Did God “allow” or “send” an evil spirit into Saul’s life?

Question: 1 Samuel 19:9 says “But an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul….” I believe that this means God “allowed” an evil spirit to hurt Saul not “sent” one to enter Saul. What do you think about this verse?

Answer: In 1 Samuel 16:14 we are told that the Spirit of Yahweh had departed from Saul and an evil spirit from Yahweh tormented him. God’s removal of His Spirit from Saul was the sign that God no longer favored Saul and no longer would keep him as the legitimate king of Israel. It was in line with this that He had sent Samuel to anoint David as the next king (16:1-13).

In 1 Kings 22 the prophet Micaiah describes a vision he has of Yahweh asking who would be a deceiving spirit for Him to go to the prophets the wicked king Ahab and convince him to go to his death in battle. When one spirit comes forward and volunteers Yahweh tells him he will be successful in deceiving Ahab.

In Job chapters 1 and 2 we see conversations between Yahweh and Satan that result in Yahweh giving Satan permission to first destroy Job’s business and kill his children. Then God gives Satan permission to take Job’s health away.

In all these situations we see that God is sovereign over all His creatures, including Satan and his evil host. I do not have a problem with this as long as I know, and of course, God Himself affirms this, that God loves me and has a good plan for me even if it includes pain and suffering. In fact, I have a bigger problem if God does not have sovereign control over all His creatures. If Satan and his demons can do whatever they want with me then I feel less protected. But if I know that God is overseeing whatever happens and limiting Satan to doing only what God believes will ultimately be of benefit to me, I have hope.

Does a parent simply “allow” his toddler to get painful injections for immunization, or does a loving parent assertively make sure that his toddler suffers momentarily in order to not suffer something worse in the future? God was judging Saul for his rebellion and arrogance by sending this evil spirit to do a dirty job in Saul’s life. But God was using the whole process to bring about a better regime in Israel under David. If Saul had chosen to seek God’s help with this spirit it could have turned out much different for him. His repentance could have led to a peaceable transition of kingship to David.

I trust God to do what is necessary in order to bring about His perfect plan. And in a fallen world such as ours that will inevitably involve pain.

See Does God Send Evil Spirits to People for some more thoughts.

Randall Johnson

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