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God tempts no one:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.

[James 1:13 ESV]

Yet God has sent evil spirits to torment and deceive (and thereby tempt?) people in a number of occasions:

14 Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him.

[1 Samuel 16:14 ESV]

7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

[2 Corinthians 12:7 ESV]

6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan[b] also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” 9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

[Job 1:6-12 ESV]

20 and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ 23 Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you.”

[1 Kings 22:20-23 ESV]

Question: How can we reconcile God's not tempting anyone (James 1:13) with God's sending evil spirits to torment and deceive (and thereby tempt?) people?

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  • Good question +1. I am curious too, so I will follow this question.
    – Cork88
    Jan 23 at 19:41

2 Answers 2

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The best way to illustrate what is going on here is to consider some concrete examples what is known in technical theology-speak as the "Divine Passive". Consider two interesting verses:

  • 2 Sam 24:1 - Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”
  • 1 Chron 21:1 - Then Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

Theoretically and logically, these cannot be both be true. However, to the Hebrew mind and way of thinking, both are true. This is because if God is omniscient and omnipotent, only events which He permits occur. Here are more examples:

  • Job 2:3 - God says that Satan "incited" God to ruin Job, even though it was Satan that was the direct cause of Job's ruin (Job 1:6-12).
  • 1 Sam 16:14, 16, 18:10, 19:9 – God sent an evil (literally, unclean) spirit on Saul? God does not have an evil spirit to send! Again, the omnipotent God is deemed responsible for that which He does not prevent.
  • Judges 9:23 has an identical idea of an evil spirit from God.
  • 1 Kings 2:22, 23, 2 Chron 18:21, 22 all have a “lying spirit” from the LORD.
  • Ex 9:12, 10:1, 20, 27, 11:10, 14:8 – God causes Pharaoh to harden his heart??? Clearly not! Compare Ex 8:15, 32, 9:34 where Pharaoh hardens his own heart.
  • Compare Rev 17:1 where God judges the great prostitute, with, Rev 17:16, 17 where the great prostitute becomes a victim of her own wicked ways.
  • In Eze 14:9 says, “I the LORD have enticed/deceived that prophet”; whereas James 1:13 says that God does not tempt anyone.
  • Eze 20 – Judah makes some bad choices and rejects God’s laws and so God gives them other statutes and laws including child sacrifice (V25, 26). In fact, this is what Judah has chosen.

This same idea is expressed another way in some places where God allows sin and evil to reap its own consequences and cause its own downfall.

  • Job 5:13 - He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.
  • Ps 5:10 - Declare them guilty, O God; let them fall by their own devices. Drive them out for their many transgressions, for they have rebelled against You.
  • Ps 9:16 - The LORD is known by the justice He brings; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.
  • Ps 69:22 - Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.
  • Ps 141:10 - Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by in safety.
  • Prov 11:6 - The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the faithless are trapped by their own desires.
  • Prov 12:13 - An evil man is trapped by his rebellious speech, but a righteous man escapes from trouble.
  • Prov 28:10 - He who leads the upright along the path of evil will fall into his own pit, but the blameless will inherit what is good.
  • Hos 11:6 - Job 5:13 - He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.

Thus, I believe the statement in James 1:13 is correct - God tempts no one. However, God often allows events (without actually causing them) to show us the consequences of our actions. This was the case when Judah and Israel were captured - God allowed the surrounding nations to plunder and capture the chosen people because of their unfaithfulness. Here are more examples:

  • Prov 3:11 - My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD, and do not loathe His rebuke;
  • Heb 12:5 - And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not take lightly the discipline of the Lord, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you.
  • Rev 3:19 - Those I love, I rebuke and discipline. Therefore be earnest and repent.
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  • 1
    I am fairly sure the divine passive typically refers either to the interpretation/translation process of certain Greek passages that use the passive voice without a subject (Do not judge others, so that God wil not judge you), not the thing you describe. Do you have any sources for your usage? Jan 24 at 13:12
  • @DavidMulder - I have cited them above. At the same time, I agree with your comment.
    – Dottard
    Jan 28 at 20:32
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To answer this question, it would appear that Scripture presents 2 cases: 1.) God gives men over to a “lying spirit” (1 Kings 22:23) as a means of judgment, and while it is ultimately from God, God is never the one who tempts such a person. God may give mankind over to sin & wickedness but He never encourages sin. See: (Romans 1:18-32)

2.) God giving permission to lying spirits or demons to torment, deceive, & assault people does NOT mean that God is the primary agent in doing the tempting.

The proof of that is in the following verses of the James verse you quoted: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death.” ‭‭James‬ ‭1:13-15‬

We also read that Christ does NOT encourage sin: “But if while seeking to be justified in Christ we ourselves have also been found to be sinners, is Christ then one who encourages sin? Absolutely not!” ‭‭Galatians‬ ‭2:17‬

The answer to your question may be found that God authorizes certain permissions to demonic principalities for His own Holy & Just ends. Such permissions are noted to be authorized by God in Job chapters 1 & 2.

We read in Colossians 1:15-16 that even “principalities, powers, thrones & dominions” were all created for Christ/God. Since they exist for God, God can then command them to harass either sinners or saints for such purposes, as noted in 2 Corinthians 12:7.

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  • How would you within this context explain "and an evil/harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him" from 1 Samuel? Jan 24 at 10:53
  • 1
    @DavidMulder It seems apparent that God commissioned an evil spirit to torment Saul for disobedience, not by bare permission, but as an act of the divine will. What else can we assume from Scripture? It is too direct to think this happened by mere circumstance, yet, the other way to view it is that there was a harmful spirit already there, asking God to torment Saul. Just like Satan asked Jesus to sift Peter like Wheat: (Luke 22:31)
    – Cork88
    Jan 24 at 17:29

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