Q: Can you explain why God didn’t rebuke certain of His people for lying such as King David did to King Achish in 1 Samuel 21?
A: There has been much discussion and debate about the issue of lying among the saints. In fact, lies have been put in different categories from a “little white lie” to a “whopping lie,” a “bald-faced lie,” and that of a slanderous and destructive lie. These lies are based on the content. For example if you are protecting someone, it is a “little white lie.” If you are telling a story about events that have been exaggerated, it is a “whopper.” If you come right out and knowingly lie about a dishonorable matter, it is a “bald-faced lie,” and if you tell a lie about someone to be divisive because of judgmentalism and jealousy, it is malicious and slanderous. However, does God look at such lies in the same way as we do?
We know Abraham lied about Sarah being his sister in Genesis 20 because of fear, and almost brought judgment down on an innocent king. It is true that Sarah was his half-sister, but his emphasis on “sister” created a false reality. We could classify Abraham’s lie as a “little white lie,” but it almost brought reattribution down on an innocent person. There is a saying, “Truth cleverly spoken is the biggest lie yet.”
In the case of Isaac in Genesis 26, who followed his father’s example in claiming his wife was his sister because of fearing for his welfare, it was a bald-faced lie. Rebekah was his cousin, but not his sister. We need to keep in mind that unbridled fear is unbelief. For Abraham, he was taking a spiritual detour at the time of his incident and it is hard to stand steadfast when you do not perceive that you are in the will of God. And, for Isaac, he was later tested in his faith when he found himself fighting over water holes that were rightfully his, but he did manage to pass the test.
There was the case of Rebekah and Jacob misrepresenting Jacob as Esau to Isaac in Genesis 27. Her reasoning was that she was trying to protect the integrity of what God had shown her about Jacob. We must ask do the ends justify the means that are used to accomplish a matter regardless of how right it might seem? To many of our leaders who practice this philosophy, it is proving destructive to our society. There is much mistrust on the part of the citizens towards the intention of the leaders. Did this incident cause a mistrust to develop between Isaac and Rebekah? The Bible does not say. Some Bible teachers maintain that Rebekah paid a high price for her deception; she did not live to see Jacob again. However, I have a problem with this conclusion. God is not a respecter of persons. To me God would have shown like consequences in the cases of Abraham and Isaac. This type of conclusion about Rebekah makes God appear as if he is harder on women than men when it comes to like sins.
One of the things we have to keep in mind is the influence of culture. For example, there are some cultures that embrace lying. During the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Rebekah, most of society was subject to the code of Hammurabi. As I looked at the information I had available about this code, it never addressed actual lying. Since lying is a moral issue that can easily operate in gray areas, one would have to assume that the seriousness of a lie would depend on how badly the conscience was affected by it.
In the case of King David in 1 Samuel 21, he was giving a false impression in order to save his life. Was his action a matter of wisdom or a lie? At this time the Ten Commandments were in place, but they simply dealt with lying in light of bearing false witness. Clearly, David was not breaking the commandments.
This brings us to the New Testament which declares all liars will not make it to heaven (Revelation 21:8). What constitutes a liar? Is it someone who walks in perpetual deception and rejects or refutes truth by insisting on a false reality?
The Bible is clear that there is no darkness of deception in our God and that Satan is the liar, who also murders (John 8:44; Romans 3:4; 1 John 1:5-7). Lying is clearly opposite of God and falls in line with Satan. Is lying acceptable when it comes to protecting ourselves from persecution? The Bible tells us to rejoice if we are being persecuted for the sake of Christ and if we deny Christ before men, He will deny us before the Father (Matthew 10:32-33). Is lying acceptable when we are trying to ensure the right outcome? When it comes to God, it is not up to man to bring about the desired outcome, but up to God. Man’s responsibility at such times is to trust God with the matters of heaven, while being faithful in doing what he knows is right in his own life.
Finally, what about lying when it comes to protecting others? Jesus’ example shows us that when in a tough situation, the best thing to do is either remain silent or put the other person on the defense by asking questions. We never have to volunteer a truth in situations where the welfare of others is on the line, but we need wisdom to avoid lying about a matter. The Bible tells us that we do not have to worry about the type of answer we give because the Spirit of God will give us the words to say. Perhaps that is the answer to our dilemma when it comes to lying in precarious situations. Can we trust God’s Spirit and wisdom when it comes to preserving the truth regardless of the situation we might find ourselves in?
Truth and lies represent the black and white of reality, but there are times when the lines are fudged by the greys of emotions, confusion, fear, and uncertainty. We like to think that we would be one who would not betray truth, but the reality is we cannot know something for sure unless we have been tested in it. As a result, we cannot fairly judge those who may succumb to lies because of the situation, but we need to choose our battles wisely, while seeking the wisdom from above and trusting God with the details of the matter to preserve us in truth, maintain us with truth, and guide us with the wisdom of truth to speak what is necessary at the right time in an honorable manner.