Study Guide

Book of Genesis Lies and Deceit

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Lies and Deceit

But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (NRSV 3:4-5)

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (KJV 3:4-5)

In the history of biblical interpretation, the serpent is the quintessential deceiver. But didn't God deceive a little, too? He told them that they would die the day they ate from the tree. Yet he keeps them alive a bit longer. Why? Or do we need to read God's words differently?

Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" And the Lord said, "What have you done? Listen; your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground!" (NRSV 4:9-10)

And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. (KJV 4:9-10)

Here goes Cain, trying to lie to God. That doesn't go over so well. But why not? Is it because God is all-knowing? Is he just setting Cain up? Or does God only know about the murder because the blood itself fills him in?

When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, "I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife'; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account." (NRSV 12:11-13)

And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account." (KJV Genesis 12:11-13)

Abraham's little fib actually works out pretty well for him. Not only does he come out of Egypt alive, but he leaves as a super-rich man. And hey, if it worked once, why not give it another go: Abraham tells this very same fib again in 20:2. This time, he argues that—technically—Sarah is his half-sister. We can't decide if that makes it better or worse.

When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, "She is my sister"; for he was afraid to say, "My wife," thinking, "or else the men of the place might kill me for the sake of Rebekah, because she is attractive in appearance." (NRSV 26:7)

And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon. (KJV 26:7)

Like father, like son. Isaac takes a page out of his dad's playbook and fibs to Abimelech that Rebekah is his sister. It turns out pretty well for Isaac, too. Apparently lying leads to safety and wealth in Genesis. Who knew?

Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. (NRSV 27:15-16)

And Rebekah took goodly raiment of her eldest son Esau, which werewith her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son: And she put the skins of the kids of the goats upon his hands, and upon the smooth of his neck. (KJV 27:15-16)

No, it's not Halloween. Rebekah is disguising Jacob as Esau so that he can steal Esau's blessing from poor ol' blind Isaac. Seems pretty low. But remember, Rebekah is only trying to follow what she thinks is God's will (see 26:23).

But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (NRSV 29:23)

And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her. (KJV 29:23)

Here's the sitch. Laban's supposed to give Rachel to Jacob, who agreed to serve seven years for her. Instead, he gives him Leah. This is what we call a bed trick—and it's all over literature.

Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel's saddle, and sat on them. Laban felt all about in the tent, but did not find them. And she said to her father, "Let not my Lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me." So he searched, but did not find the household gods. (NRSV 31:34-35)

Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel's furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not. And she said to her father, Let it not displease my Lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched, but found not the images. (KJV 31:34-35)

"Hey Teach, I can't participate in gym class today. The custom of the women is upon me." It's the oldest trick in the book and Laban falls right for it. Good thing, too. Otherwise, Rachel would've been dead (see 31:32).

Only on this condition will we consent to you: that you will become as we are and every male among you be circumcised. Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live among you and become one people. (NRSV 34:15-16)

But in this will we consent unto you: If ye will be as we be, that every male of you be circumcised; Then will we give our daughters unto you, and we will take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people. (KJV 34:15-16)

The brothers promise that Shechem can marry Dinah if he and every other Hivite are circumcised. Shechem agrees, and while he and his posse are recovering from the procedure, the brothers slaughter the entire village. That's a little more than a white lie.

Then they took Joseph's robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood. They had the long robe with sleeves taken to their father, and they said, "This we have found; see now whether it is your son's robe or not." (NRSV 37:31-32)

And they took Joseph's coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood; And they sent the coat of many colours, and they brought it to their father; and said, This have we found: know now whether it be thy son's coat or no. (KJV 37:31-32)

This is more than a lie—it's total machination. Joseph's brothers take the prized coat that his father gave him, dip it in blood, and then bring it back to his father, pretending that Joseph is dead. Just think about that for a second.

She put off her widow's garments, put on a veil, wrapped herself up, and sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. She saw that Shelah was grown up, yet she had not been given to him in marriage. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a prostitute, for she had covered her face. (NRSV 38:14-15)

And she put her widow's garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. (KJV 38:14-15)

Is it possible that lying is the only right and proper way for a woman to act justly in a man's world?

"The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to insult me; but as soon as I raised my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside." (NRSV 39:17-18)

The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me: And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out. (KJV 39:17-18)

Or so Potiphar's wife tells her husband. In reality, she was the one who tried to force Joseph into the sack. What purpose does this passage serve? What does Potiphar's wife add to the mix?

When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke harshly to them. "Where do you come from?" he said. They said, "From the land of Canaan, to buy food." (NRSV 42:7)

And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food. (KJV 42:7)

What a perfect set-up. Joseph's brothers have no idea who he is—he totally plays it up—and it allows Joseph to toy with his brothers and get some payback for selling him into slavery. Plus, it creates all sorts of wonderful ironies. And we love ironies.

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