Did God tell Samuel to lie?


God cannot lie. It is against His very nature and being to lie (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). God has told us in His Word that it is a sin to lie (Exodus 20:16). God does not tempt us to sin (James 1:13), and He does not tempt us–let alone order us–to lie. On the other hand, God sometimes uses lying people or even lying spirits or demons to carry out His purpose (compare 1 Kings 22). This does not mean that God orders anyone to lie–but since men and demons are free moral agents and may decide to sin, God may use them to accomplish a certain goal–but the decision to sin, including to lie, is still man’s or the spirit’s decision (For a better understanding, please read our free booklet, “Angels, Demons and the Spirit World,” especially pages 46-51).

How, then, are we to understand 1 Samuel 16:1-5, where God told Samuel to anoint a son of Jesse as king, but to tell the people that he came to sacrifice to God? Let us read the entire passage in context:

“Now the LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.’ And Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me?’ But the LORD said, ‘Take a heifer with you, and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.” Then invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; you shall anoint for Me the one I name to you.’ So Samuel did what the LORD said, and went to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, ‘Do you come peaceably?’ and he said, ‘Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.’ Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice.”

God showed Samuel that He wanted young David–the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons–to be anointed king. “Then Samuel took his horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward (verse 13).”

God did not order Samuel to lie, as Samuel did not say something which was untrue. But Samuel did not say everything he knew–he kept part of the reason for his coming to himself. It is a difference to say something which is partly true and partly false–with the intent to deceive someone. When Abram, later called Abraham, told Abimelech that his wife was his sister–for fear that the people might kill him if they knew the truth–he told a complete lie (compare Genesis 12:11-13; 20:1-2). Even though Sarai, who was later called Sarah, was his half-sister, she was clearly his wife (Genesis 20:11-13)–and the Bible always refers to Sarai (later Sarah) as his wife. The Bible never calls her his sister (Genesis 12:18-19; 18:9). Further, Abram’s bad example apparently prompted Isaac to repeat his father’s mistake (compare Genesis 26:6-10).

On the other hand, Samuel did not lie–even though his initial question to God (“How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me”) shows a character weakness of human infirmity in Samuel. He should have realized that God would protect him on his mission, since He had ordered him to go. Matthew Henry’s Commentary adds the following thought: “Samuel’s faith was not so strong as one would have expected, else he would not have thus feared the rage of Saul.”

Nevertheless, God told Samuel what to do, and he came and sacrificed to God. He did not tell the people the main reason for his coming; still, what he said was true. The Nelson Study Bible comments: “God did not instruct Samuel to lie, but instead He provided a legitimate opportunity for Samuel to visit with Jesse and his family. By performing the anointing in Bethlehem while officiating at a sacrifice, Samuel would avoid arousing the suspicions of Saul.”

Similar the Ryrie Study Bible: “The Lord did not suggest deception, but simply told Samuel to take care of the anointing while he was in Bethlehem on official business.”

Matthew Henry’s Commentary adds: “God orders him to cover his design with a sacrifice: ‘Say, I have come to sacrifice’; and it was true he did, and it was proper that he should, when he came to anoint a king, chapter 11, verse 15. ” [We should also note that Samuel anointed King Saul in connection with a sacrifice (1 Samuel 9:10-27; 10:1; especially chapter 9, verse 12).]

In addition to the fact that Samuel came to offer an actual animal sacrifice, his pronouncement, in following God’s injunction, could have also been a reference to David himself–as David would become a living sacrifice with the anointment as king and the receipt of the gift of God’s Holy Spirit (compare Romans 12:1; 1 Peter 2:5).

Some may still wonder whether it does not constitute a lie and is deceitful conduct to conceal or keep secret certain information. However, the Bible makes it clear that we are NOT to violate confidentiality. If we were always obligated to tell everything we know, when asked, then we could not uphold confidentiality–even though the Bible instructs us to do so.

For instance, we read in Proverbs 11:13: “A talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.” And Proverbs 25:9 tells us: “.. do not disclose the secret to another.”

We are instructed to “conceal knowledge” (Proverbs 12:23), and Proverbs 17:9 reveals: “He who covers a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates friends.”

We also read that Jesus Christ told parables to the public at large, so that they would not understand (Matthew 13:10-15). Christ did not lie or try to deceive–but He did not want to divulge information to the people which they could not properly handle. He warns us not to cast our pearls before swine, so that they don’t turn on us and tear us in pieces (Matthew 7:6; compare Proverbs 9:7).

In conclusion, Samuel did not lie, when he concealed the fact that he had come to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the next king. What he said, however, was true–but he did not reveal, nor was he obligated to reveal, the entire purpose of his coming.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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