By Reuben Archer Torrey
One of the most puzzling passages in the Bible is found in 1 Kings 22, and in the parallel account in 2 Chronicles 18. In these passages the Prophet Micaiah is reported as saying, "Therefore hear thou the word of the LORD" (v. 19, RV). Then he goes on: "I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left." Jehovah is pictured as asking the assembled host who would go and persuade Ahab that he may go up to Ramoth-gilead. Then a lying spirit is represented as coming forth and standing before the Lord, and saying, "I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets." Then Jehovah is represented as saying to the lying spirit, "Thou shalt entice him, and shalt prevail also: go forth, and do so" (vv. 20-22, RV).
At first glance it appears as if the LORD sanctioned and took part in lying and deception. What is the explanation?
It is clearly given in the context. Micaiah, speaking by the Holy Spirit, is seeking to dissuade Ahab and Jehoshaphat from going up to Ramoth-gilead. All the false prophets have told the two kings that they should go up to victory. Micaiah, the messenger of the Lord, tells them on the contrary that they shall go up to defeat and to the certain death of Ahab. He tells them that the spirit that had spoken by the false prophets was a lying spirit. He puts this in a highly pictorial way. Though the picture is exceedingly vivid, it does not teach error, but truth, and teaches it in a most forcible way, namely, that it was a lying spirit that was in the mouth of the false prophets. But that Jehovah was not really a party to the deception appears clearly in the narrative, if we take it as a whole. Far from being a party to the deception, He sends His own prophet to warn them that the spirit that spoke by the false prophets was a lying spirit, and to tell them the exact facts in the case as to what the issue of the battle would be. If they would choose to listen to God and His prophet they would be saved from calamity, but if they would not listen to God and His prophet then God would give them over to the working of error, that they should believe a lie; but He would not do this without abundant warning.
This is God's universal method, not only as taught in the Bible but as taught in experience. He allows every man to choose either to listen to Him and know the truth, or to turn a deaf ear to Him and be given over to strong delusion. If men will not receive the love of the truth that they may be saved, then God gives them over to strong delusion to believe a lie. If men want lies, God gives them their fill of them (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12, RV).
Other passages of the Bible seem to teach that God sends evil spirits to men, and the question arises: How can we believe that a good God, a God of love, sends evil spirits to men? Let us turn to a passage in which this is taught, and we will soon find an answer to the difficulty.
In 1 Samuel 16:14 (RV) we read: "Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him."
What is meant by "an evil spirit" ? The context clearly shows. It was a spirit of discontent, unrest, depression.
The circumstances were these: Saul had proved untrue to God. He had deliberately disobeyed God (1 Samuel 15:4-35, especially vv. 22-23), and consequently God had withdrawn His Spirit from him, and a spirit of discontent and unrest had come upon him.
This was not an unkind act on God's part. There was nothing kinder that God could have done. It is one of the most merciful provisions of our heavenly Father that when we disobey Him and wander from Him He makes us unhappy, discontented in our sin. If God should leave us to continue to be happy in sin, it would be the unkindest thing He could do. God in His great mercy will win every sinner possible back to Himself; and if we sin, God for our highest good sends us deep depression and unrest in our sin. If we make the right use of this spirit of unrest and depression that God sends us, it brings us back to God and to the joy of the Holy Ghost. Saul made the wrong use of it. Instead of allowing his unrest of heart to bring him to repentance and back to God, he allowed it to embitter his soul against one whom God favored. The sending of the evil spirit was an act of mercy on God's part. The misuse of this act of mercy resulted in Saul's utter undoing.
There is many a man today who once knew something about the Spirit of the Lord and the joy of the Holy Ghost, who has fallen into sin, and God in His great love and mercy is sending him at the present time an evil spirit, a spirit of unrest, dissatisfaction, deep discontent, or even of abject misery. Let him thank God for it! Let him inquire humbly on his face before God where he has sinned against God and lost the joy of his salvation! Let him put away and confess his sin and come back to God and have the joy of God's salvation renewed to him. An evil spirit of unrest and discontent was sent to David, too, when he sinned; but when after some resistance David confessed his sin to the Lord, the Lord blotted it out and brought him into a place of glad joy in the Lord, where he could instruct and teach others in the way they should go (Psalm 32:4-8; 51:9-13).