Man's Holy Deception
I previously described God's use of deception for judgment. This judgment was against people who opposed God. God's deception continued their rebellion and led to their final judgment.
It is time to turn to man's use of deception for the sake of preservation. In almost cases these deceptions were used against God's enemies in a time of war. There are multiple passages that are relevant. In this post, I will focus on the stories of Rahab, Jael, and Solomon.
The Harrowing Harlot
There are many interesting linguistic and historical arguments concerning Rahab. Whether or not she was a prostitute is irrelevant to her protecting spies and saving her family. Most of us will be familiar with the story but here is the pertinent part,
Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” 4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. 5 And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” 6 But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. 7 So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out. (Joshua 2:3-7)
There is no way around this passage. Rahab straight lies to protect the spies from Israel. The historical account that follows indicates that Rahab was saved from the destruction of Jericho. In fact, she was even the deliverer of her entire family. Because of her denouncing Jericho and clinging in faith to the God of Israel, Rahab acts as a type of messiah that many believe came from her line (Matt 1:5). All put together, there are serious salvific undertones to the encounter. Two NT passages support this soteriological reading (Jam 2:24-25; Heb 11:31). These texts go so far as to say that she was justified because she acted in faith regarding the spies.
What exactly does this mean? Neither text points to her lying as sinful. Instead, a generic set of "actions" are exalted. Very specifically in James she is being incorporated for the historical "works" she performed in saving the spies. Few individuals in Scripture receive such commendation for their holy behavior. It would seem very odd to highlight Rahab without making mention of what actions are being praised.
The inclusion of the female, gentile Rahab in these Jewish-oriented epistles makes a strong point in both epistles. This is especially true in James where she is presented alongside the great father figure of Abraham. What does this say about the valid nature of deception? Is she merely being praised for saving the spies? Is not lying a part of the successful saving? I acknowledge my position goes against the critical insights of John Calvin,
Therefore, although our purpose, be to assist our brethren, to consult for their safety and relieve them, it never can be lawful to lie, because that cannot be right which is contrary to the nature of God. And God is truth. And still the act of Rahab is not devoid of the praise of virtue, although it was not spotlessly pure. For it often happens that while the saints study to hold the right path, they deviate into circuitous courses. (Comm on Joshua 2)
Here we see Calvin resorting to the analogical argument that since deception is "evil" it cannot be found in God. Because it cannot be found in God, it would unlawful to use deception to save a life. Recall God's use of deception though. Delusions were sent to confirm previously existing attitudes within the enemies of God. These delusions were sent by God. Rahab here is protecting God's people from God's enemies in fulfillment of their judgment.
Staking Her Claim
18 Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid.” And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19 He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him. 20 He said to her, “Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there anyone here?’ that you shall say, ‘No.’” 21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died. 22 And behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” And he entered with her, and behold Sisera was lying dead with the tent peg in his temple. (Judges 4:18-22)
Another woman, another lie. Providing a context for the story, the people of Israel are still at war. Deborah and Barak have crushed the enemy. But God has told Barak that a woman shall receive the honor (Jud 4:9). Further yet, Jael is not an Israelite (Jud 4:17). She is married to a descendent from the Moses' father-in-law. Sisera, the enemy of God, seeks protection and feels secure enough to fall fast asleep.
Jael wastes no time killing the commander "secretly." There is possibly an allusion to Genesis 3:15 but that is not relevant. Jael used deception to bring judgment upon the enemy of God. One could speak of her being the delusion that God uses to reinforce and bring an end to his rebellion.
The only other testimony in Scripture is that Jael is to be blessed above all women (Judges 5:24). In the case of Rahab, it was easy to distinguish saving the spies from lying to the government. Here, Jael's two activities are rather coarse. She lied and killed a guy in his sleep. In a culture the prided itself upon taking care of visitors, Jael's example seems to spit in the face of cultural values. In fact, Judges 5:17 clearly indicates that Jael's husband Heber was at peace with Jabin and Sisera. It would seem she went against her husband's political affiliation, deceived a general seeking protection among friends, and then slaughtered him. The song praises her for this very activity (Judges 5:24-27).
The road of interpretation leads us to see a different ethical standard in times of war. Jael is praised in her deception leading to intentional harm. She is the recipient of the honor as God Himself had told Barak. Once again, God's enemy is brought to judgment through deception. Once again this is seen as a holy course of action.
The Wise King
28 When all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had handed down, they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice. (1 Kings 3:28)
Solomon was smarter than his father. The first kid ever. Besides Jesus. I kid, I kid.
But seriously, almost everyone knows the story of Solomon requesting wisdom to govern the land of Israel. Of the request God said, "Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you" (1 Kings 3:12). There can be no question about the wisdom of Solomon in the early portion of his kingship. It was given by God to reflect godly character. The author of Kings proves this through a very special example. Two women had babies. One died and now both claim that a baby is theirs.
Solomon's solution is legendary. He requests a sword to cut the child into two pieces. The false mother reveals herself. The true mother reveals herself. Solomon has administered righteous judgment through deception. The Scriptures reiterates that "the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice." This is spiritual and righteous deception. This is not the wisdom of man. Solomon clearly had no intention of slicing the child in two. The charade continued solely to reveal the true mother. Solomon used deception to provide accurate judgment.
Solomon's deception is different from the other examples. It does not result in a loss of anyone's life. Is that what makes it ethical? Remember that the point is the ethical nature of deception and not the results. Studying Rahab, Jael and Solomon certainly seem to indicate a positive Scriptural response to deception to preserve life and administer proper justice.