Not saying the devil’s name in fear that he will appear is a narrative that’s been shared over the years. However, God’s Word reveals what’s true and what’s a myth.
One of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes is The Howling Man. It begins with a lost stranger showing up at a monastery on a dark, stormy night. While inside, he hears a prisoner howling. The stern monk warns the stranger not to release him because he is the devil. But the stranger releases the prisoner when he tells him how he’ll soon be killed for committing a common sin if he’s not released. As viewers watch the “prisoner” walk down a long corridor toward freedom, he transforms from a human into how many people expect the devil to appear—horns, sly grin, and all.
Separating fact from fiction about the devil is the key to releasing fear and walking in freedom.
What Did 'Speak of the Devil' Mean?
Although “speak of the devil” is a common phrase today, its origin seems to be in the 16th century, when it implied prohibitions against mentioning the devil. The phrase’s modern use is more of a joke, signaling that someone you’re talking about walked up unexpectantly.
The original phrasing, which originated in England, was “speak of the Devil and he will appear,” adding a much darker undertone. There was great superstition surrounding the phrase, believing that to say the devil’s name was dangerous. It’s uncertain if people believed the devil would actually appear by speaking his name. Still, people generally avoided referring to the devil or the occult.
Sources say the phrase, “Talk of the Devil, and he’s presently at your elbow,” first appeared in 1666 in the Piazza Universale by Italian writer Giovanni Torriano. It’s reported that a similar saying, “Talk of the Devil and see his horns,” was printed in 1672.
Should We Be Scared of Saying the Devil’s Name?
Christians should not be scared of saying the devil’s name. In fact, Christians should not fear, period. 1 John 4:18 tells us that perfect love casts out fear. A heart and mind full of faith leave no room for fear.
1 John 5:18 casts out any fear of saying the devil’s name even more: “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” This verse isn’t saying that the enemy cannot attack us. 1 Peter 5:8 refers to our enemy, the devil, prowling around looking for someone to devour. He can attack us, but he cannot touch us. Still, this does not mean we should be flippant in speaking of the devil.
Another reason we should not be scared of saying the devil’s name, specifically in fear of his appearing and bringing trouble, is that the devil is not omnipresent. He cannot be everywhere at one time. God can, which should be our focus.
How Do We Remain Alert to the Devil’s Schemes?
We can remain alert to the devil’s schemes today by reviewing his past schemes to combat his tactics. Let’s look at his most devious scheme in history, recorded in Genesis 3.
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made” (Genesis 3:1).
Crafty originates from the Hebrew word arum, meaning shrewd, subtle, or crafty. It’s easy to assume that since it’s used to describe the devil’s scheme, it has a negative connotation. But the same word is also used positively throughout the Bible. Proverbs 14:15 and Proverbs 12:23 uses arum to describe a prudent person.
When Proverbs used the word arum, it most often uses it for someone opposed to a fool. It may also be used for someone opposing God and His plans, as in Acts 7:19: Stephen uses it when he says the Pharoah “dealt shrewdly with our race….”
In Genesis 3:1-5, we see at least a few of the devil’s tactics:
Devil’s Scheme #1: Doubt God’s Goodness
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’
The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die”’” (Genesis 3:1-3).
In verse 1, the serpent poses Eve with the question: Did God really say that?
“The moment we fail to believe God’s goodness, we’ve opened the door to sin.” — Rick Warren
The devil often whispers doubt in the form of a question, and if we don’t remain alert, that seed of doubt can take root in our hearts and minds. While the devil is neither omnipresent nor omniscient, he is sly, shrewd, and cunning. He and his army cannot read our thoughts, but they can observe our actions, habits, and tendencies. Human desires haven’t changed much since the Garden of Eden.
“Would a good, kind, and loving God give you limitations, Eve?” One subtle but devastating doubt planted in Eve’s heart led to the dialogue in verse 4.
Devil’s Scheme #2: Doubt God’s Word
“‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman” (Genesis 3:4).
In verse 1, the assault on God’s Word is subtle. By verse 4, the devil’s scheme has taken hold of Eve, and he directly opposes God’s Word.
Devil’s Scheme #3: Doubt God’s Will
“For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).
Frontal attacks on God’s Word are hard to miss, even for newer Christians, but Satan’s most successful tactic is slithering in the back door of our minds by aligning lies alongside truth.
True, God did not want Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But He intended to protect them and all of humanity, not withhold good from them. Though not omniscient, the devil knew the devastating consequences that awaited Eve on the other side. Her ears heard, “you will be like God.” With that, bites of forbidden fruit were taken, and humanity’s fate was sealed.
2 Timothy 4:3 states that the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, where people will want to have their ears tickled and will find teachers who teach what they want to hear. Some Bible teachers and pastors share solid truth but add a thin veneer of “tickling” to make (in their opinion) the truth more relevant, popular, and easier to swallow. But Scripture framed by thinly veneered lies is deception. We must know Scripture for ourselves instead of fully depending on others to explain it to us. Thankfully, we don’t have to be Bible scholars to detect lies, but we must be students of God’s Word. If we’re faithful to read, meditate on, and study Scripture, God will give us wisdom and discernment.
How Do We Avoid the Devil’s Schemes?
1. Know God’s Word. It takes time to learn Scripture, but as we do, God blesses our effort, and the Holy Spirit gives us what we need and when we need it.
2. Focus on God’s limitless power, not the devil’s limited power. “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
3. Pray for spiritual discernment. The Holy Spirit sharpens our ability to see and hear more keenly, cutting through the devil’s thinly veneered lies.
4. Stand firm in God’s goodness. Refuse to budge when the devil schemes to convince you that God doesn’t love you or have your best in mind.
5. Find full satisfaction in Jesus. “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”—John Piper.
6. Be alert and have a sober mind (1 Peter 5:8).
7. Remain in community (1 Peter 5:8).
“Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. This grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.” — “Amazing Grace,” lyrics by John Newton
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Moussa81
Cathy Baker is the author of Pauses for the Vacationing Soul: A Sensory-Based Devotional Guide for the Beach and Pauses for the Vacationing Soul: A Sensory-Based Devotional Guide for the Mountains. She writes from a tiny studio lovingly known as The Tiny House on the Hill in the Foothills of SC. As an author, Hope Writer, and Bible teacher for over twenty-five years, she encourages women to pause and embrace the seemingly small, mundane moments of their day for God’s glory. She invites you to join her in the tiny house where you’re always welcome to come in and take a seat.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.