Does God let us use deception for a good cause? (Part 2)

We asked last time whether it’s all right to use deception to further God’s purposes when we are up against powerful oppressors. Here’s another example from the Bible in which God actually seems to command the use of deception.

God has rejected Saul as king of Israel. He tells Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint one of Jesse’s sons instead.  Samuel, knowing that Saul has become a ruthless tyrant who will hold onto power by any means, protests, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.” God says in response, “Take a heifer with you and say ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’”

Samuel isn’t really going to Bethlehem to offer a sacrifice, that is, to host a fellowship meal that the townspeople can share as an act of devotion and celebration.  He’s there on a subversive mission to anoint a new king. Samuel’s cover story, the heifer he brings along, and the religious ceremony he conducts are all a pious fraud to keep Saul from discovering the real purpose of the trip.  And God seems to command it all.

Matia Preti, Samuel Anoints David

Is this the best we can do in a situation like this? Why couldn’t God keep Saul from finding out about Samuel’s trip? Why couldn’t God protect Samuel from Saul if he did find out about it?  Sure, there’s a great power differential between Saul and his subjects, but isn’t God vastly more powerful than any earthly ruler?

When we read the whole story of the Bible, not just isolated verses here and there, we discover that in some places and times God does keep enemies from seeing or hearing things. He often delivers his people by his own great power. But in this and similar places, we also see God allowing or even authorizing the use of deception against opponents.  This suggests that deception, under carefully controlled conditions, might be a valid means for followers of Jesus to use today against oppressors when there is a great power differential, like the Christians who sheltered Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust.

We’ll take one more look next time at how God apparently uses deception against His opponents.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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