This has been on my list of things I really want to dive into (having taught ethics for a number of years).
We know that there are specific statements asserting very clearly that God does not tell lies (e.g., Num. 23:19; Titus 1:2). However, God does use deception. Some of you no doubt will want to define lying so that it includes deception, but that is not only unwise, it puts you (and God) in a theological pickle. Here’s the passage (1 Samuel 16:1-13) I always used in ethics class to get us into the subject:
1 The Lord said to Samuel, How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons. 2 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. 3 And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you. 4 Samuel did what the Lord commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, Do you come peaceably? 5 And he said, Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice. And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, Surely the Lords anointed is before him. 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, Neither has the Lord chosen this one. 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, Neither has the Lord chosen this one. 10 And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, The Lord has not chosen these. 11 Then Samuel said to Jesse, Are all your sons here? And he said, There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep. And Samuel said to Jesse, Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here. 12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, Arise, anoint him, for this is he. 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.
Did you spot the deception? Here are some questions to consider:
1. How do we define lying so that God is cleared, since he uses deception? (And some of you can provide other examples).
2. What relationship is there to this and the ninth commandment?
3. Does the ninth commandment actually forbid all lying? Is its purpose to give full, detailed answers in truth-telling regardless of context?
4. Why did Jesus demand deception (withholding the truth) on occasion? Why is that permissible? (See e.g., Luke 5:14; 8:56; 9:21)