Solid Food
Does God Justify Deception?
(1 Samuel 16:1-2)

Dan Vess


We live in an era where honesty is no longer believed to be the best policy. Some believe that "lying is sometimes necessary" and that those little "white lies" really don't hurt anyone. Lying has been gaining respectability. In The Day America Told the Truth it is related that 91 percent of those surveyed lie routinely about matters they consider trivial, 36 percent lie about important matters; 86 percent lie regularly to parents, 75 percent to friends, 73 percent to siblings, and 69 percent to spouses (Daily Bread, August 28, 1992). In Situation Ethics: The New Morality, Joseph Fletcher proclaims "for the situationist, what makes the lie right is its loving purpose; he is not hypnotized by some abstract law, 'Thou shalt not lie.' He refuses to evaluate 'white lies' told out of pity and espionage in wartime as ipso jure, wrong. If a lie is told unlovingly it is wrong, evil; if it is told in love it is good, right." However, the Bible believer should keep in mind that we are commanded to "Speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15). There is no such thing as "speaking a lie in love".

Yet, does God ever approve of lying? Is there evidence from the Word of Truth which would demonstrate God's blessings upon those who tell a lie provided that their motive is "just?" What if one lies to protect his life or that of a loved one? Wouldn't lying at such a situation be acceptable to God? Some might find such a proof text with 1 Samuel 16:2.

Conflicts With The Context

"Now the LORD said to Samuel, `How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.' And Samuel said, `How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.' And the LORD said, `Take a heifer with you, and say, `I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.' `Then invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; you shall anoint for Me the one I name to you.' So Samuel did what the Lord said, and went to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, `Do you come peaceably?' And he said, `Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.' Then he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice" (1 Sam. 16:1-5).

First, God reproved Samuel for his continued sorrow over God's rejection of Saul as king, then sent Samuel to anoint a king from the household of Jesse. However, the old prophet was fearful of what would happen if Saul found out about his orders from God to anoint a new king. Samuel's faith was not so strong as one would have expected, else he would not have feared the rage of Saul. However, God informed him to take a heifer for sacrifice and say, "I have come to sacrifice to the Lord." This statement by God has been interpreted by some as God suggesting that Samuel should lie.

What happened here is not at all inconsistent with the laws of truth; it was proper that Samuel should sacrifice when anointing a king. When Saul was made king there were peace offerings sacrificed at Gilgal. God has a right to request sacrifice. Samuel had a right and responsibility to sacrifice. He told the elders of Bethlehem in a matter of fact way: "I have come to sacrifice to the Lord" (v. 5, NASV). All of this was true and demonstrated the prophet's willingness to carry out the instructions of God Himself.

Was there a deception or lie taking place due to the fact that Samuel was not divulging the entire scope of his Divine mission? Only if the withheld information itself was deceitful. Note that it is the Divine prerogative of God to reveal as much of His will as He sees fit. The scriptures are replete with examples of God limiting knowledge of His designs to a few persons and also limiting the amount and pace of His revelation. For example, Moses was not at liberty to tell Pharaoh of God's entire plan for the Israelites (Ex. 7:16; 8:1, 9:13). God was merely setting the limit of the information His prophet was to reveal. This passage is in no way justification for an "expedient lie".

Do we tell all we know on a given subject to just anyone? Refusal to give out privileged and private information is not duplicity and falsehood, but wise. The same God not only hates lying lips, but those who stir up strife with their words (Prov. 17:14, 28; 20:3). Just think of the quarrels and hurt feelings that would result if we spoke all the facts all the time to all people. Remember, one can freely tell the truth, the whole truth, but still end up sinning with his tongue, by gossiping, stirring up strife, hate, etc.

Consider the immediate chapter where Samuel informed Saul that God would take the throne from him. In describing the character of God he said, "And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent" (1 Sam. 15:29). This is in keeping with Hannah's praise of God earlier in the book: "No one is holy like the Lord, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God" (1 Sam. 2:2). Surely, the God of 1 Samuel would not suggest His prophet should lie!

Contrary to God's Character

Truth is an inherent part of God's nature. In the wilderness of Horeb, Moses said, "He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He" (Dt. 32:4). He is the "God of truth" (Is 65:16; Ps. 31:5). He is not like man who does lie (Num. 23:19). Even if all men lie, God is true (Rom. 3:4). In contrast, Satan is the father of lies. The Devil does "not stand in the truth because he has no truth in him" (Jn. 8:44). God is light, and has no darkness in Him "at all" (1 Jn. 1:5). He cannot lie. This attribute of God is immutable, without any possibility of change or variance (Heb. 6:18). God is the very personification of truth.

Truth emanates from God. He is the source and foundation of all truth. All truth among men, whether scientific or religious, that is, every form of truth originates from God. In contrast no lies come from Him. Could such a God suggest a lie to a trusted prophet? James informs us that "God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone" (Js. 1:13). Every word or deed that comes from God must be true.

 Truth alone is found in God's Word. God's law is truth (Jn. 17:17). "Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth" (Ps 119:142). "The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever" (v. 160). The Scriptures contain no lies from God.

Truth is commanded by God. In the ninth commandment, all false witnessing or lying is prohibited (Ex. 20:15,16; Lev. 19:11-13). Surely, God would not suggest to Samuel that he break this commandment. After all "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams" (1 Sam. 15:22). All falsehood is forbidden in the Christian's life (Col. 3:9). Each one of us is to "speak the truth with his neighbor" (Eph. 5:25).

Truth is not only commanded by God, but demanded by God. Since "lying lips are an abomination to the Lord" (Pr.12:22) and "a false witness will not go unpunished" (Pr. 19:9), God punishes those who lie. In the Old Testament, Achan's stealing and lying was punished and in the New, Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead at the feet of Peter because Satan filled their "heart to lie to the Holy Spirit" and they did "not lie to men but to God" (Acts 5:3,4). All liars will be rejected from heaven (Rev. 14:5; 21:8, 27). Truly, the impartial God of Truth would not condemn these for lying and encourage Samuel to lie.

Since God's nature is Truth, honesty is good and lying is sinful. Since He is the source of all, and nothing but, Truth, any form of dishonesty is sinful. Dishonesty emanates from the father of lies.

Honesty is always to be practiced by those professing to be children of God. Lying, likewise is not a relative issue, but is always wrong for all people, for all times, and for all places.

Clear Passages Versus Apparent Contradictions

It is true that in many other passages, the Bible appears to commend people for using deception. Fearful for his life Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife when he was visiting in Egypt (Gen. 13:12- 19; 20:1-18). Likewise, Issac lied about his wife (26:-11). Jacob deceived his father Isaac in order to obtain the blessing intended for Esau (Gen. 27:19). Jacob's sons used deception to conceal from their father that they had sold Joseph to Ishmaelite traders (37:26-33). Joseph later comforted them with the fact that though they meant it for evil, it turned out be to a blessing for the whole family as they moved to Egypt during the great famine.

Perhaps, the story of Rahab the harlot presents the most difficult of these apparent contradictions. Rahab saved the spies from certain death by hiding them and telling their pursuers that they had already left the city of Jericho (Josh. 2:11,12). She was later spared the fate of Jericho's inhabitants, accepted into Israel, married Salmon of Judah (Josh. 6:17-25) and became both an ancestress of King David and the King of kings (Mt. 1:5, 6). Her character was further blessed by two favorable commendations in the New Testament: "By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace" (Heb. 11:31) and "Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?" (Js. 2:25). She did not perish with the rest of the inhabitants of Jericho because she believed , not because she lied. The works by which she was justified were "receiving the spies in peace" and "sending them out another way". Her lie is not mentioned among these justified works. These two passages in no way imply that God was rewarding her for lying. The focus of these passages is upon her faith that Jericho would fall by God's power. Both passages call her a "harlot", but do not mention her lie. If we are going to utilize this passage to prove the expediency of a sin, it would more likely be harlotry, not lying. Who could believe it?

The next example is that of Ehud, who pretended to carry a message from God to Eglon, King of Moab, when his real mission was to kill him (Jg. 3:16-23). Jael invited the battle weary Sisera into her tent under the pretense of providing him safety, but after lulling him to sleep with warm milk, drove a tent peg through his head (Jg. 4:17-22). She is celebrated for this act that eradicated a mighty adversary of God's people (5:24-27). The Gibeonites deceived the Israelites and appear to be blessed for doing so (Jgs. 16:6-17). Again in 1 Samuel chapter twenty-one, David lied to Ahimelech, professing to have a mission from the King, in order to obtain provisions and armor. He later acted out a lie by feigning madness before the Philistines (vv. 13-15). In 1 Kings 22:20-23 there is the story of a "lying spirit" sent out by God to the false prophets of Ahab. Finally, Jehu lied to the worshipers of Baal in order to gain the advantage and destroy them (2 Ki. 10:18-28). Perhaps there are many other such examples, but these will suffice to illustrate the need for continued study.

When there is an apparent contradiction it is wise to interpret the difficult in light of clear passages. The many scriptures mentioned earlier clearly demonstrates that God is Truth, He cannot lie, He commands and demands his servants to speak the truth and He punishes those who refuse to repent of dishonesty. Thus, all the difficult passages must be considered in light of these irrefutable facts about the nature of God.

Downsizing a company may be profitable, but beware of downsizing the Divine. In Greek and Roman mythology gods and goddess lie and encourage mortals to lie with impunity. The gods of paganism are made in the image of man. However, in true religion man is made in the image of God, that is, the one true God who is always true. He cannot lie! He tempts no man to lie!


e-mail this author at drvess@juno.com

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