While all sins are condemned in Scripture, lying is characterized as particularly evil in that its source is Satan, the Father of Lies (Jn 8:44). Lying destructiveness flows from its perversion of the truth. In this way, lying distorts reality and thereby endangers people both in the natural and eternal ways. In light of Scripture’s emphasis on truth telling, what are we to make of 1 Samuel 16:1-2?
The situation is quite simple. God is angry with Saul’s failure as a king and has commanded Samuel to anoint another as king. Samuel is understandably afraid as he knows that if Saul hears of his anointing another, he could be killed for treason. What is interesting is God doesn’t just say “Be brave….”. Rather, God gives Samuel an excuse. Specifically, God tells Samuel to say that he is going to Bethlehem to offer a sacrifice. Now insofar as Samuel did offer a sacrifice in Bethelehem, he was not telling a lie. But in light of the fact that his primary purpose was to annoint, whom we later learn is, David, the question is, was Samuel’s statement deceptive in a morally culpable sense?
My purpose for raising this issue is to have readers ponder the ethical import for us today. If God’s advice was not evil (and I don’t think it was) what do we learn about the real meaning of lying? Is there a difference between morally evil deception and not telling someone the entire story? I will look forward to your responses.
Stephen M. Vantassel