Does God Deceive? -- By: Robert B. Chisholm, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 155:617 (Jan 1998)
Article: Does God Deceive?
Author: Robert B. Chisholm, Jr.

Does God Deceive?

Robert B. Chisholm Jr.

* Robert B. Chisholm Jr. is Professor of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.

The Bible repeatedly affirms that God is truthful and does not lie or tempt people to sin. The mercenary prophet Balaam informed Balak, “God is not a man, that he should lie” (Num. 23:19).1 Samuel said to Saul, “The Glory of Israel does not lie” (1 Sam. 15:29). David called Him “the God of truth” (Ps. 31:5), while the apostle Paul stated without qualification that He cannot lie (Titus 1:2). According to James, “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (1:13).

Despite these affirmations, the Bible sometimes describes God as deceiving individuals and/or as enticing them to commit self-destructive and even sinful acts. Micaiah’s vision of the heavenly assembly pictures God instigating and authorizing the deception of King Ahab (1 Kings 22:19–22). The Lord initiated the heavenly meeting with the question, “Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth-Gilead and going to his death there?” (v. 20). As the scene unfolded, a spirit volunteered to entice Ahab by being “a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets” (v. 22). Putting His stamp of approval on the proposal, the Lord commissioned the spirit to carry out the assigned task. In summarizing what he had seen, the prophet stated flatly, “The Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours” (v. 23).

In a similar vein Jeremiah attributed the false prophets’ message to divine deception. He lamented, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, how completely you have deceived this people and Jerusalem by saying, ‘You will have peace,’ when the sword is at our throats” (Jer. 4:10). In Ezekiel 14:9 the Lord made clear that a prophet who compromises the faith and cooperates with idolaters is the object of divine deception. “And if the prophet is enticed to utter a prophecy, I the Lord have enticed that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and destroy him from among my people Israel.” According to 2 Samuel 24:1 the Lord’s anger against Israel prompted Him to entice David to ...

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