This chapter contains one of the more difficult verses to interpret in the Bible. God demotes Saul from his role as king, yet leaves him in position for many years. When God removes Saul from the throne He also removes the Holy Spirit from Saul. God instructs Samuel to anoint a new king and Samuel travels to Bethlehem where he anoints David, the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons. After Samuel’s anointing we are told that God’s Spirit comes powerfully upon David.
The text connects the arrival of the Spirit with David and the departure of the Spirit from Saul. We do not know if the two things occurred at the same time, but the presence of God’s Spirit seems to confirm the right to lead and rule.
Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.1 Samuel 16:14 NIV
There are many blog posts that explore the meaning of this verse to provide alternatives to the possibility of God being a source of evil. If you enter the scripture reference in Google it will provide you with many explanations. The most instructive I found can be accessed here. The simple explanation is that the departure of the Spirit opens a door for the evil spirit to come through. God does not actively send the evil spirit, but the absence of His presence passively permits the coming of the evil spirit. We also know from Job that Satan sometimes requests permission to torment someone on earth. Satan initiates whatever evil occurs, but God must give permission.
God does not give up on Saul. He sends David to play music for Saul. David’s music and the presence of God’s Spirit with David drive the evil spirit away and Saul feels better. Saul will eventually decide that the torment of the evil spirit is preferable to the presence of David.
What about us?
There are several applications that flow out of this chapter and especially from this challenging verse. The first application relates to how we interpret scripture. I think there are three responses we can have to verses like this. The first response is apathy. We determine that what this verse says is not significant to us and choose to ignore it.
The second response is some form of anger or rebellion. We look at this verse in isolation and determine that if this is what God does then He is not a good God. We set ourselves up as judges and find God guilty. Danger lies ahead when we begin looking at scripture this way. Once we are established as judges we will usually determine to do what is right in our own minds.
The third response is trust based on an understanding of all of scripture. In this case, trust that seeks to understand what God is trying to teach Saul and Israel.
The second application relates to how we respond to God’s discipline. Saul disobeys God and there are serious consequences including God removing His Spirit from Saul. We have an advantage over Saul and David. As believers the Holy Spirit continually dwells in us. We know from Ephesians 6:10-18 and other passages that Satan still attacks, but that we have a strong defense against those attacks. When we choose to put down our weapons Satan still has an opening to step in.
From the beginning one of Satan’s most effective temptations came in some form of judging God. Satan tempts us to judge God against our desires or our culture and we find God guilty. We determine that we are good and God is evil. The results are always thoughts or actions contrary to God’s will for our lives. This inevitably leads to sin. Asking questions about difficult verses is a good thing, especially when approaching the exploration with humility and a desire to learn.