I began this series by observing that many Christians wonder why there is so much demonic activity in other parts of the world and so little here in the U.S. and in the West.
At least one answer is that there may be more than we think. We just miss it because we’re on the lookout for the fantastical and spectacular. Biblical writers discern demonic dynamics at work behind the perverted human behaviors that we typically regard as “normal” or unremarkable—jealousy, anger, bitterness, divisiveness, and the refusal to forgive.
Another fascinating text that makes this connection is the narrative of the rise of David and the downfall of Saul beginning in 1 Samuel 18.
It happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments. The women sang as they played, and said, “Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his ten thousands.” Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?” Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on (1 Sam. 18:6-9).
After his dramatic triumph over Goliath, David is praised and exalted above Saul. Hearing this, “Saul became very angry,” the same expression used of Cain in response to God’s preference for Abel (Gen. 4:5). It points to an intense jealousy driven by a feeling of having been slighted.
Saul now sees David as a threat and begins to regard him with suspicion. His inflamed jealousy and his impulses for self-protection and self-preservation drive him to suspect David of plotting to supplant him as king.
What follows is quite striking. In some mysterious way, Saul’s deep anger and jealousy opens him up to spiritual evil.
Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved in the midst of the house, while David was playing the harp with his hand, as usual; and a spear was in Saul’s hand. Saul hurled the spear for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David escaped from his presence twice. Now Saul was afraid of David, for the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul (1 Sam. 18:10-12).
Saul’s paranoia has driven him to murderous plotting and an actual attempted murder—and it won’t be his last!
As the story plays out, Saul gradually loses his mind. His paranoia and obsession with eliminating David drive him to turn on his son, Jonathan, and to plot and scheme endlessly.
Now, there is so much to say about this whole episode within the narrative of 1-2 Samuel. My point is simply that Saul’s festering jealousy, his growing anger, his commitment to self-preservation at all costs, and his suspicion that grew into self-destructive paranoia opened up Saul to influence from spiritual evil.
Consider how many church conflicts begin with one person being jealous of the attention given to another. How often do church staffs fracture because the drive for self-preservation and self-protection becomes contagious?
Turf battles in churches, power-struggles in work environments, and so many other social dynamics provoke reactions of jealousy and the cultivation of resentment, and wounded pride.
When anger isn’t dealt with, it settles in the heart and produces all sorts of socially destructive dynamics—manipulation, character assassination, destructive competition, evil scheming, gossip, etc.
We might say, “well, that’s just normal stuff. That’s not anything that involves spiritual forces of evil or the demonic.”
Scripture portrays such situations otherwise.
More to come on how New Testament passages confirm this, along with some practical suggestions for combating spiritual evil.