A READER SURPRISED ME with a Bible question a few days ago.
Here’s the question. It comes from a gent I’ll identify only as Larry, since I don’t have his permission to use his name:
I’d love to hear any of your comments on I Samuel 16….Samuel was instructed by God to anoint a son of Jesse as the new king. He balks in fear. God gets the result he needs by constructing a half-truth.
I didn’t know what Larry was talking about at first. I couldn’t imagine God telling a lie of any kind. People tell lies, generally, because they’re afraid of someone finding out the truth. It’s hard for me to imagine God being afraid.
As it turns out, God is not the one who is afraid in this story. The prophet Samuel is afraid.
God has decided to no longer back Saul as king of Israel. God has his eye on a young boy who isn’t grown-up yet. The boy is David, son of a Bethlehem shepherd named Jesse.
God tells Samuel to go down to Bethlehem and essentially pre-anoint David as Israel’s future king.
In other words, commit treason.
“I can’t do that,” said Samuel. “Saul will hear about it and kill me” (1 Samuel 16:2).
God, like an operative of the CIA, develops a cover story:
“Take a calf with you,” the Lord replied. “Tell everyone that you’ve come to offer it as a sacrifice to me, then invite Jesse to the sacrifice” (1 Samuel 16:2-3).
But we all know why Samuel is really going to Bethlehem. He’s not going there to kill a cow. He’s going there to crown a king.
Did God lie? Some Bible experts call it subterfuge, which is pretty much the same thing as a lie, with more syllables. It is certainly deception. Perhaps Larry described it best when he called it a half-truth. It was only half the truth. Samuel was going to kill a cow in Bethlehem, alright. But killing a cow in Bethlehem is not the reason he was going there.
There are Bible questions that sometimes cost me sleep. This is not one of them.
God was protecting his frightened prophet. He did it by creating a cover story that was actually authentic. Samuel killed the cow in Bethlehem. Jesse’s family helped him eat the cow. Then Samuel crowned the king. It all seems good to me.
A tougher question is what do we do with this today? Is it okay to use deception to get the job done when the deception could help protect vulnerable people?
The first example that comes to mind is from warfare: President Ronald Reagan denying to news media that a military operation was underway when, in fact, United States military forces were invading Grenada to stop a Communist coup. He lied about that 1983 Operation Urgent Fury, and he did it to protect the troops.
What about something closer to home. Let’s say you’ve got a wedding coming up. And you’ve got some relatives who expect an invitation, but you don’t want them to come because though you love them you know they are a black hole that will suck the joy out of the room.
Would God be okay with deception as a way to keep your wedding happy and your relatives feeling something other than rejected?
Would it be so bad to “forget” to send them an invitation?
Then when they call, tell them you sent it?
And then when they call once again to tell you they never got it but they are coming is it okay to tell them you are sorry – they are welcome to come to the wedding, but every seat is taken at the reception?
What do you think?
Is that how you kill a cow today?