Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you…Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.” Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.’ 1 Samuel 16:15-16, 23
This passage is interesting for many reasons, not least because God’s integrity is at stake if we read the verses in such a way so as to believe the Divine is actually sending out an ‘evil spirit to torment Saul’.(1 Sam 16v15)
If we believe that God is doing this to Saul then we must ask serious questions about whether these are the acts of a loving Deity?
Perhaps, more interesting is the observation made by Saul’s attendants as they attempt to make sense of his fluctuating mood swings and deep depression.
Now, if in his disobedience, Saul rejects God and turns away it is possible to see a situation in which God’s Spirit might be withdrawn from him because the King’s heart has been hardened against Him. In this scenario, Saul could easily end up in a situation where he is outside of God and susceptible to other spiritual forces attacking him. But let us be clear, the attack is not from God but rather the enemy who comes to kill and destroy John 10v10.
In his novel, ‘The Go-Between’, author LP Hartley opens with these words:
‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’
As Christians – attempting to make sense of these verses 4,000 years on – it is likely that we (in one sense) have more of an insight today as to what was happening during that period. Rather than the simplistic understandings of the attendants, we know that the Israelites (like many people of that time) believed in dualistic deities that were often considered capable of wreaking good or evil on a person or community, dependent on the capricious whim of the moment. However, that is not how God is that He should be a slave to his emotions in the same way that humans are. Perhaps an adapted reading of JP Hartley’s opening might be better rendered as:
‘The past is a foreign country; they understand things differently there.’