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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Evil Spirits

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EVIL SPIRITS . As a natural synonym for demons or devils, this phrase is used in the NT only by St. Luke ( Luke 7:21; Luke 8:2 , Acts 19:12-13; Acts 19:15-16 ), and presents no difficulty. But in the OT, especially the historical books, reference is made to an evil spirit as coming from or sent by God; and the context invests this spirit with personality. The treachery of the men of Shechem is so explained ( Judges 9:23 ), though in this case the spirit may not be personal but merely a temper or purpose of ill-will. Elsewhere there is not the same ground for doubt: ‘an evil spirit from the Lord’ is the alleged cause of Saul’s moodiness ( 1 Samuel 16:14 , where notice the antithetical ‘the spirit of the Lord’), and of his raving against David ( 1 Samuel 18:10; 1 Samuel 19:9 ). Similarly Micaiah speaks of ‘a lying spirit’ from God ( 1 Kings 22:21-23 , 2 Chronicles 18:20-23 ). It has been suggested that in all these cases the reference is to God Himself as exerting power, and effecting good or evil in men according to the character of each. The nearest approach to this is perhaps in Exodus 12:13; Exodus 12:23 , where Jehovah and the destroyer are apparently identified, though the language admits equally of the view that the destroyer is the agent of Jehovah’s will (cf. 2 Samuel 24:16 ). But the theory is inconsistent with what is known to have been the current demonology of the day (see Devil), as well as with the natural suggestion of the phrases. These spirits are not represented as constituting the personal energy of God, but as under His control, which was direct and active according to some of the writers, but only permissive according to others. The fact of God’s control is acknowledged by all, and is even a postulate of Scripture; and in using or permitting the activity of these spirits God is assumed or asserted to be punishing people for their sins. In this sense He has ‘a band of angels of evil’ ( Psalms 78:49 ), who may yet he called ‘angels of the Lord’ ( 2 Kings 19:35 , Isaiah 37:36 ), as carrying out His purposes. Micaiah evidently considered Zedekiah as used by God in order to entice Ahab to his merited doom. Ezekiel propounds a similar view ( Isaiah 14:9 ), that a prophet may be deceived by God, and so made the means of his own destruction and of that of his dupes, much as David was moved to number Israel through the anger of the Lord against the people ( 2 Samuel 24:1 ). As the conception of God developed and was purified, the permitted action of some evil spirit is substituted for the Divine activity, whether direct or through the agency of messengers, considered as themselves ethically good but capable of employment on any kind of service. Accordingly the Chronicler represents Satan as the instigator of David ( 1 Chronicles 21:1 ). Jeremiah denies the inspiration of lying prophets, and makes them entirely responsible for their own words and influence ( 1 Chronicles 23:16; 1 Chronicles 23:21; 1 Chronicles 23:25 f.); they are not used by God, and will be called to account. They speak out of their own heart, and are so far from executing God’s justice or anger upon the wicked that He interposes to check them, and to protect men from being misled.

An evil spirit, therefore, wherever the phrase occurs in a personal sense in the earlier historical books of the OT, must be thought of simply as an angel or messenger of God, sent for the punishment of evil (cf. 1 Samuel 19:9 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). His coming to a man was a sign that God’s patience with him was approaching exhaustion, and a prelude of doom. Gradually the phrase was diverted from this use to denote a personal spirit, the ‘demon’ of the NT margin, essentially evil and working against God, though powerless to withdraw entirely from His rule.

R. W. Moss.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Evil Spirits'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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