The devil’s ministry contributes to God’s plan by subjecting the heirs of salvation to testing designed by God to purify their faith in him.
The devil is widely regarded as God’s arch-enemy; a supernatural being implacably opposed to the will of God, who leads people astray. This view is supported in scripture. However, there is another side to the devil’s portrayal in scripture. This sees him as entirely subject to God’s control. God uses the devil to accomplish his purposes; making him not only God’s adversary but, more substantially, God’s servant.
One need not be consciously devoted to someone to serve him. God calls Nebuchadnezzar his servant, even though Nebuchadnezzar is an enemy of God that does not know God: “I will send and take all the families of the north, and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land.” (Jeremiah 25:9). “I will hand all your countries over to my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him.” (Jeremiah 27:6-7).
God uses Assyria to serve his purposes without the Assyrians knowing about it: “I am sending Assyria against a godless nation, against a people with whom I am angry. Assyria will plunder them, trampling them like dirt beneath its feet. But the king of Assyria will not understand that he is my tool; his mind does not work that way. His plan is simply to destroy.” (Isaiah 10:5-7).
In the same manner, the devil is a tool in the hands of God. He is not only subject to God, he is used to achieve God’s will.
The subordination of the devil to God is most explicit in the prologue of the book of Job. God hands Job over to the devil by inviting him into Job’s affairs. He extolls Job’s uprightness but the devil contests it, arguing that Job only seems to be upright because God shields him from wrongdoing. Thereby, the devil admits he cannot breach the protective wall God puts around Job.
God then gives the devil permission to afflict Job. However, he sets a limit to this: the devil cannot take Job’s life.
This shows the devil’s subordination to God. It shows he cannot act independently without God’s say-so. Moreover, his affliction of Job was part and parcel of God’s plan and ultimately to Job’s benefit. Although Job initially lost all his wealth and children, the Lord restored them all. “Indeed, the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10).
Job himself acknowledges that his affliction led him into more intimate knowledge of God than ever before. He tells God afterwards: “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. Therefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6).
Jesus says: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8). In effect, God used the affliction of the devil to purify Job’s heart. Thereafter, Job saw clearly “the invisible attributes of God.” (Romans 1:20).
It is the devil who afflicts Job: “Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” (Job 2:7).
Nevertheless, the scriptures lay the responsibility squarely on God’s shoulders, indicating that the devil only does what God prompts him to do: “All (Job’s) brothers, all his sisters, and all those who had been his acquaintances before, came to him and ate food with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversity that the LORD had brought upon him.” (Job 42:11).
Even more significant is the fact that God himself accepts full responsibility for being the cause of Job’s affliction, even though it was the devil he used to bring it about. He says to the devil: “(Job) still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” (Job 2:3).
The idea of God using evil spirits for his purposes is presented in other cases in scripture: “A distressing spirit from the LORD troubled (Saul). (1 Sam 16:14). In the case of Ahab, Micah gives us with a fascinating revelation whereby God sent an evil spirit to confuse his prophets and destroy him.
“I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on his right hand and on his left. And the LORD said, ‘Who will persuade Ahab to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?’ So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’
The LORD said to him, ‘In what way?’ So he said, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And the LORD said, ‘You shall persuade him, and also prevail. Go out and do so.’ Therefore look! The LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the LORD has declared disaster against you.” (1 Kings 22:19-23).
Heirs of Salvation
As a matter of fact, the devil has a God-given demonic ministry with ministers. (2 Corinthians 11:15). Though he opposes God, the devil’s ministry contributes to God’s plan by subjecting the heirs of salvation to testing designed by God to purify their faith in him.
Jesus himself was subjected to this at the instance of the Holy Spirit: “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1). Thus, even as God handed over Job to the devil for testing, so did the Holy Spirit hand over Jesus to the devil for testing. Jesus also told Peter: “Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail.” (Luke 22:31-32).
Jesus then told all his disciples that the devil’s testing is divinely designed to identify those who will be given the crown of life: “The devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10).
God also uses the devil’s testing as a tool of righteousness. This was Paul’s experience who was also handed over to the devil: “One of Satan’s angels was sent to make me suffer terribly, so that I would not feel too proud.” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
In similar fashion, Paul hands over sinners to the devil. He writes to the Corinthians: “You must then hand that man over to Satan. His body will be destroyed, but his spirit will be saved when the Lord Jesus returns.” (1 Corinthians 5:5). He also writes to Timothy: “Two of them are Hymenaeus and Alexander. I have given these men over to the power of Satan, so they will learn not to oppose God.” (1 Timothy 1:20).
In effect, as Habakkuk finally realises, God uses the devil and his evil works for good, disciplinary and corrective purposes: “O LORD, you have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, you have marked them for correction.” (Habakkuk 1:12).