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Good From Evil

1 Samuel 16:14-23 

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"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.

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