Star Falling From Heaven, Part 2: Satan as Serpent and Tempter
III. Satan as serpent in Genesis
In part 1 we already covered Revelation 12 where Satan is called “serpent” (Rev. 12:9), so finding out what Scripture has to say about this name is a good place to start to learn more about Satan post-fall.
The first place we’re brought to in thinking about the serpent is Genesis 3, where the serpent is responsible for deceiving Eve and leading both Adam and Eve into sin, rebellion, and spiritual fall from God. This may seem a little farfetched to make a connection between two humans and a snake, but just stay with me.
The Serpent (Satan) in Genesis 3
Genesis 3, the passage of humanity’s fall, involves a few main parties: 1) God, 2) Adam, 3) Eve, Adam’s wife, and 4) the serpent. Genesis 3 calls the deceiver “the serpent” here, with little hint that the serpent in question is Satan. Of course, progressive revelation as Scripture passes provides more information, but it’s a good passage to start our investigation into what Satan has been up to since the heaven expulsion.
In Genesis 3, the serpent questions God’s instructions about refraining from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Genesis 3 begins by saying that the serpent “was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made” (3:1), hinting to the serpent’s actions in the narrative that follows. The serpent then goes on to talk to Adam and Eve (yes, the serpent is quoted as having had direct conversation with Adam and Eve; funny, but we’re never told serpents can talk). Maybe this is a direct clue from the start that the serpent in Genesis 3 is no ordinary serpent. We’ll get into this in a little.
For now, though, the serpent talks with Eve, though Adam seems to be standing by:
“And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:1-5).
The serpent denies what Eve says God has told her: first, it’s “you surely will not die!” in verse 4: God told Adam that “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” in Genesis 2:17, so by the serpent telling them the opposite, he was contradicting what God had said and should’ve never been trusted. Next, he tells them things that God had never mentioned, such as “your eyes will be opened” and “you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” things that they should’ve never trusted because they didn’t come from God.
The Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) says “you will be as gods, knowing good and evil,” a reference to Godhood and divinity. Somehow, they believed they would have the knowledge of God if they ate. They also didn’t realize that the serpent told them a half-truth: sure, they’d know good and evil, but they’d never be “gods.” Never.
How is it that this serpent, a snake, would know more about the forbidden fruit than they, the humans that had been given dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26-28), or God Himself? Why would God tell the serpent something more than what He’d told the only creation made in His image, after His likeness (Gen. 1:27)? Since God made man slightly below the angels (Psalm 8:5-8), would He not have told Adam and Eve before the serpent? Why would the rulers over earthly creation listen to the animal kingdom they were to rule and subdue? Adam even named the animals himself:
“19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:19-20).
Adam named the animals; he even named the serpent! So, why take orders and listen to the creature that was placed beneath him in creation? Why have dominion over all things that creep on the earth, including the serpent, but then listen to him and presume he knows more than you? It’s the equivalent of the Israelites building a golden calf, then bowing down and worshipping the calf they just built! The same could be said for a king who does what his servants tell him to do, or a boss who takes orders from one of his subordinates. It all seems ridiculous because it is ridiculous.
Why would Adam and Eve listen to one of the creatures over which they ruled? Why would they assume the serpent would know more than they? And when the serpent told them that they would not die, in direct opposition to the word of God (audible), why did they not immediately have a mental red flag go off and tell the serpent to crawl away and leave them alone? Adam and Eve seem to trust the serpent and what he says, despite the fact that God gave them clear instructions in the chapter prior to Genesis 3.
Sadly, we do the same thing today as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. God tells us not to commit adultery and be faithful in our marriage, but we still try to “steal kisses” from a coworker, hoping that our spouse won’t find out. Or, we plan an adulterous vacation under the guise of “business,” thinking that no one will know and no one will tell our husband or wife.
Adam and Eve listened to the serpent not because they didn’t know he was lying: in fact, they knew that the serpent’s own words were against the word of the Lord God. They didn’t listen to the serpent because they valued him more than they valued themselves. They listened to the serpent because he told them “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” In other words, Adam and Eve wanted to achieve divinity, Godhood, equality with God. Paul hints at the Fall in Genesis 3 when he talks about Jesus in Philippians 2:
“5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:5-9).
The Lord Jesus was exalted because, instead of focusing on equality with God, He “humbled himself” by “taking on the likeness of men.” In other words, humility served as the means by which Jesus was exalted. This doesn’t match the response of Adam and Eve, though: the first couple decided to focus on equality with God, divinity, Godhood, instead of humbling themselves and obeying the word of the Lord God.
Adam and Eve, though, heard the serpent mention Godhood, and that was all they needed to rebel against God and disobey His command. Next, they decided, after accepting the lying word of the serpent as truth, decided to observe the fruit to judge whether or not it was bad for them. This was the next mistake: walking by sight instead of by faith. Had they had faith in the word of the Lord and placed that above their visual observations of the fruit, they would’ve never taken a bite of the forbidden fruit. The Lord never told them to judge whether or not the fruit was forbidden based on appearance; He told them to not eat of it because they would die if they did so. His word should’ve been enough, but Adam and Eve decided in that moment to evaluate the command by way of their own senses and the word of the deceptive serpent.
In the moment they sinned, Adam and Eve decided that the word of the serpent and their own final observations were superior to the word of the Lord. They were, in effect, already declaring themselves superior to the Lord because instead of listening to him, they listened to their intuition that told them the fruit looked harmless and therefore, was harmless.
After they ate the fruit, though, they realized they were sold a bill of goods: they didn’t transform into gods, nor did they achieve divinity; what they experienced, instead, was knowledge of their nakedness and shamefulness: they realize their nakedness and cover themselves with loin coverings (Gen. 3:7).
After realizing they’d sinned, they now hide from the Lord and are aware of their nakedness (vv.8-10). Take note, believers: this is what happens when you believe the serpent’s lies instead of the voice of the Lord. Instead of feeling invincible and divine, they felt more mortal and ashamed and naked than their former innocent state. Adam admits his nakedness, at which point the Lord asks him about his disobedience (the acknowledgment of his nakedness was a dead giveaway as to his sin). Adam’s response? Instead of taking responsibility for his own role in the event, he blames his wife and then places the blame on God: “the woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate” (v.12). The Lord questions the woman, who then blames it on the serpent. Adam and Eve have been given dominion and responsibility over all of God’s creatures on the earth, but after they sin, they blame everyone but themselves. The original chain of command in the created order should’ve been the serpent < Eve < Adam < God, but sin reversed the order to this: Adam < Eve < serpent. The serpent undermined God’s word by deceiving the first couple, and Adam decided he’d rather listen to his wife than to God.
As you know, the Lord assigns punishments to Adam, Eve, and the serpent, but He punishes them according to the subverted order that occurred in the conspiracy to rebel against Him: He started with the serpent, then went to Eve, and finally, to Adam. Eve would have pain in childbirth and submit to her husband, and Adam would work by the sweat of his brow to yield fruit from a ground cursed because of his disobedience to God.
Of all the punishments, the serpent’s here is of primary importance, since we’re discussing the history of Satan as serpent:
“14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; 15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:14-15).
The serpent is cursed to 1) crawl and 2) eat dust for the rest of its life. Next, since the serpent and man teamed up to disobey and subvert God’s authority, the Lord places “enmity” (Greek, theso) between the woman and the serpent, and between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Not only will the woman and the serpent be hostile toward one another, their offspring will be hostile as well. In other words, there won’t be an end until death to the hostility between man and crawling beast. The serpent could have walked until God’s curse, though we have no way of knowing that from the text.
Now, here’s where some see this text as just division between humans and serpent, and between their offsprings, but the Apostle Paul didn’t think so. In his letter to the church at Rome, in the midst of dissensions and arguments and contrary teaching, Paul writes some words that should ring a bell to those who’ve read Genesis 3:
“17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. 19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. (Romans 16: 17-20)
The words “wise” and “innocent” should produce Genesis 3 echoes for those who’ve read the chapter. After all, Adam and Eve were chasing Godhood and the fruit could make them wise (Gen. 3:6). Next, Adam and Eve lost their innocence after eating the fruit. When Paul talks about “wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil,” he’s referencing the event that released sin into the world. And then, he says words that no reader should ignore: “The God of our peace shall soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).
Notice that in Romans 16:20, Paul says that the “seed of the woman” of Genesis 3 is “you,” referring to the believers in the church at Rome. “Satan” is the “serpent” being crushed under the feet of believers, and God is the one that will bring it about. Paul wanted to remind the believers that the Lord would deal with the satanic influences and “give them victory” over false teaching and division in the church. And yet, this is also eschatological: since the Lord Jesus took on Himself the chastisement that brought us peace (Isaiah 53:5), He gives believers victory over Satan the serpent. After all, the seed of the promise to Abraham refers to Christ (Galatians 3:16), and Christ is the seed that crushes the head of the serpent who is Satan. Notice that Genesis 3 says “He will bruise you on the head,” the Lord says to the serpent. When one thinks “offspring,” one thinks multiple people. Here, though, the pronoun is masculine and singular – referring to Christ.
While the Old Testament prophecies refer to Christ, Paul takes it further in Romans 16 to refer to those who believe in Christ (Christ-followers are called “sons of God,” Christ is called “the Son of God”; see Matthew 5:9; Romans 8:14; Romans 9:26; Galatians 4:6). As Christ’s cosmic victory is fully realized, His followers, His children, also get the victory as well by faith in Jesus. He will reign forever (Luke 1:33; Revelation 11:15); so will we (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:10; 20: 4,6; 22:5).
This is the “male child” to which Revelation 12 refers (we left this undiscussed earlier). The Male Child here “rules the nations with a rod of iron” (12:5), a reference to the reign of Christ (Psalm 22:28; 66:7) over the nations. Christ is born of the virgin Mary, but He comes through the nation of Israel, which seems to be the woman with 12 stars in her crown in Revelation 12:
“Now muster yourselves in troops, daughter of troops;
They have laid siege against us;
With a rod they will smite the judge of Israel on the cheek.
2 “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.”
3 Therefore He will give them up until the time
When she who is in labor has borne a child.
Then the remainder of His brethren
Will return to the sons of Israel.” (Micah 5:1-3)
4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
For out of you shall come forth a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:4-6)
As can be seen through Micah 5:1-3 and Matthew 2:4-6, Israel will “give birth” to the Messiah, who is Jesus, the Male Child of the vision in Revelation. Some believe the woman of Revelation 12 is Mary, but the woman is wearing a crown with 12 stars in it, which seems to represent the twelve tribes of Israel (and would hence, symbolize the nation of Israel). As we can see, when King Herod seeks to kill the child, the “dragon,” Satan, is at work behind it (Matthew 2; Revelation 12).
What must be understood is that the passage of Genesis 3 must be understood on two levels. First, it must be understood as a natural, literal passage that involves a real man named Adam, a real woman named Eve, a living serpent, and a literal fruit that was eaten in direct violation of the literal words of the voice of God.
In other words, the Fall in the Garden of Eden was real; it really happened, was an actual event. If not, then how do we explain the Lord’s words to the serpent to crawl on its belly and eat dust for the rest of its days? How do we explain away the curse of pain in childbirth for the woman if the event didn’t really happen? How about the death of humanity because Adam disobeyed God’s voice?
Next, though, you must also understand that this event had spiritual implications regarding humanity and his Lord, and that Adam and Eve plunged all of their human offspring down through the centuries into sin because “all sinned in Adam” (Romans 5:12). This is why Scripture refers to Christ as “the second Adam” or “the last Adam” (Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:45), and Satan as “the old serpent” (Revelation 12:9; 20:2).
The natural creatures in the Garden of Eden in Genesis were active participants in sin. And yet, Jesus (last Adam), Satan (serpent), and Israel (the woman who gives birth in Revelation 12) all have a role throughout the Scriptures, as Jesus gives His life to free the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve from the captivity of Satan. Scripture continues to reference the Garden of Eden because Revelation shows the same scene as the destination to which all of humanity longs to return (Genesis 3:22, 24; Proverbs 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4; Revelation 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19).
God crushes Satan under the feet of believers in the Kingdom of God (Luke 10:18-20)
We’ve been examining the history of Satan, starting with his origin in heaven, his fall to the earth, and his havoc on earth with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 (that serpent is no regular serpent, you know!). Now, though, we’ve also talked about Paul’s reference in Romans 16 to God crushing Satan under the feet of believers in the midst of their fight against false doctrine, dissension, and the work of Satan.
In this passage, Jesus sends the 70 disciples (the Twelve plus others) out to heal the sick and proclaim that the Kingdom of God has come. The seventy return to Jesus after obeying orders, rejoicing that the demonic spirits are subject to them in His Name. Here are the Lord’s words to the 70:
“17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” 18 And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. 20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)
In the middle of the inauguration of the Kingdom of God, Jesus says “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” This is an interesting statement in Luke 10:18, but it fits the context nicely. The seventy disciples are rejoicing that the demonic spirits flee at the name of Jesus, and Jesus responds with a statement that shows the victory of the Kingdom of God over the kingdom of Satan. To Jesus, Satan is falling from heaven like lightning because, though Satan has already fallen from heaven to the earth (see Revelation 12), the Kingdom of God is the beginning of the end – when Satan’s fall from heaven will be fully realized at the end of time. Currently, as we’ve seen in the Book of Job, Satan still assembles with the other angels before the throne of God (Job 1-2), but a day will come when Satan and his demons will assemble with the innocent angels no more. The Lord says that He has given the seventy “power over the enemy,” the enemy here referring to This is “the fall from heaven” to which Jesus refers in Luke 10.
Jesus had already told of His ministry and what it would entail when He entered into the synagogue to read from the scroll (what we now know as Isaiah 61):
16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. 17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
20 And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The Lord says that He came to “proclaim release to the captives” and “free those who are oppressed,” those who have been bound in sickness and infirmity for so long. By bringing healing to a world full of broken people who are bound by infirmities, the Lord could talk about Satan’s final fall and destruction because through healing, Satan’s kingdom is being destroyed and undermined.
We will cover a number of instances where Jesus heals in the New Testament and Satan appears in the discussion. The point to make here with Luke 10 is that healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, and freeing the oppressed is the Lord’s way of fighting against Satan’s kingdom that has been oppressing and imprisoning the sick and afflicted. The gospel is not only about saving the soul but also healing the body. The Lord cares about the whole man, not just one part (soul).
Jesus talked much about the Kingdom of God and His work in healing, delivering, and setting free those who were sick in body. In Matthew 12, Jesus had to reason with the Pharisees about His delivering and healing the sick by way of the Spirit of God:
22 Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. 23 All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.”
25 And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27 If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.
In Matthew 12, a demon-possessed man who is blind (cannot see) and mute (cannot hear) was brought to Jesus. The Lord heals him, and the Pharisees, watching the deliverance, take the move of the Holy Spirit and attribute it to “the ruler of the demons” (Matt. 12:24), Beelzebul. Beelzebul is considered to be another name for Satan, as Jesus talks about “Satan casts out Satan” in the passage. In Hebrew, the name Beelzebub translated to Ba’al-zebub; in Greek, the same name translates to “Beelzeboul.” What we can learn from this is that, though this demon leader is called 1) Satan, 2) serpent, and 3) devil, he is also called “Beelzebul” or Beelzebub because he is the ruler of the demons. Only Satan could be the ruler of the demons because he was the “ruler” or leader of the fallen angels in heaven when he waged war against Michael and the heavenly hosts and, after losing the battle, was expelled from heaven (Revelation 12). The “dragon” of Revelation 12 took his tail and knocked one-third of the stars (angels) from heaven. We don’t know how many angels rebelled with him, but one-third of the angels implies that there are a lot of demons (fallen angels) in the world. Beelzebul is mentioned in not only Matthew 12:24 but also Matthew 10:25, Luke 11:15, and Mark 3:22.
The Pharisaical logic must be examined here, if not downright laughed at. It makes no sense to assume that demons were being cast out by “the ruler of the demons.” Why would demons work against themselves by casting out demons? The purpose of demons is to possess individuals; if some demons are possessing an individual, such as the man healed in Matthew 12, why would another demon cast out the demons that already exist? To do so would mean that the demons are working against each other, and, as Jesus says, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Abraham Lincoln used this same logic when talking about the divided United States over the issue of slavery back in the late nineteenth century (1860s). The fact that there was one half of the nation implementing slavery, and the other half opposed to the idea, meant that the US was divided against itself.
The Pharisees weren’t making logical sense, we get it. And yet, their attribution of the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan shows their malice for Jesus and His work. They wanted to discredit Him at every turn, mock His work, and belittle the good He was doing, and their logic was how they thought to do it. But Jesus showed them that Satan would not fight against His demons but work with them, and, in a similar way, if Jesus came to heal, deliver, and set free, then the Spirit of God was working with Jesus to achieve the purpose of His Father in bringing the Kingdom of God to earth: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you,” Jesus says.
The Lord took the time to explain and inform just how He was doing the work He was doing: the Holy Spirit was the means by which demons were being cast out of the demon-possessed individual. And this fact alone testified to just what the Kingdom of God was all about: delivering, setting people free, freeing the captives, loosening the shackles off those who had been bound in their sicknesses and infirmities. The Spirit of God was inaugurating the Kingdom of God on earth by “undoing” the opposite of what sin and Satan had achieved in the Garden of Eden: Satan saw to it that his agenda of sin and rebellion made its way into humanity by his enticing Adam and deceiving Eve, but the Spirit of God was showing in the healing of the demon-possessed man that He was fighting back against Satan’s work, undoing the sin that Satan had instituted in the beginning, attacking the work of Satan by delivering humanity from sin’s curse. This would ultimately culminate in the Lord Jesus becoming a curse for humanity, dying in its place, the just for the unjust, the righteous for the unrighteous, so as to redeem humanity back to God.
When Jesus sees Satan falling from heaven like lightning in Luke 10:18-20, He was rejoicing that the Kingdom of God was coming in the form of healing and deliverance, that people were being healed, that the work of sin was being undone by miracles, signs, and wonders. By healing the demon-possessed man, Jesus was showing that the work of God was, in a sense, the beginning of heaven’s defeat of Satan in the cosmic war, that Satan was starting to be “expelled” from heaven. One day, as the Lord brings forth the new heavens and new earth, Satan will finally be expelled from heaven, as he will no longer be able to inflict disease, sickness, suffering, and death upon humanity.
It is in this context that the Lord Jesus goes into a discussion about what is known as “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” While one can blaspheme against Jesus and live, one cannot blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and expect to be forgiven:
31 “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:31-32)
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit has had its share of discussion among theologians, but Jesus explains it in an easy-to-understand context. The concept refers to taking the work of the Holy Spirit and attributing it to Satan, as the Pharisees did when they said that Jesus was casting out demons by Satan himself. God is light and has no darkness in Himself (John ), so the Lord does not want His work to be linked to Satan in any way. Rather, He wants His work in deliverance and loosening prisoners to be the very antithesis of the work of the devil. Those who attribute the Holy Spirit’s work to Satan will not be forgiven here on earth, or in the new heaven and new earth.
IV. Satan in Chronicles
The Old Testament has little else to say about the evil one as serpent, but his name “Satan” can be found – though in a few passages at best. Prior to Job where we see Satan assembling with the angels before the throne of God, we see that Satan was working against Israel. In 1 Chronicles 21:1, it says that “Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.” This verse tells us that David numbered Israel, which proved to be a sign of rebellion against the God of Israel (Israel didn’t need to be numbered because the Lord was with Israel). And yet, Scripture says that Satan “stood up against Israel,” likely referring to his accusation of Israel before the Lord and/or his decision to attack Israel. Again, what we see is that there’s a cosmic reason behind things that happen, even though David was still responsible for sinning against God.
1 Chronicles 21 shows David doing something that is against God. This is why we read that Satan stood up against Israel in 1 Chronicles 21:1. David’s servant Joab serves as the voice of reason to David here, with statements such as “May the Lord add to His people a hundred times as many as they are!” (v. 3) and “why does my lord seek this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt to Israel?” (v.3) When Joab says that the Lord could “add to His people a hundred times as many as they are,” he sends the message that the Lord can increase the number of Israel. This was an indicting message to King David that the Lord is in control of Israel. David should’ve remembered this; if he had, he would never have numbered the Israelite army.
Joab also says that David is “a cause of guilt to Israel,” meaning that he recognized it was against God to number Israel, that David was bringing guilt upon the Lord’s people by numbering the army. In 1 Chronicles 21:4-6, Joab does as the king commands and numbers the army (everyone except the tribes of Benjamin and Levi). The total army available to David outside of numbering the two excepted tribes was about 1.57 million troops (1,570,000 to be exact). In 21:7, the Lord struck Israel because of David’s sin, which confirms Joab’s own words to the king in 21:3.
In response to David’s sin, the Lord allows David to choose which of 3 punishments he is to receive from the hand of the Lord: 3 years of famine, 3 months of battles and defeat by their political enemies, or 3 days of the Lord destroying territory in Israel and pestilence (1 Chronicles 21:10-12). David doesn’t choose but would rather fall into the hands of God’s decision. The Lord comes close to destroying Jerusalem but calls off the angel just as he draws the sword (v.15). The Lord also kills 70,000 men by pestilence, so David loses 70,000 troops in his army due to disobedience in numbering them.
The text doesn’t allow us to focus on Satan at the exclusion of David’s own responsibility in his sin. Twice in the text, David acknowledges his sin and guilt in numbering the army:
8 David said to God, “I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” (1 Chronicles 21:8)
“David said to God, “Is it not I who commanded to count the people? Indeed, I am the one who has sinned and done very wickedly, but these sheep, what have they done? O Lord my God, please let Your hand be against me and my father’s household, but not against Your people that they should be plagued.” (1 Chronicles 21:17)
Despite Satan moving or influencing David to number the Israelite army, David takes responsibility for his own decision to do so. It’s hard to dispute his responsibility when he says he’s guilty twice in the text.
We don’t need to cover the entire passage, but what we find is that Satan in the Old Testament was encouraging people to do that which is in rebellion against God. Israel didn’t need to number their army because God would fight their battles. Israel didn’t need to trust in their numbers because their one Lord was greater than all the armies combined. David’s decision to do so shows that, while Satan tempted him, he ultimately made a choice of his own selection. He couldn’t blame Satan because he alone was guilty.
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