Is our God "economical with the truth"? This was recently suggested to me by an unbeliever.
I guess that this man was one of the worst sort of unbelievers because he really thought that he knew the Scriptures. After some discussion, however, it became obvious that this individual was not "well-versed in the Scriptures" (as he had claimed), but had that dreadfully patchy Bible knowledge which always seem to lead to the tendency to argue and to set up one's own favourite counter-theories. People (quite genuinely - I do not exaggerate!) have set up cults and sects armed with this person's abysmal scriptural knowledge. In a nutshell: they don't know how much they don't know! They have a little knowledge and become quite arrogant about it! My late father used to have a saying: "A little knowledge is a very dangerous thing!"
This man accused God of being "economical with the truth" - He claimed that our Lord is quite prepared to "adjust" the truth in His own interests, yet is apparently prepared to send human liars to hell (again, this was this guy's own reasoning). "Why does, 'Thou shalt not bear false witness...' not apply to God Himself?", my questioner asked.
He quoted two Scriptures to support his argument: Exodus 5:1-3 in the Old Testament and John 7:8-10 over in the New Testament. Not very much to support bringing such a major accusation against God!
In Exodus 5:1-3 Moses and Aaron were told by the LORD that they should tell the Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to go,
"...that they may hold a festival to Me in the desert." (Verse 1 - NIV throughout).
Then in verse 3, apparently on the Lord's authority, Moses and Aaron asked permission for the children of Israel to embark upon a,
"...three days journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God..."
It is not entirely clear where the '3 day' concept came from but this all apparently had the authority of the Lord even when it is plain that the Lord intended to completely remove the Israelites from Egypt! Wasn't this a dishonest request?
Then my questioner turned his attention to the book of John 7:8-10. Lets check this out:
"You go up to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come. Having said this, he stayed in Galilee. However, after his brothers had left for the Feast, he went also, not publically, but in secret."
So the question I was asked here was: Did Jesus break his promise [word] by going up secretly after saying he wouldn't? If so, does this mean that he lied?
Okay, let me tackle the second point first since we are now in John 7:
The answer is that Jesus timed things to perfection not to be arrested until the time was exactly right ('for me the right time has not yet come'). Jesus did not say that He was not going to this feast (which could have been lying), He said, 'I am not yet going up' or, as we might say, 'I am going up a little later.' He knew (because He knew all things) that if He had travelled with the disciples there would have been problems, and the text specifically said that he waited for the others to leave before He left. Maybe His enemies were lying in wait to spring a trap but would not recognise the disciples if they were travelling without Jesus.
As always, God does not have to tell us everything we would like to know in exactly the terms we want and when we want it. That is not lying - it is His prerogative as the sovereign God of Heaven and Earth! God has all knowledge and He often shows great mercy and love by witholding certain things from us! Think about this: God knows the day that each one of us will die! Are we not grateful that - in His mercy - He witholds this particular knowledge from us?
Now regarding Exodus 5:1-3, again, the Lord - in His perfect wisdom - only allowed Moses, Aaron and the Pharaoh to know so much - He did not tell them everything all at once - He has a perfect right to withold certain things from men and women and when we see this happening, it is always in the best interests of the people involved! Nevertheless, the part which Moses and Aaron told Pharaoh was not a lie - this is important to understand! - the Israelites were indeed being called out to "offer sacrifices to the Lord" and Exodus 8:25-26 points out why it would be wrong for them to offer such sacrifices in Egypt:
"Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, 'Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.' But Moses said, 'That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the LORD our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us? We must take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, as he commands us.'" (Exodus 8:25-27).
But, the question may well be asked, why were such sacrifices objectionable to the Egyptians?
Because the keeping of sheep and the sacrificing of lambs were abominable to the people of Egypt! Notice this, from the time of Joseph:
The Egyptians of the days of Moses and Aaron thought that keeping sheep was dishonourable.
"When Pharoah calls you in and asks, 'What is your occupation?' You should answer, 'Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.' Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians." (Genesis 46:33-34).
While the sacrifice of a lamb was highly symbolic for Jews and is especially for Christians (Christ is 'The Lamb of God'), for Egyptians it was abominable. So the sacrifices could not even begin while the Israelites were among the Egyptians because of the danger of even worse problems and persecution arising. So first of all the separation had to occur; there is great meaning in this, for - even so for new believers today: the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, means nothing unless such people are prepared to separate themselves from this evil society!
So, this initial separation for sacrifices had to commence the Israelites journey out of Egypt - this was no lie. Undeniably if you or I asked our employer for 3 days holiday when we never intended to return, that - for us - would plainly be dishonest - for we do not possess the wisdom, jurisdiction and sovereignty of God! As believers, we are plainly instructed not to lie or to be dishonest. But - for our part - we cannot question the wisdom of God in such matters which lie within His supreme wisdom, jurisdiction and sovereignty.
So that man is wrong. God is committed to truth! It is devious Satan who is the father of all liars. But our God's commitment to truth does not mean - and never has meant - that He is some sort of cosmic 'gossip' who tells everything He knows to every angel and to every human being whenever they want to know it - that would just be irresponsibility and that is not within His character.
"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our children for ever. that we may follow all the words of this law." (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Robin A. Brace, 2006.