Reflections on a Confusing Passage

Dear Members and Friends of IBCZ,

Last Sunday we studied I Sam. 16:14-23.  Due to time constraints, I had to skip over vs. 14 states, which states, “Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.”  We may wonder what that is all about.  Can the Holy Spirit really depart from us?  And how can an evil spirit come from the Lord, when the Lord is holy, pure, and good in all His ways, when the Lord is unstained by evil?  

As Christians, the Holy Spirit comes upon us at conversion.  Scripture declares that the Spirit seals our salvation.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t depart from us.  But in Old Testament times, typically the Spirit would come upon a person for just a period of time to equip that person for a particular task or to enable them to speak a message from God.  In this case, the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul once his disobedience led to God rejecting him as king over Israel.

The next thing to note is that it was the Spirit of the Lord who departed from Saul but an evil spirit from the Lord that tormented Saul.  There is only one Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, who by definition is holy.  There is nothing in God that is in any way marked by evil.

Then an evil spirit was sent from God to Saul.  This spirit was in no sense a part of God, but merely sent from God.  Scripture indicates that when Satan rebelled against God, a number of other heavenly beings joined in that rebellion.  These evil spirits, while now enemies of God, are still ultimately under the sovereign rule of God.  Even as we read in Scripture that on occasions God used pagan nations and leaders who worshiped false gods, such as the Assyrians and Babylonians, to carry out His purpose in judging Israel for their rebellion against God, so God can use spirits who rebelled against him.  They still are subject to God’s rule.

But why did God do this to Saul?  Scripture doesn’t say, but there are several possibilities.  Saul deliberately disobeyed God as king over Israel, and so God rejected him as king.  But that doesn’t mean God was no longer concerned about Saul.  So perhaps this tormenting of Saul was meant to get Saul’s attention.  Maybe it was to get Saul to realize the seriousness of his disobedience, so that he would return again to God.

The fact that God rejected Saul as king doesn’t mean He rejected Saul as His child.  So it could be that the purpose of this evil spirit coming upon Saul and tormenting him was to prod Saul into recognizing his need to return to God, just as God used pagan nations to afflict the Israelites when they had continuously turned from Him in order to awaken them to their need to return to God.  Or maybe it was to remind Saul that the Spirit of God was no longer with him, and thus he needed to yield to the one the Spirit came upon to lead Israel, who was David.  We can’t say for sure, but we can be sure that God is perfectly good and holy, and by His wisdom He sovereignly rules over all to accomplish His good purposes.  

Grace and peace,

Pastor Bob

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