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Deception in Genesis

Deception in Genesis

I have written twice (On God and On Man) now on deception in the Scripture. All of this has been in response to questions about the ethical nature of deception in the recent sting against Planned Parenthood. Before going to the most pertinent passage of Scripture on the issue, I would like to delve into the world of Genesis briefly. I do this primarily to present the very complex world of deception in the Scriptures. It does not seem to me that each occurrence can be wrapped together into one neat bow. Having seen the delusions that God sends, as well as the righteous judgment found in deception, the deception texts in Genesis become interesting case studies.

Perhaps no other biblical book has more deception in it than Genesis. With a mindset that all deception is bad, one could easily read through the text and come away with a bunch of moral teachings about deception. The only problem is that not all of the deception in Genesis is bad. I want to walk through examples on both sides while presenting some literary themes that run through Genesis. I do not intend this post to extend or defend my thesis that there is such a thing as holy deception. I merely want to take a longer look at some familiar passages. 

Deception unto Redemption

The opening scene of Genesis is loaded with deception. Adam and Eve are called "naked" (Gen 2:2). Straight forward in English right? In the very next verse, the serpent is called "crafty" (Gen 3:1). The same root Hebrew word is used. There is a play on the crafty nature of the devil over against mankind. As the curtain opens on the fall, deception already lies in the background. Ultimately, Eve blames the serpent (Gen 3:13). Paul agrees that Eve was deceived (1 Tim 2:14). This deception is the backdrop upon which deception, particularly the feminine variety, dominates Genesis.

Skipping Sarah's actions with Hagar for a moment, Rebekah is the first woman to utilize clear deception (Gen 27:1-13). Rebekah is privy to the promise of God for Jacob (Geb 25:23). Jacob is truly the "loved child." Isaac loves Esau for the most incredulous of reasons (Gen 25:28), and it is incredibly telling that the Scriptures weave food/hunting into his disrespect for his birthright (Gen 25:34). The very thing that surrounds Isaac's love for Esau is the source of Esau's disrespect and lack of faith. Similarly, the story of Rebekah's deception is not disconnected. The emphasis even during the deception is on food. While many are inclined to focus on Jacobs (and his string of deception), there is a strange battle going on between the parents here. I contend that a purely contextual reading suggests Rebekah is striving to fulfill God's promise for Jacob. It is debatable whether or not she should have done this. The birthright already belonged to Isaac.

This smacks more of Rebekah's frustration with Isaac and taking matters into her own hands. This is quite like Sarah's attempt to fulfill God's promise for a child. Except in Rebekah's case, there was divine revelation supporting the blessing of Jacob. So while similar, Sarah's attempt to fulfill God's promise is decisively unlike Rebekah's.

A similar situation to Rebekah's occurs later in Genesis. Jacob's son Judah chooses Tamar to be the wife of his oldest son (Gen 38:6). In the course of time a couple of Judah's sons die while married to Tamar. In fear, Judah sends Tamar to live with her father (Gen 38:11). Based upon the OT law, Judah is in the wrong. He should have provided his younger sons for marriage. He certainly should have taken her into his house. The Hebrews hearing the story of their patriarch would have noticed this. Judah is presenting himself to be a poor redeemer. This backdrop helps explain Tamar's deception of Judah. It helps explain the conclusion of the story.

Tamar deceives Judah to sleep with her by posing as a prostitute. To do this, she takes off her widow robes (Gen 38:14) to sleep with the recently widowed Judah. Thinking ahead, she procures some of his belongings as a payment and token. Some time later, word spreads that Tamar is pregnant. It is clear to everyone it was done immorally. I mean she did just commit fornication. Judah even feigns religious righteousness (Gen 38:24). However, Tamar reveals herself and Judah's tokens. The deception has proven its point. Judah discovers that he was the unrighteous one.

Tamar is "more righteous" in her deception (Gen 38:26). Through Judah she would have two sons. The younger son Perez would become a part of the Messianic lineage. Through her deception, Tamar became a part of Christ's family tree. In that regard she is is not unlike Rahab. Tamar's deception made her "more righteous" because she correctly deserved to be in Judah's family. Judah was unrighteously excluding her from her rightful promise from God. Her deception brought her into the Messianic promise given to Eve. (Note: I am not making a case here for the ethical nature of their fornication)

There is an interesting movement in the feminine deception through Genesis. In Eve the Garden is lost. In Tamar the Promised is received. Deception is not a one size fits all element of the Genesis story.

Deception in Egypt

One of the stranger themes in Genesis is the involvement of Egypt. This makes more sense in the original context. If one holds to a traditional dating of Genesis (that Moses wrote the book), then the first people to hear these words read were the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. Let that sink in. One of the biggest buzz words for the book of Genesis is "Egypt."

Starting with a small example, Sarah's little power play with Hagar is a "trip to Egypt" (Gen 16). Seeking the promise of God in an Egyptian would have been incredibly foolish in the minds of the listeners. In another example, Abraham (Gen 12:10-20) takes Sarah to Egypt literally. A famine drives them. Though elsewhere in the Scripture famine is a sign of judgment that does not seem to be the case here. Abraham thinks deception will keep him safe. But it is God who delivers Abraham and his bride from the house of Pharaoh.

This story point is not about deception. It is pointing to the exodus of Israel. There God will save His bride Israel. This does not justify Abraham's deception about Sarah being his "sister," but it helps us understand why the text is included in the canon of Scripture. Abraham's example will be repeated both by Abraham and his son. These deceptions make no sense and are inexcusable. They are poor decisions turned into typological opportunities.  

The biggest deception in Egypt occurs under Jacob's son Joseph. In a manner similar to Solomon, Joseph utilizes an intricate deception to determine the character of his brothers. Most of us are familiar with the story. Joseph is the firstborn son from Jacob's favorite wife. Joseph receives a "coat of many colors" (which is likely a poor translation). It likely does not denote favoritism but authority. Joseph being in charge of his shepherd brothers fits the context and the following story much better. Joseph finds himself in Egypt where he rises to the top of all of Egypt (after a quick detour in jail because of another woman's deception). Here Joseph pulls the equivalent of a long con. He accuses his brothers of being spies (Gen 42:9). He puts them in jail for three days before sending them all back without Simeon.

Joseph sends them home with their money. They can't control their fear. It takes the brothers a significant time before they dare re-enter Egypt. Simeon is in jail this entire time. All of this to see if his brothers will bring Joseph's full brother Benjamin to Egypt without betraying him. The repetition of going to Egypt, bringing his brothers to jail, and ultimately breaking bread with them must have been quite the tale for the Hebrew slaves. All this to determine the validity of his brother's heart. All of this to reveal Judah the worthy redeemer from among his brother. But that is actually a sub point.

Joseph is actually a pre-fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham. The whole world is blessed through him. Genesis 41:57 says "all the earth" came to him for bread <cough> and wine <cough>. He tests his brothers and provides a bountiful table before them. All of this prefigures Jesus Christ's "testing" of His brothers/people (who betray Him) before providing the bread of life to the entire world.

With the previous study on deception in mind, it would seem that Joseph in his wisdom was right to test his brothers. If the predisposition to denounce deception is displaced, Joseph is seen as an early Solomon, who is an early Jesus. Is it possible Jesus also practiced a form of deception? Unfortunately, I will not be addressing that question in this series. Instead I will switch gears to the particular passage in Exodus that is most pertinent to this study and Planned Parenthood.

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