Does God say it’s okay to tell a lie? Your first instinct is, “of course not!”
But there are several areas in the bible where lies were told, and there were no repercussions, in fact, there were blessings in some cases.
How can this be?
Well, let’s take a look at a couple, and see the story behind these lies.
The first place we can look is Joshua chapter 2, and verses 1 to 7. This is where we catch Rahab in her lie to town officials when it came to the “spies” sent out by Joshua. Here’s the text:
Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.”
So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there. And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, “Behold, men have come here tonight from the children of Israel to search out the country.”
So the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the country.”
Then the woman took the two men and hid them. So she said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them.” (But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order on the roof.) Then the men pursued them by the road to the Jordan, to the fords. And as soon as those who pursued them had gone out, they shut the gate.
Let’s look at the passage. In the latter part of verse 1, we see Rahab referred to as a harlot. The Hebrew word used here is zona for which there isn’t a direct English translation. The Greek writers of the New Testament did translate zona as porne which does directly translate to prostitute or harlot, but zona can also translate to innkeeper where sexual favors are traded. In any event, Rahab didn’t run a hotel with good repute.
But that wasn’t the lie. Starting in verse 3, the king of Jericho wanted Rahab to bring out the two spies, who weren’t likely spies, but on a reconnaissance mission, unlike with Moses, God didn’t command Joshua to send out spies, but Joshua on his own, sent out a couple of men to scout out the area – the king of Jericho assumed they were spies, as they weren’t from the area. Anyway, what was Rahab’s response in the next verse? Yes, they were here, but she sent them away when it got dark and the gate was closing, and that they should be perused, and that the king’s soldiers could catch up with them.
That, folks – was the lie. In fact, she hid the two men on her roof and got them out safely the next day.
The blessing? Joshua’s men got the information they needed, and Rahab as well as her family were spared the coming carnage to the city.
There are several schools of thought over this lie. Rahab has clearly lied, and this has disturbed Christian commentators for some time. Augustine and John Cassian both looked on this as sin in light of other biblical examples such as the midwives who saved Moses in the first chapter of Exodus.
Augustine takes it a little further. Rahab did indeed sin, but her blessing came as a result of helping the children of God. The sin itself is forgiven.
John Cassian likens this sin as certain herbs, when eaten, could be poisonous, but when applied to a wound, could have healing properties and although the lie was sin, the sin itself was extremely helpful but should be used in extreme circumstances.
John Calvin had a third school of thought on the subject. In his commentary on the book of Joshua, he writes:
And still the act of Rahab is not devoid of the praise of virtue, although it was not spotlessly pure. For it often happens that while the saints study to hold the right path, they deviate into circuitous courses. . . . By the kindness of God the fault is suppressed and not taken into account
We can find other biblical parallels besides that of the midwives in Egypt. Jael’s deception enables the destruction of Israel’s enemy, and she is called the “most blessed of women” in Judges 5, Rebekah’s ruse that elicits the blessing from Isaac is sometimes considered in these discussions in Genesis 27, and perhaps the most striking is the case in which the Lord himself sends a “lying spirit” into the mouths of the prophets in 1 Kings 22 —a different scenario, then, but one in which God’s purpose is worked out through human deception.
In 1 Samuel chapter 21, we see David, the man after God’s own heart, lying to Ahimelech the priest. He and his men were on the run from Saul – they were hungry and tired. All that was available to eat was the showbread, which was consecrated to the Lord, and not to be eaten by common people.
Yes, David lied to the priest, and their bellies were temporarily full – but he and his men had to continuing to flee from Saul, this time to Gath. You see, Doeg, the Edomite, the chief herdsman was employed by Saul was there, and guess who was going to get ratted out?
This time, the lie didn’t really yield a blessing.
The lie told by Rahab did benefit her and her family, but did it benefit the children of God?
Yes, they had success at Jericho, but at the next battle at Ai – they got cocky and thought they were invincible. The lie which gave Rahab benefit, didn’t give God’s children any benefit or blessing.
In fact, a lie tends to snowball and do more harm than good. We see that with David’s liaison with Bathsheba. First, he tries to deceive her husband with some time off, but the deception just snowballs until he has her husband killed. We all know how that turned out.
So, what does God think about lying?
My advice – don’t do it. Bearing false witness is a form of lying, and God commands against it.