First of all, God is absolutely holy and would never tempt or force people to sin. James 1:14 declares, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil nor does He Himself tempt anyone.”

Let’s read 1st Samuel 16:12-14: “And the LORD said (unto Samuel), Arise, anoint him (David): for this is he. Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel arose, and went to Ramah. But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.” If we were to read chapter 15 you would see that God had anointed Saul to be king over Israel (verse 1) and that He then commissioned Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites for their attempt to destroy Israel (verses 2-3). But Saul disobeyed God by sparing their king and some of their livestock (verses 8-9). Because of Saul’s rebellious act of disobedience God had Samuel anoint David in his place. Along with the anointing David received the Holy Spirit and the Spirit departed from Saul. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was given to men who were selected by God for service. It had nothing to do with the salvation of their souls. See Judges 3:10, 6:34; 13:25; 14:6 and 1st Samuel 10:10 for other examples of this.

In the verse we are considering we learn that the moment the Holy Spirit left Saul “an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.” This has perplexed many believers, for as we saw from James 1:14 the Lord NEVER tempts anyone to sin. So, your question is good and valid, “Why did the Lord send an evil spirit to torment Saul?” Before we answer that, let’s be clear that the evil spirit wasn’t acting against his will, for the evil spirit was doing exactly what he wanted to do. In light of this truth, we can say that “God ALLOWED an evil spirit to trouble Saul, but the evil spirit was acting on his own, for he was more than willing to torment Saul (or anyone for that matter). I would encourage you to read 2nd Chronicles 18:19-22 for another example of this, for in that passage God ALLOWED a “lying spirit” to enter a false prophet to entice King Ahab, who was also a wicked king who rebelled against God. The lying spirit was doing what he wanted to do; to wreak havoc upon the human race.

I believe the simple answer to your question is that God was PUNISHING SAUL FOR HIS DISOBEDIENCE. He wasn’t tempting him to sin, but He was tormenting Saul for his unwillingness to obey Him and in His sovereignty He used an evil spirit to accomplish His purpose. We must remember that even though Satan and his fallen angels are themselves in rebellion against God, they are still subject to Him. In Job 1:6 we read, “Now there was a day when the sons of God (angels) came to present themselves before the LORD, and SATAN WAS AMONG THEM.” In verse 11 Satan challenged God to remove His hand of blessing on Job and then he would curse God. God gave Satan permission to test Job in verse 12, “And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand.” In this case God was using Satan to TEST Job, NOT to PUNISH him, but it still teaches us that Satan and his demons are not allowed to act unless God permits it. And when God does permit it, He is NOT tempting people to sin, but either PUNISHING them or TESTING them. (257.7) (DO)