"And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so’" (1 Kings 22:22).In addition to the Scriptural texts, there is the commonly used hypothetical of a family in occupied France who is hiding Jews from the Nazis. When the Nazis come and ask, "Are you hiding Jews?" is it permissible to lie?
"O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived" (Jeremiah 20:7a).
"And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel" (Ezekiel 14:9).
"Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false" (2 Thessalonians 2:11).
"And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?" (James 2:25). [And to understand the context of this passage: "Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, 'Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.' But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, 'True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.' But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof" (Joshua 2:3-6).]
Now it is certainly understandable why someone seeking to live Biblically would have a bit of a struggle with this, but I think there is a way to resolve the tension. First, let us examine what Jesus Himself said is the greatest commandment:
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)The key aspect I think is found in the fact that "On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." Thus, the purpose of the law to not bear false witness is so that A) we can love God with all our heart, soul, and mind; and B) we can love our neighbor as ourselves.
Now in a perfect world, all laws would be in balance in every single situation. But we live in a fallen world with very clever, evil people. Since the rest of the law hinges upon these two greatest commands, then logically if there is a conflict between a law and the greatest law, we must obey the greatest law.
So given this principle, we can think once again of the Nazi test. Is it loving our neighbor as ourselves if we tell the Nazis where the Jews are hiding? Clearly, it is not loving the Jews we are hiding if we do that. But it is not loving the Nazis either, for if we tell them the truth we are in fact giving them the means by which they will commit a great evil by their sinning against the Jews. So clearly, lying to the Nazis, while breaking the command not to lie, is actually obeying the command to love our neighbor as ourselves, which means we would be obeying the greater commandment. I think this helps us understand the situation with Rahab as well, since Rahab's position is virtually identical to the Nazi hypothetical.
Now as I mentioned earlier, men are evil and like nothing more than to find loopholes for everything, so we have to be clear here: the situations where one of God's "lesser" commands will come into conflict with the great commandment are going to be few and far between. In fact, I daresay the majority of us will probably never find ourselves in a position where they will be in conflict. So this is not a license to pretend that we can sin as much as we want "to love our neighbor" because for this to be valid it really has to be in obedience to the great commandment (which begins with loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind).
Of course, we are still left with the question of God deceiving people by either putting the lying spirit in the mouths of the prophets or in sending a delusion. Each of these instances appear to be aspects of divine judgment upon wicked and evil people, and I think that perhaps Romans 1 helps us resolve this a little:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. ...And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (Romans 1:18, 28).If men suppress the truth, God's punishment is to give them over to their delusions. This certainly seems to be an aspect of "the punishment fitting the crime."
With this, I find all the tension in Scripture resolved...except for the verse in Jeremiah. Jeremiah, after all, was a good prophet who obeyed God. He was not one of the evil prophets in the land. He was a righteous, godly man and believed God deceived him.
It could be that Jeremiah's complaint was completely unjust, that God didn't really deceive him at all. More likely I think that Jeremiah assumed something and that assumption was wrong and God did not correct the assumption and Jeremiah felt that was deception. (Still, this aspect is admittedly speculation and I don't think the Bible is clear enough to make a firm statement as regards Jeremiah's complaint.)
But while the issue of Jeremiah's complaint is interesting, ultimately I can live with that curiosity not being answered :-)