What Do Passages Like Judges 9:23 Mean When They Say God Sent An Evil Spirit Upon Someone?

Judges 9:23 says “God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem” and I Sam 16:23 puts the same concept this way – “when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul.” What does this mean? Is God involving himself in sin by sending an evil spirit?

My father-in-law helped me to understand that these texts mean God sent an evil spirit in the sense that God allowed such to happen; that he didn’t stop it. Passages like Matt 7:7, 5:6, and John 7:17 teach that if we seek God and the truth, we will find such; if we hunger and thirst after righteousness, God will make sure we are filled with righteousness; if we are seeking to know and do what we know of God’s will, God will make sure we know his complete will.

Well, what is the opposite of that? That would be – if we are not truly seeking God/truth, then God will not make sure we find it. He may allow things to come our way (from the devil directly or indirectly) that will deceive us. In the case of I Kings 16, King Saul had already digressed from obeying God (I Sam 15:9-26), and 16:14 says “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.” So God didn’t allow an evil spirit to influence Saul until Saul first rejected God; and Saul allowed himself to be influenced in such direction.

We see something similar in the New Testament several times. In John 13:27 and Luke 22:3ff Judas let Satan enter him in making up his mind to betray Jesus. When Peter contradicts Jesus in Matt 16:22-23, Jesus rebukes Peter saying “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” And I’m pretty sure II Thess 2:10-12 is talking about the equivalent when it says “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be d-a-m-n-e-d who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” God doesn’t directly deceive us, but he allows us to be deceived if we don’t have a love for the truth.

What’s the lesson in this for us? Be like Josiah in II Kings 22 whose whole intent was the please the Lord, and “seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deut 4:29), seek God with your “whole desire” (II Chron 15:15). Otherwise, you might find yourself on the outside looking in. God is only a “rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb 11:6).

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