The word itself, the Hebrew satan, is simply an “adversary,” and is so used in 1 Samuel 29:4; 2 Samuel 19:22; 1 Kings 5:4; 11:14, 23, 25; Numbers 22:22, 32; and Psalm 109:6. This original sense is still found in our Lord’s application of the name to St. Peter in Matthew 16:23. It is used as a proper name or title only four times in the Old Testament, with the article in Job 1:6, 12; 2:1; and Zechariah 3:1, and without the article in 1 Chronicles 21:1. It is with the scriptural revelation on the subject that we are here concerned, and it is clear, from this simple enumeration of passages, that it is to be sought in the New rather than in the Old Testament.
I. The personal existence of a spirit of evil is clearly revealed in scripture, but the revelation is made gradually, in accordance with the progressiveness of God’s method. In the first entrance of evil into the world, the temptation is referred only to the serpent. In the book of Job we find for the first time a distinct mention of “Satan” the “adversary” of Job. But it is important to remark the emphatic stress laid on his subordinate position, on the absence of all but delegated power, of all terror and all grandeur in his character. It is especially remarkable that no power of spiritual influence, but only a power over outward circumstances, is attributed to him. The captivity brought the Israelites face to face with the great dualism of the Persian mythology, the conflict of Ormuzd with Ahriman, the co-ordinate spirit of evil, but it is confessed by all that the Satan of scripture bears no resemblance to the Persian Ahriman. His subordination and inferiority are as strongly marked as ever. The New Testament brings plainly forward the power and the influence of Satan, from the beginning of the Gospel, when he appears as the personal tempter of our Lord through all the Gospels, Epistles, and Apocalypse, it is asserted or implied, again and again, as a familiar and important truth.
II. Of the nature and original state of Satan, little is revealed in Scripture. He is spoken of as a “spirit” in Ephesians 2:2 as the prince or ruler of the “demons” in Matthew 12:24-26, and as having “angels” subject to him in Matthew 25:41 and Revelation 12:7, 9. The whole description of his power implies spiritual nature and spiritual influence. We conclude therefore that he was of angelic nature, a rational and spiritual creature, superhuman in power, wisdom and energy, and not only so, but an archangel, one of the “princes” of heaven. We cannot, of course, conceive that anything essentially and originally evil was created by God. We can only conjecture, therefore, that Satan is a fallen angel, who once had a time of probation but whose condemnation is now irrevocably fixed. As to the time, cause, and manner of his fall scripture tells us scarcely anything, but it describes to us distinctly the moral nature of the evil one. The ideal of goodness is made up of the three great moral attributes of God—love, truth, and purity or holiness, combined with that spirit which is the natural temper of the finite and dependent, the spirit of faith. We find, accordingly, opposites of qualities are dwelt upon as the characteristics of the devil.
III. The power of Satan over the soul is represented as exercised either directly or by his instruments. His direct influence over the soul is simply that of a powerful and evil nature on those in whom lurks the germ of the same evil. Besides this direct influence, we learn from scripture that Satan is the leader of a host of evil spirits or angels who share his evil work, and for whom the “everlasting fire is prepared” (Matthew 25:41). Of their origin and fall we know no more than of his. But one passage, Matthew 12:24-26, identifies them distinctly with the “demons” (Authorized Version “devils”) who had power to possess the souls of men. They are mostly spoken of in scripture in reference to possession, but in Ephesians 6:12 we find them sharing the enmity to God and man implied in the name and nature of Satan, though their power and action are little dwelt upon in comparison with his. But the evil one is not merely the “prince of the demons,” he is called also the “prince of this world” in John 12:31; 14:30; and 16:11 and even the “god of this world” in 2 Corinthians 4:4, the two expressions being united in Ephesians 6:12. This power he claimed for himself, as the delegated authority, in the temptation of our Lord (Luke 4:6) and the temptation would have been unreal had he spoken altogether falsely. The indirect action of Satan is best discerned by an examination of the title by which he is designated in scripture. He is called emphatically ho diabolos, “the devil.” The derivation of the word in itself implies only the endeavor to break the bonds between others and “set them at variance,” but common usage adds to this general sense the special idea of “setting at variance by slander.” In the application of the title to Satan, both the general and special senses should be kept in view. His general object is to break the bonds of communion between God and man, and the bonds of truth and love which bind men to each other. The slander of God to man is best seen in the words of Genesis 3:4-5. They attribute selfishness and jealousy to the Giver of all good. The slander of man to God is illustrated by the book of Job (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5).
IV. The method of satanic action upon the heart itself. It may be summed up in two words—temptation and possession. The subject of temptation is illustrated, not only by abstract statements, but also by the record of the temptations of Adam and of our Lord. It is expressly laid down, as in James 1:2-4, that “temptation,” properly so called, i.e. “trial,” is essential to man, and is accordingly ordained for him and sent to him by God, as in Genesis 22:1. It is this tentability of man, even in his original nature, which is represented in scripture as giving scope to the evil action of Satan. But in the temptation of a fallen nature Satan has a greater power. Every sin committed makes a man the “servant of sin” for the future (John 8:34; Romans 6:16). It therefore creates in the spirit of man a positive tendency to evil which sympathizes with, and aids, the temptation of the evil one.
Smith's Bible Names Dictionary (1866).