Some Tricky Passages About the Evil Spirit
The normal understanding of the evil spirit is that he is not of God. He belongs to the realm of Satan. Recently however, a bad spirit has also been identified with the divine punishing force on the wicked, whom God chooses to chastise. With this view injected into the normal Christian belief, there is an impetus to think that whenever the Bible talks about an evil, bad, lying or distressing spirit; it does not necessarily refer to a force originating from Satan.
The root of this idea stems from believing that Satan is self-existing and is not in any way under the control of the Lord. The underlying reasoning given for such a claim is that God devised His plan from the foundation of the world to destroy the work of Satan. Examples such as Satan trying the faith of saints and receiving order from God to chastise the wicked are not congruent with the stated plan of God.
It is certainly naïve to think that God makes use of Satan to achieve His plan.
Such an erroneous school of thought is the result of failing to address the following issues:
1. It has never been the view of the church that God uses Satan to achieve His purpose. Rather when Satan tries to disrupt the work of God, God’s will triumphs on an elevated level. For example, the intention of Satan to crucify Jesus was to destroy Him, but through His death God’s plan to save was achieved at His resurrection.
2. ‘Trying the faith of the saints by Satan’ is an incomplete notion that lacks elaboration and clarification. It purports to portray Satan as being a tool of God existing in a regimental relationship between a soldier and his commander, with a task to perfect the faith of the saints. This alternative view struggles in its naiveté to make a dent in the common understanding that God can make use of situations, such as the one in Job, to advance His purpose on His servant at the cost of Satan’s scheme to destroy him.
3. The heavenly rules governing the operation between God and Satan are sometimes beyond our comprehension. The story of Job is a good example. The Lord Himself prompted the exchanges with Satan regarding Job.
4. There is a limit to our understanding of God’s wisdom (Isa 40:28; Ps 147:5). There are things pertaining to the spiritual world that are kept away from our knowledge. This is one such limitation with which we have to recognise.
5. God’s will is always higher than that of any other that exists or that have existed, be it earthly or heavenly. Whatever He sets out to do, He would bring it to pass (Isa 14:27; 43:13; 45:23; 48:3; 55:11). Though, on the earthly plane, at times, it may appear that His will is thwarted by some unfortunate events, human weaknesses and sins, yet He would still accomplish it (Ps 33:9-11; Jb 23:13-14; Dan 4:35). One example is Joseph (Ps 105:17). This fact also proves that His covenant with Abraham would never fail (Ps 105:8-12). No one can resist His will, not even Satan (Jb 9:12; Rm 9:19). When one fails to see how God’s purpose can triumph, one can take consolation in the knowledge that there are always different dimensions to the will of God.
6. Whenever man strays away from, or sins against God, he gives ground to Satan to work (Gen 4:7; 1 Jn 3:21). For this reason, this world of sin is under the sway of Satan (1 Jn 5:19). Elder John states that Satan is an accuser who accuses us before God day and night (Rev 12:10). Today, he can no longer do so because of the atoning blood of Jesus, through which we are cleansed (Rev 12:11). In a normal circumstance, the evil one could not touch us (1 Jn 5:18). However, if we live in sin, God will return us to the devices of the evil one. Restraint on Satan or protection on us is thus removed. In this way, Satan could bring harm to our spiritual lives (1 Cor 5:5; 1 Tim 1:20). Judas, and the couple Ananias and Sapphire are such examples.
7. ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other’ (Isa 45:5). The declaration here is clear. No one, including Satan, can be compared to Him in any aspect of His divine attributes. In short, it simply means no one can be self-existing apart from Him or as powerful as He is. There are numerous verses of this sort, which we shall talk about in a separate article.
The Story of Abimelech
“God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem” (Judges 9:23).
Here is the account of Abimelech, the conspirator, in the book of Judges. God planned his downfall because of his wickedness against the seventy brothers of his father (9:56). First and foremost, we have to admit it is in no way clear that ‘a spirit of ill will’ is a punishing force of God and not from Satan. Though the phrase ‘God sent’ is used, such phrases, from the perspective of a God who does no evil, may be and are often understood as not referring to ‘God’s permission’ for misfortune to befall upon Abimelech for the sins he committed. It is not at all unlikely that such restraint on an evil force from hurting Abimelech was removed because of his sin. This explanation is in line with the overall teachings of the Bible and the translation of the Scriptures. For example, in Romans, ‘God gave them up to uncleanness’ (1:24, 26) refers to God leaving the people to their own sinful devices at the instigation of Satan (Eph 2:1-3). God has realised His intention of punishing Abimelech, whereas Satan has achieved his evil intent of destroying his soul and body.
When a punishing force of God is at work such as the one that destroyed the firstborn of Egypt, there was always a clear set of rules given so that the innocent would not be harmed (Exod 12:21-23). Another example is the slaying of the wicked in the temple. Proper instruction was first issued (Ezek 9:4) before the killing took place (Ezek 9:5-6). On the account of Abimelech, many innocent lives were lost (9:25, 45, 49). Is this the work of a sensible God, if we insist that the ill spirit is from God in a literal sense?
To digress slightly, as it is undeniable that God’s power is infinitely stronger than man’s, it is only logical to think that he could have just destroyed Abimelech with a flick of His small finger. And yet God, in our eyes, has chosen an unbelievable way to achieve His intention (9:56). In a similar vein, it is utterly wrong to assume that since Satan can prowl around unrestrained (or so it seems, at least to some), it has to be true that he is self-existing and not under the divine authority. God could have destroyed Satan at will, if he is under His control. This is based not on a sound and biblical premise. Consider, why didn’t God do likewise to Adam and Eve or Cain or Herod? Or why did He decide only to wait till the time of Noah to destroy the rest of humankind? Were not all under His control all the time? Remember! God’s way is always better than ours. So is his thinking higher than ours. Human reasoning, supposition and assumption in biblical interpretation must never overstep the perimeter of the mysteries of God.
The Encounters between David and Saul
“But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him. And Saul’s servants said to him ‘Surely, a distressing spirit from God is troubling you. ‘Let our master now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man who is skilful player on the harp; and it shall be that he will play it with his hand when the distressing spirit from God is upon you, and you shall be well.’” (I Sam 16:14-16)
“And it happened on the next day that the distressing spirit from God came upon Saul… So David played music with his hand, as at other times; but there was a spear in Saul’s hand.” (1 Sam 18:10)
“Now the distressing spirit from the Lord came upon Saul as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand. And David was playing music with his hand.” (1 Sam 19:10)
Some believe that the distressing spirit here is one of the punishing forces of the Lord and did not originate from Satan and his allies (1 Sam 18:10; 19:9, 20). The reason given is that it came from the Lord. A careful consideration must be given for such a proposition. ‘From the Lord’ again must not be taken literally. It simply means God at that point in time had decided to shift His protection away from Saul for his stubborn rebellion. That is why we are told that the Spirit of God departed from him and a distressing spirit from the Lord came upon him. When one lives in sins, as has been established, he severs himself from God and thus presents leverage for Satan to take control over his life. There are a few reasons derived from the passage, which disclose the distressing spirit is of Satan.
Firstly, God’s punishing force would not work in a demon-possessed manner in a person (16:23). Otherwise, we are not able to discern the spirit of truth from the spirit of error with a given set of behaviour.
Secondly, it would be quite impossible for the punishing spirit from the Lord to cause Saul to develop a murderous intent to put His anointed one, David, to death (18:11; 19:10). Who was to be punished? Was God trying to kill two birds with one stone? David would have been killed on both occasions, if it had not been for his agility. Obviously, some may say God had protected him from the hand of Saul. What kind of game was God playing with David? Come to think about it seriously, this line of thought would only generate utter confusion in biblical interpretation.
Thirdly, it is quite unimaginable to think that God was using His servant to cast out His punishing spirit from Saul, a transgressor, who rightly deserved to be punished for his sins. To believe that it was the case is to propose that God was dividing His own Kingdom (Mt 12:25-28). Is this not a sign of confusion on the part of the Scribes and Pharisees to condemn the work of Jesus?
The Vision of Micaiah
“I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all His host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left. And the Lord said, ‘Who will persuade Ahab to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?’ So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner. ‘Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’ ‘The Lord said, ‘In what way?’ So he said, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And He said, ‘You shall persuade him, and also prevail. Go out and do so.’ ‘Now therefore, look! The Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the Lord has declared disaster against you.’” (1 Kgs 22:19-23; 2 Chron 18:18-21)
This again is another tricky passage on permitting a spirit to deceive, on the part of God, to bring about the fulfilment of His purpose He had for Ahab. There are points of contention here. Some believe that the lying spirit in question was of God. It was not from the sphere of darkness. The reasons are the spirit was amongst the heavenly host of God and the work to be carried out was at the consent of God. The opposite view is that it was a force from Satan, which is the accurate understanding of the coherent views of the Bible. The reasons are stated as follows:
Firstly, God and His victorious heavenly allies are never spirits of deception or have ever adopted any deceiving scheme to achieve a divine purpose. The Bible tells us that God is good (Ps 34:8; 86:5; 100:5; Nah 1:7; Lk 18:19). It has always been His practice that He allows Satan to cause harm to those who stubbornly sin against Him (to give up on unrepentant sinners). In this case, Ahab was the most rebellious king in His eyes (1 Kgs 21:25-26) and the history of the monarchy of Israel. Though he confessed and humbled himself before God, the severity of the transgression he committed still amounted to nothing less than a death penalty (1 Kgs 21:19; 22:20). God at times may permit satanic attack to befall upon His loved ones as well, as in the case of Job. His intention is to challenge Satan that his idea about Job was wrong. However, the satanic intention was malicious – he intended to destroy.
Secondly, it is not at all surprising to notice that Satan could appear in a heavenly scene, as in the case of Job, he was amongst the heavenly hosts (1:6). It is also true with the account in Revelation, where Satan stood before God day and night to accuse us, before our cleansing by His blood (Rev 12:10). Therefore, it must not necessarily mean that a spirit that lies in God’s presence has to be one of God. The deal struck in heaven to punish sinners is something that we may never be able to fully understand. There are rules operating between God and Satan. At the departure of God’s presence from Ahab, the spirit that lied was left with the freedom to carry out the task to destroy.
Thirdly, it is not at all astonishing to see that at times Satan could only work at the consent of God, especially when it involves the chosen ones. One such example is the story of Job. God had to agree upon the level of harm to be inflicted upon Job (Job 1&2).
Fourthly, the Bible states that the wages of sin is death (Rm 6:23; Jas 1:15). Those who live in sin belong to Satan (1 Jn 3:8). God does not let any sinner go unpunished (Exod 34:7; Prov 11:21; 16:5; Nah 1:3). In the case of Ahab, being a rebelliously stubborn offender of God’s law, it is only biblical to come to a conclusion that God had left him to the devices of Satan. He had cut himself off from the divine providence to shelter him. The act of God was in demonstration of His righteousness. The intention of Satan not only was to destroy his physical life, but also, most importantly, to bring destruction upon his soul.
This historical event once again beams the light on the fact that God’s way cannot be understood based on an extrapolation into some biblical unknowns. God being the Almighty, could He not have destroyed Ahab just by the sound of His breath? Surely, he could. But this was not what He chose to execute His judgment. On the same plane, it is straightforwardly unbiblical to raise the power of Satan to be on par with God, such as being self-existing, just because now we witness his activities to bring harm to believers are on the increase. Holding on to such a view is to lower the power of God. The encouraging statement from John underlines the initial belief of the True Jesus Church – He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 Jn 4:4b).
The proclamation against Egypt
“The Lord has mingled a perverse spirit in her midst; and they have caused Egypt to err in all her work, as a drunken man staggers in his vomit.”(Isa 19:14)
This is a prophetic message against Egypt. There is no way we can be certain that the perverse spirit is a messenger, such as an angelic being with wings from God. The word ‘spirit’ can be understood as a mind-set or an attitude or desire in the English or Chinese. The key feature of God’s purpose here is to cause confusion in the work of Egypt. In the record concerning the woe in Jerusalem, it was said that God poured out on the prophets and seers a spirit of deep sleep (Isa 29:10). It basically means God withdrew Himself from granting them understanding of His word because they did not set their hearts aright before Him (29:13-16). So, coming back to the perverse spirit, it could just mean that God stirred up confusion in their mind, to stop them from progressing with the work in Egypt.
God sends them strong delusion
“The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thess 2:9-12)”.
This is a passage about the coming of the lawless one, whose power is of Satan. He would perform great signs and lying wonders, to draw people away from keeping the truth. It seems God has caused such confusion in the mind of those who perish for the delusion is sent from Him. The word ‘delusion’ means ‘deceit or lie’. Since God is good, and He does not lie (Num 23:19; Heb 6:18), He could not have put in them deception to blind them from seeing the truth. The Bible also tells us that ‘no lie is of the truth’ (1 Jn 2:21). With this understanding, this verse has to be explained in the light of God withdrawing Himself fully from those who listen to lie. When it happens, delusion creeps in and causes them all the more not to believe in the truth. This is similar to the expression of ‘God gives them up’, leaving them to the devises of Satan. Otherwise, we make God to be the one who originates the lie.
1. This article surfaces the correct attitude in studying God’s word. It is one that does not agree with the trend of looking for biblical back-ups for an assumed concept, which in the first place is nowhere to be found in the Bible.
2. Whenever the truth in a more profound sense is disclosed, such as the opening of the seven seals, it magnifies the power of God to an extent greater than ever before (Rev 5:12-13).
3. The revelation of God’s truth can achieve nothing less than capturing the hearts of sincere listeners to His word, to worship Him with great fervency (Rev 5:14). This is especially so with those who love the truth of God.
4. The biblical premise that we use to support our teachings must be of the same foundation as that of the church (1 Cor 3:10-11).
5. It is a suicidal attempt spiritually, to change a generally accepted teaching of the church; simply we find it difficult to explain certain parts of it with great depth and ease (2 Pet 3:16). Instead our attitude should be that we are not given understanding on what we have contemplated to know. Now we may know in part what we set out to know but we have to hold on to what we first knew (1 Cor 13:12) without compromise.
6. ‘God’s permission’ or ’God allows’ in relation to the work of Satan should not be taken in the sense of a consent flowing from a superior to his subordinate in a line of authority. Its biblical meaning is centred upon an act of giving up. This results in the shift of sheltering from the destruction by the evil one.