[b-hebrew] Evil & God

Harold R. Holmyard III hholmyard at ont.com
Thu Aug 11 13:09:37 EDT 2005

Dear Shoshanna,

Thanks for Rabbi Tovia Singer's article, which 
gives food for thought and response.

>Why weren't the rabbis stunned by these Jewish teachings on Satan? 
>Because the Hebrew scriptures explicitly declare that the Almighty
>Himself places both the good and the evil that He created before
>mankind in order to provide His prime creation with free will. 
>Deuteronomy 30:15 states,
>See, I [God] have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.

HH: God is speaking about pleasant and unpleasant 
consequences, depending on their choice to follow 
Him or not. That is quite evident from the 
preceding context in Deuteronomy 30. If you go to 
the start of the chapter:

Deut. 30:1: When all these blessings and curses I 
have set before you come upon you and you take 
them to heart wherever the LORD your God 
disperses you among the nations,

HH: The blessings and curses were those promised 
in Deuter 27-29, blessings for obedience to the 
law and curses for disobedience to it. The 
blessings are the good and life, the curses are 
the death and evil. So RA( is not so much 
metaphysical evil as divine judgment and 

>In Isaiah 45:7, the prophet describes God's 
>creation plan when he reports that,
>I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil;
>I the Lord do all these things.

HH: The contrast is really quite similar here, 
for "peace" is the Hebrew word shalom and also 
connotes prosperity and well-being. Here is part 
of the definition of RA( from The Hebrew and 
Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Note that 
it includes ideas such as misfortune, evil 
circumstances, harm, and ruin:

>	-4. a., but certainly not to be separated 
>from 4 b; -i. ra¦{ misfortune 1K 228.18 (:: 
>tˆo®b‰)/2C 187 l§ra¦{a® (:: l§tˆo®b‰a¦h), v. 17 
>l§ra¦{ (:: tˆo®b‰); Hab 29a Zeph 315 Ps 234 Jb 
>519 Pr 514 1221, ha¦ra¦{ Dt 3015 (parallel with 
>hama¦wet×), b‰a¦ra¦{ Gn 4434; -ii. b‰§ra¦{ in 
>the midst of evil circumstances Ex 519, into 
>evil (misfortune) Pr 1317, lo¦}-b‰§ra¦{ 
>protected from misfortune Ps 106, cf. Kraus BK 
>15:216; -iii. b‰§ra¦{a® in evil circumstances 2K 
>1410 2C 2519; -iv. yo®m ra¦{ the evil day, 
>meaning the day of misfortune Am 63 (see above A 
>7 a), pl. y§me® ra¦{ Ps 496 9413; -b. i. ra¦{ 
>harm Gn 4816 Is 312 457 (parallel with 
>sûa¦lo®m), Mi 112 Ps 1217 14012 Jb 3129, ha¦ra¦{ 
>Ps 547; l§ra{ lo® Qoh 89, l§ra{ la¦k‰em Jr 76 
>257 to his your harm! (see above, B 3 b); -ii. 
>la¦ra¦{ for evil, for harm Ps 566, into ruin 
>(REB: crime, cf. NRSV: evil) Is 597 Pr 116 2112.

The rabbi continues:

>Isaiah 45:7 and Deuteronomy 30:15, however, pose a serious
>theological problem for Christians who maintain that God did not
>create Satan, the angel of evil.

HH: Christians affirm that God created Satan, but not that He created him evil.

>  According to Christian doctrine,
>Satan was the highest-ranking angel who, through his own act of
>spiritual defiance and outright disobedience, became the chief
>adversary and slanderer of God and the embodiment of evil in this
>world.  In Christian theology God never created evil; He is only the
>author of righteousness and perfection, as you maintained in your
>question.  Therefore, God could never create something as sinister as
>the devil himself.  Rather, Satan's unyielding wickedness is the
>result of his own spiritual rebellion.
>Although this well-known Christian doctrine has much in common with
>the pagan Zoroastrian Persian dualism out of which it was born,

HH: If it is a metaphysical truth, it is only 
reflected in Zoroastrianism. The assertion that 
it arose in Zoroastrianism is debatable.

>  it is
>completely alien to the teachings of the Jewish faith and the words
>of the Jewish scriptures.

HH: This is not really true. Arguments can be 
made for Satan's fall in Ezekiel 28, and for his 
malice in Job and Zechariah. The founders of the 
Christian faith, who composed its Scriptures, 
were all Jewish. We have seen that Enoch, a 
Jewish writing, contains the teaching of sinning 
angels in its earliest parts, which have 
pre-Christian dates. The following excerpt is 
from chapter 6 of 1 Enoch:

6 1 And it came to pass when the children of men 
had multiplied that in those days were born unto 
2 them beautiful and comely daughters. And the 
angels, the children of the heaven, saw and 
lusted after them, and said to one another: 
'Come, let us choose us wives from among the 
children of men 3 and beget us children.' And 
Semjaza, who was their leader, said unto them: 'I 
fear ye will not 4 indeed agree to do this deed, 
and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a 
great sin.' 

Here is the date for that section of Enoch:

"Chaps. 1-36 The Book of the Watchers may date 
from the third century BCE. Parts of its text 
have been identified on several copies from 
Qumran cave 4; the earliest fragmentary 
manuscript (4QEnocha) dates, according to the 
editor J.T. Milk, to between 200 and 150 BCE. All 
Qumran copies are in the Aramaic language."
      - James C. Vanderkam  

>   In fact, the Christian teaching that Satan
>was originally intended by God to be a good angel but, in an act of
>outright defiance, ceased to function as God had intended him to,
>suggests that God created something imperfect or defective.

HH: Adam was created without sin but fell. The 
same could happen with an angel who used his free 
will to sin.

>For the Jewish faith, Satan's purpose in seducing man away from God
>poses no problem because Satan is only an agent of God.  As a servant
>of the Almighty, Satan faithfully carries out the divine will of his
>Creator as he does in all his tasks.

HH: Satan clearly has his own will in Job. He 
advocates for evil. It is his idea to bring these 
evils on Job.

>Satan is one of the many angels mentioned in the Bible.  It is worth
>noting that the Hebrew word for angel is malach, meaning
>"messenger."  The same is true for the English word angel, derived
>from the Greek word angelos, which also means "messenger." 
>Throughout the Bible, an angel is a messenger of God who carries out
>the divine will of the Almighty.  There is not one example in the
>Jewish scriptures where any angel, Satan included, opposes God's will.

HH: This is highly debatable. Consider this passage in Zechariah:

Zech. 3:1 ¶ Then he showed me Joshua the high 
priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and 
Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.
Zech. 3:2 The LORD said to Satan,  "The LORD 
rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen 
Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning 
stick snatched from the fire?"

HH: Why would the Lord rebuke Satan unless he was 
doing something wrong, something contrary to God?

>In no part of the Bible is this more evident than in the Book of
>Job.  In the first chapter of Job, Satan appears with other angels
>before God and suggests that Job's steadfast faithfulness would not
>withstand personal pain and utter destitution.  Satan then requests
>from God the chance to test Job's virtue.  The Almighty grants this
>request, but He meticulously outlines for Satan what he may and may
>not do when putting Job to the test.  Satan obediently follows his
>Creator's instructions.  Job is immediately put to the test and, by
>the third chapter, begins to struggle.  He questions his Maker as to
>why he was created and, in a moment of despair, wishes aloud that he
>had perished in his mother's womb.  Still, by the end of this
>unparalleled biblical narrative, Job's virtue prevails over Satan's
>unyielding torment.

HH: A close reading of Job shows that Satan is a 
malicious, self-willed spirit. The fact that God 
must allow his actions, and that his actions can 
serve God's purposes, does not mean that he 
simply acts at God's behest. He instigates 
actions, though only with divine permission.

>While in Christian terms Job's personal spiritual triumph is a
>theological impossibility, in Jewish terms it stands out as the
>embodiment of God's salvation program for mankind.

HH: Job was had some human sinfulness, despite 
being a righteous man. His trials reveal that he 
is not perfect. His victory is not impossible in 
Christian theology, for Christians believe in the 
possibility of spiritual victory by sinful men 
who trust in God. That is what Job did, though he 
faltered somewhat.

>   In Deuteronomy
>30:15, the Torah attests to this principle and in Isaiah 45:7, the
>prophet echoes this message when he declares that the Almighty
>Himself creates evil.

HH: It is not metaphysical evil, angelic evil, 
that is in view in here, but harmful earthly 
circumstances. In Isaiah God predicts the victory 
of Cyrus by His help. Cyrus would break down city 
gates and gain hidden treasures. God would enable 
him to do this for the sake of Israel. He, as the 
only God, would summon Cyrus. Cyrus' deliverance 
of Israel would contribute to God's goal of all 
men knowing Him to be the true God (Isa 45:1-6). 
God is sovereign in the world, forming light and 
creating darkness, making good fortune and 
creating misfortune. Of course, God allows evil 
for His purposes, and moral evil can be included 
in the word RA( here through secondary agency. 
God takes responsibility for all that happens. 
After all, He is sovereign.

>This biblical principle, however, was apparently too problematic for
>the Christian translators of the NIV Bible (New International
>Version).  They clearly recognized that a Bible which asserts that
>God creates evil calls into question one of Christendom's most
>cherished teachings on salvation.  How can the church insist that man
>is totally depraved when his God placed him in a world where he is
>free to choose good over evil?

HH: Standard teaching is that man is evil because 
he chose evil in Adam and Eve. By the way, these 
teachings of man's total depravity are found in 
many places in the Tanakh, among them Psalm 14:

Psa. 14:2 The LORD looks down from heaven on the 
sons of men to see if there are any who 
understand, any who seek God.
Psa. 14:3 All have turned aside, they have 
together become corrupt; there is no one who does 
good, not even one.

>   How can the church hold to a doctrine
>of election or predestination when free will is man's to express? 
>How can Christians maintain that God did not create evil when the
>Jewish scriptures clearly state otherwise?

HH: Genesis 3 shows human evil to be due to human 
choice. The doctrine of election can be 
understood to include human free will because of 
God's knowledge of all things, including the 

>Understandably, the NIV translators saw fit to alter the prophet's
>words by rendering the offensive Hebrew word rah as "disaster"
>instead of correctly translating it as "bad" or "evil."  The NIV
>Bible therefore mistranslates Isaiah 45:7 to read,

HH: As I have shown, standard lexicons allow that 
RA( can mean things like misfortune, ruin, and 

>I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create
>disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.
>The word "disaster" inserted by the NIV is so ambiguous that the
>uninformed reader would easily come to the conclusion that it refers
>to such things as earthquakes and hurricanes.  This skewed
>understanding created by the NIV mistranslation effectively conceals
>Isaiah's original message.  As mentioned above, the KJV (King James
>Version) does correctly translate this verse and render the Hebrew
>word rah as "evil."

HH: The fact is that RA( does includes such 
things as earthquakes and hurricanes. The word 
RA( encompasses the curses of the law, and many 
of the curses were such things as climate 

Deut. 28:23 The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron.
Deut. 28:24 The LORD will turn the rain of your 
country into dust and powder; it will come down 
from the skies until you are destroyed.

HH: Deuteronomy 28 uses RA( as an adjective to 
describes aspects of the curses. I capitalize the 
word translated for RA(:

Deut. 28:35 The LORD will afflict your knees and 
legs with PAINFUL boils that cannot be cured, 
spreading from the soles of your feet to the top 
of your head.
Deut. 28:59 the LORD will send fearful plagues on 
you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged 
disasters, and SEVERE and lingering illnesses.

>One final point is in order here.  Christians often point to Isaiah
>14:12 as a biblical reference to support their teachings of the final
>and complete downfall of Satan which brings to an end the long and
>otherwise successful career of this fallen angel.  They argue that
>Isaiah's mention of the fallen "morning star" refers to Satan's
>ultimate demise at the end of time when Satan will finally be cast
>into a lake of fire as articulated in the twentieth chapter of the
>Book of Revelation.
>There are, however, two serious problems with this assertion.  First,
>if Christians maintain that the "morning star" is a reference to
>Satan, how do they explain Revelation 22:16 where Jesus is called the
>"morning star" as well?  Secondly, a cursory reading of the
>fourteenth chapter of Isaiah reveals that the "morning star" spoken
>of in Isaiah 14:12 is referring to Nebuchadnessar, the wicked King of
>Babylon, and not to Satan.  In 14:4 the prophet explicitly names the
>king of Babylon as the subject of the prophecy.
>That thou shall take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and
>say, How hath the oppressor ceased, the golden city ceased!
>Throughout this chapter and the preceding chapter of Isaiah, the
>prophet foretells the rise and fall of this arrogant king who would
>use his unbridled power to plunder Jerusalem and destroy its Temple
>but, at the end, would suffer a cataclysmic downfall.  In 14:12
>Nebuchadnezzar is compared to the planet Venus whose light is still
>visible in the morning yet vanishes with the rise of the sun.  Like
>the light of Venus, Nebuchadnezzar's reign shone brilliantly for a
>short time, yet, as the prophets foretold, was eventually
>overshadowed by the nation of Israel whose light endured and outlived
>this arrogant nation who tormented and exiled her.

HH: But there are Ugaritic stories that resemble 
Isaiah 14 and speak about gods. So Isaiah can 
compare the king of Babylon to heavenly figures. 
In Isaiah 14:12 the figure is called "shining 
one, son of the dawn." Certainly this may refer 
to the morning star. But the fact that a 
supernatural figure, to whom the king of Babylon 
is compared, is called "shining one, son of the 
dawn," does not mean that Jesus Christ cannot 
much later and perhaps a different sense be 
called the "bright morning star" (Rev 22:16).

				Harold Holmyard

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