How do you respond to Judges 9:23?

“…God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the lords of Schechem; and the lords of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech.” (cf. 1 Sam. 16:14; 1 Kings 22:19–23).

Some compatibilists cite this passage to support the view that evil spirits always carry out the Lord’s will (though they contend that God is good for willing it and the spirits are evil for carrying it out). I argue that this conception is unintelligible and the interpretation of this passage that supports it is unnecessary.

We should first note that this passage does not imply that evil spirits always carry out the Lord’s will. We must be careful not to read universal implications into specific historical narratives.

Second, the word “evil” in this passage (ra’) can simply mean “troubling” or “disastrous.” It does not have to be interpreted as referring to a morally evil spirit. Hence this passage may simply mean that as an act of judgment God sent a spirit whose job it was to trouble or bring disaster to Abimelech.

Third, even if we conclude that the spirit in this verse was morally evil, the verse may be interpreted as teaching that as an act of judgment God allowed the spirit to do what it wanted to do to Abimelech (see How do you respond to Exodus 21:12–13?). It doesn’t warrant the conclusion that evil spirits always carry out God’s sovereign plan.

If this were the case, we’d have to accept that God is in conflict with himself when Jesus rebukes demons. Jesus would be carrying out the Father’s will in casting out demons who are allegedly present in a person’s life because God willed it. Yet Jesus said that he couldn’t be casting out demons by Satan, the prince of demons, because a kingdom can’t be divided against itself (Matt. 12:25–38). The same logic forces the conclusion that Jesus couldn’t cast out demons by the power of God if the demons were themselves present by the will of God. God’s kingdom, like Satan’s kingdom, can’t be divided against itself.

Related Reading

A Cross-Centered Evaluation of Responses to Tragedy

I’d like to pick up where I left off on my previous post about Draper’s article entitled “Aurora shooting inspires various perspectives on God and belief.” Toward the end of his article, Draper reports on an informal survey conducted by Stephen Prothero on his CNN Blog. Prothero simply asks people to respond to the question: “Where…

What is the significance of Ezekiel 22:29–31?

The Lord says he “sought for” someone to stand in the breech for Israel “but I found none.” Hence Israel experienced the wrath of God. If everything that shall ever come to pass is eternally fixed in the divine mind, God would have foreknown that no one would respond to his call for a Moses-like…

Topics:

What is the warfare worldview?

The warfare worldview is based on the conviction that our world is engaged in a cosmic war between a myriad of agents, both human and angelic, that have aligned themselves with either God or Satan. This is the view that is presupposed throughout the entire Bible, and it’s especially evident in the New Testament. For…

How do you respond to Psalm 105:25?

Speaking of the Egyptians, the Psalmist says,“…whose hearts he [God] then turned to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants” Some compatibilists cite this verse as evidence that God meticulously controls human hearts. If so, we must accept the conclusion that even grotesquely wicked hearts like Hitler’s and Stalin’s were exactly as God…

What about the thief on the cross?

Question: You hold that most people who are saved will nevertheless have to go through a “purging fire” to have their character refined and fit for heaven. Whatever is unfinished in our “sanctification” in this epoch must be completed in the next. But how does this square with Jesus telling the thief on the cross,…

How do you respond to John 21:18–19?

Jesus says to Peter, “‘[W]hen you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to…

Topics: