By Hoyt Houchen
Question: Please explain the following Scriptures: Genesis 22:2, 8, 11-12; Exodus 1:15-19; 3:7-10, 5:1, and 1 Kings 3:24-25, 27-38. Do they indicate that God approves certain forms of deception?
Reply: The above Scriptures do not teach that God approves of certain forms of deception. Let us examine their meaning.
(1) Genesis 22:2, 8, 11-12. In verse two, God said to Abraham: “Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” The purpose of this command was to prove Abraham (v. 1). To begin with, God was not tempting Abraham to do evil. If he were, this would be a contradiction of James 1: 13 where we read, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man . . . .” The key to God’s request of Abraham is to understand the meaning of the word “tempt” in verse one. The ASV verse uses the word “prove.” God was not tempting Abraham to sin, but rather He was testing him. This is the sense in which the word “prove” is used here and in some other instances. God proved Israel when He rained bread from heaven (Ex. 16:4). He tested them as to whether they would properly gather the manna. Toward the end of their journeys, God tested them as to whether they loved Him and would continue to serve Him (Deut. 8:2, 16). Abraham proved his unwavering faith in God. So, there was no deception here on God’s part. By this test He simply proved Abraham’s faith.
Verse eight of this account is Abraham’s response to Isaac’s question in verse seven. Isaac asked, “Behold, the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (v. 7). Abraham replied, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (v. 8). There was no deception in Abraham’s response. Abraham did not know what God had arranged but he had faith that God would provide the sacrifice. He had the utmost confidence that God would provide. The words of Abraham must not be taken to mean that they were spoken to deceive. He was assuring Isaac that God would take care of the sacrifice -trust Him. Jehovah-jireh, “Jehovah sees,” i.e. He provides (v. 8).
Verses eleven and twelve show that the Lord knew that Abraham feared Him, and his obedience was such that he was willing to sacrifice his own son. The angel of Jehovah prohibited Abraham from slaying his son. He said to Abraham “for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing that thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me” (v. 12). In view of the fact that what God required Abraham to do was a test, there is no way that we can derive the idea that God used any deception.
(2) Exodus 1:15-19. In this account, Pharaoh had commanded two Hebrew midwives (Shiphrah and Puah) to slay the male infants born to the Hebrew women. But these women feared God and, therefore, spared the male children. Pharaoh asked them why they had done this. The midwives explained, “Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwife come unto them” (v. 19). Rather than committing infanticide, they delayed their coming to a woman in labor. The baby was already born when they arrived. They did not divulge the fact that their delay was deliberately planned. They chose to give the king a partial truth rather than committing infanticide. We read in verse twenty-one: “And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them households.” We are not to suppose from this that God approved the deception upon the part of the Hebrew midwives. They were blessed because they were willing to risk their lives to save the infants. These women were rewarded, “not, however, because they lied, but because they were merciful to the people of God; it was not their falsehood therefore that was rewarded, but their kindness (more correctly, their fear of God), their benignity of mind, not the wickedness of their lying; and for the sake of what was good, God forgave what was evil” (Augustine, contra mendac. c.19, quoted by F. Delitzsch, Volume 1, The Pentateuch, p. 425). They were also blessed because they helped to increase the families of Israel. Thus, God made them households.
(3) Exodus 5:1. This verse reads: “And afterward Moses and Aaron came, and said unto Pharaoh, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.” We see no deception here. This was an appeal to Pharaoh that he should have understood. Jehovah simply demanding that His people be released to serve Him in the wilderness. This is what they were to do on their journey. It was common for nations to offer sacrifices to their deities, so this request was not unreasonable. Pharaoh had the choice of granting this request, but refused (v. 2). The request included the offering of sacrifices in the wilderness as in seen in verse three. It was founded upon the fact that by neglecting this sacrificial festival, God could punish the Hebrew nation. Furthermore, these sacrifices could not be made in Egypt as this would incite trouble. The Egyptians regarded certain animals to be sacred and, therefore, under no circumstances allowed them to be killed (see Ex. 8:26). The request of Moses and Aaron was God directed. It was honorable and there is no evidence of any deception.
(4) 1 Kings 3:24-25, 27-28. This is the account involving two women who had given birth to babies. One mother had lain on her baby in the night, causing it to die. Both claimed to be the mother of the living child. Solomon ordered a sword to be brought to him and proposed to divide the living child in two, giving half to each of the women. The true mother, demonstrating her love for the child, pleaded for Solomon to spare the child and to give it to the other woman. The other woman was willing to have the child divided. By this, Solomon knew the identity of the true mother. She did not want her child slain. The great wisdom of Solomon convinced the people that he was qualified to do justice.
The account given in the above passages, like the proposal made by God to Abraham in Genesis 22:2, reveals a supreme testing. The order by Solomon determined who the real mother was by the affection which she would show for her offspring. As God had proved Abraham, Solomon had proved the two women. The true mother demonstrated her love for her child, whereas the pretender showed no concern. It was a plan which involved the utmost proof. Solomon was making use of the wisdom which God had given him to decide which of the two women had the feelings of a mother for the living child. It was a case of judicial wisdom on Solomon’s part, but again this is no evidence that God was approving a certain form of deception.
God is infinite and man is finite. We cannot understand all that God does (Isa. 55:8, 9), but we do know that He does not approve of that which is contrary to His moral character.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 18, pp. 549-550
September 15, 1983