(Thanks to Hugh for inspiration on this one.)
A good friend recently asked a Scriptural question regarding several passages that I suspect puzzle all who read and consider them.
"Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah. But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him. And Saul's servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee… And it came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house: and David played with his hand, as at other times: and there was a javelin in Saul's hand. And Saul cast the javelin; for he said, I will smite David even to the wall with it. And David avoided out of his presence twice… And the evil spirit from the LORD was upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his javelin in his hand: and David played with his hand. And Saul sought to smite David even to the wall with the javelin; but he slipped away out of Saul's presence, and he smote the javelin into the wall: and David fled, and escaped that night" (I Samuel 16:13-15; 18:10-11; 19:9-10).
An evil spirit, from the Lord? My friend raised the good and proper point. How and why would a perfectly righteous Lord send an evil spirit upon David, or anyone? In light of Scripture, this seems to make no sense.
"The works of His hands are verity and judgment; all His commandments are sure. They stand fast forever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness" (Psalm 111:7-8).
"Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity" (Habakuk 1:13).
"Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man" (James 1:13).
An apparent Biblical enigma presents itself in this matter of an evil spirit proceeding from a good God. However, Scripture itself reconciles the conflict. As it does, several great principles of Truth also illuminate our understanding and response to God.
"Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them. And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not Thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth Thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse Thee to Thy face. And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD" (Job 1:6-12; emphasis added).
"Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord." Compare this with the "evil spirit from the Lord" referenced in the matter of Saul and David. Note that in both cases, the Bible does not suggest that God sent the spirits. They rather went forth from Him. In the case of Job, the devil received permission of the Lord to attack Job in a measured fashion. We may well surmise the same regarding Saul's attempt to kill David with a javelin. Thus, the matters do not compromise God's revealed character. The spirits went forth from the Lord, but He did not originate their evil devices. He rather allowed the devils' chosen wickedness in the full knowledge that He could fulfill His purposes in Job and David to a greater degree because of the attacks, thus revealing His redemptive power and glory. Such wonder foreshadows the cross and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and also God's working in our lives wherein troubling and evil things happen, but never without the Lord's complete confidence that He can "work all things together for good to them that love God" (Romans 8:28). Few more important truths exist as we seek to walk with our Lord in a fallen world with devils whose leashes the Lord often seems to lengthen in order to provide opportunity for the revelation of His greater glory and the benefit of His children's growth in grace. "It is written, For Thy sake we are killed all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us" (Romans 8:36-37).
We also discover in this matter the vital truth that Scripture interprets Scripture.
"Whom shall He teach knowledge? And whom shall He make to understand doctrine? Them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (Isaiah 28:9-10).
I would submit that without the passage in Job, the aforementioned enigma of evil spirits proceeding "from the Lord" referenced in I Samuel would remind beyond our understanding. I have seen so many explanations of this matter through the years that simply involved surmising rather than "precept upon precept, line upon line" Biblical interpretation. I'm all for santified thinking and the use of our brains, but only as we begin and continue in the framework of Scriptural authority. Indeed, when a question of Truth arises, the answers will be found by "not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (I Corinthians 2:13). Again, Scripture interprets Scripture. No more important truth can be known and embraced by the trusting sons and daughters of God in Christ as we seek to walk in His light and life.
Whenever a seeming conflict or enigma presents itself in the Bible, we can be sure that the Bible itself contains the reconciling answer. Quite often, the most brilliant truths shine forth from such challenges of intrepretation, but only to those who have absolute confidence in the truth and authority of Scripture. We begin with the conviction of its perfection, and in the certain expectation that "In Thy light shall we see light" (Psalm 36:9). In the case of David and Saul, and of Job, the foreshadowings of the cross, the resurrection, and our good and great Heavenly Father's ability to "work all things together for good" shine forth in a brightness that may begin with a seeming enigma, but ends in sublime glory and illumination.
"Thy Word is truth."
Weekly Memory Verse
His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue.
(II Peter 1:3)