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Good From Evil

1 Samuel 16:14-23 


"Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him. [15] Saul's servants then said to him, 'Behold now, an evil spirit from God is terrorizing you. [16] Let our lord now command your servants who are before you. Let them seek a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall come about when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he shall play the harp with his hand, and you will be well.' [17] So Saul said to his servants, 'Provide for me now a man who can play well, and bring him to me.' [18] Then one of the young men answered and said, 'Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is a skillful musician, a mighty man of valor, a warrior, one prudent in speech, and a handsome man; and the Lord is with him.' [19] So Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, 'Send me your son David who is with the flock.' [20] And Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread and a jug of wine and a young goat, and sent them to Saul by David his son. [21] Then David came to Saul and attended him, and Saul loved him greatly; and he became his armor bearer. [22] And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, 'Let David now stand before me; for he has found favor in my sight.' [23] So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him."

As I read this passage of scripture did anything trouble you? I know that I'm troubled b y the phrase "evil spirit from the Lord" that appears in verses 14, 15, 16, and 23. Why would God send an evil spirit upon Saul? Or more broadly, my question is, why would He send an evil spirit upon anyone?

I pulled several commentaries off my shelf to see what insights they would have on this question and I got absolutely no help. One commentator said the evil spirit was from Satan-a direct contradiction of what this passage says. Another said it was another way of saying "mental illness," but even if that is true, it still leaves me asking why would it come from God? Still another said the evil spirit really wasn't from God but the unsophisticated thinkers of that day thought it was from God so that's what they wrote. At least these commentators said something about the phrase, others glossed over it like it wasn't even there. So I guess we're on our own today-we're going to have to sort this one out, without the help of scholars. Why would God send an evil spirit upon Saul?

The first thing we have to resolve is the issue of whether or not God uses evil as a tool of righteousness. Let's explore a couple of other scriptures that will help us answer that question. Remember Jesus' encounter with the blind man in John Chapter 9? The disciples asked Jesus a point blank question about the man's blindness in verse 2, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" I've always been shocked at the disciples' rudeness in asking this question. I mean, the man may have been blind, but he wasn't deaf. He heard every word the disciples said. He also heard Jesus' reply. "Jesus answered, 'It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him." (John 9:3 NASB) The evil in his life-his blindness-had a purpose, that God's works might be displayed in him. The blind man suffered, but it served a good. God was glorified through him.

I recently read an article that began, "After hearing the words, 'You have breast cancer,' a woman's life changes forever. I have found that often times, it changes for the better." (by: Firemom Certainly the author, a breast cancer survivor, has the right to her opinion, but don't her words seem strange? I mean, how can someone be better off because of such a terrible trial? 1 Peter 1:6-7 says, "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, [7] that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;" The word "distressed" has the impact of a cement block falling ten stories dead center on your little toe. Whenever we are in the midst of the "distress," it is difficult to "greatly rejoice." I know that I didn't. These words ring true in retrospect, but have little meaning to the person holding on by their fingernails. If you are in the midst of a storm, all I can say is "hold on" because God is in control and the end is near. Everyone would agree that cancer is evil, but sometimes that evil bring about good-the kind of good Peter wrote about. 

One more scriptural perspective about evil, God often turns man's evil into His good. Joseph understood that and explained it to his brothers. He could have had a vengeful spirit against his brothers who sold him into slavery, but instead he understood that God was watching when the evil act happened and God used it for His good. "And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." (Genesis 50:20 NASB)

The evil spirit is not the focus of this scripture. It is the background. Saul called for help because of the melancholy produced by the evil spirit that came upon him. It was the catalyst God used to position his servant in the place he needed him to be in. When Saul put out his plea for a musician, a young man in his court recommend David who he described as "a skillful musician, a mighty man of valor, a warrior, one prudent in speech, and a handsome man; and the Lord is with him." Look at that marvelous list of attributes. Wouldn't you like people to talk about you behind your back like this? The trait that toped the list was to the point of what Saul was looking for-a skillful musician. David was that, but he was so much more. He was a man of valor, a warrior. It wasn't that David had proven himself in the field of battle, it was that he had shown valor when he faced other dangers. He'd fought lions and bears to protect his father's flocks, (1 Samuel 17:34-36) and would do whatever was necessary to protect the king. I'm sure Saul was happy to have people around him that could protect him if he was attacked. 

He was a sensitive musician, and a brave warrior, but he was more than that, he also was able to control his tongue, his friend said he was "prudent in speech." James 3:2 says, "For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well." His friend goes on to describe him as a handsome man and a man who has the Lord with him. There is an outer beauty and an inner one. David had both. Obviously he'd taken care of himself and was in good physical shape, but he also cared for himself spiritually. There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for spiritual growth. 

In his book Morph, Ron Martoia writes, "Early in our Christian lives, we learn about the need for devotions, prayer, Bible study, memorization, and, depending upon your tradition, a host of other 'musts.' Vigilance in keeping those patterns and practices fresh takes monumental effort. Over and over again in my life, I've struggled to keep these intended life-giving practices fresh. When I released myself from the inherited 'I must do these things this often to be spiritual,' I started on a whole new course. I realized there were days I really wanted to read God's Word and days I really didn't want to. There were times I was motivated to memorize a chunk of Scripture and times I wasn't. Early in my ministry, I would have never given myself the permission to not read the Bible daily. But I have surely learned that the days I feel I want solitude or don't want to journal are totally fine with God." ( Martoia isn't encouraging people not to be disciplined, rather he is saying discipline cannot substitute for connecting with God. David didn't have a dutiful relationship with God. He was a man that walked with God daily, a man his friend described as one that the Lord is with. Verse 21 says, "Then David came to Saul and attended him, and Saul loved him greatly; and he became his armor bearer." In effect, David became a member of Saul's inner court. Whenever Saul's melancholy spells came upon him, David would play for him and make him feel better. The rest of the time, he was Saul's body guard. David was doing menial work for the King. He was faithful to do whatever the King needed at the time, but though his work seemed unimportant at the time, it wasn't. He was in the right place at the right time-exactly where God placed him. He was doing more than serving Saul; he was serving the Lord and learning the ends and outs of reigning over a kingdom-something he would need to know in the future. God and David knew something that Saul didn't know at this time, Samuel had anointed David the next King of Israel, and God used the evil in Saul's life to put David in a position where he could do good for Saul and where he could learn to do good for the kingdom.

God is Lord of all-even evil. He can use it to bring about good in the lives of those who are surrounded by evil.  

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