It seems strange to me as a young Christian for a few reasons. When God wills the death of a man, he often strengthens the hand of their enemies, sometimes sends angels to cut them down, occassionaly he kills directly through terrible miracles. The spirit he sends sows treachery amongst the men and what springs to mind is the things which are an abomination to the Lord in Proverbs 6:19 "...and a person who stirs up conflict in the community." The next confusion is with "evil spirit". The consensus seems to be that it is quite literal, a demon. Are not the two chief essences of evil malice(outside of divine justice, in an individual) and disobedience of God's will? Is God in the habit of commanding evil spirits??

I could not find much insight in a few commentaries. Could not find Calvin nor Aquinas on judges, Haydock did not have much insight, and even Augustine seemed puzzled, by both what is writte and potential scribal errors. He does not seem to take a strong stance on the matter and its seemingly big theological implications. (Maybe the issue is addressed in his other works?)

  • In my editing I left out my first confusion. That there is a precedent for God permitting an evil spirit, Satan to torment Job, but is this the only instance of the more active verb "sent"? Jan 31, 2023 at 11:43

3 Answers 3


A book that covers these kinds of questions is Hard sayings of the Bible, the summaries quoted below. The Bible is written in the languages and concepts that the readers would understand. Judges can be particularly difficult for use to understand in modern times. Often it seems that we don't get to a full theology of God until Isaiah.

שׁלח (send) can have the sense of allow, such as with Pharaoh in Egypt וְלֹ֥א יְשַׁלַּ֖ח אֶת־הָעָֽם׃ (and not let the people go) in Exodus 4:21,23;5:1,2;6:1,11;7:2,14,16;8:1,2,8,20,21,28,29,32... many more. There שׁלח is translated "let go." This possible meaning is also expressed the lexicons.


  1. send: human subj... 2. send: subj. י׳ (God) ... 3. stretch out, especially acc. hand ... 4. rarely send away ... 5. let loose
    -- Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (1977). In Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (p. 1018). Clarendon Press.

9:23 God Sent an Evil Spirit? See comment on 1 SAMUEL 16:14; 1 KINGS 22:20–22. -- Kaiser, W. C., Jr., Davids, P. H., Bruce, F. F., & Brauch, M. T. (1996). Hard sayings of the Bible (p. 193). InterVarsity.

16:14 An Evil Spirit from the Lord? ... All this happened by the permission of God rather than as a result of his directive will, for God cannot be the author of anything evil. But the exact source of Saul’s torment cannot be determined with any degree of certitude. The Lord may well have used a messenger, or even just an annoying sense of disquietude and discontent. Yet if Saul really was a believer—and I think there are enough evidences to affirm that he was—then it is difficult to see how he could have been possessed by a demon. Whether believers can be possessed by demons, however, is still being debated by theologians. -- Kaiser, W. C., Jr., Davids, P. H., Bruce, F. F., & Brauch, M. T. (1996). Hard sayings of the Bible (p. 211-12). InterVarsity.

22:20–22 Is God the Author of Falsehood? ... God can be described as deceiving Ahab only because the biblical writer does not discriminate between what someone does and what he permits. It is true, of course, that in 1 Kings 22 God seems to do more than permit the deception. Without saying that God does evil that good may come, we can say that God overrules the full tendencies of preexisting evil so that the evil promotes God’s eternal plan, contrary to its own tendency and goals. -- Kaiser, W. C., Jr., Davids, P. H., Bruce, F. F., & Brauch, M. T. (1996). Hard sayings of the Bible (p. 230). InterVarsity.

Here is a commentary that discusses this subject.

Ver. 23. And God sent an evil spirit. Friendship among the wicked is only a league of vice against others. In itself it cannot stand. Wickedness, says Hesiod, prepares its own punishment. Abimelech, it seems, ruled three years in peace. Plutarch, in his noble treatise on the purposes of the Deity in so often delaying the retribution due to crime, finds the ground of it in the wisdom of Providence, which knows the opportune moment for punishment. Here, as in other passages where he speaks of unholy men, our narrator names the recompensing deity Elohim, not Jehovah. Elohim sends the evil spirit of discord among them; for the undeviating law by which sin punishes itself, is grounded in the very nature of the Deity. It would be the destruction of the justice and truth of the divine government, if worthlessness escaped its recompense. The moral universe is so constituted as to ensure evil fruits to evil deeds. The experience which here presents itself is one of the most common in the history of states and individuals. It is the type of all unnatural conspiracies against right, and of their issue. It is moreover demonstrative of the perfect clearness with which the divine government of the world is apprehended in the Book of Judges, that the falling out of vice with itself, and the stopping up by wickedness of the natural sources of its own advantage, are represented as the action of an evil spirit sent by Elohim. Shechem now seeks to deal with Abimelech, as heretofore it helped him to deal with the sons of Gideon. Treason began, and treason ends, the catastrophe. -- Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Cassel, P., & Steenstra, P. H. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Judges (p. 149). Logos Bible Software.

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    I think the error in my reasoning was conflating sent(ordering to go somewhere) with commanded (potentially ordering to go somewhere then perform an action). When God sends the sprit , even knowing what will happen, the evil spirit still chooses to do the evil; God is still unmarred by this because, he does not commit the act of treachery/sow discord, nor does he order the evil spirit to act. Will make a start on Hard sayings of the Bible tomorrow. Jan 31, 2023 at 13:39
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    Note meanings of Hebrew word translated sent in edited answer.
    – Perry Webb
    Jan 31, 2023 at 19:03

I expected this to be a repeat question but after trawling through a dozen pages, Judges 9:23 did not crop up even once. So, thank you for asking. It is always a good idea to quote the verse in full, that you ask about, so I do that here:

"Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Schechem; and the men of Schechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech." A.V.

Well, the word 'evil' in this verse is 'ra' which means 'bad'. There are other Hebrew words that have been translated as 'evil' but they have various meanings, such as 'vanity, iniquity', 'worthlessness', 'evil, badness', 'to do evil', 'to be evil'.

From this it can be seen that our idea of evil might be rather limited, compared with the ancient Hebrew understanding. The use of 'ra' in this verse will be shown by the context, and this is where I quote from a commentator who shows what was going on. The need is to know what king Abimelech had been doing along with the men of Schechem.

"Three years Abimelech reigned... and not only the Schechemites, but many other places, paid him respect. They must have been fond of a king that could please themselves with such a one as this. But the triumphing of the wicked is short...

The ruin of these confederates in wickedness was from the righteous hand of the God to whom vengeance belongs. "He sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the Schechemites (v. 23), that is, they grew jealous one of another and ill-affected one to another. He slighted those that set him up, and perhaps countenanced other cities which now began to come into his interests more than he did theirs, and then they grew uneasy at his government, blamed his conduct, and quarrelled at his impositions.

This was from God. He permitted the devil, that great mischief-maker, to sow discord between them, and he is an evil spirit, whom God not only keeps under his check, but sometimes serves his own purposes by. Their own lusts were evil spirits; they are devils in men's own hearts; from them come wars and fightings. These God gave them up to, and so might be said to send the evil spirits between them. When men's sin is mad their punishment, though God is not the author of the sin, yet the punishment is from him. The quarrel God had with Abimelech and the Schechemites was for the murder of the sons of Gideon (v. 24): That the cruelty done to them might come and their blood be laid as a burden upon Abimelech that slew them, and the men of Schechem that helped him." Matthew Henry's Commentary p. 276 column 1, Hendrickson 2014

The context of chapter 9 gives the reason as to why God sent that evil spirit, which is what you ask about.

  • Yes I got the context of the chapter. It might have been more accurate to ask WHY God chose an evil spirit to do this job instead of an angel or terrible miracle which might not be a question in the domain of hermeneutics?(I am newer to personal scriptural study than I am reading the theological works of others )? First I wanted to get some modern opinions on greek translation points Augustine has. Jan 31, 2023 at 14:02
  • It is not easy to say if the word "sent" refers to what God commands or allows. The word that appears here is sent. The Greek has exapésteilen, a word that also appears in the psalms, where it is read: send (emitted) your light (Sal 42,3). In spite of everything, our translators, when in Greek they appear exaptereth in some places, have translated by "mandó" (misit) and not by "sent" (emisit). It can also be interpreted in the sense that God has sent an evil spirit, as if he wanted to go among them, that is, as if he had given the evil spirit power to disturb the peace that was between them. Jan 31, 2023 at 14:02
  • To such an extent it has not been considered as absurd that the Lord could send an evil spirit to avenge justice, that some have even translated the exapésteilen by "launched" (inmisit). Jan 31, 2023 at 14:03
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    Note JBS translates הַגָּ֔ן וְעֵ֕ץ הַדַּ֖עַת טֹ֥וב וָרָֽע as "the tree of knowledge of good and bad." Jewish Publication Society. (1985). Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Gen. 2:9). Jewish Publication Society.
    – Perry Webb
    Jan 31, 2023 at 15:52
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    I did a word study on שׁלח and edited my answer.
    – Perry Webb
    Jan 31, 2023 at 18:12

Sometimes the word spirit indicates a person’s mental disposition. This is something that cannot be seen, but it manifests itself in a visible way by a person’s expressions or actions. At Psalm 34:18, mental disposition is clearly indicated by the word spirit. Actually, the word “spirit” has at least seven distinct meanings. It is used to refer to God, to Jesus Christ, to angels, to life force in earthly creatures, to mental disposition, to inspired expressions and to God’s active force. Having these meanings in mind as you read the Scriptures will help you to read with understanding.

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    "Sometimes the word spirit indicates a person’s mental disposition." - Can you provide a citation to back this up? Jan 31, 2023 at 21:27
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    I gave the example of Psalms 34:18 which refers to a "contrite spirit". This same disposition of anger is expressed at Ecclesiastes 10:4 as “the spirit of a ruler” that rises up against a person. At Proverbs 25:28 it is indicated by saying: “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls.” Such is the man who fails to control his anger.
    – Scott
    Jan 31, 2023 at 21:34

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