Even the Demons Believe God and Tremble

L. Buckler

James 2:19 says:

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder!

What is this talking about, and what lessons can we learn from it?

"Demons" ("devils" KJV) in James 2:19 is the Greek "daimonion" (Strong's 1140), which is handy to know because it shows us what "demons" really are when we find other places that talk about them.

I reckon we've had our understanding confused of what "demons" are by films and what society says "demons" are, but when we look at the Bible it tells us that "demons" are in fact nothing more than "small gods", "false gods", "idols". That might sound funny - How can a "demon" be an "idol"? - but it is exactly what the people in Bible times thought they were. Take a look at these places in the Bible that equate "demons" and "idols": -
    i) 1 Cor. 10:14-22 suggests that idols and demons are the same, so that the Apostle Paul is telling believers that they cannot sacrifice to idols as well as worshipping God by breaking bread. ("you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.")

    ii) People in Athens said that the Apostle Paul was preaching about strange gods (Acts 17:18). The Greek word that has been translated "gods" in the A.V. (and "divinities" in the R.S.V.) is Daimonion which is trhe word for "demons". So here again we have the link between demons and idols.

    iii) Revelation 9:20 shows that demons are the works of men's hands, which means men have made them. It also says that men worshipped demons, again suggesting that demons are gods.
Taken from 'The Truth about Demons and Spirits'.<1>

I'm not sure that Rev. 9:20 does say that demons are the works of men's hands, but it certainly equates demons and idols.

Point ii) is made stronger when we read Acts 17:16 which shows that the events happen in the context of idolitary when the people say that Paul is preaching new "daimonion" ("demons"). Therefore "demons" is the same as "idols" - i.e. false gods that do not exist.

Also interesting to note is the relationship between Mat. 12:24 and 2 Kings 1:2.
2 Kings 1:2 says: -

Now Ahaziah fell through the lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay sick; so he sent messengers, telling them, "Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this sickness."

Here we see that Baalzebub was a false god that the Ekronites worshipped - he was an idol.

Mat. 12:24 in the NT mentions this idol god, too. It says: -

But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, "It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons."

Here the Pharisees said that Beelzebub is the prince of *demons*. This equates the "false god / idols" of the OT with the "demons" of the NT: they are the same thing.

With this in mind, knowing that demons are the same thing as idols, we can read the likes of Ps. 115 and Isaiah 44-45 and apply them to demons. Ps. 115 and Isaiah 44-45 say that false gods / demons do not exist, and that there is no god except the God of Israel.

So, we've seen that "demons" of the NT are the same thing as "idols" of the OT - both are false gods that do not exist.

But what is James 2:19 on about when it says that these false gods believe in God and tremble? What's that all about?

I reckon James is making reference back to OT passages like 1 Sam. 5:3-4, for example, which says: -

And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.

Here the language is such that it presents Dagon as falling down before the Lord.

Take a look at Isaiah 19:1, too, which says: -

An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.

These idols / false gods / demons who don't exist are spoken of in a way that shows God's supremacy over them, and showing that even idols, which don't exist, tremble before God.

The lesson for us back in James 2:19 is that even false gods - gods who do not exist! - "fear" God and bow before him, so why don't we more so!

The context here in James is of faith and works; how that faith is no faith at all if it doesn't produce works (James 2:17). In effect, in reference to the false pagan gods in v19, James is saying, "If you only have faith (i.e. you believe in one God), you're no better than idols. They had "faith" too, but they were unable to put it into works because they are just wood and stone (and the people who worship them are just like them - Ps. 135:15-18 - i.e. dead). You believe in the *living* God - what are you doing about and with your faith?"

The principle of this verse (and of this whole section of James, I suppose) is that we have a living God, so we should serve Him in a living way - i.e. by living our beliefs.

<1> Ruth Moore, The Truth about Demons and Evil Spirits (CBM), available online at: http://www.god-so-loved-the-world.org/english/cbm_ruthmoore_truthaboutdemonsandevilspirits.htm
Also available from the office of The Christadelphian magazine: http://www.thechristadelphian.com/