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In 1 Samuel 16:14 (KJV), the Scripture says:

But the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.

I am curious about the meaning of "an evil spirit from the Lord". Does it just say God allows the evil spirits to attack Saul or something else?

  • I have edited your question to format the Bible quote ('>' as the first character of a paragraph). Also, don't forget to identify the version of the Bible that you have used. – enegue May 14 '17 at 13:06
  • A spirit was sent by YHVH which was an was evil spirit (a devil). Am I missing something? – Sola Gratia May 14 '17 at 13:18
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The Hebrew expression given in the KJV as "from the LORD" is מֵאֵ֥ת יְהוָֽה. It occurs 36 times in the Hebrew Text of the Old Testament (WLC). For example:

  • Genesis 19:24 - brimstone and fire "from the LORD" rained on Sodom and Gomorrah

  • Numbers 11:31 - quail "from the LORD" fell over the camp of Israel in the wilderness

  • Numbers 16:35 - fire "from the LORD" consumed Korah and all the others who joined him in the rebellion against Moses.

  • Joshua 11:20 - a spirit (implied) "from the LORD" strengthened the heart of the fighting men of Israel, enabling them to rout the kings of Canaan - 31 kings (1) in around 6 years. (2)

All these declarations are accompanied by miraculous events, which the authors of the text could only attribute to the LORD. However, given the existence and availability of the narratives in the canon of scripture, there is now no excuse for not seeing the bigger picture that they paint.

The record of the dialogue in chapter 1 of the book of Job is extremely important in regard to seeing the broader picture being drawn by the entire narrative of scripture.

7 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.
8 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?
9 Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? 10 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. 11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.
12 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 1:7-12 (KJV)

There is way more happening in this passage than a wager between two buddies (a la the Hollywood movie, "Trading Places"). Satan is not the LORD's buddy, but his rival.

Satan says to the LORD, "... put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face." Would a buddy suggest to his buddy, "The only reason for the reverence shown to you, is expectation of gain. Stop the blessing and the worship will become cursing? What else is there about you that could possibly motivate his reverence?" No, such sentiments come from a heart that is, itself, proud and irreverent.

Satan says, "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." What is this "hedge" that Satan mentions?

The "hedge" is clearly the protective hand of the LORD. Why would the existence of God's protective hand be an issue for Satan? Surely only, that hitherto it has prevented him from doing what he is compelled in his heart to do: move others to want to curse the LORD to his face.

The LORD says to Satan, "Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand" The disasters that befall Job from this point in the narrative are the work of Satan's power, and Satan's hand. It is true that the LORD has allowed it, but the concluding chapters of the story of Job reveal the reason the LORD gave Satan the keys to the hedge, as it were.

All those who recognize the narrative of scripture to be a record put together, preserved, and published by honest hearts who are reverent towards the LORD, and that it depicts the good, the bad, and the ugly of human-to-human/human-to-God relationships, will understand that righteous souls are vulnerable to wickedness. Except for the "hedge" (the protective hand of the LORD), they would be overwhelmed by the wicked, and consumed.

What should the LORD do, if life within the hedge becomes no different to what life would be without it, i.e. those within the hedge forget that it is there and imagine the blessings they enjoy are because of their own strength and their own goodness? Well, he'd have to take it away to show them that such is not the case, wouldn't he?

That is precisely what the LORD did in Job's case, to prove to him that he could do nothing without His hand of protection, that his strength was completely inadequate for the task of keeping himself and his family safe.

6 Then answered the LORD unto Job out of the whirlwind, and said, ...
8 Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous? ...
10 Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty. 11 Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath: and behold every one that is proud, and abase him. 12 Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low; and tread down the wicked in their place. 13 Hide them in the dust together; and bind their faces in secret. 14 Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee.
-- Job 40:6, 8, 10-14 (KJV)

Conclusion

"from the LORD" is an expression that one can excuse from those who had no access to the entire narrative of scripture, but there is no excuse for those who now do. Of course, the LORD takes full responsibility for the fact that evil exists, since if it was his will, he would have prevented it, however he is not the agent of destruction. Beings who have CHOSEN to oppose him, whose hearts are proud and defiant, and whose greatest desire is to usurp the reverence and honour that is due him, are such agents.

But like all who are proud and defiant and boast of their own intellect and strength, drawing attention to their own accomplishments, and building edifices to themselves, they have no concept of what the architect of the universe is doing from beginning to end:

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: 11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
-- Isaiah 55:9-11 (KJV)

Even when it is explained to them, they can't grasp it:

Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.
-- Acts 13:41 (KJV)

The evil spirit "from the LORD" spoken of in 1 Samuel 16:14, is the best the author could do to explain what he observed in regard to Saul. But as explained above, it is just another example of the LORD removing the hedge, his hand of protection, from those who have forgotten that it is not their own hand that preserves them, but the LORD's.

What will happen to Saul when all things are concluded? Did he repent in dust and ashes, like Job? Those are questions for another time.


Notes:
(1) - Joshua 12:24
(2) - BibleHub Time-line: Joshua chapter 1 (1405 BC) through to chapter 13 (1399 BC)

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    your explanation is pretty good. – Haileapp May 17 '17 at 18:31
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"An evil spirit from the LORD" simply means that the LORD sent an evil spirit to Saul. This is something the author stresses several times in the chapter.

1 Samuel 16:15 (KJV) 15

And Saul's servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee.

1 Samuel 16:16 (KJV) 16

Let our lord now command thy servants, [which are] before thee, to seek out a man, [who is] a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well.

1 Samuel 16:23 (KJV) 23

And it came to pass, when the [evil] spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.

This might seem strange for the LORD to send an evil spirit to cause sickness and misfortune but such behavior is prevalent in scripture. For example the author of Job presents the LORD as working with Satan to make Job sick. In 1 Kings 22:20-23 the LORD sends a lying spirit to Ahab.

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Even if a great number of commentators opt for a ‘demonic’ explanation, I think there is no need – in this case – to involve demons in play.

(I) First of all, please, note the different phraseology utilized in the passage, focusing on the expression “(a) spirit from (God)” (1 Sam 16:14).

In the first instance we have a structure about a property-related concept (without any prefixed particle), namely

רוח יהוה, (‘a spirit belonging to יהוה ‘ > ‘a spirit of יהוה ‘).

In the second instance, we have the following structure (with a prefixed particle), namely

רוח־רעה מאת יהוה.

It is clear that (not taking into account the adjective רעה, ‘evil’) – also if you don’t read Hebrew at all – the phraseology of the two expressions is very different. The part of speech that makes a difference is the -M prefixed to the AT particle (I have underscored the -M prefixed). Just now we can conclude that – for logic - we are not in the presence of the same meaning, as if both expressions would suggest ‘(a) spirit from (God)’ > ‘(a) spirit of (God)’. A different expression’s construction must correspond to a different meaning. Moreover, if the second instance were to enhance the ownership of God over the ‘spirit’, the text were רוח־רעה יהוה, without the term מאת [MAT]. Then, this term (מאת [MAT]) rules out the possibility here the Bible refers to ‘a spirit belonging to יהוה ‘ > ‘a spirit of יהוה ‘. This inserted particle, instead, must indicate slight, but important, shifting of meaning (we will see it later).

(II) If we were in the presence of a diabolical possession, as a lot of commentators sustain, in what manner a ‘harp, lyre’ [NGN] was able to heal Saul (“[…] and you will be well”, 1 Sam 16:16, ESV)? Was a sound of a harp (or, lyre) enough effective to impede a demon to perform his evil deeds through a possessed (by him) man (in this case, Saul)? For me is hard to imagine the answer of Jesus to his apostles that asked (really) him ‘Why could we not cast it [the demon] out?’ (Mat 17:19, ESV) - along with the answer (imaginary) of their Lord - ‘How clever of you! You’ve forget your harps at your houses!’. Not to mention the occasion when the lyre/harp’s sound didn’t work on Saul (1 Sam 18:10)…

(III) An effect of the ‘bad spirit’ was not the God’s-inspired prophesying of Saul (1 Sam 18:10), like someone say. In fact, see how these Bibles translated the expression, along with a comment (bold is mine):

he [Saul] went into a frenzy within the house”, Robert Alter

he [Saul] raved within his house”, ESV

and he [Saul] raged in his house”, NAB

and he [Saul] fell into a frenzy while he was indoors”, NJB

In a similar way translate NLT, NRSV.

He prophesied in the midst of the house, that is, he had the gestures and motions of a prophet, and humoured the thing well enough to decoy David into a snare, and that he might be fearless of any danger and off his guard; and perhaps designing, if he could but kill him, to impute it to a divine impulse and to charge it upon the spirit of prophecy with which he seemed to be animated: but really it was a hellish fury that actuated him.” (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, ad locum)

At this point, before I present an alternative explanation, we will take a look to the personality of Saul, as far as the Bible presents it to us.

After a Samuel’s praise to the Saul’s family: “And Saul answered and said: ‘Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? wherefore then speakest thou to me after this manner?’” (1 Sam 9:20-21, JPS)

Later, at Mizpah: “And Samuel bringeth near the whole tribes of Israel, and the tribe of Benjamin is captured, and he bringeth near the tribe of Benjamin by its families, and the family of Matri is captured, and Saul son of Kish is captured, and they seek him, and he hath not been found. And they ask again at Jehovah, ‘Hath the man yet come hither?’ and Jehovah saith, ‘Lo, he hath been hidden near the vessels’” (1 Sam 10:20-22, YLT).

Some comments (bold is mine) to the ‘hiding’ of Saul: “For he [Saul] knew that God had chosen him; and Samuel had anointed him already. He did it therefore simply from humility and modesty. ‘In order that he might not appear to have either the hope or desire for anything of the kind, he preferred to be absent when the lots were cast’ (Seb. Schmidt).” (Keil & Delitzsch Commentary).

he [Saul] hath hid himself among the stuff — Among the carriages or baggage of the people there assembled. This he probably did from a sense of his own unworthiness.” (Joseph Benson)

Compare, also, the reaction (or the absence of it) of Saul in the subsequent occasion described in 1 Sam 10:17-27.

So, the Bible introduces Saul as a modest, also a shy person. You have surely acquainted with shy, bashful people. Unhappy, many of them remain in this condition for all their life. Other reach – happily - a balanced view of themselves. But, in some cases, they succeed somehow to loosen their psychological block, but developing at the same time – gradually – a tendency to go to the opposite extremes, maybe becoming loquacious people, later being self-centered, until they may reach also a condition of a permanent boastfulness and pride.

It seems to me this last description is apt to Saul later mental condition. In a short time, Saul swung from a bashful hiding of himself (1 Sam 10:22) to a building of a monument for himself (1 Sam 15:12). Moreover, his subsequent reaction to the women chants in David’s praise confirms he became a pride (1 Sam 15:22-23), also an envious man (1 Sam 18:7-9), at all.

Can all these information help us to understand the sense of the passage at issue? Yes, surely. Instead to hypothesize that the prefixed -M in this passage points exclusively to an ownership of God over the ‘spirit’ (or, alternatively, a ‘provenience’ by God) we have to remember that this prefixed particle has also a different nuance of meaning. Some passages (bold is mine)

And Moses spoke so to the children of Israel: but they hearkened not to Moses, by reason of anguish [מקצר] of spirit, and cruel bondage.” (Exo 6:9, Webster)

Yahweh loved you and chose you not because of your great number [מרבכם] exceeding all other peoples, for you are fewer than all of the peoples” (Deu 7:7, Lexham English Bible)

Because of the voice [מקול] of him who says sharp and bitter words; because of the hater and him who is the instrument of punishment.” (Psa 44:17[16], Bible in Basic English)

because of the voice [מקול] of the enemy, and because of the oppression of the sinner: for they brought iniquity against me, and were wrathfully angry with me” (Psa 55:4, Brenton).

He was wounded and crushed because of our sins [מפשענו]; by taking our punishment, he made us completely well.” (Isa 53:5, CEV).

Similarly in Aramaic (see Dan 5:19).

From these examples we now understand that M- possesses also a different nuance of meaning. Here are some reference work.

Wilhelm Gesenius, in his A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament pointed all the nuances of meaning of M- (as derivative from MN < MNN). One of these is described on page 582 (‘f’): “Of the ‘remote cause’, the ‘ground’ or motive ‘on account of, because of’, ‘for’ which any things is done. Joel 4,19 [3,19] [...] ‘for the violence to the children of Judah’. Is[aiah] 53,5 […] ‘for (on account of) our transgressions. Pro. 20,4. Deut. 7,7. Josh. 22,24. Cant. 3,8 Zech. 8,10. […]” Similarly, also The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), on the pages 342-343, under the sub-entry ‘8. of cause, on account of, because of, for (reason) of, through, at, e.g.’; Parkhurst, ‘because of, by reason of’; and Davidson, “[…] (c) because, on account of […].”

So, the more correct translation of the passage in issue (1 Sam 16:14) could be:

A flux (or, 'a spirit') of יהוה departed from Saul, but terrified him an unsuitable flux (or, 'a spirit'), on account of יהוה“.

Knowing God had departed from him, Saul developed in his mind a very strong mental pain. The full awareness that God abandoned him, once and for all, was driving him mad. He made himself ill about the fact he lose his former approved position before God.

Interestingly, once I described the Saul’s psychological profile according to the Bible to a psychoanalyst (avoiding to tell him who is the man [Saul], and the source of information of mine [the Bible]). So, he told me that this mental disorder is named ‘obsessional neurosis’.

I hope these information will be useful for you.

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Young's Literal Translation renders 1 Sam. 16:14 as,

And the Spirit of Jehovah turned aside from Saul, and a spirit of sadness from Jehovah terrified him;

When God's spirit left Saul, the peace and comfort of the Lord also left him.

Phil. 4:7,

and the peace of God, that is surpassing all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.

Saul was left in sadness, and depression. The remainder of 1 Sam. 16 is ironic in that Saul's sadness was lifted by the chosen musician, the very David whom YHWH had chosen to be the true king of Israel, and whom Samuel had just anointed in vs. 13. The Spirit of the Lord was with David from that day forward, and came near to Saul again with David's presence in vs. 23.

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  • I formatted the Bible quotes appropriately so they stand apart from your own words. To do this use '>' as the first character on a new line containing the text of the quote. – enegue May 14 '17 at 20:01
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Resources: JKV Bible and Bible Tools Paraphrased. YAWAH, God is Supreme. He has no sin or evil. When we continually by will to sin, the Holy Spirit is quenched and departs. Saul was leader of Isreal, and refused to receive the word of the Lord from the prophet, God’s mouthpiece (Luke 1:70; Amos 3:6). God’s Love and protection remained over Isreal from the destructive ways of bad leadership. Satan, all evil spirits and demons are restricted to God’s authority. However, when He removes his hand of mercy, Satan takes possession. The only application is, by divine permission, [not sent by God Himself] God “allowed” Satan to despatch an evil spirit to troubled Saul.

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An evil spirit from the Lord, means trouble of mind, and/or of body:

An evil spirit troubling the mind: Besides the mentioned King Saul, King David was after the adultery/murder incident also troubled by an evil spirit. While King Saul persisted in his rebellion against God, King David humbled himself and eventually found solace.

Psalm 6 (KJ21) David: "O Lord, rebuke me not in Thine anger, neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore vexed, but Thou, O Lord, how long? Return, O Lord, deliver my soul! O save me for Thy mercies’ sake".

An evil spirit troubling the body: The apostle Paul suffered from the workings of an evil spirit. He had asked God to remove this spirit, but got the answer that: "My grace is sufficient for you".

2 Cor 12:7-10 (NIV) "... in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

An evil spirit troubling both the mind and the body: Job was driven to near insanity when an evil spirit from the Lord destroyed both his family and his health.

Job 13:21,24-26 (NIV) Job: "Withdraw your hand far from me, and stop frightening me with your terrors. Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy? Will you torment a windblown leaf? Will you chase after dry chaff? For you write down bitter things against me and make me reap the sins of my youth".

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