Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
When we are young we learn to lie in order to avoid punishment after doing something wrong. Since this usually works a few times and we see our parents and others lying as well, we develop the idea that through lying we can manipulate things to get the results we desire. As this continues we find that by telling lies we can not only avoid repercussions, but also defend ourselves even when we’re not doing anything wrong. Pretty soon, as we become adults, lying becomes second nature and is almost like a friend. However, that’s not how we are to live our lives. Let’s take a look at a story from Genesis that helps us to understand why as people of God (and his Son, Jesus) it is better to avoid lying.
Isaac, the son of Abraham, was facing tough times, and so he needed to relocate for a while. We read,
Now there was a famine in the land- besides the earlier famine of Abraham’s time- and Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines in Gerar. The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham” (Genesis 26:1-3).
God had already promised to bless Isaac wherever the Lord would send him. While in Gerar, though, Isaac decided to tell a lie to everyone about him and his wife. Genesis 26:7 records,
When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.”
In this, Isaac was a real chip off the old block, because his father Abraham had told the same thing to- oddly enough- the same people in the very same city. The Bible recorded that event as well, and the consequences thereof,
Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her (Genesis 20:1-2).
To Abraham’s credit, he wasn’t lying entirely, Sarah was actually his sister; for we read as Abraham explains himself, “Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother and she became my wife” (Genesis 20:12). Anyway, before anything could happen, God stepped in and told Abimelech the truth about Abraham and Sarah. Abimelech was not happy. Scripture recounts in Genesis 20:9-10,
Then Abimelech called Abraham and said, “What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should not be done.” And Abimelech asked Abraham, “What was your reason for doing this?”
Now I want to pause here and note that Abimelech is clearly portrayed as a man of morals. Consider how outraged he is by Abraham misleading him and how quickly he resolves the situation as soon as he finds out Sarah is actually married. Even God makes not of this while talking to Abimelech, “Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her’” (Genesis 20:6). So theoretically, despite being a heathen Philistine, Abimelech probably had a reputation for being a fair, distinguished, moderately moral guy- especially after his run-in with Abraham.
However, for some reason, some 20-30 years later, Isaac felt compelled to say the same thing his father did to Abimelech. And when Isaac did it, he was actually lying because Rebekah was not his sister. Keep in mind that Abimelech was still king, not his son. So now much older, Abimelech found out that Isaac was lying, “When Isaac had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked down from a window and saw Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah” (Genesis 26:6). The Bible doesn’t say if Abimelech had known yet that Isaac was Abraham’s son, but if he had, his first words probably would have been, “What is wrong with your family!?” Anyway, Abimelech freaked out again and Isaac tried to explain himself. Finally, Abimelech made a law about this sort of thing in Genesis 26:11, “So Abimelech gave orders to all the people: ‘Anyone who molests this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.” And so ends the story of Isaac’s lie.
Every time I’ve read this story I’ve laughed at its silliness and strangeness (I mean, c’mon, the same situation, in the same city, featuring the same king, just one generation later- that’s gold). However, I’ve never really been able to make much sense of its lesson, until the Holy Spirit explained it to me. First, we have to understand that God hates lying. He hates it so much that one of the Ten Commandments is about it, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). “False Testimony” speaks of lying in court; but must like the rest of the Law it can extend into other areas of life. The Holy Spirit backed up this understanding of the commandment with another verse, “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful” (Proverbs 12:22). And again,
Do not steal.
Do not lie.
Do not deceive one another (Leviticus 19:11).
It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that. God hates lying. Now this is where it gets exciting. The Holy Spirit showed me that through the story of Isaac’s pointless lie that God has safeguarded those in Christ from a need to lie. Because God didn’t want Isaac to damage his relationship with him through sin, he made the situation favorably disposed to Isaac so that he wouldn’t have to lie (though he did anyway). God makes this known to us so we can be confident that we also don’t need to lie in order to get the results we want. Consider this: Abimelech had already been proved to be honorable when it comes to marriage; also he was probably an old man by time Isaac showed up. And considering how fast Abimelech commanded everyone to stay away from Rebekah (under the penalty of death), had Isaac come in and told the truth the first time he probably would have saved time and himself from getting an earful from an upset Abimelech. God doesn’t want you to lie; therefore he will make people and situations favorably disposed to you if you just tell the truth. The Lord protects those who have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus. So just be honest, Christian, and tell the truth.
…But what if you’re not a Christian? Well, then God’s protection and favor are not on you. So being deceitful or truthful really doesn’t make a difference. First, you need to stop lying to yourself and admit that you need help. For the Bible says in 1 John 1:8, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Once you are willing to accept that there is a God and you need to mend your relationship with him, you need only to call on the name of the Lord (Jesus) and you will be saved from your sinful state. For, “As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame’” (Romans 10:11).
What if you are a Christian but are sinning, and lying to cover your sin? Well, there’s a reason why Peter writes,
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Peter 2:11-12).
We’re called to be God’s representatives on earth; therefore we should be doing our best to keep out of sin in the first place. For Scripture says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). So keep your nose clean and say honest; and God will take care of the rest.
Rock on God!