The Origins of Evil
“Search me, O God, and know my heart today. Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray” (J. Edwin Orr, 1912–1987).
Read 1 SAMUEL 16
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”
The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”
4 Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”
5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.
David in Saul’s Service
14 Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.
15 Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 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.”
17 So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.”
18 One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him.”
19 Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” 20 So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul.
21 David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. 22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.”
23 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.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“The biblical writer is making the point that as David (the future king) gained the Spirit of the Lord, so Saul (the rejected king) lost it; even Saul’s anxious state of mind was under God’s control through David’s musical gifts” (David F. Payne).
David was an unlikely vehicle of God’s grace, a shepherd, eighth son of a Bethlehem family with a tarnished pedigree—a Moabite immigrant, a woman almost executed for adultery and a Canaanite prostitute (Matt. 1:3,5). Yet in an unlikely journey through God’s surprising grace, David’s line leads to Jesus, child of a carpenter’s fiancée, born in a stable, eventually homeless and crucified as a criminal. “The Lord looks at the heart” (7), but we are often attracted to pedigree, wealth or, nowadays, TV personality. Do we truly believe that God’s purposes encompass the powerless, the marginalized and the dispossessed?
From God’s unpredictable grace, we shift to the troubling of Saul by “an evil spirit from the Lord” (14). We would not describe Saul’s mood swings this way today. Knowing God to be the source of all things, do we sense these authors struggling as we do to describe the origin of evil? Elsewhere, the writer of 2 Samuel ascribed to God what the writer of 1 Chronicles later ascribed to Satan (2 Sam. 24:1; 1 Chr. 21:1). Many volumes have been written on the question of the origin of evil, but the answers remain hidden until we finally meet God.
This is one of Scripture’s paradoxes. Does evil come from outside us, like Jesus’ wilderness temptations, or from within us, as both the Old Testament and Jesus also taught? Perhaps evil did assail Saul from without, but that same evil could be appeased by music! Satan may indeed come “like a roaring lion,” seeking to devour us (1 Pet. 5:8), but Jesus said that sin is also internal, within our own hearts (Mark 7:21). We see this paradox in ourselves and we shall see it in Saul. Within or without, only the grace of God can enable us to overcome.
Read Ephesians 6:10–20. How does this passage help you in dealing with temptations from within and without?
“From sins of body and mind; from deceits of the world, the flesh and the devil, good Lord deliver us” (Anglican Litany, A Prayer Book for Australia).