Balaam & The Adversary
The first mention of Satan in the Bible is in Numbers 22:22 in Balaam's encounter with an Angel of the Lord. We contend that "Satan" here was then a good Angel of the Lord, and had not yet fallen, which did not take place until either Ezekiel's day or when Jesus saw him falling from heaven like lightning in the 1st Century AD.
To understand this first usage of Satan in Numbers 22, we must get out of our minds the misconception that Satan was the Serpent of Genesis. The text never said this was Satan in the guise of a serpent, either in Genesis or the NT.
The earliest mention of Satan outside Numbers 22:22 is in Job where an Angel of the Lord called Satan (the Adversary) comes to heaven to talk with God along with other angels. Satan had not yet fallen. Thus, we should not equate Satan with inveterate evil until the moment of his fall from heaven. In Job, Satan merely presents tests upon Job to strain his health and happiness to prove to God that Job is not worthy of God's admiration. Satan is not yet tempting Job with evil.
Hence, Satan's name Adversary was an appropriate role that God gave Satan -- the Adversary not of God but of evil or hypocrisy which is Satan's charge against Job in Job 1. Satan claimed that Job only obeyed God because of the benefits of good health and wealth that Job enjoyed. God allowed Satan to then test Job, limiting that the suffering could not be unto death. And Job passed the test that God approved. Thus, the book of Job -- written by Moses according to the tradition of Judaism -- depicts Satan as a true Angel of the Lord whose role as Satan did not mean this angel had yet fallen from heaven. This was yet to come.
Hence, Satan began not as God's adversary, but the adversary of evil. It is in Ezekiel that Satan is said to have fallen. Either as a prophecy or a depiction of a past event. With that in mind, let us now study Numbers 22:22.
Balaam's Encounter with Satan
Who did Balaam meet on the road in Numbers 22:22? Was it the angel Satan, the Adversary himself or a Holy Angel of God, or are both depictions simultaneously true -- Satan was then an Angel of God who had not yet fallen?
If we did not know any of the context, and make assumptions, we would think it was Satan whom Balaam met. And Satan could still not yet have fallen, and thus he would have been still a Holy Angel of God, as we will explore.
In Numbers 22:22, Moses speaks about the "Angel of the Lord" who blocks Balaam. In Hebrew, this being is described as "Satan" -- as an adversary. Indeed, Satan is technically an "angel of the Lord," and perhaps we simply have assumed this is not Satan because we are crossing what we know about Satan later with the fact we believe this is a God-fearing angel in Numbers 22:22. Here is what Wikipedia explains in its article "Satan""
It is also used in Balaam's story in Numbers 22. The Angel of the LORD is identified as an adversary or a physical block to Balaam's journey in Numbers 22:22. Later in Numbers 22:32, the Angel of the LORD specifically identifies himself by claiming to be like an adversary, again using the term satan. ("Satan," Wikipedia)
Thus, twice this angel is identified as SATAN -- verse 22 and verse 32 of Numbers 22.
Let's read Numbers 22:22 carefully:
But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary (satan). Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him.
The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible translates this somewhat differently: "the angel of the Lord took his stand as an adversary (satan) against him." (Abegg, Flint & Ulrich, at 180.)
The Jewish Encyclopedia says "in Num. xxii. 32, where the angel of God is described as opposing Balaam in the guise of a satan or adversary;...."
We must also remember Satan is depicted in Job -- also written by Moses (FYI) -- as an angel of the Lord. In Job 1:6 KJV, we read:
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.
In an article "Satan in the Old Testament and early Jewish Apocryphal writings," it explains that it is not extraordinary at this point in the Bible that this angel in Numbers 22:22 is actually Satan / the Adversary. He is depicted contemporaneously as serving God in heaven -- trying to find fault with Job (claiming Job was a hypocrite who only loved God while times were good) and later preventing the disobedient off-course efforts by Balaam.
The name Satan is derived from a root meaning ‘to oppose’ or ‘to be or to act as an adversary.’
In some cases, he is not necessarily malevolent and he may have even been sent by the Lord to prevent worse harm (such as in Numbers). Examples of passages using this early interpretation include:
"But God was incensed at his going; so an angel of the LORD placed himself in his was as an adversary [Hebrew: satan]" - Numbers 22:22
"He shall not march down with us to the battle, or else he may become an adversary [Heb: satan] in battle." - 1 Samuel 29:4
"Appoint a wicked man over him; may an accuser [Heb: satan] stand at his right side. - Psalm 109:6
The article continues, and describes the account involving Job as again not signifying any fall from heaven yet or that Satan (Heb. "Adversary") had yet fallen into terrible evil:
In this passage, the Satan is the servant of God, whose job is not only to accuse man, but he also urges God to test Job. He does nothing without the permission of God. He appears along with the other ‘ben Elohim’ (sons of God) implying that he is one of the angel-ministers of Yahweh. Also, this passage shows that while he acts in accordance with God’s permission, he seems as if he would be pleased if he could prove that Job wasn’t as loyal to God as God claimed. Despite this, he remains an angel.
(To repeat, Numbers 22:22 is the first mention of Satan in the Bible; it is not in the account of the serpent in Genesis. Note even Paul recognizes it was the "serpent," not Satan, who deceived Eve in Genesis. See 2 Cor. 11:3-4.)
We must remember by Jewish tradition that Moses wrote the book of Job as well as Numbers. Hence, Moses had a perception of Satan as an angel with access to heaven and still willing to serve God at this juncture of the book of Job. (Only in Ezekiel much later does the Bible note a prideful envy of Satan -- which is either a prophecy or a depiction of a future state of Satan.)
Hence, in Numbers 22:22, when Moses writes that an angel of the Lord is the Satan to Balaam, this would fulfill the role so far given by God to Satan in Job -- his role was to accuse and find fault. Such a role is not necessarily a bad thing. All the word Satan means is "Adversary," which can be either for good or bad. An Adversary of evil is good, and and Adversary of good is evil.
Thus Satan standing as an Adversary (Satan) against Job's alleged hypocrisy / vacillation or against Balaam's misdirection was not necessarily a role God would think evil. There in fact is no evil in the testing of Job. God specifically authorized Satan's actions, thus rendering them lawful.
The Context of Numbers 22
Prior to the reference to Satan, the verse says God was angry. Hence, the "Angel of the Lord" as a Satan stopped Balaam, evidently to express God's anger.
Why did this happen? Balaam outwardly was obeying indeed the command of God to go on the route he was on. But inwardly, Balaam must have changed his mind, and no longer planned to follow God's command to bless the Israelites. This Satan accused Balaam of intending "evil." He says "your way is evil." Numbers 22:32. Again, this is an accusation, and differs little from Satan's role with Job, who accused Job to God as a hypocrite, insincere or not steadfast -- loving God only while times were good. There is nothing inherently evil in making an accusation against Job or Balaam in either event. Thus, the Satan as revealed to this point in the Bible has not yet fallen into outright rebellion.
How Commentators Address The Angel Is Depicted as Satan
The Forerunner commentary is aware that the Angel in Numbers is described as a SATAN - an Adversary. However, Forerunner here tries to imply this Angel's behavior was to be adverse, and not designate him as the Satan whom most interpet is depicted in Ezekiel as an angel in the process of falling:.
He was so angry that He came out against him, to stand in his way. Maybe the most intriguing detail here is that the word adversary is, in Hebrew, satan, which means generally "adversary, enemy, foe." God came out against Balaam the same way that Satan comes out against us, when God allows him to do so. God set Himself up as Balaam's enemy. ("Adversary, Numbers 22:22," Forerunner Commentary.)
But could it instead be that Satan -- still a good Angel -- was aware of God's anger and thus went to stop Balaam who was secretly planning to thwart God's plan that he (Balaam) arrive to bless Israel as God commanded.
Paul & Balaam
Why is this question so interesting to resolve? Because the evidence stacks up there is a parallel between Paul and Balaam. See Balaam & Paul.
And the evidence supports believing that the "bright light" appearance of someone in the Damascus Wilderness who appeared to Paul was indeed Lucifer (light bearer) aka the Adversary, and not Jesus. (For Lucifer meaning an angel of bright shining light, see our "Satan as the Angel of Blinding Light.") For Jesus told the apostles that when He Himself returns all eyes on earth would see Him, so don't believe anyone who appears privately in the wilderness and comes in His name ("I am Jesus"). 'It won't truly be me," Jesus in effect said. (Matt 24:4-5; 24-27). That warning specifically matches Paul's experience. (For complete discussion, see our "Who Did Paul Meet in the Wilderness?")
So it is interesting to then go back and examine whether Balaam was stopped by Satan - the Hebrew word for the Adversary -- who then was still serving God. The Bible says Balaam was stopped by SATAN on that road. Are commentators truly correct that this is not the Angel we know as Satan merely because he was serving God in stopping Balaam on the road? If it was indeed Satan -- a young and not fallen Satan, then the parallel between the experiences of both Paul and Balaam on a wilderness road increases.
Interestingly, Balaam is a seer-for-hire whom is a non-Israelite:
He is a professional travelling seer, and a non-Israelite at that. (Oxford Bible Commentary at 126.)
The Serpent Was Not Satan or His Voice
Contrary to our childhood assumptions, the serpent in the Garden of Eden is never described in the Bible as Satan. In fact, it is demonstrably untrue that the serpent was either Satan or Satan spoke through the serpent. This is important because we are identifying the Angel Satan as being identified over time as a good angel whose rebellion causes him later to lose his access to heaven -- at least by the time Jesus says He sees "Satan" falling from heaven.The Bible says in Gen 3:14:
"And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:"
As you can see, the Serpent is cursed for his trickery and has to crawl on its belly forever and "eat dust."
So it is the sin of this animal which evidently was shaped differently at that time than how we know serpents today. God decreed he be changed into the shape of a serpent of which we are now all familiar. Hence, the act and the punishment were for a being known as the Serpent. Satan had a very different appearance -- a beguiling one of brilliant light, we learn in Ezekiel. It was through that light he could charm and beguile.
If, on the other hand, Satan were the serpent, then God punished him to be a snake. So it would be inconsistent to later depict Satan as an angel of brilliant light in Isaiah.
Moreover, if God condemned Satan to walk legless, then the following makes no sense in Job 1:7:
"And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it."
Hard to walk with no legs!
So who is the "seed of the serpent" in Gen 3:15 with whom enmity will arise between the "seed of the woman" (Jesus, as we interpret)? The serpent's seed was those it continued to deceive, and this must have included Satan. But this means the serpent is not necessarily Satan. His seed includes Satan, but the serpent himself is not Satan.
Now let's look at Ezekiel 28, because it will talk to the King of Tyre, but he is a figure for Satan, most believe:
The word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“‘You were the seal of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden,
the garden of God;
every precious stone adorned you:
carnelian, chrysolite and emerald,
topaz, onyx and jasper,
lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.[b]
Your settings and mountings[c] were made of gold;
on the day you were created they were prepared.
14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.
15 You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you.
16 Through your widespread trade
you were filled with violence,
and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones.
17 Your heart became proud
on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
I made a spectacle of you before kings.
18 By your many sins and dishonest trade
you have desecrated your sanctuaries.
So I made a fire come out from you,
and it consumed you,
and I reduced you to ashes on the ground
in the sight of all who were watching.
19 All the nations who knew you
are appalled at you;
you have come to a horrible end
and will be no more.’”
But you see this is a prophecy -- and the time of the driving Satan to the earth -- verse 17 -- is spoken about by Jesus as happening during His ministry. Satan, the Adversary, was doing His job, and perfectly so for a very long time.
The reason Satan could earlier try to tempt Jesus in the wilderness was again according to a God-given role to test one's steadfastness toward God. His role was as adversary to evil, before pride would cause Satan to fall as the prophecy of Ezekiel demonstrates. And thus when Satan served God, God had given Satan the kingdoms of the world to rule over, and that is why Jesus knew Satan could deliver to Jesus the kingdoms of the world. Satan's price? That Jesus should worship Satan as, in effect, the god of this world, as Paul calls Satan. This Jesus refused, and thus was denied the kingdoms of the world by Satan. Jesus like Job passed the test of Satan. This served God's purpose of testing as much as Satan's role served in Job's testing.
Then Jesus depicts Satan falling from heaven during Jesus' ministry. "Satan is cast out."
Hence, we should exclude any notion that Satan was an enemy of God until a very long time after Balaam's encounter. Jesus says this definitively happened at least by the time of His ministry on earth. Hence, we should not be surprised that both Balaam and Paul saw the same Satan figure -- one prior to his fall from grace (Balaam) and the other after that fall from grace.