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Passage: 1 Samuel 16:14-23

1 Samuel 16:14-23 – Saul’s Evil Spirit

Summary

David, whom God had chosen, will continue to rise to the throne of Israel. Saul, whom God had rejected, will continue to decline.

Analysis

Just what this "evil spirit" sent by God to "torment" (better: "terrify") Saul is, remains in obscurity. There is no lack of educated guesses, however, which usually revolve around some form of paranoia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression. Suffice it to say that Saul was ill.

Theologically speaking, we are on slightly firmer ground. For example, the word "evil," which here modifies "spirit" (vv. 14, 23), does not necessarily denote "wicked, demonic, or hellish." Saul's "tormentor" may be as innocuous as a "bad mood" or a "gloomy disposition." It definitely has negative connotations, but it need not be supernatural and certainly is not satanic at this time in Israel's religious development.

Besides the irrecoverable nature of Saul's mental health, two points stand out in this passage:
  • Saul's suffering is sent by the Lord (v. 14). However, this is not to be seen as vindictive, since all things beyond human control come from God in Israel's conception of God's all-embracing will.
  • Together with verse 13, verse 14 is the theological pivot point of 1 Samuel. The rest of the narrative will depict the contrast between Saul and David. Just as David received the spirit of the Lord in verse 13, now we see Saul experiencing the loss of that spirit and the beginnings of the devastating effects of the "evil spirit" that will continue to plague him. God has abandoned Saul, leaving him bereft of the spirit; his kingship is over, and he will continue to decline without these two necessary aspects of rule, even as David, God's chosen and the recipient of the spirit, will continue his rise to the throne of Israel.