The first apparent contradiction we will look at involves these two verses.
Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy! -- Psalm 99:9
The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand. -- 1 Samuel 18:10
The conflict arises when we understand what the word holy means. To be holy is to be apart from sin. When the Bible says that God is holy, it means that He is sinless and separated from sin. If this is true, then how can God send an evil spirit to Saul? Is this not an evil or sinful action that incriminates God?
What is the Evil Spirit
"Evil spirit" comes from the Hebrew ruwach-ra’a.
The word ruwach means spirit. It refers to the immaterial part of life that moral creatures have such as humans or angels. Whenever the Bible refers to a spirit sent from God, it always means some sort of divine agent like an angel.
This word ra’a can be translated as both evil or harmful. But it does not mean evil in the sense of sinful but in the sense of bad. For example, the word ra’a is used in Hebrew to describe spoiled fruit or the Chinese food you left on the counter for three days with no refrigeration. That food is now evil,ra'a, harmful, bad. So this spirit is not necessarily “evil” in the sense we normally think of with that word today. Just as we would not call the spoiled Kung Pao Beef sinful, this word ra'a is not always referring to a moral quality. Instead its referring to what sort of effect something has on a person. Its better to translate ra'a using the word harmful as the ESV Bible does.
So, in the context of this passage, it is best to translate this as a harmful spirit or angel. This is a divine agent sent by God with the purpose of harming Saul.
Is it Sin for God to Harm Someone?
Actually, no. Its very natural for us to think of harm or pain as a bad thing. But harm can be a good thing and often it is. It is a pain in your hand as you reach out to a fire that tells you not to touch the flame. It is pain when a parent smacks the bottom of a toddler who keeps trying to run into the street that teaches them not to take that dangerous action anymore. Harm can be a good thing and there is no reason not to believe God was using this harmful spirit for good. In fact, Romans 8:28 tells us that God uses all things for the good of those who love Him.
Why Did God Want to Harm Saul?
The harmful spirit came after Saul began growing jealous of David. Saul knew God had removed him from being king but instead of stepping aside he clung to the throne. As David rose in popularity, Saul wanted him dead and would even throw spears at him. This harmful spirit may have been a way God was trying to rebuke and discipline Saul to get him off of his violent path. God allowed David’s music to ease the harmful spirit on Saul. This gives more reason to believe that God was using this whole experience to try to break Saul of his jealousy and get him to embrace David.
God does not sin. At first glance this may look as if God is guilty of doing evil, but, when we look closely and carefully, we see that God is still holy and good. The passage is best translated with the words "harmful spirit." God uses this harm to bring about repentance and good like a father might lovingly discipline a child.
Please send me any apparent contradictions you've found in the Bible, vote at the top right of the site for the next one you'd like me to cover, and be sure to look deeper when you think you've found a contradiction in God's Word!