Understanding God’s Permissive Will

Last week I referred to 1 Samuel 18:10-11 in my sermon, “The Search For A Father”. In that passage it seems to imply that God sent an evil spirit to Saul to torment him. A number of people asked me to explain this passage, since God will not act in a way contrary to His character, and so God cannot inflict people with an evil spirit.

1 Samuel 18:10-11, NIV – (10) The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand (11) and he hurled it, saying to himself, “I’ll pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice.

Here is my understanding of this passage:

  1. Note that because of Saul’s arrogance and continuing disobedience, God had previously removed His Spirt from resting on Saul. Because God’s hand of protection was no longer on Saul, an evil spirit was free to torment Saul. 1 Samuel 16:14-15, NIV – (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.
  2. We must understand the Hebrew concept of God’s permissive will. Because God is ultimately sovereign, anything that happens is therefore permitted by Him, and so ultimately comes from Him. So when it says that the evil spirit was from God, it means that God was ultimately responsible, because He permitted the evil spirit to come to Saul because of Saul’s ongoing disobedience, and since God had removed His spirit from Saul.
  3. As another example of the concept of “permissive” will, remember when King David allowed Uriah to be killed on the front lines. Nathan said that David had struck down Uriah even though it was really the Ammonites, because David had allowed it by putting him on the front lines. 2 Samuel 12:9, NIV – (9) Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. …