1 Samuel 16:23 – Did God send the evil spirit?


I used to struggle with this verse…

1 Kings 22:20-22  And the LORD said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner.  And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him. And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so.

It always bothered me because I know God does not lie so how can he allow His angels to do so…then I realized the spirit was an evil spirit (fallen angel) who stood before the Lord and agreed to go, and God allowed it for the greater purpose of His glory.

It made me realize a few things…

  1. The devil (as in the story of Job) and all the fallen angels must still come before God and present themselves before the throne as commanded, or allowed, by God.
  2. There is no darkness or sin in God or His Heavenly host…but God can use the evil in the souls of even the fallen angels to accomplish His purpose (in this case causing Ahab to go into battle to receive the judgment of God upon Ahab’s wicked reign and practice of sacrificing children in the fire.) God did not command the spirit to lie, He allowed the spirit to go forth…a big difference.
  3. God does not cause evil to happen, but He can take His protective hand from someone and allow evil to touch them.

So, in your verse: 1 Samuel 16:23  And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.

Saul had sinned against God and disregarded the things of God. An evil spirit came upon him (he was not possessed but more oppressed) and I believe if Saul would have repented and humbled himself the spirit would have left anyway.
James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Perhaps it was only when David came and began worshipping God that Saul was able to open his own heart to worshipping God which immediately caused the evil spirit to flee (something we should all remember when we feel oppressed, begin worshipping!).

My analogy to the evil spirits going forth and God allowing it (or not restraining it) is like this. If I had a pit bull on a leash why would I allow it to be unleashed…

  1. To cause someone to go a different way than they are going!  It would certainly make someone turn around and head the other direction if I let the dog loose and it started after them. Why would I do it if I was a good person?  What if I couldn’t get their attention by yelling or talking to them (they weren’t listening) and they were headed for a landmine that might kill them!  I think this is what god did with Saul…God was trying to get Saul to come back to Him but Saul would rather be mauled by the dog than come back. Eventually Saul did step on that land mine and it killed him after visiting the witch of Endor
  2. To bring judgment…I would let the pit bull loose if I knew a child molester was walking about the neighborhood looking for someone to abduct. I think this was the case with Ahab.
  3. To test the faith someone had in me. For you to stand still in your tracks after I let the dog loose you must either be too terrified too run or else you had total confidence I could restrain the dog with just my voice or just my command and it would leave you alone. How great would that faith be if it even bit you before I called it off. I believe this was the case with Job. God used it to test and increase faith in His servant…it might still seem like a harsh test but look at what His own Son Jesus Christ endured as He had that same devil come against Him in the wilderness and again at Gethsemane and Golgotha. However we know that the testing in the wilderness brought about an empowerment of the Spirit in Jesus own life and at Golgotha we know that it brought about everlasting reward and glory…Hebrews 1:3-6  Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.

I hope this helped bring a little clarity to your question, it was a good one.