What’s the devil’s name?
Posted by Dr. Larry Taylor
In the ancient Near East, a name contained the soul and essence of the being named. As such, the being was not only defined by the name, but fated to fulfill the destiny of the meaning of the name. When the humans named the animals, they were giving them meaning and purpose in God’s creation. Benoni (“son of my pain”) thankfully got his name changed to Benjamin (“son of my right side”). He could have wound up like Ichabod (“the glory has departed”). When Jacob’s name (“heel-catcher,” “trickster”) was changed to Israel (“ruled by God”), and when Saul’s name (“big”) was changed (apparently on his own) to Paul (“small”), significant shifts in destiny were endowed. New life demands a new name.
Evil in scripture is not given the dignity of a name. It is only labeled. Various metaphors are used – the devil, demons, the satan, dragon, serpent, snake, Beelzebub (lord of the flies), prince of darkness, Apollyon (destroyer), Lucifer (light), etc. – but no proper name. Those are all titles; none of them are proper names. Satan is not the devil’s name. It is the transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning adversary, foe, opponent, enemy, destroyer, or accuser. The Hebrew word śāṭān, occurs throughout the Hebrew Bible and refers to both human and celestial enemies. People opposed to God are referred to in the Bible as śāṭān. The word is accompanied by the definite article. It is ha-satan—the accuser—it’s a job description rather than a proper name.
When we accuse, judge, or slander our fellow human beings we are doing the devil’s work.
Far more dangerous and sinister than some red guy with horns, tail, and trident, the śāṭān is an intelligent force of evil actively seeking to destroy God’s creation. Out of chaos, God brought forth order. Heaven and earth overlapped in creation. God walked in the garden with adam (adam means “human”) and eve (eve mean “life”) in the cool of the day. Celestial beings like cherubim and a talking serpent interacted with humans and terrestrial animals. There was no division between an unseen spiritual world and an experiential physical world.
The Bible comes full circle, ending with heaven coming to earth, the two realms unified. The task of the humans was (and is) to push back the chaos outside Eden – to unite the spiritual with the physical across all the earth. The śāṭān sought (and seeks) to pull it all back into chaos. Evil partially succeeded – Cain, the first city built on violence, Babel, antediluvian violence, wars, poverty, oppression, slavery, injustice, misogyny, racism, environmental destruction. The śāṭān is ever seeking to destroy.
But God (what a beautiful phrase – “but God”); but God took on a human body, became incarnate; the eternal Word became flesh. It is Kingdom come. The Kingdom of God came with Jesus, is here now with all under King Jesus’ authority, and will be fully manifest at his appearing. God is at work. God is making all things new. God invites us to join the divine trinitarian dance in making all new, bringing order out of chaos. We are doing so with each child we embrace, each sick or infirmed person we visit, each victim of injustice we defend, each execution and war we oppose, each enemy we forgive, and each plastic bottle we recycle.
Jesus said the road is wide that leads to destruction; the path to life is narrow. Primrose Lane looks attractive. It is the highway of the crowd, the place of popularity and glistening honors. Once on it, however, one eventually finds it is increasingly narrow, oppressive, dehumanizing. On it, life becomes closed in around self.
The road less traveled is unpaved, at times steep, winding, natural and simple in its beauty. Along it, in quiet solitude and stillness, one hears the warble of the wren, sees the gentle fawn grazing, and feels the soft kiss of the breeze as it wafts fragrances. As we continue along it deeper and deeper into the wild and wonderful untamed garden, we discover that it becomes increasingly open, broad, expansive. New worlds of beauty and grace open before us. It leads to a new heaven and a new earth; heaven come to earth, kingdom come, the garden city of God where the gates are never shut and where all are welcome. Along the way, we find our true selves filled with altruistic joy.
My mother insisted on giving my sister and me simple everyday names – Ann and Larry. Near the end of a silent directed retreat as I lay prostrate before the altar, I felt that perhaps God was giving me a new name – יְהוֹחָנָן (Yəhôḥānān), which means YHWH is gracious.
“They’re going to ask me your name,” Moses protested to the divine voice speaking to him from a burning bush. “Tell them my name is I AM – YHWH,” replied the Almighty One.
- י (yud or yod pronounced YOHD or JOD)
- ה (he pronounced HEY)
- ו (vav pronounced VAHD or VAV)
· ה (he pronounced HEY)
YHWH, the unpronounceable tetragrammaton, in Orthodox Jewish tradition, too sacred to even attempt to pronounce. Some scholars believe it to be breath sounds – yohd, hey, vahd, hey – the sound of breathing. In Hebrew and Greek the worlds for “spirit” and “breath” are the same. God breathed into the human and the human became a living soul.
God incarnate. And you shall call his name Jesus – YHWH-SUS – I AM SALVATION.
It is Jesus who breathes into us the new life so necessary to traverse the new path to the new creation. New life. New road. New Kingdom. New heaven. New earth. New creation. All things new. New name.
“… and you shall be called by a new name that YHWH will give you. (Isaiah 62:2b)
But the śāṭān isn’t even dignified with a name.
About Dr. Larry TaylorRadical Anabaptist Jesus Freak Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, husband, father, grandfather
Posted on January 7, 2021, in anabaptist, Bible, Bible Teaching, Christianity, creation, Jesus, Justice, Kingdom Life, kingdom of God, parables, Peace Shalom Hesed, Poetry, social justice, Spirituality, The Cross, Worship. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.