When Is It Not Wrong to Lie?
God of Truth, always point out to me when my words are less than totally truthful.
Read 1 Samuel 20:18–42
18 Then Jonathan said to David, “Tomorrow is the New Moon feast. You will be missed, because your seat will be empty. 19 The day after tomorrow, toward evening, go to the place where you hid when this trouble began, and wait by the stone Ezel. 20 I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I were shooting at a target. 21 Then I will send a boy and say, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to him, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you; bring them here,’ then come, because, as surely as the Lord lives, you are safe; there is no danger. 22 But if I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then you must go, because the Lord has sent you away. 23 And about the matter you and I discussed—remember, the Lord is witness between you and me forever.”
24 So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon feast came, the king sat down to eat. 25 He sat in his customary place by the wall, opposite Jonathan, and Abner sat next to Saul, but David’s place was empty. 26 Saul said nothing that day, for he thought, “Something must have happened to David to make him ceremonially unclean—surely he is unclean.” 27 But the next day, the second day of the month, David’s place was empty again. Then Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why hasn’t the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?”
28 Jonathan answered, “David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. 29 He said, ‘Let me go, because our family is observing a sacrifice in the town and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away to see my brothers.’ That is why he has not come to the king’s table.”
30 Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? 31 As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!”
32 “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father. 33 But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.
34 Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger; on that second day of the feast he did not eat, because he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David.
35 In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David. He had a small boy with him, 36 and he said to the boy, “Run and find the arrows I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. 37 When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had fallen, Jonathan called out after him, “Isn’t the arrow beyond you?” 38 Then he shouted, “Hurry! Go quickly! Don’t stop!” The boy picked up the arrow and returned to his master. 39 (The boy knew nothing about all this; only Jonathan and David knew.) 40 Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said, “Go, carry them back to town.”
41 After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most.
42 Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“Great Lord of nature, / who made us more than nature’s heirs to be, / help us to tread, with grace our souls enduring, / the road to life and immortality” (Albert Bayly, 1901–1984).
We sense the ambiguity and pain of conflicting loyalties. Jonathan and David’s commitment is not without cost. The tension between Jonathan’s ties to his friend as the future king and to his father as rejected king is dramatically portrayed in D. H. Lawrence’s play “David.” Jonathan must choose. He realizes that his soul belongs to David, but his life belongs to Saul. His ultimate choice will lead to his death (1 Sam. 31:2).
Jonathan walks a political and personal tightrope, hence this plotting and subterfuge. He lies to his father to protect David. Brought up to believe that lying was always wrong, I puzzled over these stories. Jonathan lied, David lied (1 Sam. 21:2), even God prompted people to recite only half of the truth (1 Sam. 16:2). I concluded long ago that “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Exod. 20:16, AV) meant that I should not lie in a way that harms others, nor to avoid my own responsibility. Is it OK to tell Aunt Agatha you like the ugly tie she gave you for Christmas? Was it right for an Australian army chaplain to lie so that the Japanese would imprison him with the men? Similarly, was it Jonathan’s moral obligation to protect the Lord’s anointed?
Jonathan saw more than the present reality of a homicidal father and a fugitive friend. Jonathan perceived God’s very future for Israel. David trusted that future enough to commit himself to Jonathan’s descendants, a promise he honored in the care of Jonathan’s disabled son (2 Sam. 9). Too often, our own horizons are limited to the horizon that seems humanly possible. This story encourages us to look beyond the pain and ambiguity of our circumstances so as to see the hopeful horizon of God’s future. Loyal friendship may mean giving up self-interest to risk a painful struggle, not only for the sake of a friend, but for God’s future which such self-sacrifice helps to bring about.
Life is full of human interaction, which brings about conflict. Our goal is to negotiate the inevitable conflict in such a way as to bring honor to God. How can you bring honor to God today?
Lift our eyes, O Lord, to Your horizon. May we see past pain, frustration and ambiguities the safe future that lies with You.