Wednesday, May 22, 2013

That the Bible is full of holy 'liars'

 Telling lies is always wrong, right? God is Truth and anyone who wants to follow God should not allow a trace of falsehood into their souls. We hear such remarks from teachers and preachers as, "There is no such thing as a white lie." Then we get uptight when we find ourselves in awkward situations where stretching the truth may seem the kind or prudent action. And we believe that the Bible is full of supportive evidence that we should never once let a lie cross past our lips.

* Cain told God that he had no idea where Abel was. We know his famous line, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
* Abraham and, in turn, his son, Isaac lied to foreign rulers, pretending that their beautiful wives were really their sisters.
* Sneaky Jacob tricked his blind old dad into bestowing his brother's blessing on him. He had to leave his beloved mother and travel miles to their ancestral homeland where his foxy old uncle doled it right back at him.
* Elisha's servant, Gehazi, chased after Naaman, pretending that his master wanted a reward for the counsel that led to his healing. Gehazi earned himself the severe punishment of Naaman's leprosy clinging to him and his descendents.
* David started an unfortunate series of lies and cover-ups concerning the faithful soldier Uriah and his wife, Bathsheba. God forgave David but didn't regard the lies lightly. David's lineage was filled with a history of familial discord from then on.
* Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, each suffered fatal collapses for pretending that they'd made a larger offering than they really had. This one, I find most chilling. You'd think this is scary evidence that lying is not okay, wouldn't you?

But a further delving into the pages of scripture seems to suggest that lying is allowable at times. Not only that, but liars even get rewards and pats on the back from God.

* Two Hebrew midwives went against royal Egyptian orders to slaughter new-born baby boys and left them alive. They explained this with the lie, "The women are so hardy that by the time we get there, the babies are already born." God dealt well with the midwives and even their names, Shiphrah and Puah, were recorded in Scripture for all time.
* Moses himself told the Pharoah that they were only going to lead the Israelites on a three-day journey into the wilderness to hold a sacrifice and feast to their God. It could be argued that Pharoah was right to be suspicious, as we know very well they intended to hightail it out of there and never return. By demanding that the women, children and herds stay behind, he was acting with strategic sense.
* The power games Joseph played with his brothers, when he was Governor of Egypt, were based on lies. He directed his own goblet to be placed in the mouth of Benjamin's sack and then reacted with feigned surprise and horror when it was discovered. He kept his brother, Simeon, in prison based on the lie that the brothers had taken it.
* Rehab, the prostitute of Jericho, lied when she told the king that the two Israelite spies had managed to escape out of the city gates. In reality, she had them hidden beneath flax stalks on her roof. Not only were her family spared from the wrath on Jericho but she was also included in the direct lineage of Jesus.
* Saul's son, Jonathan, and his sister, Michal, repeatedly lied to protect David from their vengeful father. Michal even put a dummy of David in the bed on the night he escaped.
* King David once tore his garments and let spittle form in his beard, pretending to be mad. On a much later occasion when his own son was leading a revolt against him, he asked his friend, Hushai, to approach Absalom, pretending to be on his side, with the purpose of making the advice of Absalom's real follower, Ahitophel, sound foolish.
* Jesus himself (in John 7:1-27) told his brothers that his time was not yet come so he was not intending to accompany them to the feast in Judea. Then when the brothers had gone, he also went, not openly but in secret. And after his Resurrection, he joined Cleopas and his friend on the Road to Emmaus, pretending to be a traveller who had no idea of the things that had just happened in Jerusalem.Isn't that acting a lie?

What's with all this, then? How come the first group of liars reinforce to us that it is sinful behaviour and deserves punishment while the truth-stretching of the second group is commendable? After studying the two lists carefully, my first feeling was that the motives of the second group were way different than that of the first. While the first group were lying with self-enhancing or self-preserving motives such as pride and fear, the second group were doing it with the love of God and true welfare of His people in mind.

History beyond the Bible is also filled with examples of noble lies. The families crowded together in Anne Frank's secret annexe lasted as long as they did because faithful friends pretended to the Nazi authorities not to know they were there. Our favourite stories are filled with wonderful heroes who are tortured by villains, yet grit their teeth and keep stating that they have no idea where their allies are? Doesn't all this suggest that it's possible to technically 'lie' in the spirit of truth? God's word and his dealings with men are full of paradoxes. Is this another?

Having Jesus as the last example on my list is really interesting because as we know well from Scripture, He never sinned once. His innocence of all sin is what gives us the confidence that He was an acceptable sacrifice for our sins. A man who was tainted by the same guilt that we bear would never have been able to stand in our place and take it all. That means that His apparent 'lies' mentioned above cannot really be regarded as lies at all. Is there sometimes a rock solid truth beneath the apparent stretching of the truth which puts it over on the side of truth? I'd be very careful to come down harsh and renounce anyone as a liar. Jesus Himself said, "Do not judge according to appearance but with right judgment."

I also ask myself whether we may also sometimes be more Pharasaically intolerant and self-righteous about lies than God Himself. Remember, the Angel of the Lord was gentle with Sarah when He discovered her telling an outright lie. He'd just revealed that she laughed with resigned disbelief when she overheard Him say that she and her husband, Abraham, would soon be parents of a son.

"I didn't laugh," she tried to cover up, when she knew she'd been exposed.

"Yes, you did," he simply said. And the promise still came to pass in her life.


  1. Great post Paula, and very thought provoking. I love that about your writing. :)

  2. Thanks, Amanda. It is an interesting topic, isn't it? So much evidence on both sides. I think it could be used as a debate.

  3. Very interesting. It's often tempting for us to become "high and mighty" without applying a little common sense.

  4. Thanks, Adam. I totally agree with you.

  5. Hmm... now you've got me thinking!
    I don't think Jesus told an untruth when he was talking about his time coming though, I think what he was talking about and what his disciples were talking about were different times.
    And on the road to Emmaus it was more of with-holding a truth until the right time, than deliberate deception.
    I'll be thinking about the true meaning, purpose and grace of truth a little more carefully from now on. Thanks Paula.

  6. Hi Penny,
    Yep, I'd had a few discussions with others and think you might be right. We decided that Jesus' attitude with those two travellers was more of waiting for the scales to fall off their eyes rather than 'acting a lie.'

  7. Thanks for your comment, Paula. This topic is definitely one for discussion and lots to learn from!


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