Monday, February 22, 2021

Anonymous Asks (133)

“What are the names of the devil?”

The writers of scripture refer to mankind’s most virulent and determined enemy by a number of names and titles and with many different images. Some of these started as mere descriptions and evolved into proper names, while others originally referred to lesser spiritual beings and came to be used as euphemisms for the devil himself. In some cases it is debatable whether they are really intended to be used as proper names at all.

This list is not exhaustive, but I have tried to include the most common ones and to group similar names and concepts together.

Beelzebub. The words baʿal zᵊḇûḇ are Hebrew for “lord of the fly”. Beelzebub, or Baal-zebub, was the local deity of the Philistine city of Ekron. In 2 Kings 1, a dying King Ahaziah sent messengers to Ekron to inquire of him (presumably through a Philistine priest or medium) about a personal matter. By New Testament times, Jews were using a variant of this name as a euphemism for the devil. The name Beelzebul is used seven times in the first three gospels to describe the “prince of demons”, which can really only refer to one person.

Belial. This is the Hebrew word for “uselessness”, “ruin” or “destruction”. In Deuteronomy the “children of Belial” were men who incited others to serve false gods. Those who are called children of Belial always display a rebellious spirit, the devil’s own trademark. Though bᵊlîyaʿal is used generically of evil or worthless men in the Old Testament, the expression “son of Belial” refers to one who is the personification of evil and rebellion. In the New Testament it appears likely that Belial had evolved into a proper name for the devil himself.

Dragon, Serpent, Leviathan. The book of Revelation refers to a “great dragon” (also “great red dragon”), described as “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world”. The “ancient serpent” reference takes us right back to the Garden of Eden and Genesis 3, making the devil the antagonist of all the scriptures from beginning to end. Isaiah prophesied of a coming day when “the Lord … will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.”

Father of lies. Jesus called the devil “a murderer from the beginning”, and “a liar and the father of lies”. The devil “does not stand in the truth, for there is no truth in him”. We find him manipulating Eve with his lies in the Garden of Eden, and effectively murdering the entire human race.

God of this age, Prince of the power of the air. Paul refers to the devil as the “god of this age” or “god of this world”, depending on your translation. The idea is that the devil is the most prominent influence on the thinking of men in their natural state. He deceives not just individuals but sways entire cultures and blinds them to the truth. The philosophies, speculations and false religions of the world are all the product of his lies and manipulations. The systems of our world are under his power, though the men who head them are often completely unaware they are his pawns. In Ephesians the apostle calls him the “prince of the power of the air”, the spirit which secretly (and sometimes non-so-secretly) directs men who disobey God, but also gives orders to those in the spiritual realm who do his bidding.

Lucifer. Used commonly by the church fathers, “Lucifer” is a Latinization of the Hebrew word hêlēl. It comes from the word hālal, or “brilliant”, and is translated “light-bearer”. Isaiah calls the king of Babylon the “day star”, “morning star” or “son of the morning”, and readers of scripture have for generations understood the prophet’s exaggerated description of a fallen human authority as cryptically revealing for us the origin story of the devil himself. Ezekiel does something similar in his prophecy against the king of Tyre. The name Light-bearer calls us back to the devil’s beginnings as the most glorious of God’s creations (“You were in Eden, the garden of God” and “You were an anointed guardian cherub” cannot possibly refer to the king of Tyre). The devil still has the ability to conceal his presence and true motives from men with this aspect of his persona. The apostle Paul writes that he “disguises himself as an angel of light”.

Perdition, Abaddon, Apollyon. The Greek apōleia means “ruin” or “loss”, usually in perpetuity, and is related to the word apollyon, or “destroyer”, which is the name of the angel of the bottomless pit in Revelation. (In Hebrew the same person is called Abaddon.) In his prayers, Jesus referred euphemistically to Judas as the “son of perdition” or “son of destruction”. The apostle Paul refers to another coming “son of perdition” called the man of lawlessness. The thought is that both Judas and the future leader of the world were and will not just be characterized by their destructive acts but are willing agents of a destructive person, the devil himself.

Satan, Devil, Accuser, Adversary, Enemy. The Hebrew śāṭān means “adversary”. We find it used first in the book of Job, where the “sons of God” come to present themselves before the Lord, and an “adversary” or “accuser” is among them. It is not clear in Job whether this is a proper name or simply a description of the devil, but he shows his true colors immediately by trying to incite God against Job. In 1 Chronicles 21, he “stood against Israel”. Later, in the book of Zechariah, he appears at the right hand of the angel of the Lord to make accusations against the Israelite high priest. In Matthew, the devil is the enemy who sowed weeds among the wheat. In Revelation he is called “the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them day and night before our God”. The Greek word diabolos means “slanderer” or “false accuser”, and is translated “devil”, the New Testament equivalent for Satan.

And that is certainly enough for one day on that subject!

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