God vs. Satan in Judaism
While Christianity often espouses a concept of a divine God versus a fallen angel called Lucifer or Satan, Judaism has no such concept. No angel, including Satan, in Jewish scripture opposes God. The word “Satan” in the Torah – the Hebrew Bible – literally means “the challenger.” Satan is often seen as an angel sent by God to test human beings’ commitment to his commands. A related concept is the HaSatan – “the hinderer” – a term that represents the soul struggling with whether to do God’s will or yield to sin.
Good and Bad Inclinations
One can understand the relationship between God and Satan in the Torah by thinking of the HaSatan as an adversary embedded by God in the soul of every human being. Almost like a conscience, the adversary is the inclination to do evil. Judaism calls this inclination the “yetzer hara.” Rather than a physical being, such as the Satan of Christianity, the yetzer hara is a metaphor for mankind’s sinful nature. Likewise, Jewish texts teach that there is also an inclination in people to want to do good. This is called the “yetzer hatov,” and it develops as a person matures from childhood to young adulthood.
Biblical References to Satan
While the concept of Satan is typically thought of metaphorically in Judaism, the physical essence of a Satan-like figure does appear once in the Torah. In the Book of Job, Satan is depicted as an angel who tests the righteousness of Job. This man enjoys a life full of riches and success. Satan asks God to let him tempt Job to ascertain the strength of Job’s faith. Job’s children die, he loses all his money and he becomes gravely ill, but still he does not turn his back on God. The Jewish faith interprets this concept of Satan in Job as the temptation to want to forsake God even when Job’s life is turned upside down.
Temptation vs. Original Sin
The Christian concept of original sin – that humans are born sinners in need of God’s salvation – is an alien concept in Judaism. Original sin is linked to Satan because Christians see Satan as the ultimate evil, using sin to destroy God’s creation. On the contrary, Jewish scripture teaches that humans are born with a pure soul. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not mention Satan in physical form – nor does it even use the word “Satan” – in the context of a serpent tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden. Jews interpret this to mean that Adam and Eve’s sin was not obeying God’s commandment to not eat the fruit. Because they gave into the temptation, humans must grapple with yetzer hara.
Gan Eden, Gehinnom and The World to Come
Satan is also often thought of in a Christian context as the guardian of hell, the afterlife for unrepentant sinners. Since Satan is not seen as a physical being in Judaism, this concept of hell does not exist. The Torah mentions two possible options in the afterlife – Gan Eden and the World to Come. Truly faithful Jews will be rewarded with a place in Gan Eden upon their death. Those who have been less than completely righteous go to a place called Gehinnom, a Jewish version of purgatory where the soul is purified. After some time in Gehinnom – but never more than 11 months – the soul may move on to Gan Eden. The souls of truly evil people are destroyed by God, but they are not sent to any sort of “hell.” The World to Come is a term used by Jews to refer to the state of earth after the Messiah appears. As “heaven on earth,” the World to Come is a peaceful and prosperous place for the faithful.
We are told that God came to dwell on the earth as Jesus. Can God dwell on the earth? I found this interesting:
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You; much less this temple that I have erected.”
1 Kings 8:27