Servants of Satan
In this we will uncover a completely different source of curses: servants of Satan.
Attitudes towards Satan among Christians vary between two extremes. Some ignore Satan totally, and try to act as if he is not real. Others are afraid of him and give him far more attention than he deserves. Between those two extremes there is a scriptural balance.
Satan is a created being, a rebellious angel, who was cast out of God's heaven. He rules over a spiritual kingdom of evil, rebellious angels, together with lesser evil spirits, who are called "demons".
The name Satan means "adversary" or "opposer". He is the unchanging, implacable enemy of God Himself and of the people and the purposes of God. His aim is to bring the whole human race under his control. His primary tactic is deception, of which he is a master. In Revelation 12:9 he is described as: the great dragon .. . that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world.
Satan already exercises dominion over the great majority of mankind - all those who are in an attitude of rebellion against God. In Ephesians 2:2 he is described as "the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience". Most of these have no clear picture of their real condition. They are simply driven to and fro by forces which they do not understand and cannot control.
There are those among them, however, who have deliberately opened themselves up to Satan, even though they may not be aware of his true identity. In pursuit of power and material gain, they systematically cultivate the exercise of the supernatural forces Satan has released to them. Such servants of Satan are recognised in almost all cultures and have been given a variety of different titles: witch doctor, medicine man, mchawi, shaman, tohanga, wizard, witch, priest or priestess of Satan, and so on. In almost all tribal cultures throughout the world there is a special name for this kind of person.
Jesus Himself is our main source of information concerning Satan. When He sent out seventy disciples to prepare the way before Him, they returned with joy, saying:
"Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name."
To this Jesus responded: "Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you." (Luke 10:17-19)
Jesus did not deny that Satan was real, or that he had power. But He promised His disciples that the authority He conferred upon them would make them victorious over Satan's power and would protect them against all his attempts to harm them. It is important for all of the Lord's servants to recognise the authority He has given them, and to learn to exercise it effectively.
Curses are one of the main weapons that servants of Satan use against the people of God. This is vividly illustrated by the story of Balak and Balaam in Numbers 22-24. Balak was king of the territory of Moab, on the east of the Jordan.
On their journey from Egypt to Canaan, Israel had encamped on the border of Moab. Balak felt his kingdom was threatened, but he lacked the strength or the courage to launch an open attack on Israel. Instead, he hired Balaam to pronounce curses on them, in the hope that Israel would thus be weakened to the point where Moab could defeat them. Balaam was a "witch doctor", famous throughout the whole region, who commanded a high fee for his services.
Many Christians today would dismiss all this as "superstitious nonsense", devoid of any real power. God's reaction, however, was entirely different. He viewed the curses that Balaam might pronounce as a serious threat to Israel. Consequently, He intervened supernaturally and warned Balaam not to accept the assignment. But Balaam was eager for the wealth which Balak had promised him, and so went ahead with the intention of doing what Balak had asked. In due course, however, each time Balaam tried to pronounce curses on Israel, God again intervened and changed the proposed curses into blessings! Subsequently, in Deuteronomy 23:5, Moses reminded Israel of this incident as evidence of God's love for them:
"Nevertheless the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam, but the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you.
One important fact needs to be emphasised: God did not view Balaam's proposed curses against Israel as empty words that had no power. He regarded them as a serious threat to Israel, and for this reason He intervened personally to frustrate Balaam's intention.
Time has not changed God's viewpoint. He does not ignore or belittle curses directed against His people by servants of Satan. On the contrary, as Jesus said, God recognises the power of Satan, but equips His own servants with superior power.
The Bible presents various pictures of the activities of Satan's servants. These serve to warn God's servants, against whom these satanic activities are often directed. In Ezekiel 13:17-20, for example, God condemns certain false prophetesses, or sorceresses:
"Likewise, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own heart; prophesy against them, "and say, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the women who sew magic charms on their sleeves and make veils for the heads of people of every height to hunt souls! Will you hunt the souls of My people, and keep yourselves alive? And will you profane Me among My people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, killing people who should not die, and keeping people alive who should not live, by your lying to My people who listen to lies? 'Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against your magic charms by which you hunt souls there like birds
Some of the details are not clear, but it seems that these women played the typical role of a witch doctor. Anyone who had a quarrel with some other person would hire them to use their magic arts against that person. One of their methods was to attach magic charms to people's clothing. In this way, they "hunted souls" and actually killed innocent persons. In return, they were paid in handfuls of barley or pieces of bread. This is not some far-fetched accusation reminiscent of the Middle Ages. It is a charge brought against these women by God Himself. Furthermore, servants of Satan have used similar methods for the same purposes all through the centuries and still continue to use them today.
In 1979-80, in the city of Bath in the west of England, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a temple of the goddess Minerva dating back to the Roman period. The priests in this temple had a similar ministry to that of the sorceresses in Ezekiel's day. People seeking revenge on someone would employ the priests to write out an appropriate curse against that person.
The writing of the curse required special skills possessed only by the priests. Once the curse had been written, some kind of magic ceremony was used to direct it against the person who was its target. For all this, of course, the priests received appropriate payment. Also, the worshippers would cast their votive offerings for the goddess into the spring associated with the temple.
This way of using curses and magical arts is still a familiar part of daily life among the majority of the wo4d's peoples, particularly in Asia, Africa, Oceania and Central and South America. The following account comes from a missionary friend of mine who has lived his whole life in Zambia, in central Africa, and is intimately acquainted with the languages and the customs of the people there.
At a General Conference of Christians in our rural district of Zambia, the Holy Spirit had spoken a strong prophetic word calling for holiness in the Church. Many Christians were convicted of sin in their lives and had truly repented, confessing their sin and pleading for God's forgiveness.
After the service, an elder from one of our remote village churches came to the preacher in tears, trembling all over, confessing to the terrible sin of murder through witchcraft.
The elder told him that for some years he had been fighting with his fellow elder in the church, who was senior to him. The situation had got so bad that he had decided to punish him by going to a local witch doctor and paying him to curse this other elder. The witch doctor had been happy to do so, especially as he knew that these men were supposed to be Christians. He asked for a large down payment, and then told the man to come back the following day.
When he returned, the elder found the witch doctor sitting under a tree with a mirror in his hand and a bowl of witchcraft medicine on the ground before him. The witch doctor then proceeded to sponge the medicine all over the mirror, and asked the elder to look carefully at the mirror and tell him what he could see.
Startled, the elder saw the face of his fellow elder quite clearly. Whereupon the witch doctor took a razor blade and cut across the throat of the face reflected in the mirror. Immediately the mirror was covered in blood. The elder cried out, "You have killed him! I only asked you to curse him." The witch doctor replied with a chuckle, "I thought I would do the job properly whilst I was at it!"
The elder hurried home. To his horror he learned that his fellow elder was indeed dead, having died mysteriously of a sudden haemorrhage. The elder was terrified of the consequences of his action, so he had kept quiet about it. Now the Holy Spirit had powerfully convicted him of his sin.
Fortunately for him, "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." Through confession, repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, the man was not only brought to forgiveness and peace with God, but to the reality of the new birth.
Some Western readers might be disposed to dismiss all of this as primitive, superstitious practices from "darkest Africa". But the truth is that even in the so-called more highly civilised nations, occult practices, which had been on the decline, are once again making tremendous inroads. In West Germany, for example, many businessmen, who would never seek counsel from a Christian minister, make a regular practice of consulting a fortune-teller concerning their business deals.
In the mid-I 980s a leader of the Satanic Church in America was interviewed on television. He was asked if it is true that Satanists practise human sacrifice. He replied: "We perform human sacrifices by proxy, you might say - the destruction of human beings who would, let's say, create an antagonistic situation towards us - in the form of curses and hexes'." This was not a charge brought against him by some hostile critic; it was an admission he made freely of his own accord. In Israel, under the law of Moses, this would have been punishable by death. In our contemporary culture, however, occult practices are not a crime, and there is no penalty attached to them, even if they are used to kill people.
The statement of the Satanist quoted above reveals their use of curses and hexes to kill people, but it by no means absolves them from the charge of performing human sacrifices. Gruesome evidence to the contrary is contained in the following report from the New York Times, which ran April 12, 1989, dateline Matamoros, Mexico:
On Tuesday,. . . officials [Mexican and U.S.] found the bodies of 12 people, including a 21-year-old University of Texas student who had vanished here a month ago, in eight crude graves on [a remote ranch near the U.S]. border. Today, at news conferences here and in Brownsville, Tex., the officials said that a drug gang, seeing human sacrifice as "a magical shield" that would protect it from the police, was responsible for the murders... Among the suspects still at large is an accused drug smuggler identified as Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo, a native of Cuba, whom the others call El Padrino - the godfather. The police said he ordered the ritual murders, pointing out young men at random on city streets for his followers to abduct, then murder and mutilate on the ranch. The officials described the murders as a twisted blend of sacrificial and black magic practices from Haiti, Cuba and Jamaica. ...
There have also been reports from various places in the United States of the sacrifice of infants and small children, carried out by Satanists as part of their rituals. The primary targets of satanic curses and other occult weapons are the servants of God and Jesus Christ. Satanists rightly recognise who their main enemies are, and direct their attacks against them accordingly. This is vividly illustrated by an incident related to me by a minister friend.
A Christian lady known to my friend was eating with her family in a restaurant in New Orleans - which is reported to be the spiritual centre for witchcraft in the U.S.A. While at the table, they were approached by Satanists who had entered the restaurant to "witness" in the same way some Christians might do, going from table to table. They were actively recruiting people for Satanism and showed the lady a printed prospectus for the year 1988, outlining the following six-point, world-wide programme, which was to be accompanied by fasting and prayer (!):
1.That the antichrist would manifest himself soon.
2. That ministers, leaders, and missionaries would fall.
3. That ministries and works of God would be destroyed.
4. That Christians would become complacent; want peace over and above all; and seek churches that do not preach a full gospel with pastors that keep peace no matter what the sin.
5. That Christians would cease their fasting and prayer.
6. That the gifts of the Holy Spirit would be ignored.
This is but one of many evidences that the Church of Jesus Christ is currently under intense, systematic attack by the forces of Satan. What can the Church do? Christ defeated Satan on the cross. How can we, first of all, defend ourselves and secondly, make Christ's victory a daily reality in our personal lives and in our churches? Some illuminating answers are provided by the story of Balaam's attempt to bring a curse on Israel. God intervened on behalf of Israel and turned the proposed curse into a blessing. What did God see in the conduct of Israel at that time that moved Him to take His stand against Satan on their behalf? Here are some important factors that combined to draw God's favour down upon His people:
1. The people of Israel were moving in fulfilment of God's plan for them.
2. They were supernaturally guided, day and night, by a cloud and a pillar of fire. This corresponds to the guidance of the Holy Spirit for New Testament believers. (See Romans 8:14.)
3. They were a nation under discipline, with God-appointed leaders and God-given laws.
4. Their relationships were carefully ordered according to a divine pattern. This harmonious pattern of relationships was beautifully depicted by Balaam's own visionary description of them in Numbers 24:5-6:
"How lovely are your tents, 0 Jacob!
Your dwellings, 0 Israel!
Like valleys that stretch out,
Like gardens by the riverside,
Like aloes planted by the Lord,
Like cedars beside the waters."
5. Obviously, this was not a literal picture of Israel, since they were encamped at that time in a desert area. Much of the above was due to the fact that a whole generation of unbelieving and disobedient Israelites had been purged out from among them. (See Numbers 26:63-65.)
What are the lessons to be learned from this picture of Israel? Its main features could be summed up thus: Israel was a community divinely ordered, disciplined and guided, living in harmony with one another. To state it another way, Israel was not just an assembly of individuals each "doing his own thing". God has not changed in what He looks for in His people; nor has Satan changed in his tactics against God's people. If the Church at this time does not fulfil the requirements for God's favour and protection, there is only one remedy: the Church must change.
Unfortunately, however, the record of Balaam's strategy against Israel does not end with total victory for Israel. Having failed in his attempt to bring a curse upon Israel, Balaam resorted to a second tactic. He advised Balak to use the Moabite women as a snare, to entice the men of Israel, first, into sexual immorality and, second, into idolatry. Where Balaam's first tactic had failed, his second succeeded.
After that, he had no need to pronounce a curse upon the Israelites. By breaking God's first commandment, they had brought God's own curse upon themselves, and 24,000 of them perished. (See Numbers 25:1-27.) In Numbers 31:16, Moses states specifically that this came about through the counsel of Balaam. In I Corinthians 10:8 Paul holds up this incident as a warning to believers in the New Testament. The deceitful tactics of Balaam are also mentioned in three other passages of the New Testament: 2 Peter 2:15-16, Jude 11. and Revelation 2:14. Obviously the strategy of Balaam against Israel contains important warnings also for believers in the new covenant. The central lesson is simple: Christians who are living in disciplined obedience to God and in harmony with each other can look to God for His protection against Satan. But Christians who are undisciplined, disobedient and out of harmony forfeit their claim on God's protection.