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Is Jeremiah lying here? I know that Jeremiah had previously discussed not being sent back to Jonathan's house in Jeremiah 37:20, but that is not the conversation that the officials seem to be asking about in Jeremiah 38:24-27.

Jeremiah 38:24-27 (NET):

Then Zedekiah told Jeremiah, “Do not let anyone know about the conversation we have had. If you do, you will die. 25 The officials may hear that I have talked with you. They may come to you and say, ‘Tell us what you said to the king and what the king said to you. Do not hide anything from us. If you do, we will kill you.’ 26 If they do this, tell them, ‘I was pleading with the king not to send me back to die in the dungeon of Jonathan’s house.’” 27 All the officials did indeed come and question Jeremiah. He told them exactly what the king had instructed him to say.

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2 Answers 2

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Yes, it appears from the description that Jeremiah was not completely honest with the officials. They probably were asking about Jeremiah's prophecies, and he did not tell them what they wanted to know. Whether this is technically lying depends on exactly what questions were asked and exactly what answers Jeremiah gave, but it's pretty clear that Jeremiah gave them a misleading impression at the least.

Now let's look at the circumstances. The 'officials' are enforcers of an occupying power (Babylon) which has conquered Israel, and they are trying to kill Jeremiah, whose only crime is speaking the word of the Lord. To insist that you must tell the truth to them at all times in those circumstances is the equivalent of insisting that a French Christian in the 1940s always tell the truth when the Nazis ask if there are Jews hidden in their house. Some would say that is exactly what they should do, but not everyone would.

We also have to remember that not everything that is done in the Bible is a perfect example. The people in the Bible are real, and they make mistakes and commit sins - even the ones that have the favour of God. Even if we conclude that Jeremiah did lie, and that the circumstances don't excuse it, that does not mean that lying is OK.

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It appeared that Jeremiah was not committing an offense in the sight of God, by not disclosing the whole truth to the officials, who were seeking his life. Jeremiah's account is similar to Samuel's (1 Samuel 16:1-5). In fact, it was the Lord Himself who advised Samuel not to tell the whole truth in that situation:

The LORD said to Samuel, "... Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons." And Samuel said, "How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me." And the LORD said, "Take a heifer with you and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.'" (1 Samuel 16:1-2)

In his discussion of the Ninth Commandment (Systematic Theology - Volume III, Chapter XIX The Law), theologian Charles Hodge writes,

Examples of this kind of deception are numerous in the Old Testament. Some of them are simply recorded facts, without anything to indicate how they were regarded in the sight of God; but others ... received either directly or by implication the divine sanction.

... the principle [is] that a higher obligation absolves from a lower [one]. It is a dictate even of the natural conscience. It is evidently right to inflict pain in order to save life. It is right to subject travellers to quarantine, although it may grievously interfere with their wishes or interests, to save a city from pestilence.

The question ... is not whether it is ever right to do wrong, ... nor is the question whether it is ever right to lie.

The obligation to speak the truth is a very solemn one; and when the choice is left a man to tell a lie or lose his money, he had better let his money go. On the other hand, if a mother sees a murderer in pursuit of her child, she has a perfect right to mislead him by any means in her power, because the general obligation to speak the truth is merged or lost, for the time being, in the higher obligation.

(Note that the quotes do not necessarily appear in sequential order in the original source.)

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