************ Sermon on 1 Samuel 16:14-23 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on July 15, 2018

1 Samuel 16:14-23
"Did God Send an Evil Spirit Upon Saul?"
Difficult Passages #8

"Did God Send an Evil Spirit Upon Saul?" That is the title of my sermon and that is the question we want to answer as we look at another difficult passage in the Bible. Did God send an evil spirit upon Saul? Did God afflict Saul with a demonic spirit that overruled Saul's ability to be responsible for his own actions? 1 Samuel 16 is not the only passage that seems to teach this. Consider these passages as well:
(1 Sam 18:10-11) The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand (11) and he hurled it, saying to himself, "I'll pin David to the wall." But David eluded him twice.
(Cf 1 Sam 19:9)

(Judg 9:23) God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, who acted treacherously against Abimelech.

Did God send an evil spirit upon Saul? As we answer this question, we need to keep in mind the nature of God. God is perfect in all His attributes. He is perfect in His goodness. He is perfect in His compassion. He is perfect in His justice. Meaning what? Meaning He would never mistreat anyone. Meaning He would never be unjust. Meaning He would never do something wrong. The Judge of all the earth always does what is right (Gen 18:25).

Knowing this about God, how do we understand the text in front of us? Did God send an evil spirit upon Saul?

I Saul is Afflicted
A "Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul" (1 Sam 16:14). Don't jump to the wrong conclusion about this. The presence or absence of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament says nothing about the salvation of the person; rather, it says something about being selected for the service of God and being empowered by the Spirit for that service.
(Judg 3:10) The Spirit of the LORD came upon [Othniel], so that he became Israel's judge and went to war.

(Judg 6:34) Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him.

(Judg 13:25) and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir [Samson] ...

Now, with this in mind consider what we are told about Saul in 1 Samuel 10:
(1 Sam 10:10) When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met [Saul]; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying.
So, the Spirit of God was upon Saul. We know why: He was selected and empowered for service to God as Israel's first king.

I probably should have started my Bible reading one verse earlier than I did -- but that would have put us right in the middle of the story of David's selection for the service of God. Now, listen to what we are told one verse before our Scripture reading:
(1 Sam 16:13) So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed [David] in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.

Now, listen to the very next verse:
(1 Sam 16:14) Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul ...
So the Spirit came upon David. And, the Spirit left Saul.

Telling us what? Telling us David was selected for the service of God -- to serve as king. Telling us Saul was deselected for the service of God as king. Telling us David was selected and empowered to serve as Israel's king in Saul's place.

B "Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him" (1 Sam 16:14). Saul's torment was obvious to all because even his servants said something about it (1 Sam 16:15).

Saul was tormented. Saul was depressed. Saul was troubled in soul and terrified in spirit. He had extreme mood swings. Today, some psychiatrist would probably say Paul had OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), or was bipolar, or suffered from schizophrenia or dementia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We know Saul's experience was misery, distress, and harm -- in both body and soul. Too much of it was physical to believe it was all spiritual; and, too much of it was spiritual to believe it was all physical.

II An Injurious Spirit
A "Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him" (1 Sam 16:14). How do we understand the phrase "evil spirit"?

It is possible that God sent an angel to torment Saul. After all, angels are spirits. We know from Scripture that God often sends His angels on missions of judgment. We see an angel at the entrance to the Garden of Eden, for instance. We see angels at Sodom and Gomorrah. And, do you remember what happened when King Herod accepted praise for himself rather than giving it to God?
(Acts 12:23) Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
The angel came in judgment on Herod and afflicted him in such a way that he suffered greatly and then died. God used an angel to inflict grievous punishment on a wicked man. So God might have sent an angel to afflict Saul.

B But God may have also sent a demon. God -- being God -- is more than able to use evil spirits -- demons -- to fulfill His purposes. Do you remember the story of King Ahab? God had declared Ahab was going to die on account of his sins. God arranged that during a battle someone was going to shoot an arrow at random and it was going to hit King Ahab between the sections of his armor and he was going to die (1 Ki 22:29f). Before this happened, though, God needed to lure King Ahab into battle. The prophet Micaiah describes the scene where God used a lying spirit to accomplish His will:
(1 Ki 22:19-22) I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. (20) And the LORD said, 'Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?' "One suggested this, and another that. (21) Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the LORD and said, 'I will entice him.' (22) " '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.'

C "An evil spirit from the LORD tormented him" (1 Sam 16:14). A footnote at the bottom of our pew Bibles suggests the word "injurious" in place of the word "evil." It was an injurious spirit that tormented Saul. It was there to hurt him. To cause him anguish and pain in heart and soul and mind and body.

Was it an angel that tormented Saul? Was it an evil spirit? We don't know. But what we do know is that it was an injurious spirit. Used by God. God had a plan. God had a purpose. God wanted Saul to be tormented by an injurious spirit.

D We need to clarify the statement "from the Lord." An injurious spirit "from the Lord" tormented Saul. Frequently, active verbs were used in the Hebrew language to express not the doing of a thing but rather to express permission for a thing to be done. That's what we have here. God allows, God permits, God gives permission, for an injurious spirit to torment Saul. God did not directly send upon Saul an evil spirit. He allowed it to happen. So, as one commentator puts it, "What God permits He is stated in the Bible to perform."

We should note that this was not a spirit who had come to kill Saul like the angel that came to kill Herod. Nor was it a spirit that came to Saul to torment him unceasingly. Rather, it would come and go because Saul's pain would come and go.

III Punishment and Warning
A Why? Why did the Spirit of the Lord depart from Saul? Why did God permit an injurious spirit to torment Saul?

This past year we studied the life of King Saul in Senior Bible Study. It became clear to us that Saul's whole life was on a downward spiral. Israel asked for a king "such as all the other nations have" (1 Sam 8:5). And that's exactly what they got: a king like all the other nations have. A king who did what was right in his own eyes. A king who put himself above the law.

Saul's reign is especially known for two great acts of disobedience. First, Saul did what only the priests can do: he offered up a burnt offering to the Lord because Samuel was taking too long to show up on the battlefield (1 Sam 13). In this instance, Saul failed to trust in the Lord; instead, he put his trust in swords and spears and armies and power. Second, he failed to carry out the Lord's instructions to completely destroy all the Amalekites and everything that belonged to them (1 Sam 15). Remember what he famously said? He said he spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord. That's sounds so good and holy and pious. But it was nothing but disobedience.

God punished Saul's disobedience with the injurious spirit.

B Why did the Spirit of the Lord depart from Saul? Why did God permit an injurious spirit to torment Saul? Why did God punish Saul?

We should understand that the injurious spirit was a wakeup call to Saul. It was a warning shot across his bow. It was a warning telling him to turn from his evil ways. It was warning that unless he turned back to God even worse things would be in store for him. It was a warning for him to repent.

God sent Saul an injurious spirit for his own good. God took something bad, God allowed something bad, for Saul's ultimate good -- so he would repent.

God did something similar with Jesus. He took something bad and turned it into something good. How did God accomplish this? As soon as Judas took the bread of the Last Supper, Satan entered into him (Jn 13:27). So Jesus was betrayed and Jesus was arrested and Jesus was crucified. It was God's set purpose and plan for Jesus to suffer and die so we could be saved. God, in His sovereign power, channeled evil, overruled evil, and brought good out of evil.

So, God -- through the injurious spirit -- sent Saul a warning. Did Saul listen to this warning? I'm afraid the answer is "No!" For instance, Saul became jealous of David and that jealousy grew into hatred. A number of weeks ago we looked at Saul's willingness to consult a medium, the witch of Endor. And, do you remember the great act of disobedience that ended Saul's reign and Saul's life? He and Jonathan committed suicide!

C God sent an injurious spirit to torment Saul. We are reminded here of God's mercy and compassion. The injurious spirit tells us God had not given up on Saul. Yes, Saul has lost his scepter and his throne. But there was still hope for his soul. There was still hope that he could serve God with his remaining days. There was still hope that he would repent.

No matter how great the sin and how terrible the sinner, always leave room, congregation, for God's mercy and compassion. Because God delights to show mercy. As the prophet Micah said,
(Micah 7:18-19) Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. (19) You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
Maybe you think you are too bad, beyond even the reach of God's mercy and compassion. No matter how bad you have been or are, no matter how long you have gone your own way, this does not mean there is no hope for you.

If there is hope for Saul -- the king who went his own way -- there is hope for you. If there is hope for Paul -- the worst of all sinners -- then there is hope for you.

What was Saul's greatest punishment? It wasn't the injurious spirit that tormented him. The real punishment, the biggest punishment, was that the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul. In this light consider David's prayer in Psalm 51:
(Ps 51:11) Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
David wanted to walk with God. David wanted to serve God. David wanted God's continual presence in his life.

But now look at Saul. And look at his attendants. Saul's attendants gave him bad advice, terrible advice. They urged Saul to find relief in music; instead, they should have urged him to turn to God. Saul needed to repent. Saul needed to turn from his sinful ways. Saul needed to go to God and ask for His forgiveness. But, instead, they said, "Listen to some music, O King."

Isn't that just like the world? Find relief from life's problems in music, or drugs, or alcohol, or bars, or sports, or adultery.

There are problems in your life. There is sin in your life. How are you dealing with them? Are you ignoring them? Are you seeking relief through the world's solutions? Or, are you repenting of your sin and seeking the triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with all your heart?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page