Thursday, August 28, 2014

as Mark Driscoll's recent spiritual warfare series winds up to six parts, WtH surveys stories from the OT narratives about spirits authorized by God to punish His sinning people

Through the recent Spiritual Warfare series published by Mars Hill on behalf of Mark Driscoll (who was on vacation or has since been on leave during the majority of the time and who promised to not be on social media), a great deal of general statements have been made.  Most of it appears to be material recycled not just from books like Death By Love and other works, many of the basic talking points seem similar to those made in the February 2008 Spiritual Warfare series that was available for anyone to download until about late March 2014.

For the respective parts:

Now one of the things that did not get discussed in the variants of the discussion about demons is that there is relatively little diabology in the canonical documents.  Even those things that are in the NT affirm ideas that, strictly speaking, tended to develop in the intertestamental literature.

If you wanted to just go through explicit accounts of demons or evil spirits in the OT the list would be pretty small.  If we keep in mind that in narrative terms Satan in Job is not the same as a demon (though long recognized as the prince of darkness, etc) the number of stories of demons in the Bible are relatively few.  Even if we count Satan in the entirety of Job we must get back to Luther's axiom that even the devil is God's devil.  Satan only does what he is permitted to do to afflict Job.

Now, with that settled, let's get to other accounts in the OT in which evil or malign spirits are explicitly mentioned.  The first notable case would be Judges 9, the second would be 1 Samuel 16.  A third of note would be 1 Kings 22 which is told in another way in 2 Chronicles 18.  The Chronicles account does not include the background available in 1 Kings 21 about Ahab coveting Naboth's vineyard and Jezebel's design to have Naboth framed, executed, and his property annexed by Ahab but I would submit that that narrative background is actually essential for understanding the larger narrative that foregrounds 1 Kings 22. 

There's a pretty simple pattern observable in these cases.  While in the book of Job Yahweh permits Satan to afflict Job with suffering and loss in a bet against God that Job would renounce the Lord, these other narratives have a common thread.  In the few cases in which evil spirits get memorable tales in the OT narrative literature we're always looking at kings or men who have appointed themselves kings. 


When Abimelech (whose name means "My father is king") nominates himself for kingship in Judges 9 he does so at the expense of the sons of Gideon.  He persuaded the Shechemites that the rule of one is better than the rule of seventy and he, being a Shechemite, is their kinsman.  So the Shechemites gave Abimelech money he used to hire worthless men to kill his half-brothers. The youngest son of Gideon (Jerubaal, about which much more said later) flees and went out to a mountain and told a blunt story.  His story was about plants who refused kingship and about the bramble who accepted kingship.  Jotham remarks that if the Shechemites and Abimelech have truly done right by the sacrifices and valor of Gideon to enjoy each other as blessings, but if not, Jotham declared "let fire
from Abimelech destroy the men of Shechem and let fire from the men of Shechem destroy Abimelech." 

Judges 9 then proceeds to the mention of the evil spirit, from the Lord. For the sin of murdering seventy of his kinsmen so as to gain kingship Abimelech and for appointing a self-aggrandizing murderer as king, God dispatches an evil spirit to create chaos and death among those who founded a kingship on bloodshed and corruption.  Eventually the self-appointed king and his appointers die in flames and battle.  Judges 9 closes with the observation that it was thus that God repaid the evil men for their wickedness and the curse of Jotham came upon them.


After Saul had angered the Lord and the spirit of God had departed from rendering him counsel, we are told that an evil spirit from the Lord came to torment Saul.  Because Saul had disregarded the word of the Lord through the prophet Samuel, and probably also wrongly took up performing priestly functions when Samuel was delayed, God punished Saul for failing to exercise his kingly obligations and usurping priestly activity by designating another to one day be king.  The evil spirit from God tormented Saul and that's basically what there is to know about the evil spirit in this case.


If we keep in mind that these stories largely overlap we can focus more on the Kings account.   In the foreground to the story we've read earlier how Ahab coveted the vineyard of a man named Naboth.  Naboth refused to give the land to the king on the ground of inherited estate customs in the land.  Ahab was sullen and his wife Jezebel wanted to know what the mess was.  Was not Ahab the king?  Ahab protested that kingship didn't work that way in the land of the Israelites, there were certain things about land and inheritance not even kings would be allowed to usurp.  Jezebel devised a plan.  She sent a letter in the name of the king to have men falsely testify that Naboth had cursed both God and the king.  Naboth was convicted and executed and the vineyard became Ahab's.

Three years pass, we're told, and while Ahab had rent his clothes when rebuked by a prophet, along came a military situation with Aram.  Ahab, though considered a wicked king by the biblical authors, seems to have been granted the status of being a shrewd and effective tactician.  Enough, at least, that Jehoshephat agrees to a military alliance when a threat from Aram emerges, it seems.  But before heading to battle the Samarian and Judean king meet to consult prophets.  The prophets of Ahab agree that victory is assured but the Judean king wants a prophet of the Lord to weigh in.  Ahab protests that there is that one guy but he only ever says bad stuff.

To humor the Judean king the prophet Micaiah is brought in anyway and sarcastically declares a pending victory.  Ahab rebukes him in a way that suggests that Ahab knows this is all sarcasm and wants to know what the real outcome will be.  A dead king, a scattered army.  Ahab finds this more in keeping with what he expected a true prophet of Yahweh to say, but he's angry.  Micaiah describes a scene of God in the heavenly court asking who would entice Ahab to his death.  A plucky spirit volunteers to be a deceiving spirit in the prophets of Ahab.  In a humorous irony Ahab is being told by the honest prophet that God Himself has authorized a lying spirit to delude all Ahab's positive prophets so that Ahab would go to his death, which Ahab is preparing to do.  Ahab decides to disguise himself in battle and goes on the field incognito.  In another macabre joke along the lines of "it's not the bullet with your name on it but the one labeled `to whom it may concern'" an Aramean archer sees someone on the battlefield, figures, "He's not one of ours", shoots and scores the death of Ahab.

Maybe you've spotted the pattern at work here.  When kings deceive, permit deceit, or authorize something sufficiently evil against the common good and the decrees of the Lord, the Lord at times authorizes evil spirits to come sow discord and even actively promote the destruction of the wicked ruler. 

This might be an overview of the Old Testament narrative literature regarding the activity and history of evil spirits and deceiving spirits that could supplement the six part series on Spiritual Warfare that has lately been published in Mark Driscoll's name during his vacation and time away from active pulpit ministry. 

Oh, yes, there's another thing, in Samuel God incites David to take a census because the Lord was angry with Israel, while in Chronicles it is Satan.  Although David was a man after God's own heart, God Himself directly (in Samuel) or by the proxy of Satan (in Chronicles) incited David to take a census that led to the death of tens of thousands by plagues.  When David was confronted with this (after having ignored Joab's blunt plea to not do the thing) David did not say "Maybe I made a mistake." David said, "I have sinned against the Lord."  This was arguably a case where God opted to punish His people through the sins committed by their leader. 

While in some Christian circles it can be popular to imagine times of perceived persecution of public disapproval as signs of demonic or satanic attack the narratives from the Old Testament literature suggest another possibility, that evil spirits are authorized by Yahweh to torment, punish, and even arrange for the downfall of unusually corrupt leaders from among the ranks of God's people.  Even though this would seem pretty indisputable on the face of it it has not been something that Wenatchee The Hatchet has heard any preacher shout, "That'll preach!" as an "Amen" to.  Even in the case of David's census, the activity of Satan has been taken by some secular scholars as an editorial gloss made by the Chronicler because of the disturbing implications of Yahweh actively inciting David to take a census over against prohibitions in the Torah.  So it's a 50/50 thing here which emphasis in which narrative you want to go with, which is why it's hard to build a watertight case that the Davidic census and subsequent plague are a great case study for evil spirit activity. 

Then again, it sort of keeps with the theme, God permits evil spirits to torment or discipline His people when He finds something particularly terrible in them, either committing a terrible sin or permitting a terrible sin, as a general rule.


A reader kindly suggested there's an ambiguity in the "evil spirit" term itself that might be good to discuss.  Does it mean an evil spirit in terms of motive?  Or does it potentially refer to a spirit designated the task of inciting calamity?  Will have to defer to scholars of Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic who may wish to deign the comment section of Wenatchee the Hatchet with any and all helpful directions for study there.  This is not a post inviting systematic treatises on diabology but language discussions about the narrative literature in the OT canon.  I've got William Gurnall's garage-door stopper on the subject of spiritual warfare in general.  I want the biblical language scholars to chime in if they'd be so kind and, if not, hey, Wenatchee can still make the offer.

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