Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Secrets and lies

I've been listening to the current sermon series from The Meeting House in Canada on the life of David. Its been very good. I recommend it [download here].

However, one thing (that I'd never noticed before) keeps jumping out of the story, again and again. David, Samuel and other 'good' characters in the story frequently lie or bear false witness - and this is seen as quite acceptable, possibly even the honourable thing to do in some cases.

For example, in I Samuel 16v1-3, the Lord appears to instruct Samuel to make up a cover story:
The LORD said to Samuel, "How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king."
But Samuel said, "How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me."

The LORD said, "Take a heifer with you and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.' Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate."
The text never indicates that the sacrifice was carried out. It appears to be simply a cover story to deceive Saul. And this is at God's command!

In chapter 19, David's wife Michal lies to Saul's soldiers and then to Saul himself when they come looking for David. This appears to be presented as a good thing she was doing.

In chapter 21, when David goes to the high priest Ahimilech, he lies in order to get food and a sword. Later that chapter when he is before the king of Gath he pretends to be mad - another instance of bearing false witness.

In chapter 22, Ahimilech lies to Saul when questioned about David, and this results in the death of lots of innocent priests. But it is presented as if Ahimilech is in the right here.

And so on.

The thing is, at no point in the story are any of these characters condemned for breaking one of the big 10 commandments. In fact, the story seems to commend these people for their use of subterfuge.

In other words, it is perfectly acceptable to lie if the situation requires it.

Even when David lied to the priest - which wasn't a matter of life or death for anyone - he isn't presented as being in the wrong. Perhaps he was lying in this instance to try and keep the priest out of it (if so, that didn't work!), but it was still lying.

How may times have I heard Christian preachers explaining that there is no such thing as a 'white lie'? Yet, apparently there is.

And it should be noted that, unlike most of the characters in the old testament, both David and Samuel are explicitly described as having the Spirit of God remaining with them - in other words, they are effectively new covenant people in old covenant times. They are, in many ways, a pattern for us to follow.


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