We know that God is truth, and His Word is truth. He cannot lie. However, we can find in the Bible examples of minor lies in the Bible that are either directed by God or committed by one of God's prophets with no reprimand from God. Consider these examples:
II Kings 8:10- Elisha, God's prophet, instructs Hazel to give Ben-hadad a false prophecy, which he does.
I Kings 22:22- Granted that this takes place by a spirit speaking through a false prophet which Ahab should not have been listening to in order to bring Ahab into judgment for his own wickedness. But it is still God-ordained deception.
John 7:1-10- There seems to be some uncertainty about the word "yet" in verse 8. Whether this should be included or not, Jesus tricked his brothers into thinking he was not going to the feast- but once they were gone he went up " in cognito".
Jeremiah 38:24-27- King Zedekiah instructs Jeremiah to lie to the king's officials about the subject of Jeremiah's conversation with the king as a means of saving Jeremiah's life. We see no condemnation from God towards Jeremiah when he follows this advice. Does the end justify the means?
Exodus 1:15-21- The midwives blatantly lie to Pharoah about their disobedience to his obviously wicked command. Their motives were obviously good (v 17), intending to save the Israelite babies out of fear for God. Not only does God not disapprove of their deception, but He compliments and rewards their methods (v20,21). Is it OK to do a "small" sin to avoid doing a "large" sin?
I Samuel 16:1-5- God instructs Samuel to mislead the elders of the city (and Saul, indirectly) about the true intentions of Samuel's visit. Samuel tells them he is simply there to sacrifice, but in reality he is anointing the next king of Israel.
I Samuel 21:1-3- David lies to Ahimelech the priest about his mission. David tells the priest that he is on a secret mission for Saul, when he is really running from Saul. Again we do not see any condemnation from God or remorse from David. Keeping in mind that David was so sensitive that he was distraught over cutting Saul's robe a short time later, it seems odd that lying to the priest does not bother him a bit.
I Samuel 27:8-12- David lies to the Philistine king Achish, telling him that he was attaching Jewish towns, when he was actually raiding other Philistine settlements. Again, no condemnation from God and no remorse from David.
These are just a few examples that I noticed as I read through the Bible -there may be more. How would you reconcile these instances with the knowledge that God does not favor lying and does not tolerate sin? These passages almost suggest that God is endorsing "white lies" if they are well-intentioned. Please support your answer.
Thanks for the email. You have certainly produced an interesting set of scriptures/examples. I don’t claim to be any expert in these matters but I would see some of these differently to you so I’ll add a few comments on those and then write generally at the end. Hopefully it helps…
2 Kings 8:10: It is interesting that you brought this up as I had just spoken on the surrounding passage in my church in the morning. Certainly it is a veiled answer that Elisha gives as he knows Hazael’s heart and intentions, but I wouldn’t take it as a “false prophecy” as you have. He was answering the Kings question about his current illness and whether or not he would die. From that he would not die. As the Bible Knowledge Commentary states: “In response to Ben-Hadad’s question, Elisha told Hazael to tell the king that he would certainly recover (as he would have if Hazael would not have interfered)…”
1 Kings 22:22: This is a very interesting passage. God had certainly allowed a lying spirit to speak through the false prophets but we do need to be clear that that was because King Ahab was a wicked King who didn’t listen to God. (1 Kings 21:25 states “There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife.” Despite this, God still sent true prophets such as Elijah and Micaiah in the passage you have mentioned. If King wanted to listen to the truth, God gave him every chance through these prophets.
It certainly is an interesting passage and gives us insight into the workings of God, but I hope you don’t have a problem with God’s ways concerning this because God was just in what He did and will do it again in the last days. If people will not listen to the truth, then yes, God can and will, send a powerful delusion. 2nd Thess 2:9-11 “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”
John 7:1-10 It is wrong to believe that Jesus was trying to deceive them and, as you have pointed out, some manuscripts do have the word ‘yet’. If He was not going to the feast ‘yet’ then there is no issue to deal with here.
I Samuel 16:1-5 The Believers Bible Commentary states the following concerning this passage, which makes sense to my mind: “Secrecy is not the same as deceit. God was not telling Samuel to lie about his intentions in Bethlehem. He really did offer a sacrifice there. But the anointing of the new king was a secret affair, not to be made public for many years.”
I Samuel 21:1-3 This is certainly an outright lie by King David, brought on by his fear of Saul and fear for his life. There isn’t any excusing it. It is plain wrong and had terrible consequences. But I wouldn’t agree with your statement that ‘Again we do not see any condemnation from God or remorse from David.’ The Bible does tell us of the terrible consequences of this sin in that 85 Priests were murdered, plus others in the town of Nob. And David admitted that he was responsible - “Then David said to Abiathar: “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your father’s whole family.” 1 Sam 22:22. I can only imagine the grief, regret and despair he would have felt having been heard of the devastation his lie had caused.
Jeremiah 38:24-27, I Samuel 27:8-12, Exodus 1:15-21 There are certainly times in the Bible where people have lied where there are lives on the line. To the examples you have mentioned above, we could also add the famous story of Rahab who lied to save the lives of the Israeli spies in Josh 2. Despite this, we see that she is listed in the “Hall of faith” in Hebrews 11. To these we could probably add countless stories in modern times (especially in times of war) where people have lied to protect the lives of others. An example would be the Ten Boom family in Holland in the Second World War who made a ‘hiding place’ for the Jews and had to lie to protect them from the Nazis.
I guess in the end it comes down to the intentions and motives of the heart. There are a whole lot of thorny issues that can arise – especially in times as above where people’s lives are on the line. I haven’t been placed in that type of situation myself, but I’m pretty sure that there would be times where I would sacrifice the lesser good (telling the truth) to obtain the greater good (saving someone’s life). I personally believe that when two of God’s commands seem to clash with each other (such as in these cases where we are commanded not to lie, but we also have to love one another and seek out each others good) then the greater moral code must apply. Hopefully that makes sense. I don’t think God spoke against Rahab or the midwives in Exodus 1 because he knew that the motive of the heart was right in trying to save His people, even though it meant sacrificing the lesser moral command to tell the truth.
Anyway, that’s how I see it. All the best.