Why did an evil spirit from God torment King Saul? Why would God send an evil spirit?

King Saul was the first King of Israel, and after repeated acts of disobedience (1 Samuel 13:1-14; 15:1-35), the Bible says "Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the LORD tormented him" (1 Samuel 16:14). The evil spirit was not a continual presence—Saul was not possessed—but it would often come to him and trouble him. How could an evil spirit be "from the LORD?" Why would God allow an evil spirit to torment Saul? What was the purpose of this?

From the first chapter of the Book of Job, we see that Satan and the evil spirits are not autonomous, that is, they must ask permission from God before doing certain things (Job 1:12; 2:6). God is a complete ruler; He is absolutely sovereign over His creation, including the evil spirits. They recognize His authority, and they recognized Jesus Christ's authority, which was a sign of Jesus' oneness with the Father (Mark 5:1-13). The evil spirit which tormented Saul was maliciously willing to torment him, but it could not have done so unless it was allowed by God. Most likely, there were two reasons why God allowed the spirit to torment King Saul.

First, it was likely a way of providentially connecting King Saul to the future king, David. Saul's servants, when they saw how he suffered under the torment of the spirit, sought someone to play the lyre for the king and soothe him. They found David, and Saul said "Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight" (1 Samuel 16:22). When David played the lyre, the evil spirit would leave Saul and he would feel better (1 Samuel 16:21-23).

Second, it was probably an act of discipline to correct King Saul's behavior and get him to stop being disobedient. Someone has said "pain is God's megaphone." While not true in every situation, physical pain, the presence of evil spirits, or other hardships can be discipline from God, our Father, who does not want us to continue in sin, but instead wishes us to bear the "peaceful fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:7-11; Proverbs 3:11-12). We are often tempted to disassociate unpleasant things and the hand of God, but the Bible makes it clear that He both allows and condones discipline for His children. Hebrews 12:7-13 encourages, "It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. … he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. … Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed." Even when hardship is simply the natural result of living in a fallen world, we can trust that God certainly uses every circumstance for the sanctification and ultimate good of His followers (Romans 8:28-30). In Saul's case, the evil spirit seems to have been an act of discipline.

Related Truth:

Is God cruel?

The Davidic covenant – What is it?

What is demonic oppression?

Does Satan have to ask for God's permission before he can attack us?

What can we learn from the life of King Hezekiah?

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