How is it that God sent an evil spirit to Saul?
How big of a deal is it to you?
In our world today we wink at sin. We excuse it. We say it’s not that bad. God clearly forbids certain things, and we in our arrogance think we’re more enlightened than the commands of Scripture. We laugh at sin. We mock God. And we do so at our own peril.
Scripture says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Do you believe that? Sin is abhorrent enough that it required the death of God’s own Son.
If you wear a cross around your neck, take it in your fingers. Spin it around and around. One side of this cross ought to represent to you the beautiful love of God; the other side ought to represent the utterly vile nature of sin.
God chose Saul to be king. Saul started well. Then pride began to eat at his heart. In his own imagination, he became bigger than life. A victorious king, he kept imagining all of his own victories, and taking the authority that belongs only to God into his own hands. Wanting – in 1 Samuel 13 – to launch out against a large Philistine army, he refused to wait for the prophet to make a sacrifice to God. Two chapters, rather than heeding the command of the Lord to finish the battle and destroy all the Amalekites, Saul again usurped divine authority. And there were three consequences …
- First, God removed the kingdom of Israel from Israel’s first king. “Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,” said God through the prophet Samuel, “He has also rejected you from being king” (1 Sam 15:23). That was God’s second rebuke after Saul’s second rebellion. The first was this, 1 Samuel 13:14, “Because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you … now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORDhas sought out a man after his own heart.” (Note: The man after God’s own heart was David, chosen immediately after Saul sinned the first time.)
- Second, God removed the Holy Spirit from Saul. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit comes on believers and never leaves us. It is an enduring gift. In the Old Testament – before that Pentecost blessing – the Spirit would come upon certain people for certain purposes … and then would be removed when that season of specific Kingdom need ended. For example, when it was time for God’s people to build the Tabernacle, the Spirit came upon Bezalel, Oholiab, and a handful of other craftsmen for that season. And when the Tabernacle was completed, the Holy Spirit retreated. As God’s King, God sent Saul the Holy Spirit. When Saul rebelled, God “took” his Spirit from Saul. (Note: This explains an agonized petition in King David’s prayer after his own worst sin. In Psalm 51:11 begged for a different fate than Saul, saying, “take not your Holy Spirit from me.”)
- Third, Saul was then tormented by an evil spirit. 1 Samuel 16:14 reads, “Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him.”
And the question is, “Why?!” Why did God send an evil spirit to torment Saul?!
First, God is sovereign over all creation. If Satan and his minions exist and do harm – and they do – then God clearly allows them to exist during this season in eternity. (Now, why God allows this is a deep question for another day. But if they exist and do harm, then a Sovereign God must allow it.) And we must acknowledge – along with the repeated testimony of Scripture – that we are in a spiritual battle. It is a war, and generally speaking, we must acknowledge that these evil forces have free will. While surely constrained by God in many important ways, these entities are nevertheless free (to some degree) to lie, harass, and occasionally destroy. And they do.
If we rightly view this stage of this word as a battle ground between God and evil, then most of our encounters with both God and evil forces are – whether we see it or not – God protecting us. (We need to stop and thank God for his continual – and mostly unseen – restraint over personified darkness in our lives.) Our second most common experience of darkness occurs when we go looking for trouble – whether purposefully or accidentally. We can dabble in the occult, flirt with pornography, cherish our little lies about God, and choose false idols and priorities. God is there to rescue, but generally, he awaits our cry for help.
Another common time in which believers can encounter evil occurs when God takes his hand of protection off of us – usually for the purpose of testing us (and sometimes it’s a testing by fire). God took his hand of protection off of Jesus, for example, when he was tempted in the wilderness and when the Son went to the cross. Generally, the removal of God’s protective hand occurs for a limited period of time and for a specific kingdom purpose – like shaping, testing, and growing us.
Saul, however, fell into a separate category … and it’s so striking because it’s such an extraordinary exception. 99.9999999999999999% of the time, God who is sovereign over all absolutely doesn’t want or need to command these dark creatures to do his bidding. But he can. He’s sovereign. Life tests us all the time – with or without the interceding of evil. Likewise evil desires to lie, discourage, frighten, and overwhelm us all the time – with or without the constraining hand of God. But in the special case of Saul, we have to trust that God had an eternal purpose in this action. God was creating the earthly line for the Messiah. Surely every human in that line would inevitably sin, but God turned a rebellious Saul into an eternal warning. It was a warning (particularly) to the next king (David), but it was also a warning to all future generations as well. Saul’s torment is the fate we all deserve. God could send evil upon us all … and he would be just in doing so. It’s only by grace that we’re not all haunted.
To be honest, I didn’t like this question. To be frank, I kind of blocked out this part of Israel’s story. I like to think of God as profoundly gracious – and he is. And I like to think of sin as “not that bad” … because I’m guilty. I don’t think you or I have to worry about God sending an evil spirit upon us! But we do need to be constantly on the alert so we don’t wander down dark spiritual alleys. We need to keep putting on the full armor of God, as Paul taught us, and we need to keep praying “deliver us from evil,” as Jesus taught us.
And we need to take this story as a warning – not because we’re going to suffer Saul’s fate, but because we really need to comprehend the true cost of sin. Indeed, pull your cross back out. Flip it over and over – the vileness of sin on one side, the love of God on the other. Only when we fully comprehend both can we make sense of this world.
In Christ’s Love,
a guy who’s
from writing this