1 Samuel 16:14 says God sent an evil spirit to torment king Saul. What do we make of this?
1 SAMUEL #15. 1 SAMUEL CHAPTER 16:14-23
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Now the Spirit of the LORD had left Saul, and an evil spirit sent from the LORD began to torment him… (1Sam 16:14)
When we first read this, it almost feels like one of the most troubling verses in the Bible. I believe, however, when we really understand what was going here, it becomes one more instance for us to thank God for his incredible grace to human beings.
First, let’s remember the context. Saul, since the very first record of him in the Bible, has either ignored God, or considered Him a tool to be manipulated and used. Time after time, Saul betrayed his own securities. Time after time, he refused to trust God, and sought instead to protect his own interests. When he did worship God, it was to get the people to remain in the army, or to try and manipulate God into helping him. Saul represents the very worst in religious leaders – he tries to use religion as a way to exercise power over others, all the while avoiding personal trust in the Living God.
Finally, the Lord told Samuel that he had rejected Saul as king. God simply could not use Saul as His chosen instrument in that generation – Saul wouldn’t let him. After this, God directed Samuel to David – a boy who had given his heart fully to God. David became God’s chosen instrument in that generation. (Remember in those days, Jesus had not come, and so the Lord worked usually only through one or two people at one time. Today, all believers are the given the Holy Spirit. We are all supposed to be his chosen instruments in this generation)
Now, to understand what happens next, to make sense of God sending an evil spirit to Saul, we need to understand this situation completely. God rejected Saul from being king. He rejected him as God’s chosen instrument for that generation. Samuel makes this quite clear (1 Samuel 15:23). But this does not mean that God has given up on Saul as a person.
When I was a child, I remember I desperately wanted a knife. A knife represented power and maturity. It was both weapon and a tool. It was the next logical step in my progression to responsible adulthood. After a lot of powerful legal maneuvering on my part, I got my parents to give me one. Looking back, I realize now that my wise parents gave me a tiny pen-knife, something I couldn’t do much damage with. But back then, after carrying it around for a while, I realized that I wasn’t really using it. Out in our yard we had a clothesline made of rope. I opened my knife and took a swing at it. To my delight the line parted like the waters of the red sea. Later on I examined the metal fly-screen on one of our windows. I wonder if this knife will cut metal? I thought. There was really only one way to find out. It did. I was awed by the power I held.
I don’t remember much about the discipline that followed these incidents. But I do know this: my parents continued to love me and teach me, while at the same time, they took away the knife until I was older. I wasn’t ready for that kind of power. Even so, they loved me, and didn’t reject me. They just rejected the idea of me with a knife.
I think that when they took the knife away, I was probably more upset about losing the knife than I was about the fact that I had done wrong. I don’t remember, but I probably had to be disciplined in other ways so that I could see that what I had done was wrong.
Saul is in this situation. When Samuel tells him that the Lord has rejected him as king, Saul is naturally upset. But to me, it reads like he is upset about losing his position as God’s chosen instrument, far more than he is upset about the fact that he hasn’t trusted God. As we continue through 1 Samuel, we will see that this is in fact the truth.
Now, even though God rejected Saul as king, as His chosen instrument, God does not force Saul to abdicate the crown. He remains king until the day he dies. He just isn’t God’s chosen king. What grace – that God allowed him to continue as king, even when he couldn’t use him.