1 Samuel 16:15
Saul's servants said to him, "Surely a spirit of distress from God is tormenting you.
David's ReignD. Fraser 1 Samuel 16:1-23
Samuel's Visit to BethlehemR. Steel.1 Samuel 16:4-18
Mental and Moral Effects of TransgressionB. Dale 1 Samuel 16:14-16
The soul is an arena where light and darkness, good and evil, heaven and hell, strive for mastery. But it is not an unconscious scene or passive prize of the conflict. It is endowed with the power of freely choosing right or wrong, and, with every exercise of this power, comes more or less under the dominion of the one or the other. Saul was highly exalted, but by his wilful disobedience sank to the lowest point of degradation. His sin was followed by lamentable effects in his mental and moral nature, and (since soul and body are intimately connected, and mutually affect each other) doubtless also in his physical constitution. His malady has been said to be "the first example of what has been called in after times religious madness" (Stanley). His condition was, in many respects, peculiar; but it vividly illustrates the mental and moral effects which always, in greater or less degree, flow from persistent transgression, viz.: -

I. THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE DIVINE SPIRIT. "And the Spirit of Jehovah departed from Saul" (ver. 14; 1 Samuel 10:10).

1. His presence in men is the source of their highest excellence. What a change it wrought in Saul, turning him into "another man." It imparts enlightenment, strength, courage, order, harmony, and peace; restrains and protects; and, in the full measure of its influence, quickens, sanctifies, and saves (Isaiah 11:2; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 5:9).

2. His continuance in them depends on the observance of appropriate conditions. He is often compared with the wind, water, and fire, the most powerful forces of the natural world; and as there are conditions according to which they operate, so there are conditions according to which he puts forth his might. These are, humble and earnest attention to the word of the Lord, sincere endeavour to be true, just, and good, and believing and persevering prayer.

3. His departure is rendered necessary by the neglect of those conditions. "They rebelled and vexed his Holy Spirit," etc. (Isaiah 63:10; Acts 7:51; Ephesians 4:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). And with his departure the effects of his gracious influence also depart. Hence David prayed so fervently, "Take not thy Holy Spirit from me."

II. SUBJECTION TO AN EVIL INFLUENCE. "And an evil spirit from Jehovah troubled him." The expression is only used once before (Judges 9:23), - "God sent an evil spirit between the men of Abimelech and the men of Shechem" (producing discord, treachery, and strife), - and denotes a breath, influence, agency, or messenger (1 Kings 22:22) which -

1. Prevails only after the withdrawal of the Divine Spirit. When the soul ceases to be governed by God, it lies open to the power of evil, and comes under its dominion.

2. Is sent in just retribution for sin. "No man living needs a heavier chastisement from the Almighty than the letting his own passions loose upon him" (Delany). But the expression means more than this. "It is a spiritual agency of God, which brings to bear upon Saul the dark and fiery powers of Divine wrath which he has aroused by sin" (Delitzsch). Even that which is in itself good becomes evil to those who cherish an evil disposition. As the same rays of the sun which melt the ice harden the clay, so the same gospel which is "a savour of life unto life" in some is "a savour of death unto death" in others (2 Corinthians 2:16). And it is God who appoints and effectuates the forces of retribution. "The punitive justice of God is a great fact. It is stamped on all the darker phenomena of human life - disease, insanity, and death. It is in the nature of sin to entail suffering, and work itself, as an element of punishment, into all the complicated web of human existence" (Tulloch).

3. Implies the domination of the kingdom of darkness. Josephus, speaking according to the common belief of a later age, attributes the malady of Saul to demoniacal agency. "It was probably a kind of possession, at least at times, and in its highest stage. As a punishment for having given himself willingly into the power of the kingdom of darkness, he was also abandoned physically to this power" (Henstenberg). How fearful is that realm of rebellion, evil, and disorder to which men become allied and subject by their sin!

III. THE EXPERIENCE OF UNCONTROLLABLE FEAR; "troubled him" - terrified, choked him.

1. In connection with the working of peculiar and painful thoughts: brooding over the secret of rejection, which might not be revealed to any one; the sense of disturbed relationship with God, and of his displeasure, the removal of which there was no disposition to seek by humble penitence and prayer.

2. In the darkening aspect of present circumstances and future prospects; suspicion and "royal jealousy, before which vanish at last all consistent action, all wise and moderate rule" (Ewald).

3. In occasional melancholy, despondency, and distress, irrational imaginations and terrors (Job 6:4), and fits of violent and ungovernable passion (1 Samuel 18:10, 11). "There are few more difficult questions in the case of minds utterly distempered and disordered as his was than to determine where sin or moral disease has ended, and madness or mental disease has begun" (Trench). Sin not only disturbs the moral balance of the soul, but also disorders the whole nature of man. It is itself a kind of madness, from which the sinner needs to "come to himself" (Luke 15:17). "Madness is in their hearts," etc. (Ecclesiastes 9:3; 2 Peter 2:6).


1. In the case of the malady occasioned by sin there is no self-healing power in man, as in many bodily diseases, but it tends to become worse and worse.

2. Its fatal course may often be distinctly marked. "These attacks of madness gave place to hatred, which developed itself in full consciousness to a most deliberately planned hostility" (Keil). His courage gave place to weakness and cowardice; general fear and suspicion fixed on a particular object in envy and hatred, displayed at first privately, afterwards publicly, and becoming an all-absorbing passion. "The evil spirit that came upon him from or by permission of the Lord was the evil spirit of melancholy, jealousy, suspicion, hatred, envy, malice, and cruelty, that governed him all the after part of his life; to which he gave himself up, and sacrificed every consideration of honour, duty, and interest whatsoever" (Chandler).

3. It is, nevertheless amenable to the remedial influences which God, in his infinite mercy, has provided.

"All cures were tried: philosophy talked long
Of lofty reason's self-controlling power;
He frowned, but spake not. Friendship's silver tongue
Poured mild persuasions on his calmer hour:
He wept; alas! it was a bootless shower
As ever slaked the desert. Priests would call
On Heaven for aid; but then his brow would lower
With treble gloom. Peace! Heaven is good to all;
To all, he sighed, but one, - God hears no prayer for Saul.
At length one spake of Music"

(Hankinson) = - D.

But the Spirit departed from Saul.
Saul was rejected from being king, and the Spirit of God taken from him, and at the same time an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him, terrified or seized him suddenly. How startling this is! But, observe, it is not an evil spirit of the Lord. Evil spirits are not of God. Their evil is opposed to His will. He is wholly and unchangeably opposed to evil. No man can say when he is tempted of evil — I am tempted of God, for God cannot be tempted of evil, neither tempteth He any man. But when a man chooses and cleaves to sin, clings to his own way, and persists in rebellion against God, he opens his mind to evil spirits and evil influences of all sorts. Even the natural world radiates influences which to a being like man are not ell good, are sometimes even directly evil. The cunning, deceit, treachery and cruelty of some animals has a malign influence, The influences of nature, bland and stern, present subtle and powerful temptations. Over against the influences for evil, often inextricably intertwined with them, are the influences for good. Men feel that the drift and tendency of things is toward goodness, that the constitution of things favours righteousness. And over all things and every heart the Spirit of God broods, seeking to bring order out of chaos and life out of death. To moral beings belongs the prerogative of resisting and repelling influences, or welcoming and absorbing them. But how was this evil spirit from the Lord? It was permitted by God as a punishment. But this is not all; the terror, pain and strife raised by the evil spirit were meant by God as a force to constrain Saul to turn and cry to God for help. Saul was delivered up to this evil spirit that he alight know that it was an evil and bitter thing to depart from God. Had the rebellious Saul, sick, laden and tortured by evil, cried to God, he would have been heard, and would have become a better man than he ever was, a new man. Though he might not have been a king, he would have been a true child of God, a spiritual king and priest.

I. MEN MUST EITHER HAVE THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD, OR AN EVIL SPIRIT. God loves to dwell in the human heart. That is His chosen temple. The sky is vast. Its canopy is thick with worlds. But God does not choose that temple. Man rears lofty piles, and spends labour and art on them, lavishes beauty and splendour which are precious as evidences of love and reverence: but God's chosen temple is not there. His temple is in the lowly heart, in the bosom of the meanest of the sons of men who cries out for the living God. That temple may be stained and defiled, haunted with unclean things; but if there is penitence and faith in God's Son, God will come in and Himself cleanse the house. God abides in the soul, fills it and gladdens it. But if man will not have God, he cannot shut the door of his heart against other visitors. It is the nature of a spirit to come into contact with spirit, as it is the nature of the body to come into contact with matter, and either attract or repel it. Spirit cannot isolate itself from spirit, any more than matter can from matter. But the spirit can decide whether it will ally itself with the good or the evil. Whosoever receives the Infinite Spirit into his soul takes the one way of shutting out evil of every kind. Exclusion of God is not emptiness, it is most positive, active, and decided evil. Men that will not have God are really claiming kindred with evil spirits, and opening their heart to be inhabited by them. Man is like a house situated between two winds. On the one side comes the wind from a dreary, bleak desert, laden with fog and disease, blowing across foul and rotten things. The other side of the house fronts the sunlight and winds that blow from the wide, fresh sea and over gardens, orchards, and blooming fields. Everyone must decide on which side he is going to open. Both doors cannot be shut. You can only get the dismal, fatal door shut by opening wide the door that looks to the sea of eternity and the sunshine of God. The wind blowing in through this open door keeps that door of ruin about.

II. THE STRESS OF INWARD TEMPTATION AND TROUBLE IS OFTEN PECULIARLY FITTED AND EVIDENTLY INTENDED TO DRIVE MEN TO GOD. Of temptations and troubles which have this adaptation in a marked degree may be mentioned first —

1. Melancholy. Saul's was a very conspicuous and overmastering melancholy. Melancholy is essentially the feeling of loneliness, the sense of isolation, of having a great burden of existence to bear. It is the soul's fear and shrinking and chill in the vast solitude of its house. It has driven many souls to God. Such haunted souls can scarcely escape an earnest look at life. They are continually incited to seek a medicine for their malady. They cannot rest in a formal, superficial religion, but must get into the very secret of God. So the melancholy man may become the most joyous of religious men.

2. A feeling of the vanity of existence is another great temptation and trouble. This is not melancholy; for men who have this feeling may be merry enough. To be followed, as many are, by the thought that life is a poor game at best, without substance, not worth the trouble that men take with it — this must take earnestness out of life, and make men mockers. It is a sore disease thus to live on the very surface of things, and feel as if one were only playing a part. Many are infected with the tendency. What does this feeling of emptiness and vanity point to? What is the voice that comes from it but this — Escape to the one substance and reality which alone gives substance and reality to life.

3. The mystery of life weighs on others. The sense of weakness and ignorance in the midst of a vast system of forces; the feeling of chaos that rules in the moral world and human life; the black tragedy of so many lives; the calamities, wars, inconceivable woes of millions; the disappointment, chagrin, disease, crime, and ruin everywhere — these press on some minds at times with immense weight. That is what Wordsworth calls. "the weight and mystery of all this unintelligible world." There are men to whom these questions are inevitable, rushing upon them like beasts of prey, or stretching like thunderclouds between them and the sun. Where is relief from such thoughts to be found? Where but in the belief in infinite goodness and wisdom lying behind all, can any thinking soul find rest?

4. The gloom and desolation of doubt and unbelief constrain and impel men to turn to God. It sometimes happens that men who have long hovered round religion, making it an object of curiosity and speculation and debate, rather than matter of heart and life, fall gradually away from all belief. Even those who have never speculated, but only maintained a careless attitude towards religion, drift in this direction. But here a state of feeling arises which they had not dreamt of. Though they never had any earnestness in religion, yet the kind of belief they had gave them comfort and threw a certain meaning into life. Now they feel lonely without a Father in Heaven. The whole aspect of things has grown bare. They are no longer sure of right. The cord that tied things together has been taken away. Then comes the period of decay when all types lessen and lower down to the original blank. And certainly, if the fortunes of the human race are bound up with the history of the sun, nothing else can he looked for. Since all suns and worlds are like flowers that blossom and then wither, the doom of beings dependent on them cannot be different if there is no God and Father, there is no escape from this conclusion. If there is no eternal home, where He gathers souls beyond the reach of evanescent systems, this is the prospect. There is no other outlook, if we cannot turn to Him and say, "Doubtless thou art our Father: Thy name is from everlasting." See you not how men are being taught by this loneliness and utter desolation what an evil and bitter thing it is to depart from God? Do you not see how the feeling of orphanhood, uncertainty, barrenness, coldness, and hopelessness are constraining the heart to cry out for the living God.

5. Fierce temptations to evil drive many souls to God.

(J. Leckie, D. D.)

An evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.
We see, especially in the history of Saul, the awful progress of the soul, from the gradual changes that take place in him, while in his successive trials evil prevails over the Spirit of grace and opportunities of good. There is also a sort of natural goodness about him that rivets our interest; so that from the very feeling of a common nature we are partly inclined to forget his crimes in his miseries. Scripture always speaks to us in history and life what it enjoins us in word and precept: our Lord says, "Hold fast, that no man take thy crown," and here before our eyes we see the choice and the crown transferred from one to another, and we see the reasons why — and the effect. Let us not put away from us this account of Saul as belonging to another state of things, for whatever it may speak to kings and nations, it is full of a home lesson for the heart of each. For may not each of us in the home of his own heart have an evil spirit that troubleth him? It may be so with many in various degrees who think not of it. The cares which most suffer are from this source. What is envy, covetousness, impatience, the plague of the heart, but this, that a man has in some degree, perhaps in years long past, sinned in this way; and so, not having repented, given place to an evil spirit that troubles and keeps him from God? This may be the case, and yet for awhile he may have much comfort in religion, as Saul had in the harp of David; Church music may in like manner soothe him and raise him up as it were to Heaven; or it may be impressive sermons; or even the study of God's holy Word; so much so that under the influence of these the evil spirit may depart, and he may be refreshed, nay, more, he may find rest in Christ. But this is not enough, unless he press forward earnestly, and give no place to such an inmate in his breast any more. Scripture reveals to us that there is in such cases a spiritual being, a living person, who takes possession of the mind. And I would particularly call attention to the expression of the text, "an evil spirit from the Lord." Now, although this is an awful expression, yet it is also full of instruction and comfort, as everything must be which reminds us that we are in the hands of God; as we noticed in the history of Pharaoh. When we trace in our very disquietudes and sorrows the indications of an evil spirit that troubles us, this teaches us where our health is. That this evil spirit is from God is no proof that we are given up of Him. For, indeed, even David himself when he numbered the people had an evil spirit from God, allowed to bring upon him that temptation and its consequent misery. He can touch no one but as permitted of God; and that permission may be for various reasons: he was allowed to tempt Job for his greater perfection; through the false prophets he deluded Ahab to bring upon him God's judgment; he troubled Saul with gloom and pride on his departing from God; he tempted Judas that he might go to his own place; he prompted David to sin from which he speedily recovered by repentance. In like manner he is allowed to tempt us; and it is indeed sometimes, as in the case of Saul and of David, a judgment upon us for some fault on our part, or some secret unbelief or pride of heart, but we are thus by this expression of the text taught to go to God for help. We cannot be too often urged in every way to do this. When you find in yourself any ill-will, any worldly disappointment or envious sadness, go to Him at once in earnest prayer, entreating Him to remove from you the power and guilt of that sin which has allowed the evil spirit to disquiet you. When you have thus done all in your power, then again the lesson of Saul and David will come in for your guidance, warning you not to take things into your own hands from impatience and distrust of God, but to wait patiently upon Him. He will have the remedy and deliverance to be entirely His own doing. He only wants your faith and confidence in Himself. And His word is "Be still then, and know that I am God."

(Isaac Williams, B. D.)

All great painters and poets whose works are of the first order have availed themselves of the force of contrast — that there should be a dark background to set forth some beautiful and radiant object. The Bible excels in its use of this striking method of laying emphasis.

I. THE DAWN OF A FAIR PROMISE. "Samuel cried unto the Lord" for Saul, if haply he might arrest the terrible and imminent consequences of his sin. But he was made aware that prayer would not avail. It seemed as though Saul had already made the fatal choice, and had committed the sin which is unto death, and concerning which we have no encouragement to pray. The summons of the hour was, therefore, not to prayer, but to action. The Spirit of God bade Samuel go to Bethlehem, and among the sons of Jesse discover and anoint the new king.

II. AN OVERCAST AFTERNOON. We have morning with David; afternoon with Saul. Here youth; there manhood, which has passed into prime. Here the promise; and there the overcast meridian of a wrecked life. You will notice that, whereas it is said that the Spirit of God descended upon David, we are told that "The Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul." That does not necessarily mean that all the religious life of Saul had become extinct, but that the special faculty and power by which he had been prepared for his kingly work was withdrawn from him. It is abundantly sure that the work which a man does in this world is not wrought only by the force of his genius, the brilliance of his intellect, or by those natural gifts with which God may have endowed him, but by a something beyond and behind all these — a spiritual endowment which is communicated by the Spirit of God for special office, and which is retained so long as the character is maintained. So Saul lost the special enducement of power which had enabled him to subdue his enemies and to order his kingdom. Secondly, we have the mysterious power of opening our nature to the Holy Spirit of God, who is the medium of communicating all the virtue, the energy, and the life of God; filling spirit, soul, and body; quickening the mind, warming the heart, elevating and purifying the whole moral life. We have also the awful alternative power of yielding ourselves to the evil spirits, or demon spirits, of which the spiritual sphere is full. It is affirmed that "an evil spirit from the Lord" troubled Saul. To interpret this aright we must remember that, in the strong, terse Hebrew speech, the Almighty is sometimes said to do what He permits to be done. And surely such is the interpretation here. When, therefore, we read that an evil spirit "from the Lord" troubled Saul, we must believe that, as Saul bad refused the good and gracious influences of the Holy Spirit, and definitely chosen the path of disobedience, there was nothing for it but to leave him to the working of his own evil heart.

III. THE LURID GLEAMS OF AN OVERCAST SKY. In 2 Samuel 21:2, you have this: "The king" — that is, David — "called the Gibeonites — (now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Ammorites; and the children of Israel had sworn unto them: and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah)." Saul was smarting under Samuel's words, writhing under the sentence of deposition, and his soul was stirred to neutralise, if possible, the Divine verdict, so as to still keep the favour of God. It was true, and Saul knew it well, that he had failed in one distinct call to obedience; he had kept the choice of the spoil for himself — but why should he not, by excessive zeal in other directions, win back his lost inheritance? Now there were two such commandments which seem to have occurred to him. The one enacted that when the children of Israel entered the Land of Promise they should destroy all the people of the land. The Gibeonites, however, succeeded in securing that they should be excepted, because they had made a covenant with Joshua, and Joshua had sworn to them (Joshua 9). The Gibeonites, therefore, had lived amongst the children of Israel for many centuries, and had become almost an integral part of the nation. But in his false zeal for God Saul seems to have laid ruthless hands upon these peaceable people. Secondly, there was on the statute book a very drastic law against necromancers and witches, and it was commanded that these should be exterminated from the land (Exodus 22:18). Therefore, Saul turned his hand against them. In his heath he still believed in them. In order to show his zeal for God, and to extort the reversal of his sentence, he began to exterminate them. But as his edicts went forth, there was rottenness in his heart. While on the one hand, therefore, there was this outburst of lurid zeal for God, his own heart was becoming more and more enervated and evil. Do not we know this in our own experience? When one has fallen under the condemnation of conscience, the heart has endeavoured to whisper comfort to itself by saying, "I will endeavour to redeem my cause by an extravagance of zeal." We have plunged into some compensating work to neutralise the result of failure. It is zeal, but it, is false, it is zeal, but it is strange fire; it is zeal, but it is self-originated; it is zeal, but it is only for self and not for God; it, is zeal, but it is zeal for the letter, for the tradition, for the external form — it is not the zeal of the man who is eaten up and devoured by a passionate love for the Son of God. and for the souls He has made.

(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

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