Does God admit to lying in Ezekiel 14:9?

(SeanO) #1

@Jolene_Laughlin brought up this question in another thread and I thought it ought to be addressed in a thread of its own.

Ezekiel 14:9 - And if the prophet is enticed to utter a prophecy, I the LORD have enticed that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and destroy him from among my people Israel.

An Initial Response

God permits people to believe a lie whenever they commit idolatry. Romans 1 says God gives people over to degrading passions and a depraved mind when they reject the knowledge of God. In this case God clearly says that he is answering them in keeping with their idolatry.

Consider this Psalm - it is not one you hear preached often, but it is part of the character of God. God is not lying - He is dealing justly with those who have surrendered themselves to idolatry.

Psalms 18:26 - to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd

Ezekiel 14:4-5 - Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.

Here are some further resources to consider. Please let’s take this discussion deeper. The Lord Jesus grant us wisdom in this matter.

“God does ordain that lying happen as part of his judgment on the guilty”

“God permits deceptive forces to enter someone’s life if they are COMMITTED to deception already, and if they have demonstrated a culpable history of that destructive dishonesty (and so deserving censure–hopefully corrective…cf. 2 Tim 2.25-26). But even with that permission, God often sends a counter-balancing message of truth–alerting the recipient of the danger of deception. What is important for ALL OF US to realize is that–Christian or non-Christian–our basic attitude of openness and honesty to the ‘data’ around us has HUGE consequences for our future access to truth.”

(Jolene Laughlin) #2

Thanks for your response, @SeanO. Even with both of these explanations, I feel that this poses a problem for us as Christians. It seems like our answer to this is essentially “Well, God is God, so different rules apply to him.” In essence, the underlying statement is that “God does not lie himself, but he uses the lies of others to advance his cause.” I have thought about this in relation to the passage in Micaiah as well. On the face of it, this indicates that God finds a certain amount of usefulness in sin, and it seems unjust.

It also affects the way we understand the character of God. He hates sin and lying and condemns it himself, but he has an arsenal of tools, including lying spirits, that he can utilize to do his dirty work for him? If he has created and has lying spirits that work on his behalf, I don’t see how we can claim that he is not, at the very least, condoning, if not outright commissioning, a lie. We are held guilty before the law if we commission a crime, even if we did not participate in the crime itself. How is this double standard acceptable? As a Christian, I can fall back on the idea that “God is good, just, and pure, and I don’t know how it all works, but I do trust that he is right in doing it.” But it’s really hard to explain that to a skeptic without making God sound capricious, and making faith look like it really is just a blind acceptance of religious teaching without using reason or logic.

I reluctantly go here, but it does seem to go back to the great tension between the “responsibility of man/sovereignty of God” question, and the arguments regarding free will and predestination. As someone else mentioned in the original thread, the Bible says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. There is also the troubling passage in Matthew 13, which quotes from Isaiah:

11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:

‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear;17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

Are there some souls that are blocked from salvation, or condemned to damnation, no matter what, for purposes that, for now, only God knows? And if so, what about God’s deep concern, found over and over in the Bible, for justice and fairness?

(SeanO) #3

@Jolene_Laughlin Thank you for your thoughts. It is definitely challenging to struggle with these passages when we feel so much dissonance between what we are commanded and what it appears God is doing. But I think you are misunderstanding the nature both of parables and of the way that God deals with mankind. Let us return to Psalms 18:26:

Psalms 18:26 - to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd

As the below article explains, Jesus’ parables had two types of people in the audience - those with a good heart (the pure) and those with a bent/evil heart (the devious). For the one they caused a desire to know more and become a disciple. For the other they resulted in an even further hardening of the heart. The same principle applies with Pharaoh.

"Jesus’ explanation of his use of parables reveals that they had a two-fold purpose:

  1. To harden the hearts of some who heard.
  2. To cause others to seek out Jesus and ask him what he meant

Every time he spoke, he was simultaneously excluding some and including others. Some, after hearing some of his particularly difficult teachings, turned away and “no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). But others were drawn to him. And the fascinating thing is that when people drew near, when they wanted to understand more, when they asked him to explain, as the disciples did, he was happy to oblige.

Isaiah 6

Now, to understand what is going on in Isaiah 6, you have to have read Isaiah chapters 1-5 to know who Isaiah is describing. Are they good people who would hear a parable and want to be a disciple or are they wicked people who would be further hardened?

Let’s look at Isaiah 1 to find out:

Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth!
For the Lord has spoken:
“I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its master,
the donkey its owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”

Woe to the sinful nation,
a people whose guilt is great,
a brood of evildoers,
children given to corruption!
They have forsaken the Lord;
they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him.

Clearly Isaiah is speaking in response to a people who have already turned in their hearts from God. God is not saying some people are predestined for anything, but rather that those who reject God in their hearts will only grow further from God and more hardened even when exposed to truth.

Romans 1:28 - And even as they refused to have God in [their] knowledge, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting…

Jesus quoting this passage in Matthew implies that the people in his audience, similar to ancient Israel, were also hard of heart and had rejected God. In fact, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem’s hardened heart and predicts the destruction of the city in the Gospels. Jesus came to His people and yet His people killed Him - the son of the vineyard owner came to the vineyard and was murdered. Certainly this was a people who had hardened their hearts to God. Jesus’ audience, in that respect, was like the audience of Isaiah.

Does that make more sense? What you have to understand about a skeptic is that they want the Bible to be false. There is a nuance in the Bible’s teaching regarding parables and the fate of those who have rejected the knowledge of God that is not easy to understand even for believers. Why would a skeptic go to the trouble of taking the time to actually dig deeper and understand that God is responding to the condition of the heart of the individual? It is a person’s heart that determines their response to God - whether pure or deceptive.

(Jolene Laughlin) #4

Thanks, Sean. First of all, it occurs to me yet again how very much I appreciate this forum, and all of you on here who are willing to wrestle with the big questions with us. It’s one of the only places where I could say things out loud that would be considered heresy and blasphemy if I said them to many Christians of my acquaintance!

Yes, your response is helpful. It’s so easy to get bogged down on the surface - the question and not the questioner - and I forget to step away and look at the bigger picture. I appreciate your comment here, very much. This in particular:

“As the below article explains, Jesus’ parables had two types of people in the audience - those with a good heart (the pure) and those with a bent/evil heart (the devious). For the one they caused a desire to know more and become a disciple. For the other they resulted in an even further hardening of the heart. The same principle applies with Pharaoh.”

I always did find it interesting, and somewhat hilarious, actually, in the case of Micaiah (that’s who I meant in the earlier post. Was supposed to go back and correct it!), that he lied…partially because he was specifically told by Ahab’s man to lie. But when the king said “Don’t lie to me - tell me the truth” the prophet responded with the truth, devastating as it was. But even then, knowing the truth, he went ahead with his own plan anyway. That speaks a lot to this question, and well demonstrates what you said here: “It is a person’s heart that determines their response to God - whether pure or deceptive.”

I have some work that is due by tonight, but I will read the linked article and get back to you about. Thanks again!

(SeanO) #5

@Jolene_Laughlin Of course - I have experienced all of these same doubts and struggles myself and been profoundly touched as I wrestled with God and His Word and found the truth of Scripture to be complex and nuanced enough to handle my toughest questions. I now find doubt and frustration with God or His Word to be an exciting opportunity to cry out to God with all of my emotions and confusions and then patiently wait as long as needed to see God bring clarity into the confusion. Privileged to wrestle with you through the ‘solid food’ of God’s Word and look forward to continued conversation.

(Rob Lundberg) #6

We know that God does not, will not or cannot do anything outside of His nature. I see another similar situation in 1 Kings 22 with the prophet Micaiah prophesying doom against Ahab at Ramoth Gilead when all of his false prophets were prophesying victory. With reference to this passage in Ezekiel, Norman Geisler in the book When Critics Ask states,

“God’s action was neither deceptive nor morally coercive. Giving false prophecies is exactly what false prophets like to do. So, there is no coercion by God in inducing them to ply their trade. The sovereign God so ordered the circumstances that these evil men would, by their own free will, utter false prophecies that would reveal their true character and lead to their eventual doom. It is because they did not love the truth that God gave them over to error and its eventual consequence, destruction” (Norman L. Geisler and Thomas A. Howe, When Critics Ask : A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992), 284).

Interesting that God seconds the motion of those who want to go against His will and His Word.

(SeanO) #7

@roblundberg Thank you for sharing. You know, in a way I feel like Geisler is sidestepping the actual problem - which is that God sent a lying spirit. This action makes God seem to be complicit in deception. And Geisler does not directly address the problem.

We see something similar happen to King Saul in I Samuel 16:14 -

I Samuel 16:14 - “Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.”

Or let us consider King David and his census - I Chronicles 21:1 says that ‘satan rose up against Israel’, but 2 Samuel 24:1 says the Lord causes David to take the census.

And then there is the book of Job - where we see satan come before God and receive permission to afflict Job.

And then we have this passage in I Kings 22:

First - Micaiah Tells Ahab the Truth

The king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?”

Then Micaiah answered, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’”

Then God Sends the spirit to the False Prophets

“So now the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.”

How to understand these passages?

I think that if we take all of these accounts together, we begin to understand something about the ancient Hebrew mind. In their mind, evil spirits cannot act apart from God’s allowance. We even see in the New Testament that clearly the evil spirits must obey Jesus. And yet when the evil spirits act God still works all things for the good of His people and orchestrates history in order that men might seek Him. So is it God or the evil spirit that is acting?

And I think this is the key - in the ancient Hebrew mind, it was both! But there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • in the case of Saul and Ahab, the evil spirit was sent in judgment because they had rejected God and God had rejected them as King over Israel
  • in the case of Job, God was demonstrating the righteousness of His servant
  • in the case of David, God was testing his heart
  • all of these men had access to truth and they chose to reject it

We see in Deuteronomy 13 that it explicitly says that God tests the hearts of men in this manner:

Deuteronomy 13:1-3 - If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.

2 Chronicles 32:31 - But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.

So what we see is this - God may send an evil/deceiving spirit either to test men’s hearts or in judgment on men with evil hearts, but God never never does so without first revealing the truth. God does not lie, but He does test men’s hearts and bring judgment on evil men.

What are your thoughts?

God’s regret
God’s regret
(Rob Lundberg) #8

@SeanO Great points. This is a matter of God working behind the scenes, with the question of God’s actions as to how and what He does. The question here is about whether God sending or permitting the deceptive spirits to do His will. I need to dig into the Hebrew to work this one a little more. In this case like the deceptive spirits prophesying affirming Ahab going to battle, it was judgment time for Ahab who was to fall in battle. So whether God sent them to carry out that judgment is another thought in this.

(Jimmy Sellers) #9

I agree but how do you differentiate this from a type of dualism, the eternal struggle. I ask because I am doing a (junior league) side study on sin and I am currently sourcing Jewish writing on how Jews viewed sin both from the ANE Hebrews to the Rabbinic Jews of the 1st and 2nd century. I found some interesting thoughts on this and I do plan to post it at some point but this post based on @Jolene_Laughlin question is touching on how did the ANE Hebrews deal with evil? Hint not like Westerners.

(SeanO) #10

@Jimmy_Sellers I think the distinguishing element is that in Christianity and Judaism God is ultimate - Goodness is ultimate. Evil is derivative and all evil spirits will one day be judged and ceased to exist. But for a time, such evil does exist and God still uses it to fulfill His purposes. Unlike in dualism there is no equal counterpart to God - He is holy - He is.

(Jimmy Sellers) #11

Again I agree but does this mean that sin is baked in to this world? I ask because ANE took evil for granted, part of life. There are even some Rabbis who would suggest that without sin in the world people won’t work. No need if nothing needs improvement. Interestingly this ties into Hugh Ross doctrine of decay ( 2nd laws). He contends that this drives humans to a need for relief because regardless of our efforts to stop decay by innovation or invention we cannot stop it, as he sees it, decay is the ever present remind of sin. Just some thoughts.

(SeanO) #12

@Jimmy_Sellers No - I do not think sin is baked in. Sin cannot be baked in - because sin is a distortion of something that is good. I do not think that the 2nd law of thermodynamics is inherently evil.

I think there is a good reason why ANE took evil for granted - God does not explain to us the origin of all evil agents. Consider satan - the snake shows up in the Garden. Why did the snake have access? Where did the snake come from? Or in Job - what is the accuser doing in the throne room?

The OT clearly portrays God as ultimate and everything else, including evil, as derivative. However, there is also an element of mystery and dualism is the result of humans trying to resolve that mystery with a lack of information.