Sermon preached on March 15, 2009 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
When I was growing up my best friend lived almost directly across the street from me. His older brother was quite a character. He's actually written a book about some of his early life experiences. Here's a quote from one chapter:
"In the spring of 1972 I was living at home at the family homestead on View Street, North Sydney, Nova Scotia. One day in early June I was sitting on the front porch with my brother, Brad. I was 20 and Brad was 19 years old. It was a warm spring Monday morning…and Brad and I were stretched out on the lawn chairs, sipping our first beer of the day. A couple of T-bone steaks sizzled on the barbecue as we waited for our 'pogy' checks to arrive. The start of an idyllic day one would think.
Dad arrived home from work around 12:00 noon to the sight of his two sons, clad in pajamas and bathrobes cooking steaks and sipping the beer he had purchased on Saturday. Our greeting, "Hi Dad! How's it going?" was received with a curt nod and he headed to the kitchen for his [lunch]. I always blamed Mom for the fracas that followed. If she had only cooked him a steak!
Unfortunately for Brad and I, Dad's dinner that day consisted of home made beans and wieners. During the 20 minutes it took him to eat lunch, I believe the irony of the conflicting meal standards that day began to play on his mind. My father has always been a man of action… he was prone to the odd flash of temper. By the time he finished his beans and wieners he had decided to do something about the situation.
'By the end of the week,' he said, "I want to see both of you boys working somewhere.'
On Wednesday, Brad headed to Halifax and got hired as a gofer in one of the car dealerships. One down and one to go. I was more of a challenge. By Sunday, no one had come up to the house and offered me employment (that had been the extent of my job search) so I decided I had better turn the tables on Dad.
Dad was credit manager for a thriving fish processing business with a number of fish plants spread across Atlantic Canada. The main office for the operation was located in North Sydney. So, on Sunday, after dinner, I attacked!
'Dad, maybe you could find something for me down at the office,' I suggested. I envisioned the role stock boy or office clerk, hanging out around the water cooler, chatting with the secretaries. At least I was making the offer.
'Yes,' Dad replied. 'As a matter of fact I think I may be able to find something for you.'
That Monday morning he shipped me out on a fishing dragger!"
Bruce goes on to describe some of the unbelievable hard work and long hours that working on a fishing dragger involved. One of the best parts was at the end of the chapter where he describes the end of a particularly bad fishing trip, where they didn't catch much fish, where the boat docked in a port, 300 miles from his home, with his pay of absolutely nothing from the 13 day trip, (it was a bad catch and fuel and other expenses were deducted from his pay first) and he had to get home on his own.
Now, why would his father do that to him? It was a really bad experience for him, especially due to the fact that he had seen the movie "Jaws" just weeks before and on the trawler they caught a lot of sharks in their nets. His father did that for him because he loved him and he needed to teach him a lesson. It was one that Bruce learned. He went on to get a university education and now has a good job teaching in a community college. He learned his lesson well.
Although it may not seem like it at first glance, we have something like that in our text. We read,
"Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul,
and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him."
God sent a spirit to afflict Saul.
When this spirit came upon Saul everyone could see its effects. We can only guess as to what they were. It could have manifested itself as a severe mental or emotional disturbance, something like severe depression. It was something that came and went, and that music was useful in chasing away. When David played his harp relief would come to Saul.
I know what many people today would suggest that Saul's attendants and whoever wrote 1 Samuel was mistaken. They thought that an evil spirit had come upon Saul, but it was really just something psychological, something that today we would be able to explain in medical terms. But such a diagnosis would be inadequate because it would miss the underlying spiritual dimension. This evil spirit was sent by the Lord. It came after God's Spirit had departed from him.
John Woodhouse suggests that it was not an 'evil spirit', i.e. a demon, that made Saul miserable, but rather a spirit whose mission was to torment Saul. He writes, (1 Samuel, p. 295)
"The word 'evil' in this context should not be understood in moral terms but rather as an indication of the misery, distress, and harm this spirit or mood will cause Saul."
In other words, it could have been an angel that was sent to torment Saul. God often sends His angels on missions of judgment. For example, in Acts 12:23 we read that when Herod refused to give glory to God,
"an angel of the Lord struck him down,
and he was eaten by worms and died."
The angel came in judgment on Herod and afflicted him in such a way that he suffered greatly and then died. God used an angel to inflict grievous punishment on a wicked man. So it could be what God sent a good spirit to afflict Saul.
But it may also have been a demon that God sent to torment Saul. God can use evil spirits (demons) to fulfill His purposes. The Bible clearly teaches that God sometimes uses evil spirits to fulfill His purposes.
For example, in 1 Kings 22:19f we read that God planned to lure King Ahab into going to his death at Ramoth-Gilead. You'll remember that God was going to put him to death for his sins. God had arranged it that during the battle someone was going to shoot an arrow at random and that it was going to hit King Ahab between the armor sections and he was going to die. (1 Kings 22:29f) Before that happened the prophet Micaiah described a scene where God used a lying spirit to accomplish His will. He said, (verses 19-22)
"I saw the LORD sitting on his throne
with all the host of heaven standing around him
on his right and on his left.
And the LORD said,
'Who will entice Ahab into attacking
Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?'
One suggested this, and another that.
Finally, a spirit came forward,
stood before the LORD and said, 'I will entice him.'
'By what means?' the LORD asked.
'I will go out and be a lying spirit
in the mouths of all his prophets,' he said.
'You will succeed in enticing him,'
said the LORD. 'Go and do it.'"
Another example of the Lord using one of His evil enemies for his purposes is in the death of Jesus. In Acts 2:23 Peter stated that Jesus was 'handed over' to the Jews to be crucified,
"by God's set purpose and foreknowledge;"
In other words, it was all part of God's plan. God not only sent His Son to be born in Bethlehem, but He also sent Him to die outside Jerusalem. God worked out everything so that it would happen. A major part of handing over Jesus to the Jews involved the betrayal of Judas. It's noteworthy in this regard that in John 13:27 we read,
"As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him."
Then Jesus said to Judas,
"What you are about to do, do quickly."
Jesus knew what Judas was going to do. He knew that Satan had entered him. He knew that he was going to betray him. It was all a part of God's set purpose. God can even use His enemies to accomplish His will.
Of course in doing so God is righteous and holy. He does not sin. Nor does He tempt anyone to sin. (James 1:13) Yet God's power is so great that He can even use His evil enemies to accomplish His purposes. As Joseph said to His brother when he made himself known to them in Egypt, (Genesis 50:20)
"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good
to accomplish what is now being done,
the saving of many lives."
God, in His righteousness, can channel evil, overrule it, and bring good out of it. I believe that that was God's intention here.
This is because the torment of this evil spirit
was a great warning to King Saul.
God was displeased with Saul. He was going down the wrong path. He was headed to destruction. So God sent a spirit to torment him. His men recognized exactly what it was. They said to him, (verses 15-16)
"See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you.
Let our lord command his servants here
to search for someone who can play the harp.
He will play when the evil spirit from God
comes upon you, and you will feel better."
We should note well that this was not a spirit who had come to kill Saul like the angel that came to kill Herod. Nor was it a spirit that came to Saul to torment him unceasingly. No, it would come and go. The torment that it caused was could be overcome by music and perhaps other diversions.
So we should understand is that this evil spirit was a wakeup call to Saul. It was like a shot across the bow. God had not given up on him as an individual. Yes, he had forfeited the kingdom, that would surely be taken from him. (1 Samuel 16:1) But there was still hope for his soul. There was still hope that he could serve God with his remaining days.
One of the things the Bible tells us about God is that He is merciful. Indeed He delights to show mercy. As the prophet Micah said in Micah 7:18-19,
"Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.
You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea."
Saul should have seen this evil spirit from the Lord as a warning. It was something that was telling him to turn from his evil ways. It was warning him that unless he turned back to God that even worse things would be in store for him. God was urging him to repent.
Now what this means is that if there's anyone here who thinks that he's too bad for God, that he has done bad things for too long, what this passage shows you is that
there is hope for you.
No matter how bad you've been, no matter how long you've said no to God, if you turn to God He will accept you.
The apostle Paul spoke about this in 1 Timothy 1:15f. He wrote,
"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world
to save sinners—of whom I am the worst."
Paul considered himself the worst of sinners. Before he became a Christian he had persecuted the church. He had been there when Stephen had been stoned to death. He had held the cloaks of those who did it and he approved of what they did. He hated Christians. Acts 9:1-3 tells us that he went to the chief priests and got permission to go to Damascus and if he found any Christians there, either men or women, he would take them as prisoners and bring them back to Jerusalem. Verse 1 describes him as,
"breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples."
Yet Paul received mercy. Paul continued in 1 Timothy 1.
"But for that very reason
I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners,
Christ Jesus might display
his unlimited patience as an example
for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life."
In other words, Paul taught that even the worst of sinners can receive mercy.
You'll remember that when one of the criminals who was crucified with Jesus asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom, Jesus replied, (Luke 23:43)
"I tell you the truth,
today you will be with me in paradise."
So I don't want anyone here to think that if you go to Jesus He will not accept you. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you go to Jesus He will accept you. As Jesus said in John 6:37,
"All that the Father gives me will come to me,
and whoever comes to me I will never drive away."
God is merciful. Even the King of Nineveh in the time of Jonah knew that. Jonah had gone from one end of Nineveh to the other proclaiming that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days. When the King of Nineveh heard it, he got up from this throne, took off his royal robes, and covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. He issued a proclamation in Nineveh that said, (Jonah 3:6-10)
"By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let any man or beast,
herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink.
But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth.
Let everyone call urgently on God.
Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.
Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion
turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish."
Did God relent? Absolutely. We read, (verse 10)
"When God saw what they did
and how they turned from their evil ways,
he had compassion and did not bring upon them
the destruction he had threatened."
I ask you,
has God put a warning shot across your bow?
Has God sent some wake-up call your way? Have you heeded it? Is God calling you to back to the right path? Are you listening to Him? God's warning shot across your bow may not be something as dramatic as a spirit tormenting you. It could be something like we read about in Ecclesiastes 7:2,
"It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of every man;
the living should take this to heart."
The sad fact is that Saul didn't learn anything. He didn't heed God's rebuke. From this time on Saul's life was one of an almost uninterrupted downward spiral. Saul was afraid of Goliath. He became jealous of David and that grew into hatred.
So I urge you, learn lessons from the things God sends your way. You shouldn't mess with God. That's what Saul did. Matthew Henry writes,
"Those that drive the good Spirit away from them do of course become prey to the evil spirit. If God and his grace do not rule us, sin and Satan will have possession of us."
Saul sinned and he failed to turn from his sin. God was patient with him. God disciplined him, attempting to bring him back. But Saul didn't listen. Eventually God gave him over to his sin. (See Romans 1:18f)
The third lesson from our text is that
when it comes to our sin, it's not enough to merely treat the symptoms.
Saul didn't listen to the warning that God gave him. What he did was to follow the advice of his attendances. They told him to find someone who could play the harp who would play for Saul and make him feel better. They suggested treatment for the symptoms of the problem rather than the cause.
It's crazy to do that. Say someone was having terrible headaches and he went to the doctor. After all the tests the doctor told him that he had a brain tumor that was growing but was operable at the present time and that he had surgery there was a good possibility that he would be completely cured. If the patient told the doctor that he didn't want to have surgery and asked the doctor to merely prescribe some strong headache medicine—what should the doctor do? He should try to talk the guy into having the surgery. To not do that and merely give him stronger medicine would not really be helping the patient. That's what Saul's attendants did for him.
We should understand that this spirit from God wasn't Saul's greatest problem. The spirit that troubled Saul was symptomatic of a much deeper problem. The real problem is stated in the first part of verse 14—the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul. His attendants, rather than advising Saul to see relief in music, should have urged that he turn to God. Saul need to repent, to turn from his sinful ways. He need to go to God and ask His forgiveness. As David begged God in Psalm 51:11,
"Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me."
What about you? Are you just treating the symptoms of what's wrong with you? Saul sought temporary relief in music. He didn't really deal with the real problem.
One of the characteristics of many people today is that they don't think about the bigger questions in life. They don't ask, "Is my life right with God?" "Where am I going to go when I die?" "Is what I'm doing with my life worthwhile?"
Our society makes it easy to ignore those questions. We can busy ourselves with our work, and then we can fill up all our free time with the music on our iPods, or the entertainment that's on our TV's.
There are problems in your life. There is sin in your life. How are you dealing with it? Are you ignoring it? Are you pushing it to the background of your consciousness through music and entertainment? Don't do that. Think about what God requires of you. You're not here to merely enjoy life, have a good time, make money and then die. No. Jesus demands you live for Him, for His kingdom. Are you doing that? Are you ready to die? Are you ready to meet your Maker and give an account for your life? Think about such things. Deal with them properly. May God give us grace to do so.