Over the past few weeks I have been asked a common question that has crept up in our reading. The question revolves around the account in 1 Samuel 16 where Saul begins his downward spiral with an “evil spirit from the Lord” tormenting him.

Here is the actual reference:

But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented and troubled him. Saul’s servants said to him, Behold, an evil spirit from God torments you. Let our lord now command your servants here before you to find a man who plays skillfully on the lyre; and when the evil spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well. Saul told his servants, Find me a man who plays well and bring him to me. One of the young men said, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who plays skillfully, a valiant man, a man of war, prudent in speech and eloquent, an attractive person; and the Lord is with him. So Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, Send me David your son, who is with the sheep. And Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and a kid and sent them by David his son to Saul. And David came to Saul and served him. Saul became very fond of him, and he became his armor-bearer. Saul sent to Jesse, saying, Let David remain in my service, for he pleases me. And when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, David took a lyre and played it; so Saul was refreshed and became well, and the evil spirit left him.” 1 Sam 16:14-23 AMP

The part in question is that the evil spirit came “from the Lord”. This seems to stand in direct opposition from what we have learned regarding God and how He works all throughout Scripture thus far. After all – repeatedly we have started that God isn’t evil. He isn’t a destroyer. He doesn’t send wickedness and destruction into the lives of His people. (You could say that Saul wasn’t “His people” – but that wouldn’t line up with the rest of Scripture which has him being a pure Israelite, from the tribe of Benjamin, and one who was anointed by God and had the power of God upon him) (1 Sam 10).

So what can be said of this “evil spirit”? Was it sent from God?

Well – first of all – what we CAN tell from Scripture is that Saul had made several conscious decisions which led him into sin and rebellion. It was this sin and rebellion which invited this evil spirit into his life. But what about the wording here?

The language “evil spirit from God” is just that – language. Our predispositions cause us to interpret that as “God is responsible for the action of sending an evil spirit upon Saul” – but that is not what that term means. How do we know this?  Because of the rest of Scripture.

Scripture as a whole is consistent that God is not a destroyer and is not sending evil spirits to harm His people. Therefore – the language phrase must be speaking of something else. We allow Scripture to interpret Scripture.

The verb “sent” is permissive – not active. The spirit is “from God” only in the sense that really everything is “from God” because He is supreme. But that doesn’t mean He actual ordered it to go.

A scriptural example of this is the account of the prophet Micaiah and his prophecy regarding Israel attacking Ramoth-Gilead in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18.

“And the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’ “One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’ ” ‘By what means?’ the LORD asked. ” ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said. ” ‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the LORD. ‘Go and do it.’ “So now the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The LORD has decreed disaster for you.” – 1 Kings 22:20-24

As we see here – God didn’t command the lying spirit to entice the king to attack and get wiped out… but He did ALLOW that spirit because King Ahab was choosing a life of rebellion and sin.

So the same is in Saul’s case. Saul was making a choice to live outside of the blessing of the Lord. That choice opened him up to an attack from the enemy. The idea is that God does not protect such a person from spirits as He otherwise would if he yielded to Him instead, and obeyed Him. God gave Saul over to an evil spirit as punishment for his sins and self-will. Naturally, when the Holy Spirit left him, he was open to an evil spirit of torment from Satan.

How grateful we are for Jesus and Righteousness and Grace that we now live under in the NT – we do not live under that system any longer.

Be Fruitful & Multiply,