The Demonic in the Mundane, Pt. 3

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.

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12 responses to “The Demonic in the Mundane, Pt. 3

  • Andrew T.

    Demons in the mundane apparently isn’t nearly as interesting to western sensibilities as spectacles such as little girls whose heads spin round …

  • Patrick

    Tim,

    How do you interpret, “an evil spirit from God” there? Like God actually allowing a demon to cause Saul problems ?

    • joey

      I’ll throw in my two cents (and I know this is controversial)….
      THERE ARE NO ROGUE DEMONS. The satan does nothing except by the leave of God. Notice Job 1: Satan puts the challenge to GOD to touch Job (“stretch out YOUR hand…”) and then God sends Satan to do that very thing. Satan has no authority to do anything on his own. Satan is not deity. Job 1:16 says that it was “God’s fire” that burned Job’s crops. And in the end, Job knows that it is ultimately God who brought him all the troubles.
      2 Cor 12: Paul’s “thorn” was given to him by a “messenger from Satan.” Yet, the thorn was explicitly given for a holy purpose: TO keep him from being big-headed and to make him a better minister. So, we know that ultimately it came from God. The satanic messenger might have intended evil, but it still did the bidding of God.

    • timgombis

      That’s the big question that sort of jumps out, isn’t it? It seems to reflect something like what was going on in 1 Kings 22, which gives a window into the “council of the gods” in the heavens. Israel’s Scriptures affirm and regularly refer to cosmic beings of spiritual authority (“gods” or “sons of god”) that operate in the world and who gather at the heavenly court of Yahweh, the Most High God. In surrounding cultures, a supreme deity gathers the other deities, competitors of the ruling god.

      Yahweh, however, reigns supreme and the “gods” that appear throughout the Scriptures of Israel are his creations. They do indeed gather in the divine council and are accountable to the Most High God, but they are also rebellious, having gone their own way, and have been corrupted.

      From time to time, in order to move forward God’s redemptive program, one of them is dispatched to carry out some “dark” task, such as the one we find in this passage and in 1 Kings 22. We might say that something similar is going on in Job.

      In reference to Joey’s comment, I’m not so sure how far it’s true to say that there are no rogue demons. It seems plain that there are. Other texts (1 Cor. 15) indicate that evil spirits and the rulers of this present evil age are God’s enemies and he will destroy them. They are, literally, out of his control and he is in the process of bringing all things back under his sovereign rule.

      At the same time, there is a sense in which God is working in the heavenly realm to oversee history providentially, moving it along, but also participating with humanity genuinely as he does so. So, in both passages, an evil spirit is dispatched from the divine council in response to a human decision to walk in sin.

      At any rate, the Scripture picture is ambiguous–such figures are God’s enemies, God’s rebellious creatures who ruin his creation, thwarting his will, but they often unwittingly do God’s will.

      • joey

        Is Israel’s speech concerning the existence of other “gods” correct? That is, do other “gods” exist?
        Could Micaiah simply be expressing the truth of what he knows in his own way? (1 Kings 22:21-23)
        Was it God or Satan who incited David to take a census? (2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1) Or, was Satan doing the bidding of God?

      • timgombis

        Paul assumes this worldview in 1 Cor. 8. It’s Israel’s worldview that these other gods do indeed exist, but they are the creations of God himself, the cosmic ruler figures he appointed over various aspects of creation. In the OT, however, they’re called “gods” and in those contexts Yahweh usually has a title that distinguishes him as not being in their class. He’s in a class by himself–“the Most High God, highly exalted above all gods.”

        That last question is a great one!

  • Patrick

    Joey,

    That is what I think. It just looks textually odd in English and I wondered how Tim saw it.

  • Patrick

    Tim,

    I took some OT theology courses last year and IMO, you’re right. The Hebrew text does not teach “other elohims” are not real, it teaches they are subservient to Yahweh whether they know it or not. It teaches idols are not real.

    Paul taught they were demons, which makes sense to me.

    This issue scares folks, it shouldn’t. Polytheism isn’t the picture here, there is never any doubt who runs the universe and who has “the power”.

    • timgombis

      I think you’re right, Patrick, that this does indeed scare people. I think that’s because they don’t understand the larger framework in which such a population of the cosmos fits and they don’t get how such a conception functions in daily life. I hope to bring a little of this to light, but we’ll see…

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