SATAN: OLD TESTAMENT SERVANT ANGEL OR NEW TESTAMENT COSMIC REBEL?
The problem is one of definition and differentiation. The Old Testament saints had a largely UNDIFFERENTIATED view of God and Satan. They believed Satan was God's "left hand," His "angry voice," His official "minister of wrath."
Old Testament saints wrongly included Satan in their functional definition of God. Whenever there was temptation, destruction, wrath, and death, all activities which the New Testament would later assign to Satan, the Old Testament would instead attribute these destructions to God Himself. They would not pray against the wiles of the devil, the way the New Testament instructs, but would rather beg God to stay His own wrathful hand. Satan was nowhere in their causative equation. God was the ONLY cause of both good and evil.
The New Testament, by contrast, DIFFERENTIATES the identities of God and Satan totally. What is joined at the conceptual hip in the Old Testament is separated and forever severed in the New. Jesus, it could be argued, IS the DYNAMIC DIFFERENTIATION of God's image from Satan's image. He is the refining fire which burns all the unworthy attributes the Old Testament God out and away from the pure and perfect divine nature.
Let's start with the definition issue. How did the Old Testament saints functionally define God? This requires us to look at the theological context of the Old Testament authors, the foundational presumptions they brought to the table.
When the Old Testament uses the terms "the Lord," or "the voice of the Lord," what did that mean to the believers back then? How did they define "God?" Was it the same way Jesus defined "God?" Would it shock you to know the answer is a resounding NO? Fasten your seat belts. We are about to take a flight into freedom from Biblical misunderstanding.
Simply stated, the Old Testament view of Satan is lacking New Testament illumination. And, as a result, the Old Testament often blends the identities of God and Satan TOGETHER, which ends up confusing the true source of Old Testament "wrath." Only as we NOW reinsert Satan back into the destructive Old Testament passages can we rightly understand what Jesus was doing in the Old Testament versus what Satan was doing. Learning to do this instinctively will forever free up our thinking and our understanding of the Old Testament.
Jewish and Christian scholars alike have both noted that the Old Testament view of God differs SIGNIFICANTLY from the New Testament view in one key aspect-- the way Satan is viewed. THE WAY SATAN IS VIEWED explains the vast majority of "tone" discrepancies between the Old and New Testaments. Let me explain.
For the Old Testament believer, Satan was an obedient angel who had a tough job as God's enforcer who was in charge of 1) executing the wrath of God's curses on disobedient men, 2) dispensing eventual death to all men, 3) testing men's faith by oppressing them with circumstances to see if they remain righteous, 4) hardening the hearts of certain men to commit acts of rebellion so that they quickly destroy themselves, 5) destroying what God commands through war, plague, famine, and natural/ supernatural disasters, and 6) accusing men of their failures before God based on his eyewitness reports.
BUT in all this, Satan is merely fulfilling his role in the heavenly train. He is not seen as an enemy of God or a rebel opposed to the Kingdom of God on every level, the clear way he is portrayed in the New Testament. For sure, the New Testament confirms that Satan does engage in wrath, accusation, destruction, and temptation, BUT NEVER under the approval or direction of God. The Old Testament says Satan is just following orders, while the New Testament says Satan is "off the grid" in complete disobedience to God.
In short, Old Testament saints see Satan as a Luca Brasi figure. Brasi was a character from THE GODFATHER novel and movies who did the Godfather's dirty work, but who was absolutely loyal to his leader, perhaps even the most loyal. Brasi was an assassin, spy and fixer who always worked behind the scenes to discover and destroy those disloyal or opposed to his Godfather. He rooted out, then disposed of the Godfather's enemies. He always had his Godfather's trust and blessing. This was the Old Testament view of Satan.
As THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF JEWISH CONCEPTS by Philip Birnbaum says, "Satan...is...identified with the angel of death. He leads astray, then he brings accusations against man, whom he slays eventually. His chief functions are those of temptation, accusation and punishment. Under the control of God, he acts solely with the divine permission to carry out his plots." (Sanhedrin Press, page 594). Rabbi Benjamin Blech similarly writes, "Judaism sees Satan as a servant of God whose function is to set up choices between good and evil so that we can exercise our free will.... [His] apparent harshness is merely camouflage for divine concern and love." IF GOD IS SO GOOD, WHY IS THE WORLD SO BAD? Simcha Press, pages 7-9.
Author Stephen Harris notes that the Old Testament Satan is not the same entity as the New Testament Satan. In the Old Testament:
"The Satan figure acts as Yahweh's spy and prosecuting attorney whose job is to bring human misconduct to the deity's attention and, if possible, persuade Yahweh to punish it. Throughout the Old Testament the Satan remains among the divine 'sons,' serves as God's administrative agent, and thus reveals a facet of the divine personality....
At the outset, some Bible writers saw all things, good and evil alike, as emanating from a single source-- Yahweh. Israel's strict monotheistic credo decreed that Yahweh alone caused both joys and sorrows, prosperity and punishment (Deut. 28).... The canonical Hebrew Bible grants the Satan scant space and little power. Whereas the Old Testament Satan can nothing without Yahweh's express permission, in the New Testament he behaves as an independent force who competes with the Creator for human souls....
According to Mark's Gospel, one of Jesus' major goals is to break up Satan's kingdom and the hold that he and lesser evil spirits exercise on the people. Hence, Mark stresses Jesus' works of exorcising devils and dispossessing the victims of demonic control. The New Testament, then-- in sharp contrast to the Old-- shows Satan and the devil as one, a focus of cosmic evil totally opposed to the Creator God. This 'evil one' is the origin of lies, sin, suffering, sickness and death." UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE: A READER'S INTRODUCTION, pages 26-28.
The renowned INTERNATIONAL STANDARD BIBLE ENCYCLOPEDIA is in full agreement with this in its entry on Satan:
"The Old Testament does not contain the fully developed doctrine of Satan found in the New Testament. It does not portray him as at the head of a kingdom, ruling over kindred natures and an apostate from the family of God....
It is a significant fact that the statements concerning Satan become numerous and definite only in the New Testament. The daylight of the Christian revelation was necessary in order to uncover the lurking foe, dimly disclosed but by no means fully known in the earlier revelation....
In the early states of religious thinking it would seem to be difficult, if not impossible, to hold the sovereignty of God without attributing to His agency those evils in the world which are more or less directly connected with judgment and punishment....
The progressive revelation of God's character and purpose, which more and more imperatively demands that the origin of moral evil, and consequently natural evil, must be traced to the created will in opposition to the Divine, leads to the the ultimate declaration that Satan is a morally fallen being to whose conquest the Divine Power in history is pledged."
Finally, scholar Jeffrey Burton Russell, who has written multiple volumes on the the historical development of our understanding of Satan, notes that the reason early Jewish thought saw Satan as God's servant is as follows: "Since the God of Israel was the only God, the supreme power in the cosmos, and since, unlike the abstract God of the Greeks, He had personality and will, no deed could be done unless He willed it. Consequently, when anyone transgressed morality, God was responsible for the transgression as well as for its punishment." THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS: RADICAL EVIL AND THE POWER OF GOD IN HISTORY, Cornell University Press, 29-30.
Russell goes on to trace that later in Jewish history, closer to Jesus' day, more and more Jews began to see Satan as an evil entity acting independently of God's approval. This is easily proven by considering the incident in which King David sinned by numbering Israel. This incident is first recorded in 2 Samuel 24:1, and then centuries later in 1 Chronicles 21:1. In the earlier entry, David's sin is caused by "the anger of God," while in the later passage "Satan" is the cause of David's sin.
Do you see? Same sin, same event, entirely different cause. The Jews were beginning to see that they could not attribute BOTH sin and punishment to God, good and evil to God, love and hate to God. They began to develop the idea that Satan was an enemy to God's purposes rather than an obedient friend. Unfortunately, when Israel as a nation rejected Jesus as Messiah, they also rejected the truth about Satan and have since sadly regressed back to their early Old Testament view, as the earlier quotes above show.
But let's catch our breath and think about this for a moment. If in the passage above, Satan's destructive activity is wrongly attributed as God's wrath, then where does that leave us? It leaves us falsely accusing God of of all sorts of evil events, motives and destructions. We have chained God and Satan at the spiritual hip, good and evil at the spiritual hip, love and wrath at the spiritual hip--- God is blamed for all that Satan does, while Satan gets partial credit for the good God does. The end result is that the character of God is clouded and men are unable to fully see, trust and rejoice in his love and forgiveness.
So was the Old Testament view of Satan different than the New Testament view? Yes, vastly different, but perhaps the best way to put it is not so much that the Old Testament was wrong about Satan, but that the Old Testament was almost completely uninformed about him. The first reference to Satan is not even until 548 pages into the Old Testament. Satan is first mentioned only 3 pages into the New Testament. The total number of times Satan is mentioned in the Old Testament is 19 times, 14 of which are in the book of Job. The New Testament mentions Satan (or his devils) nearly 200 times, despite the fact that it is five times shorter than the Old Testament in length.
Only three Old Testament writers ever even mention Satan, and that only briefly. EVERY New Testament writer mentions Satan. Amazingly, Moses, David, Abraham and Solomon NEVER mentioned Satan at all-- never. Their clueless silence is hard to imagine, given the fact that these men are considered giants of the faith.
Contrast this with the New Testament, where Jesus repeatedly calls Satan "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), the Apostle Paul calls Satan "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4) and "the prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2) who can appear as "an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14). The Apostle Peter calls Satan-- "your adversary... a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8), and the Apostle John calls Satan-- "the evil one... in whose power the whole world lies." (1 John 5:19).
What is going on here? Not one Old Testament verse warns us of Satan's evil influence in our hearts or minds, much less his rebellious rule over the entire fallen world. Not one demon is cast out in the Old Testament. Legions of devils are cast out in the New Testament. Evil spirits are sent FROM the Lord in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 16:14), but are sent FROM Satan as Beezlebub, the ruler of demons, in the New Testament (Matthew 12:24-29).
Jesus' main thrust in ministry was to destroy the works of Satan, not enable them or approve of them in ANY way. "He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil." 1 John 3:8. When summarizing the Gospel for the first Gentile converts, Peter described "how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power, who went about DOING GOOD and HEALING ALL who were OPPRESSED OF THE DEVIL; for God was with Him." Acts 10:38.
The point? Jesus continually exposed Satan as an ENEMY of His Father, and NOT a SERVANT. Jesus described Satan as: "a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it." John 8:44.
This is a crucial passage for it shows Satan's evils come from "his own resources," not God's, and that he is in essence a KILLER and a LIAR, in fact the "father" of all killing and lying. Remember, Satan tried to both deceive and kill Jesus in the wilderness temptations in Luke 4. Jesus defeated him then and went on defeating him throughout the rest of Jesus' life, death and resurrection.
Jesus not only opposed Satan personally, he fought against Satan's ENTIRE kingdom of demonic elements, "against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." Ephesians 6:10.
Through the work of the cross, Jesus defeated all of Satan's armies, "Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it." Colossians 2:15. Greek scholars tell us these words describe Jesus having a victory parade wherein He brandishes all the captured armor of Satan's kingdom for all to see and celebrate. Satanic captivity has been taken captive by the Lord of love and light who has ransomed and rescued us from our dark kidnappers.
Now we see what one of the main problems was with Old Testament believers. They simply did not have the depth of understanding to see the truth about God's Kingdom as it related to Satan's kingdom. Their understanding of what we call New Covenant truth was at most only embryonic. This is the perfect example of John Calvin's claim that Old Testament saints had only "sleight capacity" to understand deeper New Testament concepts-- the true nature of Satan being just such a concept.
Without the indwelling Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth, Old Testament saints simply could not accurately process HOW the two invisible personalities of God and Satan operated on the earth. It wasn't God working WITH Satan as they supposed. It was God working AGAINST Satan as Jesus revealed. Jesus revealed that between their two kingdoms, there was no treaty, no cooperation, no partnership, no under-the-table deals, no compromise, no joint operation going on.
IT WAS WAR between God and Satan, NOT cooperation!
Jesus stated the battle lines of this war in John 10:10, "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. But I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly." Satan = stealing, killing, destroying. Jesus = life abundant.
Once we continually make this adjustment, we have become ABLE MINISTERS OF THE NEW COVENANT SPIRIT. 2 Corinthians 3:6. We will have substituted the Old Testament "letter" for the New Testament "better."
So, for the Old Testament saint to say, "The Lord called down fire from the sky," or "The Lord brought down curses on a person," or "The Lord struck someone down with pestilence, sword, famine or death" ----- all simply meant that they believed "Satan" did the destructive act at the Lord's command. So, when God is quoted in the Old Testament, it could EITHER refer to "Yahweh" OR to "Satan."
As established above, the Old Testament saints wrongly thought "Satan speaking" WAS "God's angry voice." Since they assumed Satan was God's official "minister of wrath," they attributed EVERYTHING that worked death and destruction as coming from God. BUT, since we NOW know from Jesus' teachings that Satan operates NOT as an obedient minister OF God, but rather as a vile enemy rebel AGAINST God, then we know their voices and actions need to be "redivided and wholly separated" from each other whenever we read the Old Testament.
I want to call this way of Old Testament reading The "the Jesus Hermeneutic." Simply put, this hermeneutic holds that all Scripture must be interpreted according TO and BY the revealed nature of Jesus. The revelation of Jesus IS the revelation of the nature of God. When reading the Old Testament, we must allow the living Jesus to DIFFERENTIATE the works of Satan FROM the works of His Father. He did it for the Emmaus disciples, and He will do it for us as well.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus told the two disciples "And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He (Christ) INTERPRETED to them in ALL THE SCRIPTURES the things concerning himself....And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Was not our heart burning within us, while he spake to us in the way, while he opened to us the scriptures?" Luke 24:26-27, 31-32.
Jesus came to forever slice, sunder and separate our image of God from the image of Satan. But, to do this, Jesus had to reveal the "YE-KNOW-NOT-WHAT-SPIRIT-YE-ARE- OF" SYNDROME. Luke 9:51-56.
This is the Jesus Hermeneutic at its best. When James and John wanted to call down fire on the Samaritan village for rejecting them, Jesus had to show the disciples these two disciples that Old Testament saints frequently did not know WHICH spirit they were operating out of. Jesus showed them that not everything in the Old Testament that is called "God's fire," or "God's wrath," or "God's judgment" IS in fact "OF" God's Spirit.
There are only TWO SPIRITS--- the Satanic SPIRIT of the world, and the Holy Spirit which is of God. 1 Corinthians 2:12; Ephesians 2:2. Jesus said in John 10:10 that Satan "comes to steal, kill and destroy" while Jesus "comes that they might have life, and have it in abundance." The Jesus Hermeneutic calls us to route all death passages to Satan's spirit and all life passages to Jesus' Spirit, no matter what they literally "say."
Really, the goodness of God is based on this foundational truth-- God never kills--- EVER. He warns us not to kill, either physically or even within our heart's imagination, and that by so doing, we will be "perfect" like our Heavenly Father. Matthew 5:38-48. The Holy Spirit doesn't test us on Bible knowledge, but the Bible certainly tests us on Holy Spirit knowledge.
A NEW WAY TO READ THE OLD TESTAMENT: THE BRACKET OF TRUTH
Reading and rightly dividing the Old Testament by the Spirit requires the use of something I call THE BRACKET. It works this way: EVERY TIME YOU READ THE WORDS "GOD" OR "LORD" IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, MENTALLY ADD THE FOLLOWING BRACKET RIGHT NEXT TO IT-- [JESUS OR SATAN]. Then, apply the New Testament light and love you know, along with inner Holy Ghost promptings, combined with the sweet stirrings of a sanctified conscience, all bolstered by the mind of Christ which all Christians now freely possess.
THEN, look at THE BRACKET and discern whether the act, event, or statement recorded in the Old Testament is more consistent with the nature of Jesus OR the nature of Satan. Make your call, insert the right name, AND THEN you will rightly understand the Scripture in question. It's pretty simple really. But before I give you some examples, I want to show why this must be done OR the Old Testament will, at times, continue to harden us, frighten us and discourage us.
Because the Old Testament saints' view of Satan was dim and partial at best, they were clueless that Satan was an enemy of God to be resisted wholeheartedly. Rather, they simply resigned themselves to the fact that all the "occurrences of evil and destruction" on the earth were just the judgments of God to be humbly endured RATHER than zealously opposed. God first brought the evil according to His secret and mysterious purposes. Then, God wrathfully punished us for the very evil He brought by inflicting the various curses of Deuteronomy 28. Satan was merely the executing angel obeying God's orders. Satan had no "dog in the hunt," nothing personal, just doing his job.
BECAUSE of this, when the Old Testament authors used the word "Lord," for them the word COULD mean the loving works and words of Yahweh in saving and blessing His people. HOWEVER, the word "Lord" could ALSO mean the wrathful works and words of Satan in testing, judging, accusing, and cursing His people.
HERE LIES THE LOST KEY TO RIGHTLY READING THE OLD TESTAMENT. When the Old Testament describes Yahweh's great life-giving works of mercy, healing, blessing and deliverance, we can rest assured that it is our Lord Jesus being manifested. But, when the Old Testament APPEARS to say God is violent, angry, cruel and oppressive, it is NOT talking about the GOD we know through the New Testament revelation of Jesus Christ. Rather, it is talking about the motives and methods of Satan, the rebel ruler of the fallen world, who seeks the destruction of every man, woman and child who has ever lived.
The term is MISATTRIBUTION. It means "assigning the WRONG source or cause of an action, purpose or event." Simply put, the Old Testament destructions of Satan have been wrongly attributed as "the wrath of God." This is the MOTHER OF ALL MISATTRIBUTIONS because it ultimately FRAMES GOD for EVIL. The result is a bipolar image of God that leaves us double minded and unable to receive much of anything from Him. We become poor petal-pluckers who vacillate back and forth-- "God loves me, He loves me not--- God hates me, He hates me not--- God blesses me, He blesses me not--- God saves me, He saves me not--- God answers my prayers, He answers my prayers not."
So how do we read the Old Testament in New Testament light? How to we retranslate the Old and dimmer understanding of Satan to accommodate the New and better understanding of Satan? Simply put, we must allow the Spirit to re-divide the terms "God" and "Lord" in the Old Testament. We must use THE BRACKET.
We have to PURGE THE DEVIL OUT of the Old Testament's usage of the names of the Lord. This explains why John 1:18 says that nobody prior to the Gospels had truly seen God at ANY time-- because all had wrongly blended the nature of Satan INTO their image of God. The result was that nobody had a pure understanding of God's absolute love and goodness.
For sure, Old Testament saints had a partial view of God's goodness, but not a full frontal view of His nature. This dynamic is revealed in Exodus 33:18-23, where Moses prayed to see the Lord's glory. The Lord then responded, "I will make all my goodness pass before you...." But Moses, from the cleft of the rock, could only see the Lord's goodness after He passed by. In other words, Moses could only see God's true goodness from behind and at an angled distance. Again, as Calvin said, Old Testament saints had only a "sleight capacity" to grasp God's perfect goodness as revealed by Jesus Christ. They lacked the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which God sent at Pentecost to lead believers into all truth. They also lacked the full knowledge of Jesus' coming life, death and resurrection, which we thankfully have through the preaching of the Gospel.
Where would any of us be without the Sermon on the Mount defining for us the pure nature of God? Where would we be without the Gospel revelation of grace, forgiveness, Abba-hood and life in the Spirit? Where would we be if we still thought God and Satan were working together in joint purpose and cooperation?
Well, we would be limited to the same Old Testament view that Moses had-- seeing God's goodness from behind and at an angled distance. We could know some aspects of his goodness, but we would stumble around in the "strobe light" effect of the Old Testament, with alternating flashes of light and dark disorienting us and making it difficult to perceive the nature of God in an abiding way. We would "choppily" see God as BOTH light and dark, good and evil, loving and wrathful.
Simply put, we would not have the FULL FRONTAL VIEW of His glory revealed only by the face of Jesus Christ. We would not have the revelation of 1 John 1:5 that, "God is light and in Him is no darkness at all." We would not have the revelation of James 1:12-17 which says we are "to let no man say" that God has any connection to evil and that only "good and perfect gifts come from the Father of lights." We would not have the revelation of Satan as the enemy ruler of this world from John 12:31 and 1 John 5:19. In short, we would still be largely confused about who was doing what in this fallen world.
Old Testament saints simply could not process the pure nature of God without first receiving the full revelation of Jesus. For that reason, we need to put THE BRACKET around the words "Lord" and "God" EVERY time we read them in the Old Testament. Whenever Old Testament Scripture says the "Lord" kills, destroys, curses, crushes, afflicts, oppresses or devastates, we need to "open the husk" of the word "Lord" to see WHO is really being referred to in the particular passage-- God or Satan.
Let's use a couple of easy examples. In Deuteronomy 28:63, let's apply THE BRACKET "the Lord [Jesus OR Satan] will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought." What are we to make of this bloodthirsty statement? Does this sound like the compassionate Jesus we know as the God who is "the same, yesterday, and today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8)?
Deuteronomy 28 again and again describes how the Lord will torture, oppress and joyfully destroy us, our families and our nation if we stop listening to God. The Lord will send "enemies" to enslave us, "wonderful plagues" to afflict us, and "famines" to cause us to become cannibals who eat our own children. I am just scratching the surface here. It gets worse, much worse. But the point is this-- Satan is the one doing the plaguing and destroying and evil rejoicing here, not God.
The New Testament couldn't be any clearer that all these curses of Deuteronomy 28 are the areas where Satan rules in his wrath, "wrath" which Revelation 12:12 says is "great" against the "inhabiters of the earth." The Old Testament saints used the word "Lord" because they thought that the destroying force at work here was under God's direct and obedient command. Bottom line: a New Testament reading should retranslate the word "Lord" here to read "Satan." The wonderful blessings in the first fourteen verses should remain as clearly coming from Jesus, for that is the essence of His nature as a blesser, protector and healer. All references after this describe the devil's work, not God's, so they must be properly assigned to Satan.
Another easy example. 1 Samuel 16:14 says "an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him [Saul]." Now, bracket the word "Lord" with [Jesus OR Satan]. We know all evil spirits are of Satan as the ruler of demons. God never sends evil spirits on anybody. Let no man say this, including Samuel. Jesus always cast evil spirits OUT of men, never INTO men. This is really a great example where the word "Lord" is OBVIOUSLY talking about "Satan," who again, the Old Testament saw as a servant of God rather than an enemy.
What about the flood? Who killed everybody? Satan did. Who saved Noah? Jesus did. God would have saved all who believed, but their universally hard hearts allowed Satan as the god of THIS world to destroy them. God's protective hedge constricted down to the size of an ark, but it fully protected the righteous remnant from Satan's destructions. Remember, Satan has the power of death, NOT God (Hebrews 2:14). God saves, heals and delivers. Satan steals, kills and destroys.
Death only became real when Adam started listening to the voice of the dark Lord RATHER than the voice of the Lord of life. What do we think? That Satan was twiddling his thumbs in the Old Testament while God was killing and afflicting everybody? NO-- NEVER! Every foul and unworthy thing we have thought about God should be laid at the doorstep of Satan.
Let's look at another example. If the Old Testament Scripture says "the Lord" commanded that the people "surely stone to death" a man who merely picked up sticks on the Sabbath, then we can again use THE BRACKET: "And the Lord [Jesus OR Satan] said unto Moses, 'The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.' And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died, as the Lord [Jesus OR Satan] commanded Moses." Numbers 15:35-36.
Does anybody really see Jesus ever commanding anybody to be stoned to death for ANY thing, much less merely picking up sticks? Jesus' own disciples violated that same law when they picked grain on the Sabbath. Jesus sure didn't command them to be stoned. Rather, He defended them against their accusers by saying, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." Mark 2:24. Wow!
If that weren't enough, in John 8, when a woman caught red handed in adultery was about to be stoned in His presence, Jesus STOPPED IT! God doesn't stone us or order us to be stoned. Jesus saves us from the stonings we do deserve and the ones we don't deserve. Out of His non-condemning love for the woman, Jesus was able to tell her in a tone that was tender, tried and true, "I don't condemn you. Go forth and sin no more."
So who told Moses to stone the Sabbath breaker? Well, who stones us today with accusations, condemnations and oppressions of every kind? All together now--- "SATAN." Revelation 12:10 says Satan is "the accuser of the brethren... which accused them day and night." Satan operates in "the ministry of condemnation," not Jesus. "There is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Romans 8:1.
Satan is the one who stones, both literally and figuratively, those who walk in the flesh apart from God. This is why Ephesians tell us to "not give place to the Devil," which is another way of saying don't allow Satan, through our neglect or unbelief, to gain ACCESS to stone us with his various oppressions.
Moses sometime heard the true God. Sometimes he heard the true Satan. Since he didn't know they were opposed to each other on every level, but rather working together, he confused their personalities, words and actions. We have a better understanding because of Jesus' indwelling and because of Jesus' Gospel teachings. Moses often misrepresented the character of God.
In fact, this is the sin-dynamic that kept Moses from entering the Promised Land. The story is told in Numbers 20:1-12, where Moses hears the true God tell him to "speak" to a "rock" to supernaturally command it to miraculously gush water to save His parched people. Instead, Moses "struck the rock" in anger while openly rebuking the people's lack of faith.
What Jesus sent to show His tender love and care, Moses deformed with his own Satan-inspired wrath. Now, the people thought God was disgusted and angry with them rather than tenderly concerned. In this episode, Moses heard BOTH God and Satan, first God but then immediately on top of it he heard Satan's wrathful distortions. The result-- God's character was misrepresented. Makes you wonder how many other times what God first spoke in love to Moses, Satan then quickly distorted with wrath by the time the people heard it.
Let's consider another example. When the Scriptures say, "the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart," form THE BRACKET around the word "Lord" as follows: "the Lord [Jesus OR Satan] hardened Pharaoh's heart." Now, we know from the New Testament that it is Satan who hardens hearts, not God. Satan, not God, hardened Judas' heart and Ananias' heart. Combine this with Jesus' teaching on the soils where Jesus clearly related hardness of heart to Satan's presence and activity, and the truth is clear as to who really hardens hearts.
Jesus never came close to teaching or preaching that His loving heavenly Father EVER hardens anybody's hearts. So, if we can't imagine through the Holy Ghost's illumination within that Jesus would EVER harden anybody's heart to reject God, then we sure can't imagine the Heavenly Father doing it either. Jesus said, "If you have seen me, you HAVE seen the Father." John 14:9.
I do think that the Apostle Paul had a little wrathful residue remaining from his Old Testament training as a Pharisee which led him to quote the original Exodus verse about God hardening Pharaoh's heart in Romans 9.
Most commentators agree that Paul, at the moment he was writing this chapter, was uncharacteristically frustrated because of national Israel's rejection of Christ as Messiah. This frustration caused his words to tip a little too far back into an "Old Testament" tone of thought. He quickly recovered and was back to trampling Satan underfoot with the peace of God by Romans 16:20.
Besides, no other New Testament verse comes close to saying God hardens hearts, instead attributing all heart invasions to Satan. Paul's anguished cry about Israel's hardened state, then, was less about theological precision and more about Paul's personal frustration toward his kinsmen. Frustration often distorts our precision.
But, this was just a speed bump on the highway of grace. Paul's teaching, on the whole, reveals as much as any other New Testament writer that Satan is the one who hardens and blinds the hearts of men, not God. Just consider such verses as Ephesians 2:2; 4:18; 6:10-17; 2 Timothy 2:26; 2 Corinthians 4:4. These verses confirm Paul's repeated emphasis on Satan as the source of world wide heart corruption, not God.
Moreover, Paul's name is not in the proposed bracket. Jesus' name is. I might imagine ANY man, even Paul, being momentarily wrathful and destructive in word, thought or deed given the right provocation, regardless of how spiritual he usually is, BUT I can honestly say I can't see Jesus EVER exploding in destructive wrath, cruelty, violence or rage. He might turn over a few "religious" tables of obstruction which are blocking our access to true worship of His Father, but He would never physically harm, afflict or kill anybody. I have gotten to know Him too well through His indwelling Spirit to fool myself into believing that. We, under Satan's influence, harden our OWN hearts against God, never vice versa.
But more than this, we intuitively know that Jesus only tenderizes hearts. Our conscience must be consulted on these matters. A spirit-sanctified conscience is one of the major ways we hear the promptings of God. God tenderizes our consciences. He never hardens them. Satan is the "hardening agent," not God, never God. The Holy Ghost teaches us to compare spiritual with spiritual and know what is of God and what is not. Wrath is of Satan. Love is of God. Again, THE BRACKET is the solution to most all Old Testament confusion. I want to conclude by repeating the explanation of THE BRACKET. It works this way: EVERY TIME YOU READ THE WORDS "GOD" OR "LORD" IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, MENTALLY ADD THE FOLLOWING BRACKET RIGHT NEXT TO IT-- [JESUS OR SATAN]. Then apply the New Testament light and love you know, along with inner Holy Ghost promptings, combined with the sweet stirrings of a sanctified conscience, all bolstered by the mind of Christ which all Christians now freely possess. THEN, look at THE BRACKET and discern whether the act, event, or statement recorded in the Old Testament is more consistent with the nature of Jesus OR the nature of Satan. Make your call, insert the right name, AND THEN you will rightly understand the Scripture in question.
It's pretty simple really. If we don't learn to do this and end up rejecting THE BRACKET, then the Old Testament will continue, at times, to harden us, frighten us and discourage us. When the disciples wanted "to call down fire" on the unreceptive Samaritans just like Elijah did in the Old Testament, Jesus rebuked them,"You know not what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." Luke 9:56.
We too need to make sure we don't slip on the "wrong spirit" when we read and quote fear-inducing and hate-justifying "wrath of God" verses from the Old Testament. "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.... There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear has torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." 1 John 4:8,18. THE BRACKET allows all Satanic fear, condemnation and wrath to be "casteth out" by the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Richard Murray is a criminal defence attorney and holds a Masters of Practical Theology from Regent University. His forthcoming book is entitled "GOD VERSUS EVIL: Sculpting an Epic View of God's Heroic Goodness."