Demons in the Old Testament, Chapter 4
At first glance the Old Testament seems to say very little about demons. But as with all Bible subjects, we must look at the Old Testament in the light of the New. Paul makes it plain that the gods of the pagans were ‘dumb idols’ (I Cor. 12:2; Hab. 2:18). The idols themselves were nothing but blocks of wood, not gods (Isaiah 44:9). But that does not mean that they were nothing at all, or that there was no power involved in idol worship. Only it was demonic, not divine power. Paul says that when someone worships an idol, he is really worshiping a demon, and (therefore) Satan indirectly. On the one hand the biblical writers took a mocking, dismissive view of idols as inert pieces of wood, stone, or metal, “that cannot see or hear or walk” (Rev. 9:20). But they also recognized that behind the idols lurk the demons they represent. When you have a chance, read the wonderfully ironic passage in Isaiah 44:9-20, where the prophet ridicules idol worshippers for making an idol and building a fire out of the same block of wood!
I Cor. 10:14-20: “Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. 18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.”
Paul tells the Galatians, who had been converted from pagan religion, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods” (Gal. 4:8). Not gods, but fallen angels and demons.
In the vision of the fifth trumpet, John says the same thing. “The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshipping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood — idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts” (Rev. 9:20-21).
Old Testament writers had only the barest revelation of ‘second causes.’ By second causes I mean the human and nonhuman agents God uses to carry out His purposes. They knew that God’s “kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19); and that He “does according to His will in the host of heaven” (Dan. 4:35).
Therefore they attributed to God directly acts which were done by agents. We see a revealing example of that in the following scriptures.
In one of the very few references to the Devil in the Old Testament, I Chronicles 21:1 says, “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.” As we saw before it was probably not Satan himself, but one of his demons, that whispered in David’s ear the dangerous idea of taking a census.
However, in II Samuel, the writer, true to the Old Testament tendency to attribute everything to God without reference to second causes, says that the LORD incited David to take a census. “Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go and take a census of Israel and Judah’” (I Sam. 24:1). This was not the first or the last time God used Satan and his servants to do His will. (Acts 2:23; II Cor. 12:7).
I cite these scriptures to show the habit of Old Testament writers to ignore the instruments and agents by which God accomplishes His will, and to attribute almost everything directly to God.
We saw earlier that when the Bible says that Satan does such and such, we can generally understand that he does it through his agents. The same is true of God. Many times we see actions attributed to God, especially in the Old Testament, in which other Bible writers recognize human and angelic or demonic agency.
An outstanding example is found in the giving of the Law to Moses in Exodus. There no agency is recognized except Jehovah. Yet Stephen, in his discourse before the Council, said: “Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him — you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.” (Acts 7:52-53).
The writer of Hebrews, in speaking of the Law of Moses, wrote: “For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him” (Heb. 2:2-3). In other words, God gave the Law to Moses, but He gave it through angels.
I have gone into this at some length because I want you to see that whenever the Old Testament speaks of ‘idols,’ you are permitted read ‘demons.’ Behind every “dumb idol” is a demon, and behind every demon is the entire hierarchy of Satan’s kingdom.
That is why idolatry was such an abomination to Jehovah. It involved trafficking with God’s bitter Enemy and his rebellious, rival kingdom.
The fact that heathen ‘gods’ are demons and evil angels goes a long way in explaining another troubling feature of the Old Testament. It helps us to understand the radical measures God commanded His people to take in their conquest of Canaan. He ordered the Israelites to exterminate the tribes they conquered, often commanding the death of women and children, and even of animals. This would seem blatant, unnecessary cruelty except for the fact that the religions of the Gentiles were Satan worship.
What Christian man or woman has not been distressed and grieved at the thought of killing children and other innocents? Yet we know that the small children were not irrevocably hurt: ‘for their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven...”(Matt. 18:10). We believe that they go directly to heaven when they die. Furthermore had they grown to maturity in that environment, they would inevitably have been implicated in demon worship, with all of its polluting practices. Even the animals were polluted by the abominable practices of pagan worship and sacrifice. Heathen gods were not, and are not today, merely NOTHING. They were and are unclean spirits and evil angels; all idolaters indirectly serve Satan. So in effect there were no innocent among them, except the children.
The Old Testament writers recognized this fact. Speaking of the sacrifices to ‘other gods,’ Moses wrote:
Lev. 17:7: “They shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons, with which they play the harlot...” And again:
Deut. 32:16-17: “They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols. They sacrificed to demons, which are not God — gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear.”
And concerning the horrendous practice of human sacrifice, the Psalmist says:
Psalms 106:36-38: “They worshipped their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons. They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by their blood...”
In another important passage in the Deuteronomy, the presence of demons, though not evident, is implied. Scripture, history, and personal experience of countless Christians indicate that all occult practice involves interaction with demons. By occult practices I refer to all those attempts to gain knowledge and power by supernatural means other than God. These include fortune telling, necromancy (séances or channeling), sorcery, witchcraft, augury (reading signs and omens), voodoo, and a wide range of doubtful practices that are associated with Eastern religion, tribalism, and the New Age Movement. We will look at this subject in depth in another lesson, but for now I will cite the classic passage in Deuteronomy, chapter 18.
Deut. 18:9-14: “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the LORD your God. The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so.”
Observe that the practice of these occult arts is linked with the sacrifice of their children in the fire, and that all who practice them are ‘detestable to the Lord.” The reason such occult practices are abominations to the LORD is that they, like pagan sacrifices, involve looking to demons instead of to God.
No study of demons is complete without considering the ‘princes’ that rule over the demons. For ‘our wrestling’ is not just against demons, but also against ‘principalities and authorities,’ that is, against the entire hierarchy of Satan’s kingdom. Consider the following astonishing passage.
Dan. 10:10-13, 20: “A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 He said, ‘Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.’ And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling. Then he continued, ‘Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.... So he said, ‘Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come.’”
Look at the implications of this amazing scripture. 1) These are clearly Satanic ‘princes’ somehow involved in ruling over different heathen nations (Persia and Greece). 2) God’s angel (probably Gabriel) and the archangel Michael engage in fighting against these Satanic princes. 3) It seems that the resistance of ‘prince of the Persian kingdom’ managed to delay the angel’s answer to Daniel’s prayer—“Since the first day... your words were heard, and I have come in response to them... But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days.” 4) So in addition to our struggle with demons on the earth, we struggle also against the ‘principalities in the heavenlies.’ 5) There is perpetual warfare, invisible and unknown to us, being waged in the unseen realm between the forces of God and the forces of the Devil. 6) These mighty forces of God are moved, influenced, and (perhaps) aided by the prayers and faith of God’s people on earth. Is it possible that our faith and persevering prayer assist our heavenly champions in their struggle?
So we see that the few sparse references to demons in the Old Testament increase considerably when we look more closely, and view the Old Testament in the light of the New. When we read of ‘idols,’ and ‘other gods,’ we are reading about demons and fallen angels.
Chapter 5, Destiny of Demons