When missionaries go to countries that are hostile to Christianity, they hide the real reason they are there. They don’t admit they are missionaries; otherwise, they would be kicked out of the country or worse. When asked, they state another reason for being in that country. There is usually truth to their “official” reason for being in that country, so they are not telling a lie, but they are not being completely honest either. Is this missionary behavior consistent with how we interpret the Bible? Let’s look at how we view a Biblical example of hiding the truth, then we will consider our consistency or lack thereof.
Abraham & Sarah lived a nomadic life and kept moving from place to place. Genesis 20 tells us that Abraham had a fear as they traveled that caused them to hide the fact that they were married. As you read the verses below, pay attention to what Abraham said. What was his fear and how did they protect themselves against that fear?
Gen. 20:1 ¶ Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar.
Gen. 20:2 Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.
Gen. 20:3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married.”
Gen. 20:4 Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless?
Gen. 20:5 “Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.”
Gen. 20:6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.
Gen. 20:7 “Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”
Gen. 20:8 ¶ So Abimelech arose early in the morning and called all his servants and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were greatly frightened.
Gen. 20:9 Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.”
Gen. 20:10 And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What have you encountered, that you have done this thing?”
Gen. 20:11 Abraham said, “Because I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.
Gen. 20:12 “Besides, she actually is my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife;
Gen. 20:13 and it came about, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is the kindness which you will show to me: everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”
Abraham was afraid that he would be killed. He and Sarah hid the fact that they were married because they thought that would protect Abraham. The conventional wisdom on this passage is that Abraham was wrong for doing this; however, what they did is not much different than what some missionaries do. Some missionaries hide the fact that they are missionaries in order to protect their lives. Abraham hid the fact that he was married in order to protect his life. Keep in mind that Abraham didn’t lie, he and Sarah actually were siblings.
Another criticism is the fact that Abraham “did this” to Sarah, but this criticism assumes that he should have known that Sarah would be taken. Verse 13 tells us that they always hid the fact that they were married. It is possible that they visited dozens of cities posing as siblings without anything bad happening to Sarah. If that was the case, then they may not have anticipated that Abimelech would take Sarah in this instance.
So are we consistent? No. On the one hand we criticize Abraham for hiding the fact that he and Sarah were married, but then we approve of missionaries who hide the fact that they are missionaries. The Bible does not give clear guidance on whether or not it is wrong to hide the truth, and my comments are not intended to take one side or the other. Instead, my comments are intended to get us to think about our consistency. Do our actions and convictions match how we interpret the Bible, or do we hold Biblical characters to a different standard than we hold ourselves?
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