Creative Team Building and Leadership Resources - In our Elements

A Devil Made Him Do It

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (I Samuel 19) transports me to daytime drama at its best, with intrigue, threats, narrow escapes, family disloyalty, and deep love. The passage also contains one of the most puzzling and troubling verses in all of scripture: An evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul. This evil Godsend is not an isolated case, either. The Holy One dispatches an evil spirit several times upon Saul, as well as upon some of the other leaders of ancient Israel. These passages represent the height of belief in an all-encompassing and overarching providence, portraying God in charge of the devils as well as the details of creation. This particular devil, or evil spirit, maddens the king and possesses him to attempt murder against his son-in-law, the court harpist/conquering hero.

Enter David’s beloved best friend, prince Jon. He convinces Daddy King to lay off the cockamamie assassination schemes. The advice works for a short while, until the dreaded devil from God comes over him again and he tries to spear David to the wall. Another escape. Enter another conspirator in the attempt to sabotage Saul, his daughter, Michal, one of David’s wives. Michal and Jonathon’s blatant disregard for their father’s – and their King’s – orders, represents one of the earliest stories laying the foundation for civil disobedience as an act of faith. These sibling saboteurs risk life and limb to protect their beloved, entering into dark schemes of subversion, daring to disobey both family and government authority. Their courage and connivance would pave the way for Thoreau, Gandhi, MLK, Vaclav Havel, Christian Peacemaker Teams, the Occupy movements, and hosts of other people of faith whose love and devotion to God’s way has led them to stray from the world’s ordered way.

The story goes on to teach us that the world won’t just roll over and play dead when confronted with radical disregard for law and order.  Saul didn’t stop. He sent envoys to pursue the innocent fugitive, who had found his way to the prophet Samuel in Ramah. Another Spirit of God was at work there, this time possessing groups of Samuel’s followers to engage in a frenzy of synchronized prophecy. When Saul’s hired thugs found the group, they got captured by the same Spirit and joined in the prophecy party. A second group of envoys wound up in the same predicament, as did a third. Finally Saul himself took matters into his own hands and went searching for the groups at Ramah. And sure enough, as you might expect from a soap opera like this, the Spirit took hold of him and he joined in the mayhem, prophesying to beat the band. Then he went a step further, beyond the PG ratings of daytime tv. Like Peter Boyle’s character in the classic movie The Dream Team, King Saul was possessed to disrobe for his preaching. The clothes-free crazy King stayed in that state all day and all night, provoking quite a few questions among his subjects. Who knows what the moral of that story is, perhaps to be on the alert for possessive spirits from the Lord. While I contemplate it, I’ll assure you that I’m a member of the not quite ready for prime time naked preaching.

How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.



  • December 20, 2011 at 7:06 am

    The concept of “an evil spirit from the Lord,” as you say, is most troubling. I’ve wondered how this glimpse of COMPLETE sovereignty weighs in against verses that tell us that God will not tempt us? (James 1:13) or that He is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all? (1 John 1:15).
    What I’ve come to believe (I think) is that this description of an evil spirit “from” the Lord is something of a euphemism describing God’s removal of His constant protecting presence. Because it suited the purpose of long-term good, and because Saul had turned his back on God, God stepped back and allowed the evil spirit that He knew was waiting to take over Saul’s mind.
    It’s a theory and probably an evolving one. I’d be curious to know what you think about that, Stan.

    Comment by Teresa Buckner

  • December 20, 2011 at 8:15 am

    Great question, Teresa. I don’t try to harmonize all the varying theologies found in scripture, I take them as differing angles on the truth. This particular passage certainly has the angle of total sovereignty, which as you say, has troubling aspects. I doubt we’ll solve the mystery, but it makes for a great sacred story nonetheless!

    Comment by Stan Dotson

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