This devotional is about 1 Samuel 20.
Jonathan believed his father when Saul told him that David would not be put to death, as we read yesterday in 19:6. We do not know how much time passed between Saul’s assurance in 19:6 and the rest of the events of chapter 19, but we do know that Saul did not keep his commitment to Jonathan to stop hunting David.
According to today’s reading in chapter 20:2, Jonathan was unaware of Saul’s attempts on David’s life in chapter 19 that followed his conversation with Saul in 19:1-6. Here in chapter 20, David concocted a plan to reveal to Jonathan whether Saul was intent on killing David still or if Saul would be faithful to his word to Jonathan.
Although David was supposed to join Saul for a New Moon feast (v. 5a), David hid instead (v. 5b). When Saul asked Jonathan where David was, Jonathan was instructed to lie and tell Saul that David was attending a family ritual instead (vv. 6-7). Both David and Jonathan expected Saul’s response to this ruse to reveal definitively whether Saul was intent on killing David or not (vv. 8-18). Note that the text is clear: Jonathan’s answer to Saul was a lie; there was no sacrifice for Jesse’s family. Instead, David was hiding in a field (v. 5b, 24a). As good as their motives were, Jonathan and David created a plan that required Jonathan to lie.
So what do we make of a passage like this?
First of all, the Bible commands us to speak truthfully (Eph 4:25). God is truth and, as his people, we should be committed to truth as well. Most of our lies are designed to benefit us in some other unrighteous way. We tell lies to manipulate someone else into doing what we want them to do, or we lie to cover up something else that we’ve done that is evil or we lie to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings. That last one is especially insidious because we think we’re doing it for them—to avoid hurting their feelings, but the truth is that we tell “little white lies” not for them but for ourselves–to get that person to like us.
Jonathan and David lied here to protect David’s life. And this is also why Rahab lied when she was protecting the spies. These are the only instances in scripture were someone lied and was not condemned or punished for it. The lie was told to prevent an even greater sin namely, the unrighteous taking of human life. These lies were told to PREVENT a greater evil not to cover up an evil or to manipulate someone for personal advantage or to get approval from someone unrighteously. That’s what makes them different than most of the lies we tell.
It would have been better and wiser if Jonathan and David could have devised a test of Saul’s intent without lying. It would have been better because there could have been severe consequences for both of them if their lies were discovered. You don’t lie to the king and just get away with it easily. So lying was not the best course of action in this instance.
But since their lie was designed to protect David’s life, God was merciful to them and, I believe, did not count this as a sin against them. Would it ever be appropriate for us to lie? Based on this passage, the only instance where I believe it would be justifiable is if you or I lied to save someone’s life—our own or someone else. If a man with murderous intent tries to get you to expose a victim and lie to save that person’s life, passages like this one lead me to believe that God will not condemn you. Any other reason for lying, as far as I can tell, is sin.