Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him. Saul's servants then said to him, "Behold now, an evil spirit from God is terrorizing you. 1 Samuel 16:14-15
Now there was an evil spirit from the LORD on Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand, and David was playing the harp with his hand. Saul tried to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he slipped away out of Saul's presence, so that he stuck the spear into the wall. And David fled and escaped that night. 1 Samuel 19:9-10
Here we read of an evil spirit from God who was sent to terrorize Saul. What do we make of this – an evil spirit from God?
NOT THE FIRST TIME
What may be astounding to some is that this is not the first time God has done this. He has used evil spirits to deal with sin in the past.
Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, so that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood might be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers. Judges 9:23-24
God used an evil spirit to cause a rift between two sets of evil people who had done horrible violence in killing all the members of the Gideon’s family. This spirit widened that rift so that both parties were destroyed for their genocide of Gideon’s extended family.
In 1 Kings 22:19-23, we read of the prophet Micaiah prophesied of an evil spirit who would be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of wicked king Ahab’s false prophets so that he would be led to go to battle and be killed at Ramoth-Gilead. In each of these situations God was dealing with those who were being very disobedient to Him.
CONTEXT OF DISOBEDIENCE
The first thing – as always – is to understand this in the context in which it is given. Saul has begun disobeying God regularly – without truly coming to repentance afterward. He was not just disobeying God in a personal matter alone – he was openly defying and disobeying orders God gave him for the actions of the entire nation.
CONTEXT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT DEPARTING
The second thing we should note is that the Spirit of God departed from Saul. Like nature, the spiritual realms abhor a vacuum. What happened in the departure of God’s Spirit was that an evil spirit from God filled that vacuum – though from what we can tell from the passage – it did not possess Saul. The word used for what was happening was that this evil spirit terrorized Saul. The word used here is “baath” which means to startle, terrify, or to fall upon. But why would God allow this? What was He seeking to do?
One of the ways for us to understand this is to grasp the nature of God’s holiness. In Romans chapter 1 we read of how God responds to sin. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Paul goes on to tell us that the evidence for God is first known through nature – and then through conscience. Therefore mankind is without excuse for not giving God thanks or honoring Him. What men do is to make a god of their own invention instead. God then “gives them over” to various kinds of sin – anything from sexual sin to anger to even disobedience to one’s parents. This is how God responds to sin in the ungodly. But there is more for us to grasp – including how God uses even Satan to deal with us when we sin so that we will return to Him in repentance.
TURNED OVER TO SATAN
There are several passages in the New Testament that will help us understand what was going on with Saul in these passages in the book of 1st Samuel. I’ve listed them below.
In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 1 Corinthians 5:4-5
This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight. keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme. 1 Timothy 1:18-20
In both of these passages there is sin that is a result of ones who are consistently living in disobedience to God. What Paul says in each case is that he turned these men over to Satan for a purpose. In 1 Corinthians the man was turned over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh. In 1 Timothy the two men were handed over to Satan so that they might be taught not to blaspheme God. This may seem extreme to us – but it is only because we don’t fully grasp the honor and glory that God deserves. Also we should remember that this is done rarely – but it is done also for the good of those to whom it happens. In both cases the goal is that these men would learn not to sin and grieve God. God loves them enough to discipline them – and bring them to repentance. So in light of these passages lets return to 1st Samuel and our passages about Saul.
God was disciplining Saul by having the evil spirit terrorize him. The intent was for Saul to repent. The problem is that Saul refused to repent – or in some cases he partially repented – or had what 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 calls “the sorrow of the world” which leads to death rather than true God-focused repentance. Rather than turn to God we will watch Saul descend into madness as he is tortured with the reality that he has been replaced and that David is God’s chosen king for Israel’s future.
WHAT ABOUT US?
So what can WE learn from all of this? There are a couple of things we should grasp. First, is that God takes disobedience very seriously. To disobey God is to place ourselves immediately in the crosshairs of God’s discipline. We might want to think about that a little before we decide to disobey God in the future. Second, God loves us enough to want us to return to Him. He will use whatever it takes to bring us to repentance and return. Yes, that even includes setting the evil one loose to be an instrument of that discipline. What He is doing when He does this is simple. He is allowing the consequences of our sin to run free in our lives. One thing though that is a comfort to us is that God restrains the evil one from taking the full measure of hatred out upon us. But the longer we disobey – the more stringent will be the discipline. And – since we are speaking of eternal things – truly THIS is the most important issue in our lives. Greater than temporary happiness, greater than mental or physical health, greater than prospering in the here and now – God wants us to repent and turn away from disobedience. Considering what we are seeing in the life of Saul . . . it is my hope that we cringe at His power even while marveling at His love. God is at work drawing us to Himself – and He will not tolerate any rival. May we learn – and turn to Him from disobedience and thank Him for such wise, powerful love toward us.