The Editor’s Desk by Shawn McMullen
When it comes to honest communication, God leaves no wiggle room. “Do not lie. Do not deceive one another” (Leviticus 19:11), he commanded the Israelites. Paul warned the church, “Do not lie to each other” (Colossians 3:9).
Even so, we seem to find ways to practice deceit that, if not acceptable, are at least tolerable. We may distinguish between real lies and white lies, but God doesn’t see it that way. To him there is truth, and there is deceit.
It’s a matter of obedience. We tell the truth because God demands it. It’s a matter of integrity—living so that others can trust us without question. It’s also a matter of influence. Because deceit invariably involves a second party, we can’t lie without affecting others. The Old Testament provides a pointed example.
When called by God to leave his country, his people, and his father’s household, Abraham (then called “Abram”) proved to be the model of obedience. But when he took his family to Egypt to avoid a famine, he soon resorted to deceit in order to protect himself. He said to his wife Sarah (then “Sarai”), “I know what a beautiful woman you are . . . . Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you” (Genesis 12:11-13). The lie got Abraham in hot water with Pharaoh, who had taken Sarah into his palace, but ultimately Abraham and his family made it out of Egypt alive.
When Abraham settled in Gerar some time later, he resorted to the same deceptive tactic. Perhaps he figured if it worked once, it would work again. He told the people of the land that Sarah was his sister (20:2), and once again she was taken into the king’s palace. Having been warned by God directly this time, King Abimelech confronted Abraham, who found a way to soften the force of his deceit by explaining that Sarah was, in fact, his half-sister. But a truth half-told is still a lie. He had said nothing about Sarah being his wife.
It seems reasonable to conclude that Abraham told the stories of his deceit to Isaac as he grew up. When as an adult he took his wife Rebekah to the land of Gerar to avoid a famine (the same region where his father earlier propagated the lie), Isaac followed in his father’s footsteps and told the men of Gerar Rebekah was his sister (26:7).
Here’s where successive generations of deceit can lead to greater corruption. Abraham told a half-truth to protect himself, as Sarah really was his half-sister. Isaac followed his father’s example but had no half-truth to tell, so he resorted to a total lie.
Did the mere telling of the story put the suggestion into Isaac’s head? Did the fact that his father got away with the lie on two separate occasions make it seem more acceptable? We may not know what led to the lies, but we know both men were wrong to deceive—simply because God says so.
The failures of Abraham and Isaac show us that even good people are capable of lying, and that deception affects and influences others—both presently and in the long run. More important, they remind us that from God’s perspective, honesty is always the best policy. Always.