Rahab’s Lie

Rahab’s Lie July 31, 2023

Telling a lie for a good cause presents an ethical quandary. Rahab’s lie is upheld as a good example in most Sunday school literature. “But the woman took the two men and hid them. Then she said, ‘True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they came from. And when it was time to close the gate at dark, the men went out. Where the men went, I do not know. Pursue them quickly, for you can overtake them.” (Joshua 2:4-5)

Why Lie?

Rahab sent the men on a wild goose chase. She goes so far as to promise they can catch the spies. Her lie is part of a two-step process of saving her own neck. “I know that the LORD has given you this land, and that dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you…since I have dealt kindly with you, swear to me by the LORD that you will deal kindly with my family. Give me a sign of good faith that you will…deliver our lives from death.” (vv. 9-13) Okay, so just not her own life but those of her family.

What Else?

What else does Rahab know? Does she know the planned total destruction of the city and the inhabitants? One wonders how such a person can betray all of her people and live with herself. Matthew includes her in the lineage of Jesus. She managed to make a life for herself as an Israelite after the genocide which she helped happen with her lie. Was it easy?

Questions like these are important when we consider the actions of Biblical characters. Preachers and teachers will hold them up as examples to follow. We hear that she lies for good reason. Rahab survives by treason. In this way, Rahab is like Judas Iscariot.

An Ethical Lie?

“In wartime, truth is so precious it should always be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies.”  Winston Churchill applied to a wartime context. Deception is a weapon in this case. Perhaps Rahab’s lie fits this problem? But then can any lie be told under the cover of national security? Americans were deceived by our leaders into a disastrous war in Iraq in 2003. The trouble is not all Americans were deceived.

Understanding the lie and speaking the truth did not set any of us free. The lie required manufactured consent and acquiescence. American involvement in the First World War relied on atrocity stories to manufacture acquiescence. When the headline of a local paper pointed out the lie, I overheard two men talking about it. “I have no problem with that,” one of them said.

Today, I see on the shelf where I am working John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened. The author refused to speak the truth to Congress claiming executive privilege which obviously does not extend to book sales. If nothing in the book could be said while under oath, why believe anything in it now? It should be a question the public asks.

Returning to Truth

Lying, hearing lies, and believing lies while calling everyone else is a liar, makes returning to truth impossible. Opinions are believed to be facts. Does truth have a chance?

Truth is real. It exists. Lies happen. And there is a difference. Lies are unreal and ultimately nonexistent even when we think they are. Returning to truth takes a character trait few are willing to work on – honesty. A truly integrated personality is based on honesty. Scientific inquiry and reporting are only useful if the conclusions are honestly presented. Science as knowledge is meaningless unless it is real. People believing the lies of anti-vaxxers and other conspiracists do not understand this value in science. In fact, they are more then likely to say scientific claims are dishonest based entirely on the personality of the presenter.

Interestingly enough, scientific data make no claim to truth.  The truth comes from the person presenting the information. Truth is what it is.

Rahab’s Lie

Rahab lied and saved herself and her family from the massacre. Can it be argued a greater good came from this dishonesty? No. It cannot be said any greater good was served. Rahab is a figure in a story that requires a dramatic turn to make it interesting to the listener. How do the spies survive? A gentile priestess intervenes. Any child hearing that story appreciates the drama. Children would recognize similar dilemmas in other stories. They would not take it as permission to lie. The story of Rahab is among others that help listeners navigate the cross currents of life.

How do we react?



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