Evil and Unclean Spirits in the Hebrew Scriptures

Evil and Unclean Spirits in the Hebrew Scriptures

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Now we must look at the activity of demons in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Num. 5.11-14
11 And ADONAI speaks to Moses, saying,
12 “Speak to the sons of Israel, and you say to them, ‘When any man’s wife turns aside, and has
committed against him a trespass,
13 and a man has lain with her with the seed of copulation, and it has been hid from the eyes of
her husband, and concealed, and she has been defiled, and there is no witness against her, and she
has not been caught,
14 and a spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he has been jealous of his wife, and she has been
defiled – or, a spirit of jealousy has passed over him, and he has been jealous of his wife, and she
has not been defiled -…’”
This passage talks about two possible situations. In one situation a woman has been unfaithful to
her husband but it is hidden from him, there are no witnesses, she has not been caught. But a spirit of
jealousy descends upon the husband (the Hebrew word ‘avar’ 100 can literally mean goes through). In
that situation the evil spirit knows something that the man has no way of knowing in the natural. But in
the second situation the spirit of jealousy descends on a man even though his wife has not committed
adultery. So the spirit of jealousy can know things that have happened in the natural realm, but not by
natural means. But the spirit of jealousy cannot be trusted because it may lie to the man in order to
destroy the marriage. So the spirit of jealousy operates out of its own mind and its own agenda. This
is obviously not talking about the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit never lies and does not seek to
destroy a marriage. But neither is it talking about the spirit of man, because a human spirit cannot
know what happens outside the realm of the five senses. So the picture is of a spirit that resides
outside of the man, but can descend upon and go into the man; this spirit has knowledge of events that
are hidden from the man, but this spirit can deceive and destroy the man.
Judg. 9.22-24
22 And Abimelech was prince over Israel for three years.
23 And G-d sends an evil spirit 101 between Abimelech and between the masters of Shechem. And
the masters of Shechem deal treacherously with Abimelech.
24 To bring violence for the seventy sons of Jerubbaal, and to place their blood on Abimelech their
brother, who slew them, and on the masters of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to slay his
From this (and other verses) we realise that although the demons are part of the kingdom of Satan,
they are not completely loyal to him. This is a fact with any rebel leader and his followers. Those
who follow a rebel actually have a rebellious attitude toward their leader and will betray him any
time it suits their individual purpose. In effect the rebellious followers are looking out for their own
best interests. So, strange as it may seem, it is possible for an evil spirit to be loyal to Satan in one
moment and to change and do the will of G-d in the next moment (not out of loyalty to G-d but because
the spirit is rebellious and is seeking his own best interests). A demon is always willing to betray
Satan in order to achieve its own personal goal.
Another revelation this passage provides us is that at times G-d will actually send an evil spirit to
do His bidding. This idea troubles some people and has led others to declare that the Devil and the
demons are agents of G-d. But in fact we know that G-d is able to arrange all things in order to
accomplish His purposes.
One of the interesting aspects of the game of chess is that a player who is much better than his
opponent can make a move, knowing how his opponent will react. As a result the better player can get
his opponent to make moves that the better player has anticipated. The better player does not have
control over the weaker player, but can outplay the weaker player. To a great extent this tactic is
illustrated in these verses. G-d has existed eternally and has unlimited knowledge. Satan, who is only
a created being, has lived a small moment in time compared to G-d, and Satan’s knowledge is very
limited when compared to the knowledge of G-d. The situation is the equivalent of a chess grand
master playing against a two-year-old child. G-d knows how to get the demons to do what He wants
them to do, but that does not mean that the demons are working for G-d. However, G-d will use
anything and everything to accomplish His purposes. I can prove it to you – He can use you and you
are a sinner!
Because Abimelech had conspired against the seventy sons of Jerubbaal, G-d sent an evil spirit to
stir up violence between Abimelech and the masters of Shechem. The act of murdering the innocent
brings a tormenting evil spirit (sent by G-d) into the lives of the people responsible for it.
There are two separate verses from 1 Samuel that exemplify a related subject.
1 Sam. 15.9 102 And Saul spared the people (on Agag, and on the best of the flock, and of the
herd, and of the seconds, and on the lambs, and on all that is good), and was not willing to destroy
them. And all the worked, despised and wasted they were destroyed.
1 Sam. 16.14-23 103
14 And the Spirit of ADONAI departed from Saul, and a tormenting evil spirit from ADONAI came.
15 And the servants of Saul said to him, “Behold now, an evil spirit from G-d is tormenting you.
16 “Master, tell now your servants before you, to seek a man playing a harp, and it will come to
pass when the evil spirit from G-d is upon you, that he has played with his hand, and it will be good
for you”.
17 And Saul says to his servants, “Find for me a man playing well. And bring him to me”.
18 And one of the servants answers and said, “Behold, I saw a son of Jesse the Beth-Lehemite,
knowing to play, and a mighty man of valour, and a man of battle, and wise in speech, and a fine
looking man, and ADONAI is with him”.
19 And Saul sends messengers to Jesse, and says, “Send to me David your son, who is with the
20 And Jesse takes a donkey, bread, and a bottle of wine, and one kid of the goats, and sends by the
hand of David his son to Saul.
21 And David came in to Saul, and served before him, and he (Saul) loves him (David) greatly. And
he is a bearer of his weapons.
22 And Saul sends to Jesse, saying, “Let David stand before me, for he has found grace in mine
23 And it was when the spirit of G-d was on Saul, that David took the harp, and played with his
hand and refreshed 104 Saul and it was good to him, and the evil spirit left him.
It is to the credit of the servants of Saul that they had the necessary discerning of spirits to
distinguish that his problem was demonic (an evil spirit). I think that most Christians would not have
recognised the source of Saul’s problem and would have suggested that he needed to rest or to see a
doctor. There are several interesting factors in this passage.
First of all, G-d sent the evil spirit to Saul as a punishment for his sins of rebellion, which is a
very important statement. The evil spirit did not come upon Saul when he sinned the first time, but he
continued in his sin. Again it is clear that the evil spirit was not doing the bidding of Satan. So the
devil does not always have control over the demons. The second important factor is that Saul was not
an idol-worshipper. He was a believer, who was in a covenant relationship to G-d (in fact he was the
anointed-messiah over Israel), and yet he had an evil spirit. The third interesting point is that the evil
spirit responded to music. It was only temporary relief, but it tells us that music does have an affect in
the spiritual realm. However, in the ministry of Jesus he did not just give people temporary relief
from demonic oppression; He had authority to cast the demons out.
There is an interesting statement in verse 23. It is difficult to find a good way to translate this
statement into English. The Hebrew text says that when David played, Saul had spirit, and it was
good to him. There are many ways to interpret this verse. If you commit an act of rebellion against the
Lord and do not repent, He will turn you over to the tormentors. This is what Jesus was referring to in
Matt. 18.34 when He said, “And deliver him to the tormentors.” So in essence the Lord delivers you
to the tormentors by sending a demon to harass you. Demon activity can come into one’s life through
an action on their part. But there is no evidence that anyone who is living a righteous life need worry
about receiving a demon. However, the fact that you are demonised in some way does not preclude
you from receiving a “good spirit” (verse 23). We know this because Saul received a spirit when
David played music that was the opposite of the evil spirit.
1 Sam. 18.8-10 105
..8 And it is displeasing to Saul exceedingly, and this thing is evil in his eyes. And he says, “They
gave to David myriads, and to me they gave the thousands, and more to him is only the kingdom”.
..9 And Saul is eyeing David from that day and thenceforth.
10 And it comes to pass, on the next day, that the evil spirit from G-d was over Saul, and he
prophesied inside the house. And David is playing with his hand, as day by day, and the spear is in
the hand of Saul.
1 Sam. 19.9 106 And an evil spirit from ADONAI is to Saul, and he is sitting in his house, and his
javelin in his hand, and David is playing with the hand.
In verse 8 we learned that Saul had become jealous of David, which is apparently the reason why
the evil spirit returned to him. Then in verse 10 the Hebrew text says that the evil spirit of G-d was
over Saul and he prophesied in the house. That statement must really disturb some people’s theology;
that Saul had an evil spirit and was prophesying. This is one of those verses that commentators try to
find a way to exclude from the Bible, although it is in every Hebrew and Greek manuscript. But the
Bible says what the Bible says and the Bible is right. The troubling aspect for most people is that
Saul prophesied when the evil spirit was upon him. It is possible for someone to prophesy and have
an evil spirit at the same time. It is important that you understand these verses of Scripture because
these were the verses the Jews knew when Jesus came to them and cast out demons. This is what the
Jews in the time of Jesus understood about demons. Many people who prophesy today have demons.
Most modern prophesy is false. Some of the so-called prophecies given by Pentecostals and
Charismatics are actually words of knowledge or words of wisdom; some of the so called prophecy
is nothing more than encouragement. Most of their prophecies originated from their own egos, some
of the prophecies came from evil spirits and very few came from the Spirit of G-d.
The Scriptures make one more interesting point about Saul. G-d had anointed Saul for the task of
ruling as the king of Israel. Saul received the Holy Spirit when Samuel anointed him. David was very
careful never to harm Saul. At one point David says, “I will not touch Saul because he is G-d’s
messiah”. 107 The Bible translations usually say G-d’s anointed, but in the Hebrew it says messiah.
That is what the word messiah means, anointed. Think about the implications of that. It means that
Saul had received the Holy Spirit. This was G-d’s anointed man, so anointed that the Bible calls him
messiah, and he had a demon. Some people argue that Christians cannot have demons if they have the
Holy Spirit. Saul had the Holy Spirit, and he received the demon after he was anointed by the Holy
Spirit. After that David was still very careful about how he treated Saul and said, “This man is
anointed of G-d and I must not touch him.” So it is possible for a Spirit-filled believer to receive an
evil spirit by sinning.
1 Kings 22.14-24 108 (2 Chr. 18.18-27)
14 And Micaiah says, “ADONAI lives! Surely that which ADONAI says to me, it I speak”.
15 And he came to the king, and the king said to him, “Micaiah, do we go to Ramoth-Gilead, to
battle, or do we stop?” And he said to him, “Go up, and prosper, and ADONAI has given it into the
hand of the king”.
16 And the king said to him, “How many times am I adjuring you that you speak nothing to me but
truth in the name of ADONAI?”
17 And he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills as sheep that have no shepherd, and
ADONAI said, ‘These have no master. They turn back each to his house in peace’”.
18 And the king of Israel says to Jehoshaphat, “Have I not said to you, ‘He does not prophesy of
me good, but evil?’”
19 And he said, “Therefore, hear a word of ADONAI. I saw ADONAI sitting on His throne, and all
the army of the heavens standing by Him, on His right and on His left.
20 “And ADONAI said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, so he goes up and falls in Ramoth-Gilead?’ And this
one said this, and that one is saying that.
21 “And the spirit goes out, and stands before ADONAI, and says, ‘I – I shall entice him’. And
ADONAI said to him, ‘By what?’
22 “And he said, ‘I go out, and will be a spirit of falsehood 109 in the mouth of all his prophets’. And
He said, ‘You entice, and also you are permitted. Go out and do so’.
23 “And now, behold, ADONAI put a spirit of falsehood 110 in the mouth of all these, your prophets,
and ADONAI has spoken evil concerning you”.
24 And Zedekiah son of Kenaanah draws near, and smites Micaiah on the cheek, and said, “When
did the Spirit of ADONAI pass over from me to speak with you?”
There is an interesting passage in Deuteronomy chapter 13 where ADONAI promises that He will
send false prophets to test His people. In this passage we have an example of ADONAI sending a
spirit of falsehood into the mouths of these prophets.
I think passages such as this one can shake up the theology of some people. If that is your case,
you need to throw your theology out because the Bible is right. Do you remember in the book of Job
when G-d is having a heavenly meeting with some of His angels and Satan appears? Satan can appear
before G-d in the heavenly realm, and he can appear here in the earthly realm. Sometimes we think
that the demons, the fallen angels and the devil are just down here harassing us.
It was not the Holy Spirit who lied to King Ahab because the Holy Spirit does not lie. G-d is not
a man that He should lie. 111 The Holy Spirit, who is G-d, always tells the truth. So if it was not the
Holy Spirit who was lying to these prophets, who was it? It had to be an evil spirit. Here were all his
prophets gathered to King Ahab. The fact that they were called prophets means that sometimes these
men must have prophesied the right thing. No one is going listen to, much less pay, a prophet who
always says the wrong thing. These prophets were on the kings’ payroll because they sometimes
delivered true prophecy. But they were false prophets because they did not always deliver the truth.
Sometimes these prophets were used to deliver a word from the Lord, but sometimes they delivered a
false word. Then along comes Micah with his feigned prophecy and somehow the king knows it is
false. Ahab says, “Didn’t I command you to tell me the right thing that G-d says”. The king had some
discernment about when he was hearing false prophecy. He knew more than a lot of Christians.
Because he was the king, Ahab was anointed. In fact in the Hebrew text it calls him messiah. Every
king of Israel and Judah was called by the term messiah. Sometimes we overlook the fact that these
men were anointed, that G-d’s Holy Spirit was upon them, just having the Holy Spirit within does not
protect you from being deceived by false prophecy. King Ahab heard the true prophecy and disobeyed
G-d anyway. That was why G-d was willing to send false prophecy to him. If your heart is set on
doing the wrong thing, G-d will give you over to falsehood and error. If G-d permits the evil spirits to
come upon you, they will come and you will not be able to resist them.
Paul tells us in 2 Thessalonians (2.10-11) that if we do not love the truth, G-d will send us strong
delusion so that we will be deceived. If G-d sends delusion to you, you will not be able to resist it.
This is an important lesson. G-d deals with us according to the attitude of our hearts. If we do not
love the truth (even when the truth hurts us) we will come under the power of an evil spirit who will
deceive us. Delusion and deception are not just the result of circumstances; they are forces of evil in
the form of evil spirits.
Isa. 19.12-17
12 Where are they now, your wise ones? Now let them tell to you, and they know what ADONAI of
Armies has counselled against Egypt!
13 Foolish have been princes of Zoan. Lifted up have been princes of Noph. And they have caused
Egypt to stray, the chief of her tribes.
14 ADONAI has mingled in her midst a spirit of confusion, 112 and they have caused Egypt to stray
in all its work, as a drunkard strays in his vomit.
15 And there is no work to Egypt, that head or tail, branch or reed, may do.
16 In that day Egypt is like women, and it trembles, and is afraid, because of the waving of the
hand of ADONAI of Armies, that He is waving over it.
17 And the land of Judah has been to Egypt for a cause of staggering, every one who does mention
it, for himself fears, because of the counsel of ADONAI of Armies, that He is counselling against it.
Once again we see that it was G-d who turned these Egyptians over to the power of an evil spirit.
In this instance the evil spirit is identified as a spirit of confusion or distortions. Satan does not have
the power to harm G-dly people. But when people sin (even when G-dly people sin), G-d can turn
them over to the power of an evil spirit.
We have no need to fear the devil or the demons. It is G-d whom we must fear. If we fear Him, we
will obey Him and we will not stray from the righteous path. But if we do not fear ADONAI, then we
will not obey Him and we will go our own way. Then ADONAI will deliver us into the hands of the
tormentors and we will be tormented.
Once we are in the hand of an evil spirit, we will be afraid and confused, staggering from one
problem to another just like these Egyptians were.
Hosea 5.1-5
1 Hear this you priests! And give attention house of Israel! And house of the king, give ear! That for
you is judgment, for a snare you are to Mizpah, and a net spread over Tabor.
2 And corruption they dug at Shittim, and I discipline them all.
3 I, I have known Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from Me. For now Ephraim is prostituting, and
Israel is defiled.
4 They do not give-up their actions, to return to their G-d. For a spirit of prostitutions is within
them. And ADONAI they know not.
5 And He answers the arrogance of Israel to his face. And Israel and Ephraim stumble in their
iniquity; Judah has also stumbled with them.
The northern Kingdom of Israel had been double-minded because they had served ADONAI but
had also been involved in a false cult. G-d had sent prophets to the people, but they did not repent. So
G-d gave the people of the northern Kingdom up to a spirit of adultery, so they could continue to
practice their evil ways. But the opposite is also true, if your desire is to do the right thing, you don’t
have to worry about the evil spirits. This verse is referring to spiritual, not physical adultery. But
what is true in the spiritual is also true in the physical. G-d also says that the spirit of adultery is a
spirit of defilement (end of verse 3). Evil spirits can defile people by causing them to do things that
are contrary to the revealed will of G-d.
Micah 2.6-11
..6 You must not stutter, what they stutter. Do they not stutter these, “Calamity will not overtake
..7 Is this said, house of Jacob? Is the spirit of ADONAI shortened? Are these His actions? Do not
My words cause good to the one going uprightly?
..8 And yesterday, My people rose-up as an enemy. You strip the fur robe from the peaceful, from
those passing trustingly, those opposed to battle.
..9 The wives of My people you drive out from their pleasant house, from their unweaned children.
You take My honour forever.
10 Rise and go, for this is not your rest; for the sake of uncleanness you will be destroyed, and the
destruction is painful.
11 If a man, going by a false spirit and lies says, “I stutter to you for wine and for intoxicant”. Will
he becomes the stutterer for this people?
Micah is prophesying about the coming judgement on Judah. During the time of Micah there were
professional prophets, who would charge fees for their services. These prophets spoke in a muttering
tone in order to make their words sound more important, just like the necromancers, who claimed to
speak with the dead. But whereas the true prophet speaks under the influence of the Holy Spirit,
ADONAI says that these people speak under the influence of a false spirit. The words spoken by
these false prophets are lies. A false spirit that brings false prophecy is a demon.
Zech. 13.1-9
1 In that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David, and the dwellers of
Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.113
2 And there shall be in that day, (an affirmation of ADONAI of Armies), I will cut off the grievous
names from the land, and they shall be remembered no longer. And also the prophets and the
unclean spirit will pass from the land.
3 And it shall be when a man prophesies still then his father and his mother (his parents) shall say
to him, “You shall not live, for you speak falsehood in the name of ADONAI”. And his father and
his mother (his parents) shall stab him when he prophesies.
4 And it shall be in that day that the prophets shall be ashamed, each because of his vision, when
he prophesies. And they shall not put on a fur robe of hair that they may deceive.
5 And he shall say, “I am not a prophet! I am a man tilling the ground, for a man possessed me
from my youth”.114
6 And one says to him, “What are these wounds between your arms?” And he will say, “Here I was
smitten in the home of my lovers”.
7 Sword, awake against My shepherd, And against a hero, My fellow, (an affirmation of ADONAI of
Armies). Smite the shepherd, and the flock is scattered. And I restore My hand on the little ones.
8 And it shall come to pass in all the land, (an affirmation of ADONAI), two parts in it are cut off –
they expire, and the third is left in it.
9 And I shall bring the third into fire. And refined them like the refining of silver. And test them like
gold is tested. It shall call in My name, and I will answer it. I said, “My people it is”. And it says,
“ADONAI is my G-d!”
LXX text: Zech. 13.2 “And it shall come to pass in that day,” says the Lord of Armies, “I
completely destroy the names of the idols from the land. And they shall no longer give
remembrance to them. And I will cut off the false prophets and the evil spirits from the land”.
In verse 2 the Greek text says, “I am going to cut off the idols from the land”. But the Hebrew text
says, “I am going to cut off the grievous names”, in other words the false names of these idols cause
G-d to be disgusted. If you remember when the Children of Israel were about to enter the Promised
Land, G-d commanded them to destroy all the idols there. G-d did not even want to hear the names of
those gods uttered by the Israelites. 115 Apparently it is disgusting to G-d to even hear the names of
false gods. So it says in the Hebrew text in Zechariah that G-d is going to cut off, or remove, all the
names of false gods from Israel.
We also find that in verse two where the Hebrew text uses the phrase unclean spirits, the Greek
text says evil spirits. This is the only time that the phrase unclean spirit occurs in the Hebrew
Scriptures and it is also the first time that we see that the terms unclean spirits and evil spirits are
synonymous. Here, just as in other texts in the Scriptures, we see that there is a relationship between
idolatry and demonic activity.
Verse two also alludes to the fact that most prophets will be false prophets. The Hebrew text says
that prophets will be removed from the land. But the rabbis translated this into Greek as false
prophets. So we learn that false prophecy and demonic activity are related. If you have come under
the influence of false prophecy, you have also come under the influence of demonic activity. Any
spoken prophecy that does not come to pass exactly as stated is false prophecy, which carries with it
demonic activity. Most false prophecy is at least 90% true. If it were 100% false no one would listen
to it.
Is verse two talking about the past or the future? It says in that day. Whenever you see that phrase
in the text of Scripture, you know it is a reference to the Millennium. So you should note that in the
future most prophecy that is given will be false. What group of Christians are most closely associated
with prophesies? Is it the Baptists, the Methodists, the Catholics or the Pentecostals? Where do you
find the prophets? The answer is among the Pentecostals and Charismatics. Let that be a warning to
all Spirit Baptised Christians, they are the ones most likely to hear and be deceived by false
In verse three the text goes on to say that in the last days false prophesy will be so common that
people will automatically assume that anyone who prophesies will be a false prophet. True prophets
will be so extremely rare that no one will want to be known as a prophet.
Finally, we will look at one interesting passage in the book of Job, where Eliphaz describes his
encounter with a spirit.
Job 4.12-20
12 And there came to me a word by stealth. 116 And my ears heard a whisper 117 of it.
13 In anxious-thoughts, 118 in visions of night, in deep sleep falling on man,
14 fear has met me, and trembling. And all of my bones are afraid.
15 And a spirit swept before my face. The hair of my flesh does stand up.
16 And I did discern not its appearance. A form is against mine eyes, and a silent 119 voice I hear,
17 “Is mortal man more righteous than G-d? Is a man cleaner than his Maker?
18 “Behold, in His servants He puts no credence and charges His messengers with folly.
19 How much more these inhabitants of houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust. They crush
them like a moth.” 120
20 From dawn to evening they can be stomped to death. Without knowing it they may completely
It is not easy to determine whether it was an evil spirit or the Holy Spirit that passed before the
face of Eliphaz. But it is interesting to note that Eliphaz says that when the spirit passed him, the hair
on his body stood on end. This would not be the body’s reaction to a natural phenomenon, but a
reaction to an encounter with the supernatural.

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