Bible Question:

What is an evil spirit of the Lord? What does it mean in the following passages: Judges 9:23; 1 Samuel 16:14-16; 18:10; 19:20; and 1 Kings 22:22?

Bible Answer:

The term “evil spirit” refers to a fallen angel or demon. More information about fallen angels and demons can be found in the study “Angels – Good & Evil.” We would encourage you to read it before continuing. Now for the more specific questions about the meaning of the passages.

Judges 9:23

The first passage in the Old Testament that explicitly refers to an “evil spirit” is found in Judges 9:23.

Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech . . . (NASB) Judges. 9:23

After Gideon died (Judges 8:33), Abimelech, like so many politicians, wanted power and consequently encouraged the citizens of Shechem to accept his rule over them by implying that he cared for them since they were related to him (Judges 9:1-4). But after he was made their king (Judges 9:6, 16), he hired “worthless and reckless fellows” and proceeded to murder some of the members of his family (Judges 9:5-21). After three years of Abimelech’s evil reign, God decided to remove him and sent an evil spirit to create conflict between Abimelech and the citizens. God used an evil spirit to accomplish His will.

How did this happen? Job 1:6-12 reveals that all of the angels are under God’s control, including Satan. Job 1:6-12 also reveals that God allowed Satan to attack Job. But it is important to notice that God mentioned Job first. God apparently wanted to test Job, and the evil angels jumped at the opportunity. The label “evil angels” reveals what they do. They cause trouble and they did. A previous question and answer titled, “How can we tell if our suffering is from God or the devil?” will provide more information about Satan’s testing of Job. So God allowed an evil angel to create trouble for Abimelech and end his reign as king.

1 Samuel 16:14-16

Later in the scriptures we read that God also sent an evil angel to terrorize King Saul.

Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him. Saul’s servants then said to him, “Behold now, an evil spirit from God is terrorizing you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you. Let them seek a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall come about when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he shall play the harp with his hand, and you will be well.” (NASB) 1 Samuel 16:14-16

This occurred because King Saul had sinned and his throne was going to be removed from him. Once again we see that the evil angels were used by God to accomplish His will. On this occasion they were used to discipline Saul for the lie he told in 1 Samuel 15:17-26.

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned; I have indeed transgressed the command of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and listened to their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me, that I may worship the LORD.” But Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.” (NASB) 1Sam. 15:24-26

1 Samuel 18:10

Two chapters later in 1 Samuel 18 we are told that either the same evil spirit or another one greatly afflicted Saul.

Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved in the midst of the house, while David was playing the harp with his hand, as usual; and a spear was in Saul’s hand. (NASB) 1Sam. 18:10

We do not know if the evil spirit possessed Saul or just in some way influenced him mentally. This was part of God’s discipline for Saul’s lying.

1 Samuel 19:9

Then one chapter later we are told that the evil spirit was still with Saul.

Now there was an evil spirit from the LORD on Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand, and David was playing the harp with his hand. Saul tried to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he slipped away out of Saul’s presence, so that he stuck the spear into the wall. And David fled and escaped that night.

Saul’s conduct reveals that the evil spirit was still present.

1 Kings 22:22

In 1 Kings we find another occasion when God used an evil spirit to discipline someone for his sin. The person was the wicked King Ahab.

Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. The LORD said, “Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?” And one said this while another said that. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, “I will entice him.” The LORD said to him, “How?” And he said, “I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” Then He said, “You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.” Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you. (NASB) 1 Kings 22:19-23

The king of Israel, Ahab, had just asked the king of Judea, Jehoshaphat, if he would ally with him and go to war against the nation of Aram. Prophets had been brought before the kings and everyone of them claimed that God would grant them victory. King Ahab was desperate for the truth and finally asked for the prophet Micaiah. Micaiah was a true prophet of God, not like the others. In 1 Kings 22:13-14 the messenger that was sent to Micaiah encouraged him to prophesy favorably, like the other prophets. But Micaiah prophesied as God had instructed him. His prophecy was negative (1 Kings 22:15-18). Ahab was apparently upset because Micaiah’s prophecy was negative. So Micaiah warned the king with the statement we find in 1 Kings 22:19-23. Ahab ignored God’s prophet and was defeated in battle (1 Kings 22:29-40).

Job 1-2

In the book of Job we are told that Satan and his demons presented themselves to God.

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.” The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Then Satan answered the LORD, “Does Job fear God for nothing? “Have You not made a hedge about 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. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” Then the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD. (NASB) Job 1:6-12

God asks Satan if he had considered his servant Job. Satan states that Job has been protected and blessed by God. Satan tells God that if Job is allowed to suffer he will curse God. So God allows Satan to afflict Job’s possessions and family, but not his physical body. This passage reveals that God allows evil spirits to afflict us for reasons other than just sin. God will allow evil spirits to persecute us to test and cause us to grow in the faith. Later in Job 2, Satan presents himself to God again. We are told that Job did not curse God. He did not sin even though he lost everything except his wife and his life. Job 2-41 reveals Job’s anguish after Satan is allowed to afflict his physical body. Job becomes demanding and angry. But in Job 42 Job finally sees God and submits. In response, God blessed him so that he became twice as wealthy as he was before.

2 Corinthians 12:7

In 2 Corinthians we discover that even the apostle was afflicted by an evil spirit.

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! (NASB) 2 Cor. 12:7

Here we are told that the evil spirit was allowed to afflict the apostle Paul’s body in order to keep him humble. The evil spirit was given to Paul with God’s permission.

Conclusion:

These passages reveal that God uses evil spirits to assist Him in disciplining those who sin and to prevent sin. While we may say this is not fair, we must remember that God views our sin as much worse than we do. We sin all the time. To a holy God we are very wicked people. So He allows the evil spirits to afflict us. With Job, God did not tell Satan what to do. He just told Satan what he could not do. With King Ahab, God wanted to know the specific action that would occur. Sometimes God is very direct; on other occasions He gives freedom to the evil spirits. Not every affliction and difficulty that we experience is caused by evil spirits. But some of them might be. That is why we need the Armor of God and we need to learn to walk in the Spirit. God has given us the spiritual weapons to not sin and win the righteous battle.

Reference Links:

Angels - Good & Evil
How can we tell if our suffering is from God or the devil?
Why do bad things happen to God's people?
Can Satan take the life of a Christian early?
Armor of God
Walk in the Spirit.