lying

1 Samuel 21-22, Ezekiel 1

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 21-22 and Ezekiel 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 21-22.

Yesterday I attempted to demonstrate that Jonathan’s lie to Saul, while unwise, was not held against him by the Lord because his intention was to save David’s life from the murderous intentions of Saul. In today’s passage, David lied unnecessarily to Ahimelek the priest (vv. 1-3). Ahimelek’s instinct was to be concerned when he saw David without any of the usual soldiers who fought with him (v. 1); instead of dealing truthfully with Ahimelek, David lied to him. What possible reason could have justified David’s lie? It is possible that he was concerned about Ahimelek’s allegiance to Saul but the text gives us no indication of that. Probably, then, it was just easier. It was easier for David to make up a false story on the spot to get David’s help than it was to be truthful with Ahimelek and risk being refused the help David needed. This is an example, then, of a lie that was told to manipulate someone into doing your will rather than being truthful and trusting God. Had David trusted God in this situation, Ahimelek could have inquired of the Lord for guidance. Or Ahimelek could have helped David knowing full well the risk he was taking on. Instead, David’s lie got him what he needed in the short term (vv. 4, 9) but he exposed Ahimelek to the dangers of Saul. Indeed, David knew that he was responsible for Ahimelek’s death because of his lies as we see in verse 22. David even admitted that he put Ahimelek in danger knowingly, for he told Abiathar, Ahimelek’s son, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.” As great and godly as David was, his dishonesty in a crucial moment cost an innocent man his life. You and I are unlikely to ever be put into a situation where we have to lie to save someone’s life. Most of the time when we lie (or are tempted to lie), it is our own convenience or our own advantage we are seeking or we are attempting to cover up another sin that we have already committed. Since God is truth and is able to provide and protect those who trust in him, we as his children should be truthful.

1 Samuel 20, Lamentations 5

Today, read 1 Samuel 20, Lamentations 5.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 20.

Jonathan believed his father when Saul told him that David would not be put to death, as we read yesterday in 19:6. We do not know how much time passed between Saul’s assurance in 19:6 and the rest of the events of chapter 19, but we do know that Saul did not keep his commitment to Jonathan to stop hunting David. According to today’s reading in chapter 20:2, Jonathan was unaware of Saul’s attempts on David’s life in chapter 19 that followed his conversation with Saul in 19:1-6. Here in chapter 20, David concocted a plan to prove to Jonathan whether Saul was intent on killing him still or if he was faithful to his word to Jonathan. Although David was supposed to join Saul for a New Moon feast (v. 5a), David hid instead (v. 5b). When Saul asked Jonathan where David was, Jonathan was instructed to lie and tell Saul that David was attending a family ritual instead (vv. 6-7). Both David and Jonathan expected Saul’s response to this ruse to reveal definitively whether Saul was intent on killing David or not (vv. 8-18). Note that the text is clear: Jonathan’s answer to Saul was a lie; there was no sacrifice for Jesse’s family. Instead, David was hiding in a field (v. 5b, 24a). As good as their motives were, Jonathan and David created a plan that required Jonathan to lie So what do we make of a passage like this?

First of all, the Bible commands us to speak truthfully (Eph 4:25). God is truth and, as his people, we should be committed to truth as well. Most of our lies are designed to benefit us in some other unrighteous way. We tell lies to manipulate someone else into doing what we want them to do, or we lie to cover up something else that we’ve done that is evil or we lie to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings. That last one is especially insidious because we think we’re doing it for them—to avoid hurting their feelings, but the truth is that we tell “little white lies” so that someone else will like us.

Jonathan and David lied here to protect David’s life. And this is also why Rahab lied when she was protecting the spies. These are the only instances in scripture were someone lied and was not condemned or punished for it. The lie was told to prevent an even greater sin namely, the unrighteous taking of human life. These lies were told to PREVENT a greater evil not to cover up an evil or to manipulate someone for personal advantage or to get approval from someone unrighteously. That’s what makes them different than most of the lies we tell.

It would have been better and wiser if Jonathan and David could have devised a test of Saul’s intent without lying. It would have been better because there could have been severe consequences for both of them if their lies were discovered. You don’t lie to the king and just get away with it easily. So lying was not the best course of action in this instance. But since their lie was designed to protect David’s life, God was merciful to them and, I believe, did not count this as a sin against them. Would it ever be appropriate for us to lie? Based on this passage, the only instance where I believe it would be justifiable is if you or I lied to save someone’s life—our own or someone else. If a man with murderous intent tries to get you to expose a victim and lie to save that person’s life, passages like this one lead me to believe that God will not condemn you. Any other reason for lying, as far as I can tell, is sin.

Ruth 3-4, Jeremiah 38

Ruth 3-4, Jeremiah 38 Today’s readings are Ruth 3-4 and Jeremiah 38.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 38:24-27.

Is it ever right to lie? The ninth commandment commands us not to give false testimony against someone else (Ex 20:16). The first object of this command is in a legal situation when you or I witness a crime or can truthfully be an alibi witness to exonerate someone from a crime. It is always wrong to give false or misleading testimony. You shouldn’t lie to save your friends or family if they’re guilty nor should you lie to get your enemy convicted unjustly.

Like all of God’s commands, however, there are applications beyond the original, primary situation addressed in the command [1]. While the ninth commandment requires us to tell the truth legally, it also teaches us that it is ethically and morally wrong to lie, mislead, and be dishonest. The reason is the same as the one behind the command: when we lie, it is usually to create an unrighteous advantage for ourselves. Here are some examples of that:

  • We lie to make ourselves look better than we are, like Ananias and Sapphira did in Acts 5
  • We lie to cover something sinful or embarrassing that we did, like Sarah did in Genesis 18:15.
  • We lie because we’re afraid of what will happen to us even if we did nothing wrong. Jacob did this in Genesis 26:7-9.

In our passage for today, Jeremiah 38:24-27, Jeremiah is summoned by Zedekiah, king of Judah. He was a constant spiritual opponent of God and his prophet Jeremiah, even imprisoning Jeremiah unjustly in Jeremiah 37. But Zedekiah was also afraid of the possibility that Jeremiah might be right. Here in chapter 38, he consulted privately with Jeremiah to see if surrender to the Babylonians was the wisest move he could make. Spoiler alert: it was.

At the end of their consultation, Zedekiah ordered Jeremiah to lie. Verses 24-26 say,

Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “Do not let anyone know about this conversation, or you may die. 25 If the officials hear that I talked with you, and they come to you and say, ‘Tell us what you said to the king and what the king said to you; do not hide it from us or we will kill you,’ 26 then tell them, ‘I was pleading with the king not to send me back to Jonathan’s house to die there.’”

This is a lie. There is no way to fudge it or nuance it away. Zedekiah was a wicked man, so lying was probably his second language. The problem for us is that Jeremiah went along with it and lied just as Zedekiah told him to do. Verse 27 says:

All the officials did come to Jeremiah and question him, and he told them everything the king had ordered him to say. So they said no more to him, for no one had heard his conversation with the king.

What do we make of this?

It doesn’t help us that Zedekiah was worried about Jeremiah. Verse 24 told us that concern about Jeremiah’s life was behind the king’s order because Zedekiah said, “Do not let anyone know about this conversation, or you may die.” It is true that people were out for Jeremiah’s life (see verse 4). It is also true that the king could have ordered the people not to touch Jeremiah, or else. See verse 5 where he gave tacit permission to Jeremiah’s enemies to kill him or let him die in the pit. If they came to Zedekiah for permission to kill Jeremiah, then Zedekiah certainly had the power to forbid him from being harmed, his statement, “The king can do nothing to oppose you” (v. 5) notwithstanding. No, Zedekiah’s dishonest cover story was to protect him because he was afraid of the implications of consulting with Jeremiah, according to verses 5 and 19. So the lie may have helped Jeremiah but it was really more designed for Zedekiah’s sake.

Yet Jeremiah went along with this lie and there is nothing in the chapter to suggest that God was displeased by his lying or that Jeremiah would face any consequences for it. In fact, the end of verse 27 seems to downplay any moral problems with the lie when it says, “So they said no more to him, for no one had heard his conversation with the king.” In other words, “What they don’t know can’t hurt them.” Since the lie was truly harmless, the implication seems to be that it was not wrong.

The bottom line is this: God is truth and his people should speak truthfully. The ONLY exceptions we see in scripture are lies that protect human life without endangering anyone else. That applies in this chapter, in the case of Rahab (Josh 2:4-7), and in the case of the Hebrew midwives who probably didn’t directly lie but did give an answer what was only partially true (Ex 1:18-21).

Unless you’ve lied to protect a life that was in immediate danger, you’ve sinned. Lying may not be the best way to save a life that’s in danger, but God’s word indicates that it is an acceptable way. Every other lie or bit of dishonesty is sin.


[1] Of course, there are plenty of other scripture passages that teach that lying is sinful even in non-legal situations. See this page for a nice list: https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/lying-bible-verses/.

1 Samuel 21–22, 1 Corinthians 3, Ezekiel 1, Psalm 37

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Samuel 21–22, 1 Corinthians 3, Ezekiel 1, Psalm 37. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read 1 Samuel 21-22.

Yesterday I attempted to demonstrate that Jonathan’s lie to Saul, while unwise, was not held against him by the Lord because his intention was to save David’s life from the murderous intentions of Saul. In today’s passage, David lied unnecessarily to Ahimelek the priest (vv. 1-3). Ahimelek’s instinct was to be concerned when he saw David without any of the usual soldiers who fought with him (v. 1); instead of dealing truthfully with Ahimelek, David lied to him. What possible reason could have justified David’s lie? It is possible that he was concerned about Ahimelek’s allegiance to Saul but the text gives us no indication of that. Probably, then, it was just easier. It was easier for David to make up a false story on the spot to get David’s help than it was to be truthful with Ahimelek and risk being refused the help David needed. This is an example, then, of a lie that was told to manipulate someone into doing your will rather than being truthful and trusting God. Had David trusted God in this situation, Ahimelek could have inquired of the Lord for guidance. Or Ahimelek could have helped David knowing full well the risk he was taking on. Instead, David’s lie got him what he needed in the short term (vv. 4, 9) but he exposed Ahimelek to the dangers of Saul. Indeed, David knew that he was responsible for Ahimelek’s death because of his lies as we see in verse 22. David even admitted that he put Ahimelek in danger knowingly, for he told Abiathar, Ahimelek’s son, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.” As great and godly as David was, his dishonesty in a crucial moment cost an innocent man his life. You and I are unlikely to ever be put into a situation where we have to lie to save someone’s life. Most of the time when we lie (or are tempted to lie), it is our own convenience or our own advantage we are seeking or we are attempting to cover up another sin that we have already committed. Since God is truth and is able to provide and protect those who trust in him, we as his children should be truthful. 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

1 Samuel 20, 1 Corinthians 2, Lamentations 5, Psalm 36

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Samuel 20, 1 Corinthians 2, Lamentations 5, Psalm 36. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read 1 Samuel 20.

Jonathan believed his father when Saul told him that David would not be put to death, as we read yesterday in 19:6. We do not know how much time passed between Saul’s assurance in 19:6 and the rest of the events of chapter 19, but we do know that Saul did not keep his commitment to Jonathan to stop hunting David. According to today’s reading in chapter 20:2, Jonathan was unaware of Saul’s attempts on David’s life in chapter 19 that followed his conversation with Saul in 19:1-6. Here in chapter 20, David concocted a plan to prove to Jonathan whether Saul was intent on killing him still or if he was faithful to his word to Jonathan. Although David was supposed to join Saul for a New Moon feast (v. 5a), David hid instead (v. 5b). When Saul asked Jonathan where David was, Jonathan was instructed to lie and tell Saul that David was attending a family ritual instead (vv. 6-7). Both David and Jonathan expected Saul’s response to this ruse to reveal definitively whether Saul was intent on killing David or not (vv. 8-18). Note that the text is clear: Jonathan’s answer to Saul was a lie; there was no sacrifice for Jesse’s family. Instead, David was hiding in a field (v. 5b, 24a). As good as their motives were, Jonathan and David created a plan that required Jonathan to lie
So what do we make of a passage like this?

First of all, the Bible commands us to speak truthfully (Eph 4:25). God is truth and, as his people, we should be committed to truth as well. Most of our lies are designed to benefit us in some other unrighteous way. We tell lies to manipulate someone else into doing what we want them to do, or we lie to cover up something else that we’ve done that is evil or we lie to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings. That last one is especially insidious because we think we’re doing it for them—to avoid hurting their feelings, but the truth is that we tell “little white lies” so that someone else will like us. 

Jonathan and David lied here to protect David’s life. And this is also why Rahab lied when she was protecting the spies. These are the only instances in scripture were someone lied and was not condemned or punished for it. The lie was told to prevent an even greater sin namely, the unrighteous taking of human life. These lies were told to PREVENT a greater evil not to cover up an evil or to manipulate someone for personal advantage or to get approval from someone unrighteously. That’s what makes them different than most of the lies we tell. 

It would have been better and wiser if Jonathan and David could have devised a test of Saul’s intent without lying. It would have been better because there could have been severe consequences for both of them if their lies were discovered. You don’t lie to the king and just get away with it easily. So lying was not the best course of action in this instance. But since their lie was designed to protect David’s life, God was merciful to them and, I believe, did not count this as a sin against them. Would it ever be appropriate for us to lie? Based on this passage, the only instance where I believe it would be justifiable is if you or I lied to save someone’s life—our own or someone else. If a man with murderous intent tries to get you to expose a victim and lie to save that person’s life, passages like this one lead me to believe that God will not condemn you. Any other reason for lying, as far as I can tell, is sin.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.