"O L-RD, Who are my power and my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble, to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail! Can a man make gods for himself, and they are no gods? 'Therefore, behold I let them know; at this time I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is the L-RD".
Jeremiah 16:19-21
Question 

When you were in Buffalo, NY in November of  ’96, during the extended question and answer time, you were asked your view on angels and specifically about Satan.  I was astounded at your answer and was more astounded that the other rabbis present did not step into the discussion.

In your explanation of Satan and other fallen angels you attributed the creation of evil to G-d thus making Him responsible for evil.  There are at least 87 references to G-d’s holiness in Leviticus alone!  In 11:44 G-d says, “I AM HOLY.”  Is not holiness the absence of sin?  There are many scriptures to prove that G-d hates sin (evil), that He cannot tolerate evil in His presence.  How, then, can you attribute evil to G-d?  I am interested in the Biblical support for your statement.

I have a fair understanding of Judaism and have found nothing in all of my reading to support your view as traditional.

Awaiting your reply.

A seeker after truth

Answer:

The rabbis to whom you made reference have spent their entire lives immersed in the study of the Jewish scriptures as well as other sacred Jewish literature and were, therefore, not “astounded” by the Judaism that was taught in Buffalo that evening, as you were.

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.

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.

I did not invent these verses, nor did I tamper with them.  In fact, the Bible I used in the above quotations is the King James Version, which is a translation that could hardly be construed as friendly to the Jewish faith.

These edifying verses underscore the fundamental biblical teaching that it is the perfect spiritual balance of good and evil in the world that confronts every searching soul.  This is the Almighty’s divine sovereign plan for creation: It is through man’s personal decision to turn away from evil and choose good that virtue can be attained.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.  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.

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?  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?

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,

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.”

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.

Yours,

Rabbi Tovia Singer

 

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