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Engaging the spirits: 
An Adventist's Perspective on Fighting Spiritual Battles

by Yvon Caza

Chapter 2: Satan as an Instrument of our Omnipotent and Sovereign God

The Omnipotence and Sovereignty of God

  God is all powerful. Nothing is impossible to Him and so we can be assured that He accomplishes whatever He purposes:

(Dan 4:17 NIV) ‘The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.’

(Dan 4:25 NIV) You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.

(Dan 4:35 NIV) All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: "What have you done?"

(Ps 135:6 NIV) The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.

Though it is evident that God is omnipotent and sovereign, He is not the author of evil. Evil is only part of His permissive will, subordinate to Him. Throughout most of the Old Testament, God is seen as taking full responsibility for evil. But in the book of Job and in the New Testament, these avoid identifying evil with the direct will of God (Mt 13:28).

Nevertheless, "God uses wickedness: Satan, evil spirits, false prophets, the evil of Joseph’s brothers, Chaldean oppressors, Judas. What the wicked mean for evil, God works for good. God uses the evil of the evil to demonstrate his justice and purify the righteous. He uses the evil of the righteous to demonstrate his mercy and to define the terms of our ongoing spiritual warfare (see Isaiah 53:6; Psalms 51, 103, 131; Eph 4-6; 1 Tim 1:15)."59

The healing of the Gerasene demoniacs (Mk 5:1-20 par Mt 8:28-34 par. Lk 8:26-39) are an example of the working of evil being overruled for good. After the healing, the legion of demons entered a herd of swine which rushed over the cliff to their destruction. Why did this happen?

In causing the destruction of the swine, it was Satan's purpose to turn the people away from the Saviour, and prevent the preaching of the gospel in that region. But this very occurrence roused the whole country as nothing else could have done, and directed attention to Christ. Though the Saviour Himself departed, the men whom He had healed remained as witnesses to His power. Those who had been mediums of the prince of darkness became channels of light, messengers of the Son of God. Men marveled as they listened to the wondrous news. A door was opened to the gospel throughout that region. When Jesus returned to Decapolis, the people flocked about Him, and for three days, not merely the inhabitants of one town, but thousands from all the surrounding region, heard the message of salvation. Even the power of demons is under the control of our Saviour, and the working of evil is overruled for good…

And souls that have been degraded into instruments of Satan are still through the power of Christ transformed into messengers of righteousness, and sent forth by the Son of God to tell what "great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee."60

Satan as God’s Instrument

  The Scriptures provide examples when God permits Satan to afflict Christians externally with adversity. Since God’s sovereignty controls every situation to accomplish His purposes, He causes all such adversity to work for the believer’s good:61

(Rom 8:28 NIV) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

a) Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

(2 Cor 12:7-10 NIV) To keep me from becoming conceited [too elated] because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger [angel] of Satan, to torment [beat, buffet, harass] me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

V.7. The apostle further describes the thorn in his flesh as a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. In the story of Job, Satan is allowed to harass that great hero of faith and endurance, but only within the limits set by God (Job 1-2). In 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18 Paul tells his readers how he longed to revisit them after he was forced to leave Thessalonica (cf. Acts 17:1-10), but could not do so because Satan hindered him. And in the present context Satan is allowed to harass the apostle by means of a thorn in the flesh. It is important to recognize that, in both the Old and New Testaments, Satan has no power other than that allowed him by God. In the Gospels Jesus has complete power over all the forces of darkness. Satan has no power over him (Jn 14:30-31), and demons must obey his will (Mk 1:21-28; 5:1-13). This power Christ gave to his disciples (Mk 6:7). And yet we see in the case of Paul that Satan is allowed to hinder the apostle’s plans and harass him with a thorn in the flesh. However, it must be said that in both cases the actions of Satan, while in themselves bad things, are made to serve God’s purposes. In the first case the hindrance kept Paul on the move and that meant the gospel came to Beroea, Athens and Corinth. In the second case, the harassment served to keep Paul spiritually well-balanced. It was a weight upon his spirit preventing him from being blown away by [conceit] excessive elation [clearly not what Satan had in mind].62

V.8. Noticed that Paul prayed to the Lord, (he did not address the messenger of Satan), for its removal. He did not attempt to bind, rebuke, or cast out this satanic messenger. If he would have been able to remove the thorn by saying, "Messenger of Satan, I bind you," he would have spoiled God’s spiritual plan for his life.63

V.9-10. Instead of removing the thorn, God gave him grace to endure it patiently.64 Paul willingly accepted God’s plan for his life. He knew that God knew what was best for him. "In v. 10 Paul applies the lesson he learnt from the Lord through the experience of the thorn in the flesh to all the various difficulties he experienced in his apostolic mission."65

b) The Sifting of Peter

(Luke 22:31-32 NIV) "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you [plural] as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back [converted], strengthen your brothers."

Satan has no rights here, he has to ask God permission to sift the disciples. All the trials and testing that come to God’s people are only those that the Almighty allows. Satan desires to test them, hoping to bring them to spiritual ruin.

Notice Jesus’ prayer. Christ did not ask that his servant might be freed from trouble. Why? Because the undergoing of difficulty and hardship is essential for strengthening our faith,66 for our purification, for our character development, and for making us fit for service. Notice the assurance of His intercession on Peter’s behalf. He assured Peter that his faith will not completely fail, and after his restoration he is to fortify the faith of the other disciples.

Why does God allow us to be tempted?

The followers of Christ know little of the plots which Satan and his hosts are forming against them. But He who sitteth in the heavens will overrule all these devices for the accomplishment of His deep designs. The Lord permits His people to be subjected to the fiery ordeal of temptation, not because He takes pleasure in their distress and affliction, but because this process is essential to their final victory. He could not, consistently with His own glory, shield them from temptation; for the very object of the trial is to prepare them to resist all the allurements of evil.

Neither wicked men nor devils can hinder the work of God, or shut out His presence from His people, if they will, with subdued, contrite hearts, confess and put away their sins, and in faith claim His promises.67

Why was Satan permitted to tempt and sift Peter? For Peter’s spiritual benefit and for the church’s. "Had Peter earnestly and in humility looked for divine help, had he been searching his own heart in secret, he would not have been sifted when tried."68 Peter had to learn that if he trusted in himself, in the time of trial, defeat was sure to come.69 "Peter fell because he did not know his own frailty."70

But notice that even though Peter failed, sinned, and denied His Lord, God had not abandoned him to spiritual ruin. Satan was only allowed to go so far:

Satan was permitted to tempt the too-confident Peter, as he had been permitted to tempt Job; but when that work was done he had to retire. Had Satan been suffered to have his way, there would have been no hope for Peter. He would have made complete shipwreck of faith. But the enemy dare not go one hairbreadth beyond his appointed sphere. There is no power in the whole satanic force that can disable the soul that trusts, in simple confidence, in the wisdom that comes from God.71

The watch-care of Christ for Peter was the cause of his restoration. Satan could do nothing against the all-powerful intercession of Christ. And the prayer that Christ offered for Peter He offers in behalf of all who are humble and contrite in heart…Peter sinned against light and knowledge, and against great and exalted privileges. It was self-confidence that caused him to fail, and it is this same evil that is now working in human hearts.72

Thank God we are not left alone. This is our safety. Satan can never touch with eternal disaster one whom Christ has prepared for temptation by His previous intercession, for grace is provided in Christ for every soul, and a way of escape has been made, so that no one need fall under the power of the enemy.73

Christ will never abandon those for whom He has died. We may leave Him and be overwhelmed with temptation, but Christ can never turn from one for whom He has paid the ransom of His own life. Could our spiritual vision be quickened, we should see souls bowed under oppression and burdened with grief, pressed as a cart beneath sheaves, and ready to die in discouragement. We should see angels flying quickly to the aid of these tempted ones, forcing back the hosts of evil that encompass them, and placing their feet on the sure foundation. The battles waging between the two armies are as real as those fought by the armies of this world, and on the issue of the spiritual conflict eternal destinies depend.74

As long as we maintain our union with Christ, nothing can separate us from His love,75 even if we sometimes sin. "Thank God, we are not left alone. He who "so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16), will not desert us in the battle with the adversary of God and man… Live in contact with the living Christ, and He will hold you firmly by a hand that will never let go. Know and believe the love that God has to us, and you are secure; that love is a fortress impregnable to all the delusions and assaults of Satan."76

What did God teach Peter through this sifting of Satan? He learnt that he could not stand on his own. He learnt humiliation, tenderness, repentance, a transformation of character which regulated his zeal, making him no longer impetuous, self-confident, and self-exalted, but calm, self-possessed, and teachable, which equipped him for the feeding of the lambs and sheep. "The Savior’s manner of dealing with Peter had a lesson for him and for his brethren. It taught them to meet the transgressor with patience, sympathy, and forgiving love. Although Peter had denied his Lord, the love which Jesus bore him never faltered. Just such love should the undershepherd feel for the sheep and lambs committed to his care. Remembering his own weakness and failure, Peter was to deal with his flock as tenderly as Christ had dealt with him."77 He was made a more useful vessel for God as Christ had told him to strengthen others after his repentance (v.32).

Peter knew the value of the refining process. Notice what he wrote, years later to persecuted believers:

(1 Pet 1:3-7 NIV) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.


c) The Perseverance of Job (Job 1-2)

(Job 1:7-22 NIV) The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the LORD, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it." Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.

But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face."

The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger." Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, "Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Satan came before God in heaven and accused Job of serving God for selfish reasons— for protection and prosperity. If it can be showed that Job’s righteousness is the worst of all sins, then a chasm of alienation stands between Job and God, that cannot be bridged. Then even redemption is unthinkable, for the godliest of people will be shown to be the most ungodly. God’s whole enterprise in creation and redemption will be shown to be radically flawed, and God can only sweep it all away in awful judgment. The accusation, once raised, cannot be removed, not even by destroying the accuser. God accepted the challenge and permitted Satan to afflict Job in taking away his family and possessions, but was prohibited from harming Job himself. Satan was strictly limited within God’s permissive will.

What was the outcome? Notice verses 20-22. Satan intended to break Job’s faith but it didn’t work. Job bowed to the Lord in prayer and worship, accepting God’s sovereign design and purpose, even though he didn’t know why he was suffering.

So Satan challenged God again, accusing Job of remaining faithful to God to protect his health:

(Job 2:1-10 NIV) On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the LORD, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it." Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason." "Skin for skin!" Satan replied. "A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face." The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life." So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

And so God permitted Satan to afflict Job’s health with painful oozing sores all over, but he was not allowed to take Satan’s life. His condition was so deplorable that his wife urged him to curse God, but he refused to do so, even though he did not know why he was suffering. During it all, God never chose to reveal to him what went on behind the scenes.

If he would have known, would he have prayed to "bind Satan" in the name of God? I don’t think so, because he understood that these sufferings, were something that God allowed in his life, even though he did not know the reason. Job’s main focus was in wresting with God because he knew God was sovereign. He didn’t focus on the raiders, thieves, sores, rejection of his wife and relatives.

We too have to suffer. Most often we do not know the reasons why God allows these to come upon us. But through the stories of Job, Peter, Paul, and others, we know that God can use Satanic afflictions to benefit us in a spiritual way. By looking at their examples, we can find comfort, encouragement, and hope. Our attitude should be one of submission for God’s plan in our lives: (1 Pet 4:19 NIV) "So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator."

If the book could be heard as speaking to sufferers in Job’s position (people who are suffering, that is, for no reason they themselves can think of), what it would be saying is: Let Job the patient sufferer [Chapter 1-2] be your model, so long as that is possible for you. But when you cannot bear that any longer, let your grief and anger and impatience direct you towards God [as exemplified by Job in chapters 3-33], for He is ultimately the origin of the suffering, and it is only through encounter with Him that the anguish can be relieved.78

How did these afflictions of Satan benefit Job? He "came away with an increased awareness of God’s greatness and his own sinfulness (40:4-5). He also learned the necessity of submitting to God’s sovereign purposes no matter what the cost might be (42:2-6).79

"From the depths of discouragement and despondency Job rose to the heights of implicit trust in the mercy and the saving power of God. Triumphantly he declared: "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him."80 "When he hath tried me," he said, "I shall come forth as gold." So it came to pass. By his patient endurance he vindicated his own character, and thus the character of Him whose representative he was."81

In the story of Job we see that "God can actually transform evil into good, so that in retrospect it is seen to have actually been good, without diminishing in the least the awful actuality of the evil it was at the time."82

d) Summary

More Scriptural examples could be given (1 Cor 5:5; 1 Tim 1:18-20) but suffice it to say that "God used Satan’s afflicting hand for the spiritual benefit of Job, Paul, and Peter. None of them sought to command, rebuke, or bind Satan. For them, the real issue was not the activity of Satan, but the accomplishment of God’s sovereign purposes. Our attitude should be no different."83 


59 David Powlison, Power Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare, Baker, 1995, p. 58.

60 E. G. White, Desire of Ages, p. 340-341.

61 John MacArthur, Jr., How To Meet the Enemy, 1992, Victor Book, p. 25.

62 C.G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 1987, Eerdmans, p. 205-206.

63 John MacArthur, Jr., How To Meet the Enemy, 1992, Victor Book, p. 29-30.

64 E. G. White, The Present Truth, 01-30-90; In Heavenly Places, p. 82.

65 C.G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 1987, Eerdmans, p. 207.

66 E. G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 175.

67 E. G. White, Great Controversy, p. 528-529.

68 E. G. White, This Day With God, p. 260; see also Sons and Daughters of God, p. 91.

69 E. G. White, Education, p. 88.

70 E. G. White, Sons and Daughters of God, p. 91.

71 E. G. White, My Life Today, p. 316.

72 E. G. White, Sons and Daughters of God, p. 91.

73 E. G. White, That I May Know Him, p. 286; see also OHC p. 311, CC p. 313.

74 E. G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 175; see also Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 118-119.

75 E. G. White, Acts of the Apostles, p. 552-553.

76 E. G. White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 119.

77 E. G. White, Desire of Ages, p. 815, see all of p. 812-815.

78 D. J. A. Clines, New Bible Commentary, Fourth Edition, 1994 Inter-Varsity Press, p. 460.

79 John MacArthur, Jr., How To Meet the Enemy, 1992, Victor Book, p. 28.

80 E. G. White, My Life Today, p. 328.

81 E. G. White, Sons and Daughters of God, p. 95.

82 F. I. Anderson, Job, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, 1976 Inter-Varsity Press, p. 69.

83 John MacArthur, Jr., How To Meet the Enemy, 1992, Victor Book, p. 31.

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