1 Samuel 16:14-16
But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.
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).
IV. THE TENDENCY TO RAPID DETERIORATION.
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.