Why Did Elisha Lie?

Question

If it is against the law of God to lie (Exod. 20:16), why did Elisha lie to the Syrian troops who were coming to capture him? 2 Kings 6:19?

Answer

Exodus 20:16 You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

2 Kings 6:19 Elisha told them, "This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for." And he led them to Samaria.

A question is often asked, "Is it ever permissible for a Christian to lie?" While God holds a very dim view of a Christian lying in a court of law (Prov 19:9; 6:16-19), his instruction in Exodus 20:16 says, that a Christian should not give "false testimony against [his] neighbor" (cf. Exod 20:17). Notice that the text says "neighbor," not "enemy." This distinction is important. Scripture gives several examples of lying/deception/delusion to an enemy (Josh 2:1-24 (Heb 11:31: Jas 2:25); Josh 8:3-8; Judges 4:18-21; 5:24-27; 1 Sam 16:1-5; 19:12-17; 20:6; 21:13; 27:10; 2 Sam 5:22-25; 15:34; 17:19-20; 1 Kings 22:19-23; 16:14-20; Jer 38:24-28; Luke 24:28; 2 Thess 2:11).

One's enemy is not always one's neighbor. So, as to the ninth commandment, as seen above one may deceive "the enemies" of the Lord that seek to take another's life. Of course, if one's enemy is not a threat, or is laying in a ditch, then the Christian is to help them - the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and treat them as a neighbor, etc.

While this argument is clearly established in scripture, what about the tenth commandment? As to the tenth commandment (Exod 20:17), the entire Promised Land was first settled by Yahweh's enemies and Israel was to take not only their land, but the enemies 'homes, wives, servants, oxen,' etc. (Exod 20:17). "The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it" (Psa 24:1). If an enemy possesses that which was the Lord's, the enemy is the thief. Israel was just repossessing what was already the Lord's. See Deuteronomy 20:10-14. We should apply the same general rules in the New Covenant, but with epoch adjustments; that is using the laws of the land "ethically" and "legally" to possess all things for God's glory.

Even Christ, though he never lied (Num 23:19), did withhold information at times - the crucifixion even fooled Satan (1 Cor 2:8). He spoke in parables for a very specific purpose that his enemies 'though seeing, would not see and hearing, they would not understand' (Matt 13:13-15). However, this is called "wisdom" not lying (Prov 21:23; cf. Prov 13:3; 17:28; 18:21)

Elisha acted biblically.

Related Topics:

Disobeying Government Authority
Must We Always Tell the Truth?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).