A celestial satan as accuser: Zechariah


1.3) A celestial satan as accuser: 

The trial of Joshua the High Priest in the Book of Zechariah


The next appearance of a supernatural satan in the Hebrew Scriptures comes just after the Exile, back in Jerusalem, among the prophecies of Zechariah.

The book begins with a vision, dated very precisely to the middle of February of the year 519 BC.  Zechariah sees the vision, and



converses with an Angel who explains it to him, but it is still rather confusing, like a dream.  It is night-time, and Zechariah sees a man who is both standing among the myrtle trees of the glen and astride a red horse, and behind him are other horses, red, sorrel, and white.  “What are these?” asks Zechariah, and the Angel says, “I will explain.”

But then the man standing in the myrtles speaks, and says:  “They are those whom Yahweh has sent to patrol the World.”  Presumably he is speaking of the riders of the horses, or of charioteers who are pulled by the horses.3  He is saying, in effect, that they have the same function that was being filled by the satan of the Book of Job before making his reports to the Court of Heaven.

The “cavalry” then reports to the man standing among the myrtles, who turns out to be the Angel of Yahweh.  They say, “We have patrolled the earth, and, as you may see, the whole earth is at peace and rest.”  Then the Angel of Yahweh actually addresses Yahweh Himself, as Ruler of the Hosts–the Sabaoth–of Heaven:  “Yahweh Sabaoth, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which you have been angry these seventy years?”  Yahweh then replies with consoling words to the Angel who was speaking with Zechariah, and this Angel passes on to Zechariah the words of Yahweh Sabaoth:  “I feel jealous love for Jerusalem and Zion, but bitter anger against the proud Nations.”  He ends by saying that He will once more make Jerusalem His own (Zech. 1.7-17).

In another vision, Zechariah sees a man set on measuring the boundaries of Jerusalem, and the Angel who is speaking with the prophet comes forward, and another Angel comes out to meet him, with instructions to the man not to measure Jerusalem; there is no need, for Yahweh will be a wall of fire around it (Zech. 2.1-5).



In the next vision, “he”—presumably the prophet’s Angelic interlocutor–shows him the High Priest Joshua in a court of justice, perhaps in the very Court of Heaven, or at the Gate of Heaven.  Joshua stands before the Angel of Yahweh, and at the priest’s right side is the satan, exercising the function of accuser.  But before we hear any accusation from the satan, Zechariah says that “Yahweh” [the text should say, “the Angel of Yahweh”] intervenes, saying to the satan, “May Yahweh rebuke you, O satan!  May Yahweh who has made Jerusalem His own rebuke you!  Is not this man a brand snatched from the fire?” (Zech. 3.1-2).

What follows indicates not so much that the satan’s charges of wrongdoing have been rejected, but rather that they have been admitted and absolved.  Joshua had come to Court dressed in filthy clothes, which indicated that he was in a state of mourning over a national calamity and also that he was confessing guilt and repentance because of it.  The Angel of Yahweh orders his clothes to be removed and replaced with robes of state.  He proclaims, “You see, I have taken your iniquity and guilt away from you.”  He adds, “Thus says Yahweh Sabaoth:  ‘If you will walk in My ways and keep My requirements, then you shall rule My House and have charge of My Courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here” (Zech. 3.3-7).  In other words, Joshua will be able to communicate with the Court of Heaven.  Whether it will involve any further dealings with the satan is not clear.

Back in 1939 Adolphe Lods4 analyzed both the Zechariah satan and the Job satan with an eye to seeing whether they resemble government ministers in any of the surrounding kingdoms or supernatural figures in the Mid-Eastern religions.  He concluded negatively concerning the sort of attorney general or official prosecutor seemingly suggested by Zechariah.  There is no accusing or prosecuting functionary evident in terrestrial or celestial contexts, either elsewhere in



the Hebrew Bible or in any surviving historical or literary religious and political contexts.  Admittedly, in the Zoroastrian world-view, there is a “triage” that takes place after human beings die, in which they are classified as good or bad, but there is no trial or even pronouncement of sentence.  The good simply make it over the bridge to heaven, and the bad tumble down to hell.  Only later does a tribunal of three judges appear.

As for the satan of the Book of Job, however, Lods finds that he resembles a widespread figure in the human governments of the time, namely, the official inspector and informer employed by the central authorities.  For instance, in Egypt, we hear of “the Two Eyes of the King in Upper Egypt” and “the Two Ears of the King in Lower Egypt.”  But it is particularly in the Persian kingdom that the “Eyes and Ears of the King” attracted notice.  Xenophon speaks of these functionaries in his Cyropedia (8.6.16), and Lods surmises that Zechariah applies this concept not only in his earlier vision of the four horsemen, as I suggested above, but also and especially in another vision of Seven Lamps, which are the “Seven Eyes of Yahweh that range through the whole earth” (Zech. 4.10).  We can see a reflection of this in the New Testament as well, in the Lamb of the Apocalypse, who has seven horns and seven eyes, “which are the Seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Rev. 5.6).

Xenophon reported on the Persian system of regional inspectors under Cyrus the Great, who captured Babylon in 539 BC and allowed the Jews to return to Israel in the following year.  But the organization of the inspecting network became especially well developed under Cyrus’s powerful successor, Darius I, who came to power in 522 and died in 486 BC.  Zechariah’s vision of the satan accusing the high priest should not be taken, therefore, as implying a permanent prosecutor but rather the activity of one of the field-inspectors who returns to court to make occasional accusations as his “research” warrants.  This would reflect the situation in Jerusalem early in Darius’s reign, and, if the author of the Prologue to Job was influenced by Darius’s organization of government agents, it follows that he was writing after



Zechariah.  Lods is inclined to date him accordingly, while admitting other possibilities (as noted above, the date of the whole of Job is still much debated).

We remember (see the Introduction) that the chief religion of the Persians was that of Zoroaster, but the government policy was one of religious toleration, and there was never any attempt to impose the Mazdean forms of worship upon conquered peoples, nor has any Biblical scholar or historian made bold to scent a whiff of the evil Angra Mainyu in either of the satans we have been discussing here, Job’s persecutor or Joshua’s accuser.

In the case of Job, we observe that the satan not only reports on earthly matters but also serves as the executor (exécutor or éxecútor) of the approved action.  But it is Yahweh who makes the decisions.  The satan advises extreme measures and Yahweh approves them, even though He is convinced that they constitute uncalled-for harassment of a law-abiding citizen.

Another “Eye of the Heavenly King” who both observes and executes, or at least commands execution, is to be seen in the Book of Daniel, in a section that may come from the Persian period (539-333 B.C.) or from the following period (Early Hellenistic, 333-168 B.C.).  In the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, which he reports to Daniel:  “There was a Watcher, a Holy One, coming down from Heaven,” who ordered the great tree that he saw in his vision to be cut down.  Then the “it” (the tree) becomes a “him” (Nebuchadnezzar himself) in the Watcher’s proclamation:  “Let his mind be changed from that of a human, and let the mind of an animal be given to him.”  The Watcher concludes:  “Such is the sentence proclaimed by the Watchers, the verdict announced by the Holy Ones, so that every living thing may learn that the Most High rules over human sovereignty” (Dan. 4.13-17).  Later Watchers will neglect their duties and be punished, but without being characterized as satans, as we will see in the so-called Inter-testamental Period (chap. 2.1-2).

To sum up, the satan of Job 1-2, the satan of Zechariah 3, the Angelic patrolers of Zechariah 1, and the Watchers of Daniel 4 all seem



to function as Eyes of the King:  They are on the look-out for both good and bad behavior and they report everything back to divine headquarters.  If we may generalize from these data, along with the episode of the Angel of Yahweh of Numbers 22, and include the Troubling Spirit of 1 Sam. 16, and the Lying Spirit of 1 Kings 22, we should be able to come up with a summary for the Department of Angelic Resources, which would run something like this:


Job Description of Official Satans.  Patrol the earth, observe human behavior, test ostensible virtue by varous means.  Be prepared, upon consultation with High Command, to instigate preventative or punitive measures against sinful actions.  Function as accusers in tribunal, and announce verdicts against culprits.


1.3    3In a later vision, in chapter 6, he sees four chariots, pulled by red, black, white, and piebald horses, respectively, and once again, no riders are mentioned; they represent the four winds of Heaven, or have jurisdiction over the four winds of North, East, West and South.  The steeds are ordered to patrol the earth.

                4Adolphe Lods, “Les origines de la figure de satan:  ses fonctions a la cour céleste,” Mélanges syriens offerts a M. René Dussaud, 2 vols. (Paris 1939) 2:649-60.