Israel in defeat.”

20 Saul fell full length on the ground, paralyzed with fright because of Samuel’s words. He was also faint with hunger, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night.

The story above is clear that the woman and king Saul saw and talked to Samuel, the prophet of the LORD. When Samuel speaks he conveys a message from the LORD to King Saul. Adventists claim, correctly so, because of their understanding of the state of the dead that this was an evil spirit impersonating Samuel. They thus revise the plain reading of the passage to make it fit with the rest of the Scriptures as they understand them. This is responsible hermeneutics but notice the implication. They recognize that Samuel who speaks for the LORD is actually the devil or one of his minions who is deceiving Saul and taking him into deep depression which will lead to suicide (1 Samuel 31:4). The devil has been discerned where many other commentators have not discerned him.

4. The LORD sent lying spirits to accomplish Ahab’s ruin

1 Kings 22:15-23 NLT 15 When Micaiah arrived before the king, Ahab asked him, “Micaiah, should we go to war against Ramoth-gilead, or should we hold back?” Micaiah replied sarcastically, “Yes, go up and be victorious, for the Lord will give the king victory!” 16 But the king replied sharply, “How many times must I demand that you speak only the truth to me when you speak for the Lord?” 17 Then Micaiah told him, “In a vision I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘Their master has been killed. Send them home in peace.’” 18 “Didn’t I tell you?” the king of Israel exclaimed to Jehoshaphat. “He never prophesies anything but trouble for me.” 19 Then Micaiah continued, “Listen to what the Lord says! I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the armies of heaven around him, on his right and on his left. 20 And the Lord said, ‘Who can entice Ahab to go into battle against Ramoth-gilead so he can be killed?’ “There were many suggestions, 21 and finally a spirit approached the Lord and said, ‘I can do it!’ 22 “‘How will you do this?’ the Lord asked. “And the spirit replied, ‘I will go out and inspire all of Ahab’s prophets to speak lies.’ “‘You will succeed,’ said the Lord. ‘Go ahead and do it.’ 23 “So you see, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all your prophets. For the Lord has pronounced your doom.” (Also Ezekiel 14:9)

From this passage it would almost appear that the LORD and the devil are working together. We know this cannot be true because light and darkness cannot work together (1 John 1:5).

5. The LORD caused king David to harm Israel

2 Samuel 24:1 NLT Once again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he caused David to harm them by taking a census. “Go and count the people of Israel and Judah,” the Lord told him.

The parallel account in Chronicles has a different source for the census.

1 Chronicles 21:1 NLT Satan rose up against Israel and caused David to take a census of the people of Israel.

Chronicles is written after the Babylonian captivity and this explains the usage of the term Satan, who by the way, is not to be equated with the devil in the Old Testament. He was seen rather as prosecutor to bring out the truth of the matter. He was regarded as a servant of God. However, whatever we say about Satan does not detract from the difference between these two accounts of who motivated David to take the census. Samuel lays the blame squarely on the LORD even though Joab, the army commander, knew this was wrong (1 Chronicles 21:3). God was also displeased with the census (1 Chronicles 21:7-8). The census was evil but the cause is the LORD in Samuel’s theology. There is no escaping this conclusion. The author of Chronicles corrects the problem somewhat by indicting Satan as the cause.

6. The LORD instigated the sexual abuse of David’s wives/concubines

2 Samuel 12:11 NLT “This is what the Lord says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man before your very eyes, and he will go to bed with them in public view.

The writer of Samuel is dogmatic about who caused this abuse. In his or her thinking, the LORD thought this plan up and executed it via the rebellion of Absalom and the wickedness of Ahithophel. The creator God could not imagine an immoral punishment like this if he is holy. Jesus, who claimed to be the very image of God (John 14:7-9), taught that even the thought of sexual abuse is sinful (Matthew 5:28). The writer is clearly attributing the machinations of the devil to the LORD.

The writer also does not distinguish between punishment and consequence and is thus backed into a corner. David was chosen and anointed by God’s prophet Samuel in a supernatural way. The only way Absalom could have succeeded was if God made it possible by supernatural means. With this line of thinking it is understandable why the writer attributes the causation of this horrendous, immoral act to the LORD.


1. God tempts Eve through his Creation

Genesis 3:13 NLT Then the Lord God asked the woman, “What have you done?” “The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.”

Eve implies it is the LORD’s fault because she knows that he made the serpent. She does not know or acknowledge that it was the devil who seduced her with his guile. Perhaps Adam and Eve communicated with the animals on a regular basis and a talking snake was nothing new to them. In our hindsight we know that the serpent was being used by the devil (Revelation 12:9; 20:2) but this was not clear for thousands of years. It was hinted at by Jesus in his dialogue with Nicodemus (John 3:14-15).

2. God commanded Abraham to Sacrifice Isaac

Genesis 22:1-2 NLT Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called. “Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.” 2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

While this command is labelled a test it is a temptation since it is a moral test. This command cannot possibly have originated with God. God will later command that human sacrifices are an abomination (Leviticus 20:2). The sixth commandment forbids killing or murder. Jesus was opposed to violence and the sacrificing of animals (Matthew 9:13). No one today would be able to believe God would ask a father to sacrifice his son. Such a father would be committed to an institution or prison. Sacrificing a child is an immoral act for most people and would be offensive and illegal. It is true that some Israelites sacrificed their children to Molech but this was regarded as an abomination (Leviticus 20:4). We know that there is no evil in God (John 10:10; 1 John 1:5). This means God could not imagine asking Abraham to sacrifice his son.

3. The LORD attempts to kill Moses and his family

Exodus 4:24-26 NLT On the way to Egypt, at a place where Moses and his family had stopped for the night, the Lord confronted him and was about to kill him. 25 But Moses’ wife, Zipporah, took a flint knife and circumcised her son. She touched his feet with the foreskin and said, “Now you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” 26 (When she said “a bridegroom of blood,” she was referring to the circumcision.) After that, the Lord left him alone.

Moses is sent to Egypt by the LORD and now the LORD wants to kill him? Moses and Zipporah had discussed and disagreed in the circumcision of their sons. We know this from Zipporah’s action when confronted by “the LORD.” In hindsight we can understand that it is the devil who had access to the family because they have forced God away by their disobedience to the covenant sign given to Abraham. The devil is an opportunist and any time we force the LORD away by rebellion he moves in to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

4. The LORD gives Moses an Opportunity to establish his Dynasty

Exodus 32:9-10 NLT Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. 10 Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.”

This is the same temptation that the devil brought to Christ in the wilderness. Worship me and I will give you the world. I will establish your dynasty (Matthew 4:8-11).

Moses is again tempted in the same way when the 12 spies come back from exploring the land and ten give a negative report.

Numbers 14:10-12 10 but the whole community began to talk about stoning Joshua and Caleb. Then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared to all the Israelites at the Tabernacle. 11 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they never believe me, even after all the miraculous signs I have done among them? 12 I will disown them and destroy them with a plague. Then I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they are!”

A temptation is a moral test. It is acceptable and legitimate to have skill tests or academic tests or health tests since these are for the improvement of the persons and society. Merriam-Webster’s definition for temptation is: “the act of tempting or the state of being tempted especially to evil.” A moral test or temptation has a sinister motive—to reveal the latent evil in a person

The LORD’s Prayer focusses on temptation and it depends on the translation as to what Jesus said. The older versions quote Jesus as saying, “Lead us not into temptation” which implies that sometimes God tempts. Newer translations, like the New Living Translation, quote Jesus as saying, “And don’t let us yield to temptation but rescue us from the evil one.” The Message has, “Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.” “Rescue us every time we face tribulation and set us free from evil” The Passion Translation.

However, most translations stay with the idea that we must ask God not to tempt us. All translations use “but” to join the two requests: “lead us not into temptation” and “deliver us from evil.” Using the conjunction “but” in this way means that it is joining opposite actions. This seems to indicate that God strongly influences us but never to evil.

God does not tempt according to James (1:12-15 NLT).

12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

This means that both Abraham and Moses were tempted by the devil because they were tested morally. Moses attributes these temptations to God because he is a child of his culture and time and is unaware of the existence of the devil.

It is instructive to ask why God had the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. Since this question is not considered directly in the Bible we can only speculate that the devil demanded access to Adam and Eve in the same way he persuaded God to give his access to Job. God allowed him access at only one tree among many in the Garden.

5. God causes deception

2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 NLT This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. 10 He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. 11 So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. 12 Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth.

God caused deception? God is holy in every way. He cannot deceive or cause people to be deceived (James 1:13). Jesus claims he is the truth which means God is also the truth. When the truth is refused the devil moves in to deceive us and we become captive to his way of thinking.


When reading the Bible we need to ask ourselves if the detail about the LORD in the stories rings true with the picture of God Jesus Christ gave us. If there is a conflict we need to recognize the devil with his deceptions which are interwoven with the truth about God or the LORD in the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings, viz. the Old Testament. The veil has been removed for those who have turned to Jesus Christ as their Saviour (2 Corinthians 3:15-16) and Jesus calls us to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16). “We must correctly explain the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NLT).

Ian Hartley, January 2022

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