Does God deceive people?

Ezekiel 14:9 says:
And if a prophet is deceived into giving a message, it is because I, the LORD, have deceived that prophet.  I will lift my fist against such prophets and cut them off from the community of Israel.  (NLT)

On the surface, this verse seems to teach that the Lord is deceptive.  This contradicts the plain statement of other verses that indicate God does not and cannot lie.  Titus 1:2 states plainly, “…God--who does not lie…”  Along with this, Hebrews 6:18 says, “…it is impossible for God to lie.”

First, let’s consider the context in which this verse occurs.

In Ezekiel 13, Ezekiel gives a message he has from the Lord against false prophets.  He says:
What sorrow awaits the false prophets who are following their own imaginations and have seen nothing at all!

4“O people of Israel, these prophets of yours are like jackals digging in the ruins.  5They have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation.  They have not helped it to stand firm in battle on the day of the LORD.  6Instead, they have told lies and made false predictions.  (Ezekiel 13:3-6, NLT)

God accuses the false prophets of following their own imaginations and prophesying when they had not heard from God at all.  He likens them to jackals, which implies they were devouring people for their own gain.  Later on in the chapter, God addresses the women prophets and says, “You bring shame on me among my people for a few handfuls of barley or a piece of bread.  By lying to my people who love to listen to lies…”  (Ezekiel 13:19, NLT)  These false prophets had not heard from God but were prophesying because there was money in it.  They would tell people what they wanted to hear.
In chapter 14, Ezekiel tells of some of the leaders of Israel who came to Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord.  However, their motives were not what they appeared to be on the surface.  These leaders did not really want to hear from the Lord.  The Lord tells Ezekiel:
3“Son of man, these leaders have set up idols in their hearts.  They have embraced things that will make them fall into sin.  Why should I listen to their requests?  4Tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: The people of Israel have set up idols in their hearts and fallen into sin, and then they go to a prophet asking for a message.  So I, the LORD, will give them the kind of answer their great idolatry deserves.  (Ezekiel 14:3-4, NLT)

This is what is behind the statement of Ezekiel 14:9.  God is giving the people what they want.  In the book, “When Critics Ask,Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe say:
God’s action was neither deceptive nor morally coercive.  Giving false prophecies is exactly what false prophets like to do.  So, there is no coercion by God in inducing them to ply their trade.  The sovereign God so ordered the circumstances that these evil men would, by their own free will, utter false prophecies that would reveal their true character and lead to their eventual doom.  It is because they did not love the truth that God gave them over to error and its eventual consequence, destruction (see 2 Thess. 2:10–11).[i]

It is this same judgment that God warns our own generation of when He says:
9The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.  11Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.  (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)

We see an example of this same kind of judgment in 1 Kings 22:19-23.
19Then Micaiah continued, “Listen to what the LORD says!  I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the armies of heaven around him, on his right and on his left.  20And the LORD said, ‘Who can entice Ahab to go into battle against Ramoth-gilead so he can be killed?’

“There were many suggestions, 21and finally a spirit approached the LORD and said, ‘I can do it!’

22“‘How will you do this?’ the LORD asked.

“And the spirit replied, ‘I will go out and inspire all of Ahab’s prophets to speak lies.’

“‘You will succeed,’ said the LORD.  ‘Go ahead and do it.’

23“So you see, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all your prophets.  For the LORD has pronounced your doom.”  (NLT)

Romans chapter one speaks of God turning men over to their own desires as an act of judgment.  As the Almighty, God can and does prevent deception.  However, He does not prevent all deception.  He restrains evil so that we are not entirely consumed.  But, at our insistence and because of our persistence, He gives us what we want.  God does not create the lie, but He allows and/or sends the deceiving spirit. 

God does not lie; He cannot lie.  However, while He pleads with us to accept the truth, He does not prevent us from eventually getting just what we want.

[i] When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992).  © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe.


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