Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Did God or Satan Do It?

And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1 KJV)

In your mind, visualize what took place in the above verse between Satan and David. We will probably all agree on who David is; but who or what is “Satan”? Let’s look up the word “Satan” in the dictionary and see what it means:

The devil, adversary of God, and tempter of mankind: sometimes identified with Lucifer.[i]

Are the devil, Lucifer and Satan all the same being? Is this what you had in mind when you read the verse above:

And the devil, the adversary of God and tempter of mankind, stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.

If this was the only reference we had to this event, then the above interpretation would be a good possibility, but there is another reference. A great tool for Bible study is the book A Synoptic Harmony of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles: With Related Passages from Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezra (see Bible Study Aides).  When we look up the above verse in it, we discover that the same event is recorded in 2 Samuel 24:1 –

And again the anger of YAHWEH was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” (KJV)

In 2 Samuel, “YAHWEH moved David,” but in 1 Chronicles, “Satan provoked David.” Who did it -- YAHWEH or Satan?

In the second blog in this series -- Bible Study 101: BHC’s Basic Guidelines for Bible Study – I pointed out that two of the options translators have when working with ancient biblical manuscripts are: 

(1) Translate -- transport the meaning of a word from one language to the other.

(2) Transliterate -- reproduce the symbols (letters) of a word by their equivalent symbols in the language of their translation.

Now. let’s examine the Hebrew text of 1 Chronicles 21:1 --

Hebrew is read from right to left. The first letter is on the right and the vowel sign is below it.
!   !   !   !   !
4 & 3
2 &1


You can now clearly see that the translators chose to transliterate the Hebrew word. When we look up the Hebrew word in A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (page 350 column “b”) (see Bible Study Aides), we find there are two options:

(1) accuser, adversary

(2) the Satan (HASATAN)

In Hebrew, the prefix for the definite article (“the”) is HA. HASATAN would be translated “the accuser” or “the adversary.” However, the Hebrew word in 1 Chronicles is SATAN, not HASATAN. Therefore, we have two options for translating it:

(1) And an accuser stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.

(2) And an adversary stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.

Why did the author(s) of 1 Chronicles decide to use the Hebrew word SATAN, meaning “accuser” or “adversary,” instead of “the anger of YAHWEH”?  One possibility may be that the beliefs had changed. We find examples of later scribes being concerned about “profaning the name YAHWEH” and choosing to not place a word next to it that might profane it. So, rather than risk profaning the name “YAHWEH” by placing “anger” next to it, presenting an image that takes away from the majesty of the name, they used SATAN (accuser) instead. Of course, Hebrew readers would have understood SATAN to simply mean an “accuser” or “adversary” when they read it. The real problem begins when the later English translators chose to transliterate it Satan” instead of translating it.

Why wouldn’t the Hebrew readers have viewed SATAN as being “a reference to “the devil, adversary of God, and tempter of mankind”? In the Hebrew Scriptures, there is no belief about a rebellious fallen angel at war with YAHWEH. Instead, YAHWEH is in complete charge. Any of the heavenly beings, including “the Satan” in the book of Job (one of the sons of ELOHIYM [God]), acts only in accordance with YAHWEH’s will. Dualism was not part of the Hebrew culture or belief system.

Two good online tools to use when you are studying the Bible – and they are FREE – are:

When we look up a verse, the parallel Bibles show the Hebrew or Greek text, along with several different English translations. When we look up 1 Chronicles 21:1 in The Parallel Old Testament, we find that only one translation chose to translate “SATAN” instead of translate it -- Young’s Literal Translation:

And there standeth up an adversary against Israel, and persuadeth David to number Israel.

Young’s Literal Translation gets the award for the best translation of this verse!

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  1. For all of my Bible reading life, I have believed that our current versions of the texts are in many cases very different in meaning from the original texts. I had believed that the differences were intentional and done deliberately to mislead the "devout and faithful" ...but now I can believe it happened many times due to insufficient insight into the Hebrew language and the culture of the days and times.

  2. Anyone who hasn't read bible yet hasn't live really. It is utmost important to know about God and what he teaches to people. His lessons should be taken and he should be accepted in every heart. For this is our ultimate objective - to experience what we already know in this life and create ourselves in the likeness of God.

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