Why would God send an evil or lying spirit (as in 1 Samuel 16:14; 1 Kings 22:20-22)?
Underlying this question is the perplexity that confronts us of God working in ways that seem to contradict His own character. The context reveals that God is acting in discipline or judgment upon two disobedient kings (Saul and Ahab), according to their character and behaviour. “God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal 6:7 NKJV).
1 Samuel 16:13-14 says, “Then Samuel … anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward …. But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him” (KJV).
When Israel demanded to have a king to lead them, the Lord saw it as a repudiation of Himself as their king (1Sa 8; 10:17-19; 12:16-25). Yet in faithfulness to them, He appointed Saul to be king and imparted His Spirit to him to enable him to fulfil his stewardship successfully. Initially, Saul served God and the people humbly, but soon began using both God and the people to serve his own interests as king. The prophet Samuel delivered God’s verdict upon the disobedient king: “Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king” (1Sa 15:23 NKJV). Despite this, it was possibly another fifteen years before Samuel anointed David as king. Saul had despised and ignored the gracious Spirit of God; now he would be subjected to a destructive and distressing spirit.
We understand so little of the influence and interaction of the spirit realm with our own minds. It seems that God has placed a protective barrier between us and the powerful spirits that surround us. We also understand little of the interaction of evil spirits with God, but the Scriptures suggest that God at times removes the hedge of protection and sends or permits evil spirits to be His instruments of discipline or judgment. Would not 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 and 1 Timothy 1:19-20 (“delivered unto Satan”) be parallel enough to warn us as believers today against taking God or sin lightly?
1 Kings 16:29-22:39 records the reign of King Ahab. His wickedness was exceeded only by his infamous and dominant wife Jezebel. She had arranged for false witnesses to slander and slaughter their neighbour Naboth so Ahab could extend his vegetable garden! The LORD fittingly judged him by sending “a lying spirit in the mouth of all his [Ahab’s] prophets” (22:22) to influence Ahab to do battle with the Syrians, resulting in his death. I would suggest this was an evil spirit who had access to the divine court, even as Satan apparently still does.
Perhaps the best insight is given in David’s psalm of thanksgiving “on the day when the LORD had delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul …. With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful; With a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless; With the pure You will show Yourself pure; And with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd. You will save the humble people; But your eyes are on the haughty, that You may bring them down” (2Sa 22:1,26-28 NKJV).