1 Samuel 16:1ff—Did God encourage Samuel to lie?

Problem: Abraham was judged by God for telling the half-truth that Sarah was his sister (she was his half sister) when she was really his wife (see comments under Gen. 12:10–20). However, in this passage God actually encourages Samuel to tell only half of the truth, namely, that he had come to offer a sacrifice, when he had also come to anoint David king as well. Two problems emerge from this. First, did not God encourage deception here? Second, why did God condemn Abraham for the same thing that He commanded Samuel to do?

Solution: The first thing to note in response to this problem is that the two situations are not the same. In Abraham’s case his so-called “half-truth” was a whole lie, for the question he was asked was, “Is Sarah your wife?” And his answer in effect was really “No. She is my sister.” By this answer to this question Abraham intentionally misrepresented the facts of the situation, which is a lie.

Samuel’s case was different. The question he was asked is “Why have you come to Bethlehem?” His answer was “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord” (1 Sam. 16:2). This was truthful in that it corresponded with the facts, namely, it is why he came and it is what he did. The fact that he also had another purpose for coming is not directly related to the question he was asked and the answer he gave, as it was in Abraham’s case. Of course, had Samuel been asked “Do you have any other purpose for coming?” then he would have had to come clean. To say “No” would have been a deception.

Secondly, concealment and deception are not the same. Samuel certainly concealed one of the purposes of his mission so as to save his life (1 Sam. 16:2). It is not always necessary (even possible) to tell all the truth. The fact that God told Samuel to conceal one of the purposes of his visit to avoid possible death does not necessarily mean he was guilty of lying. Not telling part of the truth and telling a falsehood are not necessarily the same. Secrecy and concealment are not the same as duplicity and falsehood.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.