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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words


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Śâṭân (שָׂטָן, Strong's #7854), “adversary; Satan.” This word appears 24 times in the Old Testament. Most uses of the term relate to the cosmic struggle in the unseen world between God and the opposing forces of darkness.

In Ps. 38:20, David cried out because he was the target of attack by his “adversaries.” Possibly David suffered because of mistakes he made; and within the permissive will of God, He used David’s enemies to discipline His servant.

In another psalm of distress by an individual, a godly man expressed his deep faith in the Lord. The writer prayed concerning those who were “adversaries” to his soul: “Let them be confounded and consumed that are adversaries to my soul; let them be covered with reproach and dishonor that seek my hurt” (Ps. 71:13). He expressed the reality of the powers of darkness against an individual who sought to live for God.

Imprecatory psalms call for judgment upon one’s enemies, reflecting the battle in the unseen world between darkness and light. David’s enemies became his “adversaries,” but he continued to pray for them (Ps. 109:4). Because those enemies repaid him evil for good and hatred for his love, the king prayed: “Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand” (Ps. 109:6). When they spoke evil against his soul, David called for the Lord’s reward against his “adversaries” (Ps. 109:20), and finally, became David’s accusers had intended him so much harm, he asked that his accusers be clothed with shame and dishonor (Ps. 109:29). In all of these passages, God worked indirectly by permitting individuals to act as “adversaries” of His people.

In another instance, David was merciful with members of Saul’s family who cursed him and wished him harm when he fled from Absalom (2 Sam. 16:5ff.). David restrained his army commanders from killing Saul’s family who had repented of their misdeeds. The king did not want his officers to be his “adversaries” on the day of victory and joy (2 Sam. 19:22).

God can also be the “adversary.” When Balaam went to curse the sons of Israel, God warned him not to do so. When the prophet persisted, God disciplined him: “And God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him” (Num. 22:22). God stood as an “adversary” because no curse could undo the covenants and agreements already made with Israel.

God took up a controversy with Solomon. When Solomon added more and more pagan wives to his harem, God was greatly displeased (Deut. 17:17). But when the king built pagan shrines for his wives, God raised up “adversaries” against him(1 Kings 11:14), a direct action which caused the Edomites and Syrians to revolt against Israel.

Another special instance of intervention was the occasion when “… Satan [literally, “an adversary”] stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel” (1 Chron. 21:1). (No definite article is here in Hebrew and, therefore, “an adversary” is in mind.) In a parallel passage the Lord moved David to number Israel and Judah (2 Sam. 24:1). Even as the Lord stirred up an “adversary” against Solomon, so here God took a direct action to test David to help him learn a vital lesson. God tests believers to help them make the right choices and not depend upon their own human strength.

In the Book of Job, the word śâṭân always has the definite article preceding it (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7), so the term emphasizes Satan’s role as “the adversary.” God permitted Satan to test Job’s faith, and the adversary inflicted the patriarch with many evils and sorrows. Satan was not all-powerful because he indicated that he could not get beyond God’s protection of Job (Job 1:10). He penetrated the “hedge” only with God’s permission and only for specific instances that would demonstrate God’s righteousness. Job became the battleground between the forces of darkness and light. He learned that Satan could be defeated by making the right choices and that God can be glorified in every circumstance. Zechariah recorded a vision of “… Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him” (literally, “be his adversary”; Zech. 3:1). The Lord rebuked “the adversary” (Zech. 3:2). Satan was once again in conflict with God’s purposes and the angels of God, but “the adversary” was not all-powerful and was subject to rebuke by God Himself A general usage of śâṭân (“adversary”) appears in 1 Kings 5:4: “But now the Lord my God hath given me rest on every side, so that there is neither adversary or evil occurrent.” In another instance, David went over to the side of the Philistines; in attempting to fight with them against Israel, some of the Philistine leaders doubted David’s sincerity and felt that he would be “an adversary” in any battle between the two armies (1 Sam. 29:4).

In the Septuagint, the word is diabolos.

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Satan'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. 1940.

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