Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.…
This scene is not less perplexing than startling. Satan is beheld in some way among the angels of God. There is another parallel striking illustration of the dominion God holds, and of His mode of administration over the world of moral causes and evil consequences, in 1 Kings 22:19-22.
I. CAN WE IN ANY WAY REALISE THE SCENE? We may conceive the bright beings — Gabriel, Raphael, Michael, Uriel "circling the throne," rejoicing each with his hymn of praise, reporting his work of love. These are the "chariots of the Lord"; these are they which "do His commandments"; they have each performed his own work, for the Bible beholds all the work of creation and providence carried on, not by dead laws, not eves by operating living principles — life stands behind all matter, using it as a veil or as a vehicle. "I," might Raphael say, "directed the rolling planets, I stood by the axis of the young firmament, I heard the stars sing together, and I stand in Thy presence to report my obedience, and to bless Thee. And I, might Uriel say, have confirmed the doubting, I have steadied the steps of the straying; I passed by the couch of the dying, and I consoled." "And I," might Gabriel have said, "have prepared the earth for Thy approach; I have winnowed the winds and have diffused the light; and I have put thoughts into the hearts of men; and at Thy command I have broken up solitudes; I have set the solitary in families, and where I have gathered them into companies I have heard their songs to Thee; and I have come into Thy presence to report my obedience and to bless Thee." And then there was seen a shadow, and it fell across the gold of the throne, and while it dropped from the seraph's wing, it spread itself out even over the pavement of light; and when the voice from the central blessedness piercingly inquired, "Whence comest thou?" it was in a tone altogether unlike that of the other angels, the shadow rejoined, "From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it." And all this transaction, so suggestively given, I conceive still; I drop the more lofty conceptions of the book — I conceive the sons of God, each with his hymn and his work. I see the merchant who, the balances of trade in his hands, feels how much selfishness has still been, if not the main intention, still present — yet he goes and presents himself before the Lord. "Thou," he says, "hast given all; behold my obedience; behold my contrition; behold me, and bless me." Or the schoolmaster, or the minister, "I also am an angel or a messenger of Thine; my strength is from Thee, the light I bear is a candle kindled by Thee; I bring Thee my obedience, I have wrought for Thee, behold me, and bless me." And then you can conceive one to whom all this is only a fitting subject for caricature, as you see all reality is, all enthusiasm is. Do you not see that which exposes itself most always as the weak side, is ever the strongest side of a character? So the jaunty sneerer comes; some cynical Horace Walpole or sardonic Voltaire, and, "Ah," says he, "I have been looking at all these things, mocking — that is my way, not mending — 'I have been going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it.'"
II. HERE, THEN, WE HAVE NEXT THE SCRIPTURAL IDEA OF SATAN. Of course you will often have heard the passage I have read, spoken of as conveying a poetic description, that it is merely a highly sublime personification. Be that as it may, the doctrine of the text affirms the personality of Satan. The Holy Scriptures sketch the character of the Evil One; but they never permit us to hesitate as to the fact of his personality. He exists, not as an abstract idea, not as a blind force, not either as a mere quality, or the absence or negation of qualities in bodies or in persons. Elevate your conceptions to what is the ground of personality, what constitutes its difference from a mere thing. Personality is consciousness; it consciously works out its own character, and its powers are all collected and resolved in will. Now Scripture teaches us that such a being there is, immediately evil, and living only in and for evil. He is not merely a necessity in things; at any rate this is not the account of his origin; and it would be impossible to believe this without impeaching the infinite character, the unity, and goodness of God. Satan is positive, personal, although not absolute, evil. The response of the Evil One to his Almighty Questioner distinctly expresses —
1. Indifference. Indeed, the attributes of his personality are riveted and closely interlocked together; the one emanates from the other, "going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it." This is the end, the passionless end of Ms character — indifference, the absence of all reality, contempt for all enthusiasm, contempt for all sentiment, studious repression of all that might be divine instinct, or delight in the works of the great God — such is Satan. What Satan is, you may detect in many a character, in many an essay, in which you are reminded how Satan comes among people still, "going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it." See a man who has lost his sense of wonder, who boasts that nothing can take him by surprise, who has been living so fast you cannot overtake him by any sentiments or ideas that are noble — not the delicacy of a flower, not the calm, upheaving grandeur of the mountain, no holy life, no noble book, no spectacle of a stirring and absorbing passion; he goes to and fro in the earth, and sees nothing; his eyeglass sees us much as he sees. Look at that hard man who prides himself on seeing what men are, and using them; priding himself, too, that nobody ever did know him, that nobody ever did read him — he is "going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it." Or the selfish manufacturer or merchant, who simply wrought for his own gains, like a buccaneer or Choctaw, who has prowled over society to find among men cogs for his machine, bricks for his mill, and to whom men anywhere are only as so many stones in the wall. And just as all these are manifestations of personality, so I conceive a vast and extended personality in that amazing conscienceless being, who seems to wrap this world round like a cold and dreadful mist, or withering blight and shade — Satan.
2. There is another attribute, although, certainly, the first is very greatly the result of this second — it is Unbelief. In the instance before us it assumes a shape we often notice now, manifests itself in disbelief in man. "Doth Job serve God for nought?" This, then, is a marked attribute of Satan — disbelief in God too; for to believe in God is not merely to apprehend His being and His absolute power.
3. Another characteristic is brought out as an attribute of Satan in this singular and ancient scene — Cruelty. I cannot but notice how most assuredly there is involved in it the immediate connection of Satan with, and his influence over, material interests and things; lightning and storm, disease and death, are shown here to be certainly related to him. It seems to me eminently reasonable, that in Scripture the universe is represented as governed by life. I know I shall be told of "forces" and "laws," and I reply, I have looked at these things, and attempted a little to apprehend these things, and I believe in them. In any case, as we cannot account for the benevolent and general scheme of nature without one blessed and infinite over-ruling Presence, so it seems impossible to conceive the strangely ruptured condition of things without referring them back to some central agency of evil and sin.
4. Another characteristic feature brought out in the text is Limitation. While evil and Satan exist, they are conditioned by the sovereignty of God; God rules over evil in all its personalities and forms. Satan and the angels alike come into the presence of God. The faith of our fathers, indeed, was, that the devil was on the earth, having great power. It would provoke a smile on some lips to think of the real way in which they were wont to wrestle with the devil. I hear of nobody who places much faith in his power to injure us; we never pray as if he were by us in terrible might. Coldly our prayers ascend to God, as if He were not; and for the great Adversary, it is as if he were really dead. How different was Luther and his great foe, Duke George, for instance. "All the Duke Georges in the universe," said he, "are not equal to a single devil, and I do not fear the devil." The mighty-hearted Luther kept the battle heating in a constant tempest. You have read and know well his Table Talk, his life — that invisible world, how present to him! With Luther it was, then, evidently no sham fight, but a fearful hand-to-hand conflict; and all his praying and speaking most evidently went upon the principle, not only of a real belief in the power of darkness, but of his power also, by hearty prayer and faith in Christ, to rout and scatter it. And I, why do I venture to set before you this doctrine, as I believe it is, of Holy Scripture? Very greatly because I feel that we live in an age which is dangerously loosening its hold of great spiritual personalities. I cannot, indeed, form a very clear conception of attributes, excepting as they are embodied in persons. I can speak of theft, and I can define theft, but I cannot separate it from the action of a person; and I can speak of holiness, and define holiness, but it is nothing to me unless it is embodied in a person. We are in great danger of using fine-sounding epithets about God, and even about man, and losing the sense of personal relation. So to many who even profess and call themselves Christians, God is the sum total of the forces of the universe, the soul is a mode of matter, and Satan is a term for the empirical, partial, and evil drift of things, which in the course of ages may possibly sink into the tidal force of good, and so cease to be the necessity it looks at present. Manifestly the whole consequence of such negations is to annihilate responsibility, and to destroy the cheerful radiant freedom of the human soul everywhere. The personality of Satan stands over against the personality of God; limited, indeed, only permitted, and doomed by His sovereignty. Strangely, indeed, must Scripture have surrendered its intention, if its purpose is not to produce in us hatred and fear towards some tremendous ubiquitous person constantly seeking to have power over us — a malignant will, a power and an element in the universe, in the world, in the human heart — a power not of God, not good, adverse and hateful to God and goodness.
(E. P. Hood.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.