Have you wondered how far Satan can go in affecting us –has God set limits for him? And what purpose does he serve?
Most of what we know about him comes from his descriptive names –and from his notorious deeds. Some of his names are: the father of lies, the accuser, the deceiver, the adversary, the evil one, the enemy, the devil and the tempter. His most noted deeds are: asking Eve if God really meant that she would die after eating the fruit; tempting Jesus three times –in body, soul and spirit; and bringing havoc into Job’s life.
However, it’s this last one –his interactions with Job– that’s most revealing about his dealings with us.
Chapter one tells us that Satan had been bored –wandering the earth with not much to do. So God asked him to consider His servant Job –the greatest man around. Satan replied that it was pointless; God had him well protected.
Then God gave Satan some latitude –he could cause Job harm; but he couldn’t affect his physical body. So foreigners stole his donkeys and oxen and killed the herdsmen. Fire from the sky burned up his sheep and their herdsmen. Other foreigners stole his camels and killed those herdsmen. And a strong wind collapsed the house where his children were partying –killing all ten of them. To make things worse, Job’s wife questioned his reverence toward God –asking him, what was the benefit?
Chapter two says that Satan returned unfulfilled so God gave him even more latitude. But he could not take Job’s life. Satan afflicted Job with painful boils that covered his body –leaving him to sit in ashes while scraping his skin with pieces of broken pottery. There was no relief –and then three friends came to visit.
Through the next twenty-nine chapters, those supposed friends probed his relationship with God –did he have the correct motivations? –the right methods? –the pure heart? And his wife didn’t give up either –with her antagonism. All the while Job was convinced of his own goodness and he argued that God had no grounds for putting him through these troubles.
Although the first two chapters labelled him “no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:8, 2:3), his righteousness was only from an observation of outward behavior. He was like the Pharisees, clean on the outside but filled with greed and wickedness. He wasn’t righteous by God’s standards.
The first few verses of chapter forty-two record his salvation –concluding with Job saying “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You.” (Job 42:5) That chapter continues with God warning the three friends that they better do what Job did. In modern-day terms, he might well have sat in a pew and heard sermons every Sunday; but he didn’t truly know God. He wasn’t saved and neither were his three fellow, arrogant pew-sitters.
Back to my initial questions. Just what are the limits placed on Satan –and what is his function?
The book began with him causing upheavals in the earth with harsh weather and volcanic eruptions –what we call “acts of God.” He used invading armies. He used sickness and death. He used people –good religious friends –and a nagging wife.
I hope you noticed that Satan didn’t decide to do all this on his own. God put him up to it when twice He said “Have you considered my servant Job?” (Job 1:8, 2:3)
And what was the purpose of the immense tragedies in Job’s life –and our own? From Satan’s perspective it was to cause Job, and us, to reject God (Job 1:9-11, 2:4-5). However, God generously and compassionately provides them for our salvation.
It’s in chapter thirty-two that another man, Elihu, spoke to Job and the friends. He corrected them all by recounting everyone’s unrighteousness before God –and he’s the only one that God does not chastise for being wrong.
By following the name meanings in the verse relating Elihu’s lineage (Job 32:2) we’re given a glimpse of Jesus. (Elihu: “He is my God;” Barachel: “God does bless;” Buz: “despised;” and Ram: “to be highly exalted.”) When Jesus was here He spoke incessantly about God and the blessing of eternal life in the kingdom. He was despised by men and yet exalted over all.
It’s as though Elihu presented Jesus’ credentials to show that he was speaking for God. The crux of what he said in chapter thirty-three is “You claim that God doesn’t tell you why you’re experiencing troubles, but He does indeed speak. God gives a person terrors in the night or deadly illnesses to save his soul from the pit” (Job 32:14-22). God removes our worldly security –taking us right up to the precipice of death– for us to realize our need for Him and His gift of eternal life.
Let’s back up to Job 1:9-12, before Job lost his wealth and children. It’s there that Satan said to God, “But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” And in Job 2:3-7, just before Job was covered in boils that Satan said to Him, “However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face.” Wasn’t Satan merely acting as God’s agent to destroy Job’s worldly attachments –to save him?
He’s even working in others’ lives through what appears to be collateral damage. Romans 8:28 says that “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Who causes these things to work together for our good? And how many of them is He using?
So is Satan good? That’s not for us to judge. But he is God’s servant. And referring to angels, He says in Hebrews 1:14, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” They all have that purpose –even Satan is here to lead us to salvation.