If God doesn’t tempt with evil, then why did He send Saul an evil spirit?


Can you explain what the evil spirit is in I Samuel 16:14 that was from the Lord? I don't understand what this could be in light of passages such as Romans 2:11, James 1:13, etc.


"Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him" (I Samuel 16:14).

All human languages contain ambiguity. It is why computers have such a difficult time handling natural language. In this case, the ambiguity comes from the word "evil," which translates the Hebrew word ra'Ra' has a range of meanings just like the English words "bad" and "evil." For example, I could say "He was a bad boy" and you would conclude that the boy did something naughty or sinful. But if I say "He was a bad ballplayer" you understand that his abilities are poor, but not necessarily that he is sinful.

Not all uses of ra' involve moral badness. For example, "Then behold, seven other cows came up after them from the Nile, ugly and gaunt, and they stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile" (Genesis 41:3). The word "ugly" is translating the Hebrew word ra'. Or, "'Bad, bad,' says the buyer, But when he goes his way, then he boasts" (Proverbs 20:14). The words "bad" are translating the word ra'. Hard times or adversity are also "evil" or ra'. "He says to himself, 'I will not be moved; throughout all generations I will not be in adversity'" (Psalms 10:6). Even something that is good for a person, discipline, can be bad because of the temporary pain it brings. "Grievous punishment is for him who forsakes the way; he who hates reproof will die" (Proverbs 15:10). "Grievous" translates ra'.

But one class of translation involves someone being in a bad mood. "So he asked Pharaoh's officers who were with him in the custody of his lord's house, saying, "Why do you look so sad today?"" (Genesis 40:7). "Sad" is translating ra'. Being depressed is to have a ra' heart, "Like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar on soda, is he who sings songs to a troubled heart" (Proverbs 25:20). I believe it is in this latter meaning that is being described as happening to Saul. God took away His spirit and replaced it with a spirit of doom, gloom, and depression. In fact, in another passage, the same ra' spirit is translated differently: "And it happened on the next day that the distressing spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied inside the house. So David played music with his hand, as at other times; but there was a spear in Saul's hand" (I Samuel 18:10).

This didn't just happen to Saul. "God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech" (Judges 9:23). Even the New Testament warns that it can happen today to people who don't love truth. "For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness" (II Thessalonians 2:11-12). Notice that in all these cases, God didn't send the bad mood, the evil spirit, until after the person fully chose to follow sin. It serves as a punishment and a wake-up call that many, because of their choices, simply ignore. As Job understood, sometimes we need hard times to grow. "But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips" (Job 2:10). "Adversity" is that word ra' again.

"Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth? Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins? Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the LORD. We lift up our heart and hands toward God in heaven" (Lamentations 3:38-41).

"The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these" (Isaiah 45:7).

"And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives." If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:5-14).

God is impartial in His judgments as Romans 2:11 relates. But the fact that I face hard times because I chose to sin or because I need to grow, it doesn't mean that God is treating me different from other people in the world. Nor does God push people into doing things morally evil as James 1:13 points out. But that doesn't mean that God doesn't make use of the evil that exists in the world to accomplish His will. "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). (By the way, that is the theme of the book of Habakkuk.)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email