Does God Work Against Himself?


“And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward.” – 1 Samuel 16:13

“Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him.” – 1 Samuel 16:14

“And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand.” – 1 Samuel 16:23

The Spirit of the Lord came upon David and stayed with him the rest of his life. At the same time, we are told that the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul. When the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, the text says that God sent a harmful Spirit to torment Saul. Yet, David, who had the Spirit of the Lord, went to Saul and calmed “the harmful spirit from God” that was upon Saul.

If we believe the text as it is written, then we need some questions answered.

Is God confused?

Why is God sending a harmful spirit on Saul yet sending David, who had the Spirit, to calm the harmful spirit?

Is God completely sovereign over everything single thought and action of every person?

Does God work against himself, as it seems in this passage?

Or, is it that in the Old Testament God could not be perceived clearly? Therefore, everything that happened was attributed to God.


Paul clearly says that prior to Jesus there was a veil that prevented every single person from seeing God clearly. He takes the veil that Moses wore before the Israelites and analogizes it to the veil that has prevented us all from seeing God clearly.

2 Corinthians 3:12-15 says, “Since we have such hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted…Yes to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts.”

It’s possible for anyone to still read the Old Testament through a veil. Therefore, it’s possible to not see God clearly in the Old Testament. If we read the Old Testament with a veil, then we would answer the questions I asked above that say God is confused, God send harmful spirits to people, and because God is completely sovereign over every single thought and action he works against himself.

However, Paul says the veil can be removed. In 2 Corinthians 3:14, 16, Paul says, “Only through Christ is it taken away…But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” This is what was meant by the veil being torn in the temple when Christ was crucified. The death of Jesus on the cross and the forgiveness he offered to all from the cross removes the veil that obstructed our view of God.

When we put Jesus into the midst of today’s passage, then we can understand clearly what was happening.


Without the veil removed by the cross of Christ, the writer of 1 Samuel though Saul was tormented by a harmful spirit from God.

But, Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature. And, Jesus is the only one to have seen the Father, so he is the only one able to accurately reveal the Father.

In the gospels, we only see Jesus healing and delivering people from harmful spirits. Not one time do we see Jesus putting a harmful spirit on someone. Since Jesus and the Father are one, we know that the Father did not send an evil spirit to torment Saul.

James 1:13-14 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”

These verses tell us clearly that Saul was not tempted with a harmful Spirit by God. Rather, he was tempted by his own evil desire. In 1 Samuel 15, we see that Saul desired the good things of the Amalekites and his own righteousness, hence his disobedience to the word of the Lord.

But, David, as a shadow of Jesus, comes to Saul to calm the evil spirit he is tormented by.


Saul said to Jesse, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.” (1 Samuel 16:19) David was a shepherd.

In John 10:11, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

In Luke 15, Jesus describes himself as the shepherd that will leave the 99 sheep to go after the one sheep that was lost.

David going to Saul is a picture of Jesus going after the one lost sheep.


In 1 Samuel 16:20, David is sent to Saul with bread and wine.

The imagery of bread and wine, grain and grapes, is used all throughout the Bible. One of the first mentions of them together is in Genesis 14. Melchizedek, the king of Salem, brought bread and wine to Abraham to refresh him after his battle to retrieve Lot.

Jesus made a new covenant with us with bread and wine. In Matthew 26:26-29, Jesus institutes this covenant with the disciples by breaking bread, which he said was body, and drinking from a cup of wine, which was his blood.

In John 6:56-57, Jesus says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will because of me.”

Jesse, David’s father, sent him to Saul with bread and wine to give Saul life and removed the evil spirit that was tormenting him.


In 1 Samuel 16:20, Jesse sends David to Saul with a donkey.

Throughout the Old Testament, horses symbolized war and pride. But, donkeys symbolized just the opposite – peace and humility.

Matthew 21:5 says, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”

Jesus came as a king to his people riding on a donkey. He came humble and bringing humility.

But, John 15:25 says, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

John adds “fear not” because Jesus came as a king of peace. He did not come to destroy us or make war with us. Therefore, we do not need to fear him.

Jesse sent David with a donkey to Saul just as the Father sent Jesus as king to us on a donkey symbolizing that Jesus was a humble and peaceful king.


In 1 Samuel 16:20, Jesse also sends David to Saul with a young goat. It’s very important to note that Jesse sent David with just a, one, goat.

Leviticus 16 is about the day of atonement. Aaron, the high priest was to take two goats and set them before the Lord. On whichever goat the lot fell, Aaron was to present that goat as a sin offering. Only Aaron alone as the high priest was allowed into the holy place behind the veil to present this goat’s blood as an atonement for sin.

Jesus was the single goat that was a sacrifice for our sin. He alone took his own blood behind the veil into the most holy place. Hebrews 9:11-14 says, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

David going to Saul with one young goat to remove the evil spirit from him is a picture of Christ taking his blood into the most holy place to purify our conscience, to remove the evil spirits tormenting us.


1 Samuel 16:21 says, “And David came to Saul and entered his service.” Even though David had been anointed king, he was sent by his father to serve Saul.

The same is true of Jesus. He was born king, but he came to serve us.

In Mark 10:45, Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus said this after he said the Gentiles rule by lording it over us. Jesus rules not by lording it over us but by serving us.


1 Samuel 16:21 says, “And Saul loved him greatly, and he [David] became his armor-bearer.”

David carried Saul’s armor everywhere that Saul went so that he could put it on at a moment’s notice to protect himself from the enemy.

In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul instructs us to put on the whole armor of God. Every piece of that armor is part of the character and work of Christ. Jesus is our armor-bearer always there with us so that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

God did not send an evil spirit to torment Saul, nor does God do that to us. Instead, Jesus reveals that God delivers us from evil spirits. With the veil removed, we see David as a shadow of us who was sent to remove the evil spirit that was tormenting Saul.

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