“Satan” means “adversary,” and it’s the name we use for the devil, the adversary of God and His people. It’s an old name that comes straight from ancient Hebrew, the original Old Testament language.
But Satan isn’t the only one the Bible uses this word for.
In fact, the Bible mentions several satans. Of course, you won’t always see the word “Satan” in English Bibles, because it’s translated “adversary” or something similar.
If you were to look at the ancient scrolls, however, you’d see the word satan used to describe different people, not just the devil.
We do the same thing today. Take the word “joker” for example. We refer to pranksters, jesters, and the cards they appear on as jokers. But “the Joker” is the not-so-serious (and best) Batman villain.
In the same way, the Hebrew word satan is used for several different people and at least one spirit—and it doesn’t always indicate that we’re talking about Satan, the devil. Some of these people will probably surprise you.
So, let’s take a look at all the satans of the Bible.
All the satans of the Bible
Here’s a visual breakdown of all the people the Bible calls a satan in the original Hebrew and Greek.
Remember: satan means “adversary,” or “opponent.” When the Bible uses the word “satan,” it’s not always talking about the devil. I’ve listed more information after the infographic.
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<img src="http://overviewbible.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/satans.infographic.png" alt="Satans in the Bible" />
Here’s a more detailed look at each of the people the Bible calls a satan.
1. The angel of the Lord
Surprised? So was I. One satan is the angel of the Lord, who stops a man named Balaam (Nu 22:22–32).
Balaam is a mercenary minister: he blesses and curses people for money. This business takes a nasty turn when the king of Moab hires him to curse the nation of Israel.
The Lord tells Balaam that Israel is blessed, and that there’s no reversing that, but Balaam takes Moab up on the offer and rides out on his donkey. God is angry with Balaam, so the angel of the Lord stands in Balaam’s way, armed to kill.
You’ve heard this part of the story. The donkey sees the angel. She tries to avoid certain death and save her master. Balaam beats her. The donkey talks. Then Balaam sees the angel, too.
That’s when the angel says, “I have come out as an adversary [Hebrew, satan], because your way was contrary to me.”
First the angel, now David? Thus far, two good guys have been called satan.
David was anointed the next king of Israel, and the current king, Saul, is not OK with that. So David goes into exile and becomes a mercenary for a Philistine king.
But not just any Philistine king—the city-state king of Goliath’s hometown. David has already killed Goliath, and has a reputation as a pro-Israel warrior.
The Philistines are OK with David fighting off other countries. But when the king is getting ready to battle the Israelites, the other Philistines caution him not to take David along.
Their reasoning is pretty solid. “Isn’t this the Hebrew war hero they sing about? And even if he’s in exile, what better way to win back Saul’s trust than to kill us off?”
They feared that David would become an adversary, a satan, to them (1 Sa 29:4).
3–4. Sons of Zeruiah
Fast forward. David’s son Absalom has rebelled and tried to take the throne, but David’s army commander Joab killed him. Now Abishai, Joab’s brother, is encouraging David to execute a man who cursed David.
These are the sons of Zeruiah. They’re mighty allies in battle, but they try to solve most of their problems with bloodshed—and it’s getting to David. So David says to Abishai,
“What have I to do with you, O sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be an adversary to me? Should any man be put to death in Israel today?” (2 Sa 19:22)
You guessed it: the Hebrew word for “adversary” is satan.
5. Hadad the Edomite
Most of us remember Solomon as the super-wise son of David. While Solomon served God, his kingdom was one of peace and prosperity. Solomon had rest on every side, with no satans (1 Ki 5:4).
But his reign doesn’t end so nicely. Solomon’s many wives turn his heart from God. So God turns his blessings of peace away from Solomon by raising up a political enemy (a satan): Hadad (1 Ki 11:14–22).
6. Rezon the son of Eliada
Like Hadad, the marauder Rezon opposes Solomon (1 Ki 11:23–25).
Until now, we’ve met satans, but this is the only one the Hebrew calls “the Satan.”
The Old Testament speaks very little of Satan, but when it does, we see Satan doing two things:
- Tempting humans to rebel against God.
- Accusing rebellious humans before God.
For example, Satan tempts David to number Israel (1 Chronicles 21:1). Zechariah sees a vision of Satan accusing the high priest before the angel of the Lord (Zech 3:1–2).
Satan’s most prominent Old Testament role is in the book of Job. One day there’s an assembly in heaven, and a character called “the Satan” shows up. When God brings up the righteous man Job, Satan pooh-poohs him, saying that if Job is only loyal to God because God is protecting and blessing him.
God then gives Satan the go-ahead to prove his point. Satan ruins Job, killing his children, servants, and taking away his flocks—all just to prove that Job isn’t such a good man after all.
(Full disclosure: this interpretation of Job relies heavily on tradition. It’s entirely possible that “Satan” in the book of Job actually refers to some other spirit who opposes Job. Over time, this character became identified with the Jewish/Christian devil, whom we call “Satan.”)
Satan stays behind the scenes in the Old Testament, but he’s all over the New Testament. When you see the word “Satan” in the New Testament, it’s almost exclusively referring to the evil one … except once.
When Jesus explains to the apostles that he must die, Peter takes the Lord aside and scolds him. “This will never happen to you,” Peter tells Jesus.
Jesus answers strongly: “Get behind me, Satan! You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mt 16:23; Mk 8:33).
Peter’s trying to talk Jesus out of his God-given mission to save all men, and in that moment, he’s an adversary to Jesus.
What does this mean?
It’s one thing to know “Satan” means “adversary,” it’s another to see other concrete examples of adversaries. When I looked these up, I learned a few things that apply to the various satans, and it gives me better context for studying what the Bible says about Satan, angels, and demons in the future.
Also, these are just pretty fun facts to know.