Hassatan in the Book of Job

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“The book of Job is perhaps the Bible’s most bizarre masterpiece. Readers both ancient and modern cannot help being moved to ask the eternal question, “Is God fair?” a question that brings us right back to the question of theodicy. Job, a faithful and pious man, is tested beyond human endurance. Despite his faithfulness to the LORD, Job suffers unimaginable losses. First, Job is divested of his wealth and livelihood; next, his ten children all die in a freak storm; and finally, he suffers serious health problems that render him incapacitated. Job, a man who is described as “blameless and upright, one who feared the LORD and turned away from evil” ( Job 1:1), is a good, just man and certainly does not deserve such suffering. Perhaps that is why centuries of devout Christians and Jews have turned to Job in times of personal crisis. Not so much for answers (for the reasons for Job’s suffering – or, indeed, suffering in general — is never fully explained in the story) but for comfort. Job’s undeserved pain speaks to the heart of all those who have loved and lost—to the countless souls who have cast questioning eyes to the heavens for answers as to why the just must suffer—and to those who want to hold onto their faith when reason tells them it is all a sham.

Assuming that the book of Job was written after the Exile, somewhere between 530 and 400 B.C.E., it represented a way for a Hebrew dissident to wrestle with the question of whether God had treated Israel justly. Such a question could not be addressed directly — or if someone did, that story did not get by the scribal sentries guarding the contents of the canon. In- stead, the author of Job gave us a hypothetical, a fairy-tale-like story about a legendary character who suffered unjustly. But although the Job of the story was from the land of Uz, and its main character was a kind of Jordanian Abraham, we cannot help but think of him as the Hebrew Every-man, grappling with the question of God’s fairness.

Why are we so preoccupied with the book of Job in a book about Satan? Because the most developed and sustained appearance of the cosmic troublemaker, hassatan (Satan’s direct biblical ancestor) is found in the book of Job.11 And here, hassatan’s role is to test the integrity of a righteous man, to find out what this model of patriarchal piety is really made of.

The action in the story shifts between the earthly realm and God’s heavenly abode; causing misery and creating mayhem, hassatan moves with ease between both spheres. We first meet hassatan at a gathering of the heavenly council: “One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD and Satan [hassatan] also came among them” ( Job 1:6). At first glance, hassatan appears to be simply one more member of the heavenly court, one of “the sons of God,” the divine courtiers assembled in the throne room of the cosmic monarch.

“Where have you come from?” ( Job 1:7), God asks hassatan. Hassatan replies: “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it” ( Job 1:7). Hassatan, it appears, has a special function in the divine government: to audit human virtue. Hassatan does not seem to be stirring up trouble on earth—at least not yet—but merely reporting in to his supervisor.

God’s next question, however, changes the dynamic and launches the subsequent tragedy.

“Have you considered my servant, Job? There is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” ( Job 1:8)

Remember: This is God talking. God invites the Adversary, the cosmic attorney general, to open a file on Job. And God cannot resist bragging about his favored one, his apparent “pet.”

As in many scripts, the villain’s lines are the most memorable: “Does Job fear God for nothing?” hassatan asks God ( Job 1:9). The “fear of God” in the Hebrew sense does not mean that Job is afraid of God; rather, it denotes awe, loyalty, and respect for God. Hassatan assumes Job’s piety is less than heroic. After all, it is easy to love and worship God if one has a charmed life, one abundantly blessed by good fortune. Hassatan’s subsequent rhetorical question goes straight to the heart of the matter: “Does Job fear God for naught,” for nothing, for free? As far as hassatan is concerned, the answer is obviously no. Job fears God because virtue and piety have proved profitable for him. Job’s lavish abundance has not escaped the Trouble- maker’s notice, and so hassatan addresses the LORD:

“Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.” ( Job 1:10)

The term “fence” in the above mentioned text reminds us that Job is the recipient of God’s special protection. Metaphorical “fences” include Job’s family, estate, and social standing, all of which have made him impregnable, protecting his serene patriarchal life from chaos. His life of humane generosity means that he has plenty of capital in the social “favor bank” on which to draw should the need arise. As for Job’s credit with God, consider what Job 1:5 suggests:

[H]e would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of . . . all [his children]; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did.

Every morning Job rises before dawn and performs ritual on behalf of his children. With cultic mortar and pestle, Job mixes good medicine for his children each morning to inoculate them against divine punishment. Job’s credit with the Almighty is so good that his children could draw on it.

Job’s world is safe and protected, his “fences” secure — that is, until the Troublemaker, hassatan, offers a challenge to God to remove those fences, to see what Job is made of behind all that insulation. “But stretch out your hand now and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” ( Job 1:11), hassatan volleys back to God. And so the great game begins. God allows hassatan to remove Job’s fences. But hassatan is prohibited, in the first round at least, from one move: Hassatan is not permitted to harm Job him- self (Job 1:12).

One by one the fences fall: Job’s livestock are stolen by raiders, his herds and field hands are incinerated in a brushfire, his camels and stablehands are lost to a marauding band; finally, unspeakably, Job’s ten children, as- sembled for a family occasion, die in a tornado (Job 1:13–19).

Job’s reaction to the complete ruination of his life reflects the grief customs of his day: He tears his garment, shaves his head, falls to the ground, and affirms God’s sovereignty (Job 1:20–21)19:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” ( Job 1:22)

Job, it seems, had been preparing for this crisis every day of his life. He was truly righteous, he was like a tree planted by the waters and he would not be moved (cf. Ps 1:1–3), not by any loss, no matter how tragic. Job could put it all in perspective, somehow, and stay on the path of righteousness. Hence, Job passed the first test and God won round one of the contest.

There is an interesting connection between Job’s first test and the 2005 film, Constantine. The film, based on the comic book, Hellblazer, features the adventures of a supernatural detective, John Constantine, played by the actor Keanu Reeves. John Constantine acts as a sort of superhero exorcist, ridding the world of nefarious demons who possess unsuspecting humans and threaten world security. Although there are other connections between Satan’s story and Constantine (we explore these in later chapters) one particular connection deserves brief mention. In the film, God and Satan make a wager for the souls of humans and each agree that these souls may be won through influence, rather than through physical contact.

Such a wager is reminiscent of the first agreement between God and hassatan in first round of Job’s testing: “The Lord said to hassatan, ‘Very well, all that he [Job] has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!’”(Job 1:12). In Job’s case, the initial agreement proves to be temporary.

Round two follows the same pattern, but this time hassatan will not be content to leave Job with any fences. God once again boasts, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns ways from evil” (Job 2:3; 1:8). The repetition serves to heighten the tension between God and the Adversary, and the reader cannot help but wince at the fact that God’s victory is at Job’s expense.

God apparently blames hassatan for Job’s reversal of fortune: “He [Job] still persists in his integrity, although you [hassatan] incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason” (Job 2:3c), but careful readers should not buy these goods. It was God who provoked hassatan to consider Job in the first place, and it was God who granted hassatan permission to dismantle the structures of this righteous man’s life.

Unhappy with the loss of the first round, hassatan seeks to score with a knockout in round two:

Then Satan answered the LORD,
“Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives.
But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 2:4–5)

This is the final fence around Job’s soul: his physical flesh, his bones, his skin. And God agrees to these terms, with one important proviso: Hassatan may not take Job’s life (Job 2:6). Reminiscent of the first challenge, the Troublemaker once again departs the heavenly realm and returns to Job’s earthly home (cf. Job 1:12 and 2:2).

Hassatan wastes no time in adding to Job’s misery, inflicting “loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” ( Job 2:7). There is little Job can do to ease his suffering. He sits in an ash pit, scrap- ing his boils with a potsherd (Job 2:8).24 Job, his skin peeling, flayed by hassatan, heroically passes this second test too. The text of Job 2:10 offers the official report: “In all this Job did not sin with his lips,” although the wording of the final phrase (“with his lips”) leaves this doorway into the re- mainder of the book of Job ajar. The rest of the book includes over thirty chapters of anguished conversation in which Job’s three “friends,” Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, assert that, despite Job’s protests of innocence, his suf- fering must be the result of sin. The normally patient and pious Job soon rages against the prevailing wisdom that we somehow get what we deserve, and he challenges God to offer an explanation. In response to Job’s challenge, God makes a dramatic appearance in the whirlwind. God spends three chapters (Job 38–40) reminding Job of the wonders and mysteries of creation, effectively giving a nonanswer to the question Why? on the lips of countless suffering Jobs from the beginning of time.

Most germane for our purposes, however, is that the catalyst for all the early action, hassatan, the prosecutor who went off the deep end and enjoyed his job too much, disappears entirely after the initial scenes. The Adversary does not even return for a curtain call in the final chapter, Job 42, where a new crop of Job’s children, last seen in Job 1 buried under a collapsed house, appear so that easily beguiled readers can go home with a smile.

Although Job 1:1–2:10 reveals the most complete portrait of Satan in the Hebrew Bible, it is clear that this figure is far from the demonic tempter who would later appear in the desert to test the spiritual mettle of Jesus in the Gospels. Hassatan’s function in the Prologue of Job seems merely to administer the tests, to aid the LORD by finding out if mortal virtue is more than skin deep. Hassatan does not act without the LORD’s permission, and must play by the Almighty’s rules. Maybe, maybe there is something more in the perverse energy and brilliance of hassatan’s machinations. This ancestor of Lucifer, the Adversary of Job 1–2, may have only limited powers, may have only a little light, but he is going to let it shine, shine, shine on the innermost depths of a good man. Who could stand up to such scrutiny? Job cannot. Hassatan may disappear from Job early on, but the image of the gleeful zeal with which he has prosecuted will live on in the imaginations of readers, like the grin of the Cheshire Cat.

Of course, the notion of being “tested” or “punished” by God is not an alien concept in the Bible. But what is wholly different in this story of testing and misfortune is that God employs a lieutenant to carry it out. This marks a significant turning point in our exploration of Satan. We now have evidence of the satan figure acting on behalf of the deity, but just one step away from acting alone. For although hassatan in Job is still featured as a member of the heavenly court, he also appears to be a somewhat independent figure, roving the earth, wreaking havoc and disrupting the life of a good and pious man, and daring to make wagers with the Almighty him- self. There is even a certain arrogance and audacity associated with this character — and if God is testing Job, one could just as easily argue that hassatan is testing God.”

– T. J. Wray and Gregory Mobley, The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots

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One response to “Hassatan in the Book of Job

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