From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 11 – The complications that arise when we tell the truth, and a look at some exceptional situations where we could lie
There was a King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel called Ahab who was exceptionally wicked. He also had a remarkably wicked wife called Jezebel. Between them they dragged Israel down to their level and led the people into sin and idolatry on a huge scale. Under Ahab’s reign, Baal worship flourished and expanded rapidly. Therefore God declared through the prophet Elijah that He would destroy the whole house and lineage of King Ahab.
Elijah’s grim prophecy was all fulfilled in due course. In particular, let us look at what was done by a man called Jehu. He was actually anointed on the instructions of the prophet Elisha to be the next King of Israel, precisely in order that he could wipe out the whole family line of Ahab and all that he stood for:
4 So the young man, the servant of the prophet, went to Ramoth-gilead. 5 And when he came, behold, the commanders of the army were in council. And he said, “I have a word for you, O commander.” And Jehu said, “To which of us all?” And he said, “To you, O commander.” 6 So he arose and went into the house. And the young man poured the oil on his head, saying to him, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, I anoint you king over the people of the LORD, over Israel. 7 And you shall strike down the house of Ahab your master, so that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the LORD. 8 For the whole house of Ahab shall perish, and I will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. 9And I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah.2 Kings 9:4-9 (ESV)
Jehu then proceeded to wipe out every member of Ahab’s family, so that none of them could ever claim the throne of Israel again. That sets the context and brings us to the main point I am making, which is that Jehu then set about wiping out all of the followers of Baal. They were occultic and idolatrous and had led many of the people to forsake God and worship Baal.
In the process of doing this Jehu told a lie in order to trick the followers of Baal so that he could gather them all into one place and destroy them. He did it by pretending to be a follower of Baal himself. He commanded all the priests and other followers of Baal to gather in one place and declared that he would be an even bigger follower of Baal than King Ahab had been:
18 Then Jehu assembled all the people and said to them, “Ahab served Baal a little, but Jehu will serve him much. 19 Now therefore call to me all the prophets of Baal, all his worshipers and all his priests. Let none be missing, for I have a great sacrifice to offer to Baal. Whoever is missing shall not live.” But Jehu did it with cunning in order to destroy the worshipers of Baal. 20 And Jehu ordered, “Sanctify a solemn assembly for Baal.” So they proclaimed it. 21 And Jehu sent throughout all Israel, and all the worshipers of Baal came, so that there was not a man left who did not come. And they entered the house of Baal, and the house of Baal was filled from one end to the other. 22 He said to him who was in charge of the wardrobe, “Bring out the vestments for all the worshipers of Baal.” So he brought out the vestments for them. 23 Then Jehu went into the house of Baal with Jehonadab the son of Rechab, and he said to the worshipers of Baal, “Search, and see that there is no servant of the LORD here among you, but only the worshipers of Baal.” 24 Then they went in to offer sacrifices and burnt offerings.
2 Kings 10:18-27 (ESV)
Now Jehu had stationed eighty men outside and said, “The man who allows any of those whom I give into your hands to escape shall forfeit his life.” 25 So as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, Jehu said to the guard and to the officers, “Go in and strike them down; let not a man escape.” So when they put them to the sword, the guard and the officers cast them out and went into the inner room of the house of Baal, 26 and they brought out the pillar that was in the house of Baal and burned it. 27 And they demolished the pillar of Baal, and demolished the house of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day.
So, Jehu told a direct lie in order to lure the followers of Baal into his trap. He said it while intending to do the very opposite. It is clear that God approved of Jehu’s actions. At any rate, God rewarded Jehu and said nothing to indicate that He did not approve of the lie:
And the LORD said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.”2 Kings 10:30 (ESV)
Let us now consider how God viewed Jehu’s lie and why God did not disapprove of him for telling it:
a) Jehu had been anointed as King of God’s people, Israel, i.e. the Northern Kingdom. It was therefore his duty to do God’s will and to fight against God’s enemies.
b) The followers of Baal were God’s enemies.
c) Jehu was commanded to make war against the whole house of Ahab and to wipe out his line and try to reverse the harm that Ahab had caused. This necessarily involved wiping out the followers of Baal. They were like cancer cells within the nation of Israel
d) The only way to destroy them was to lure them into a trap. That could only be done by deceiving them, because they would never come willingly to be destroyed.
e) In short, Jehu was waging war on God’s behalf. Therefore it was legitimate to tell a lie in the pursuit of a war objective.
So, it was legitimate, on that very specific occasion, for Jehu to deceive the followers of Baal. But that does not provide any general authorisation to us to tell lies, not even if done in order to pursue God’s objectives. If we could do so at all, it would only be if we were in equally exceptional circumstances. Let us now consider another unusual example: