Are you grappling with a difficult verse in the Bible? And are you looking for a short, easy-to-read answer that really makes sense without explaining away the verse?
Hard Sayings of the Bible is the handy reference book you need. Here you will find explanations of over five hundred of the most troubling verses to test the minds and hearts of Bible readers. Four seasoned scholars, all with a notable gift for communicating with people in the pew, take you behind the scenes to find succinct solutions to a wide variety of Bible difficulties, ranging from discrepancies about numbers to questions about God's justice.
Visit this page for a daily excerpt from IVP's Hard Saying series.
Could the God of truth be guilty of sponsoring or condoning falsehood? Some have charged just that. The passages that are raised to back this charge are 1 Kings 22:20-23, 2 Chronicles 18:18-22, Jeremiah 4:10, 20:7 and Ezekiel 14:9.
Such a charge is possible only if one forgets that many biblical writers dismiss secondary causes and attribute all that happens directly to God, since he is over all things. Therefore, statements expressed in the imperative form of the verb often represent only what is permitted to happen. Accordingly, when the devils begged Jesus to let them enter the swine, he said, "Go" (Mt 8:31). This did not make him the active sponsor of evil; he merely permitted the demons to do what they wanted to do. In a similar manner, Jesus commanded Judas, "What you are about to do, do quickly" (Jn 13:27). But Jesus did not become the author of the evil perpetrated on himself.
God can be described as deceiving Ahab only because the biblical writer does not discriminate between what someone does and what he permits. It is true, of course, that in 1 Kings 22 God seems to do more than permit the deception. Without saying that God does evil that good may come, we can say that God overrules the full tendencies of preexisting evil so that the evil promotes God's eternal plan, contrary to its own tendency and goals.
Because Ahab had abandoned the Lord his God and hardened his own heart, God allowed his ruin by the very instrument Ahab had sought to prostitute for his own purposes, namely, prophecy. God used the false declarations of the false prophets that Ahab was so enamored with as his instruments of judgment.
That God was able to overrule the evil does not excuse the guilty prophets or their gullible listener. Even though the lying spirit had the Lord's permission, this did not excuse the prophets who misused their gifts. They fed the king exactly what he wanted to hear. Their words were nothing less than echoes of the king's desires. Thus the lying prophets, the king and Israel were equally culpable before God. The responsibility had to be shared. These prophets spoke "out of their own minds."
This principle is further confirmed when we note that the passage in question is a vision that Micaiah reveals to Ahab. God is telling Ahab, "Wise up. I am allowing your prophets to lie to you." In a sense, God is revealing further truth to Ahab rather than lying to him. If God were truly trying to entrap Ahab into a life-threatening situation, he would not have revealed the plan to him! Even so, Ahab refuses to heed God's truth, and he follows his prophets' advice.
The other two passages used to charge God with falsehood are easier to understand. In Ezekiel 14:9 we have another case of God allowing spiritual blindness to take its course. The biblical writer merely attributes the whole process of hardening of heart followed by judgment as falling within God's sovereignty. The strong statement of Jeremiah 20:7 is a complaint by the prophet, who had mistaken the promise of God's presence for the insurance that no evil or derision would come on him or hisministry. However, these verses cannot be cited as the basis for giving any credence to the charge that God is deceptive.
Another instance where God sent an evil spirit was in Judges 9:23. There, one of Gideon's sons, Abimelech, acted as king for three years over the city of Shechem. But after those three years, God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem so that they "acted treacherously against Abimelech."
In this case, the "evil spirit" was the breaking out of discord and treachery against Abimelech. Once again, under the direction of his providence, but not in any positive agency, God allowed jealousies to arise, which produced factions and in turn became insurrections, civil discontent and ultimately bloodshed. God remained sovereign in the midst of all the evil that ensued--much of it deservedly happening to those who deliberately refused the truth and preferred their own version of reality.