Satan, angels and evil in Jewish thought

So i am starting a study of the Jewish faith and the first markedly different theology to Christianity i find is the belief that God creates evil, that angels do not have free will but are simply messengers of God or extensions of him, like puppets on a string. This extends as far as Satan who simply is an agent of God who has the role of testing humanity with the hope that their faith increases. Must admit this was something of a shock when i first read it. Looking at the Rabbi’s explanations and scriptural evidence they are clearly able to argue their case from scripture eg looking at the role of Satan in the book of Job.

So where does the Christian belief in angels with free will and Satan as chief fallen angel who is in direct opposition to God start to emerge. As he Jews point out the Satan is rarely even mentioned in the Jewish bible but he is all over the place in the New Testament. I would be interested as well in any followers of Judaism who might give their view on why people have an innate sense of evil as something separate from God, if there is no independent force of evil that influences us, no battle in the heavens between good and evil, and God created evil to test us, why is it that man is capable of such depths of depravity.

Christians would usually see two scriptures in the Old Testament as speaking of Satan’s origins:

One is Ezekiel 28:12-19 " Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee." This cannot be talking about the King of Tyrus, because he was not in the garden of Eden.

The second verse is Isaiah 14:12-22, which in part says: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit…”

We believe that Satan is a fallen angel, as especially noted by Jesus, who said that he personally saw Satan fall from heaven. Thus the belief in a rebellion–as also alluded to in Revelation 12:4, where it says that the Dragon fell from heaven and took 1/3rd of the angels with him.

As to God and Satan working in some kind of friendly, communal partnership, Jesus said that God wills for all men to be saved, but St. Peter said that the Devil roams the world seeking souls to devour. The goals of God and Satan directly oppose one another.

The Old Testament is a partial enlightenment, but when Jesus came down from God, he brought us a full enlightenment. I think that Christianity has a fuller revelation, and, not to be disrespectful of Judaism at all, but Jesus brought us a more complete revelation.

Man’s ability to work horrific evil and his ability to work transformative good proceed from the same quality: his superior intellect and ability to cooperate with others.

At the root of evil is man’s selfish desire for bodily good without the proper balance of spiritual good. We are willing to sacrifice our nobility for financial gain, our holiness for pleasure, etc. When we value our body too much, and ignore our souls, we are prone to evil actions and thoughts.

Does this explain Hitler? No, not by itself. Hitler had help (cooperation in evil) and these people used their intellects and political structure to magnify Hitler’s evil across a continent! Each Nazi, each German citizen, each European, each citizen of earth had a role to play, and either contributed to and magnified Hitler’s depravity, or fought against it and ultimately helped destroy it. On the ground, the massive depravity and evil of WW2, or any war really, is just the amalgam of everyday evil: murder, lies, envy, greed, etc.

Does this explain child predators? Yes, but with a change of perspective. Animals rape and/or kill their young all the time. It is a “natural” occurrence. However, our dignity as human beings exceeds the animals, and to behave like them is evil for us! We intuit our dignity, and God’s positive law deep within our hearts, so we are revolted by and rage against child molesters or killers. It isn’t that the crime itself is deeply depraved, but that the victim is so innocent and has so much value, the perpetrator deserves the harshest of punishments: death.

What is the solution?

And the L–d said to Cain, "Why are you annoyed, and why has your countenance fallen? Is it not so that if you improve, it will be forgiven you? If you do not improve, however, at the entrance, sin is lying, and to you is its longing, but you can rule over it."

Genesis 4 (emphasis mine)

Be good. Do the right thing. Don’t live only for your body while ignoring your soul. Love others! Even Cain had the ability to do the right thing, but he chose to murder because he was envious of Abel. There is no blaming an evil demi-god satan or a horde of magical evil demons. When we do wrong, we are to blame.

So what is he Jewish perspective on those passages quoted from Ezekiel and Isiah?

The verses in Isaiah & Ezekiel, in Jewish belief, can be applied to some actual person—the king of Babylon in Isaiah, of Tyre in Ezekiel.

When the scripture says that ‘you were with me in Eden’, one noted Jewish scholar says it means "With much goodness and pleasure. You enjoy yourself as if you were dwelling in Eden, the garden of God.’’
(for reference see chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16126/jewish/Chapter-28.htm#showrashi=true )

I would add that the whole preceding and subsequent context of the verses from Isaiah are about the King of Babylon and even mention him, Nebuchadnezzar, by name (Isaiah 14:4, for example).

In neither Ezekiel nor Isaiah is the name of Satan mentioned nor is Satan discussed or alluded to. In the preceding two chapters of Ezekiel, the town of Tyre and its King, who thought of himself as godlike, are lamented. In Isaiah, there is also explicit mention of the King of Babylon before and after the passage in question. Any interpretation beyond this is imposing on the text of these prophets an overlay that is not justified and, moreover, is interpreting these passages from the perspective of the New Testament, which does mention the name of Satan explicitly as the angel (Lucifer) who revolts against G-d. The latter is not part of Jewish theology. As you noted in the Book of Job, HaSatan is the angel who serves as the tempter, working under G-d’s orders, and in Genesis, it is explicitly noted that G-d alone is the One Who created everything in the universe and within mankind. This potential in humans for both good and evil is ultimately to their own benefit since, due to its presence, they are blessed with the ability to exercise their free will for the purpose of rising above their evil inclination and engaging in loving and morally correct behavior.

But when we talk about overlays that are not justified it leads me to consider, and i acknowledge that this may just be the way i have trained my mind to read scripture, what the purpose and relevance of the text is for people living in later generations. If it just refering to historical characters and events it seems to me to take the Divine away somewhat.

It is one of the things that i struggle with a bit so far with Judaism. It’s like the Jewish take on the Messiah being a human being who will have such great oratory and negotiation skills that he will bring world peace and everyone else will know immediately that this is the Messiah etc. Looking at the way the world is i find this so difficult to actually believe. I find it easier to believe that the Son Of God came down from heaven to bring peace, perhaps in a way that is not expected.

Good point. I would respond that even when the prophets in Scripture talk about contemporary historical figures with no explicit visionary message for future generations, it reveals two things: first, that the divine, that is G-d, works through all humans, and through the Jewish people in particular, to give them the perseverance and courage to resolve and overcome difficult situations here on earth; and second, that the Jewish people have a divine mission in their studying and practicing the moral teachings of G-d and are given the means of reconciling themselves to Him when they err from that mission.

What kind of peace would you say the Son of G-d brought? Surely not external peace among the nations, but perhaps internal peace until the Second Coming? Would you say, however, that most people today have internal peace of mind and soul, much as they believe in the divinity and message of the Son of G-d?

It is tricky and a stretch of the imagination to understand what kind of peace the Messiah brought or will bring. Perhaps what Jesus did do while not bringing peace in the way we generally think of it, was to bring the Father, the God of Israel, to the world.

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