As the new year is now well underway, and I am once again reading through the book of Genesis, I have the opportunity to reflect on the significant details of the Bible’s first book. One topic that receives a great deal of attention is deceit. Any survey of the book will reveal that deception plays a major role in the majority of the families in the first millennia of human history. Eve was deceived by the serpent in the garden of Eden (ch.3), and Cain deceitfully invited his younger brother into the fields with him, only to murder Abel (ch.4). Abram deceived the Pharaoh in Egypt (ch.12), and he was deceived by his wife, Sarai, who claimed that God had prevented her from conceiving so Abram should take her servant, Hagar, that God’s promise might be fulfilled (ch.16). Later, Abraham deceived Abimelech the king of Gerar, in an account that is almost identical to his deception in Egypt (ch.20). Lot, Abraham’s nephew, was deceived by his two youngest daughters into committing incest with them, producing two nations which would eventually be Israel’s perpetual enemies (ch.19). Isaac fled to Gerar during a famine and deceived Abimelech in a story that mirrors Abraham and Sarah’s (ch.26). Rebekah and Jacob conspired to deceive Isaac and steal the blessing that he meant to give Esau, and then Rebekah lied to Isaac to protect Jacob from Esau’s fury, sending her favored son away Padan-aram (ch.27). Jacob was then deceived by Laban, his father-in-law, when he substituted the unattractive Leah in place of her younger sister, Rachel, on their wedding night (ch.29). Later, Jacob struck a deal with Laban to receive only those sheep from the flock which were discolored, but Laban deceived Jacob by removing all those animals from his herds, and Jacob responded by doing everything in his power to manipulate the animals into producing more discolored offspring than pure ones (ch.30). When Jacob finally left Padan-aram, he claimed that Laban changed his wages 10 times in the years he worked for him (ch.31). After returning to Canaan and settling near the city of Shechem, Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, deceived the men of the city into becoming circumcised, so that they could kill them in revenge for their sister’s assault (ch.34). Jacob’s sons deceived him in claiming that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal, when in fact they had sold him to the Midianites as a slave (ch.37), and Judah, Jacob’s 4th son, was deceived by his daughter-in-law, Tamar, into fathering twin sons by her (ch.38). In Egypt, Potiphar’s wife deceived him into casting Joseph into prison, though he was innocent of any crime (ch.40), and Joseph deceived his brothers about his true identity in order to judge whether they were truly repentant over their behavior toward him (ch.42-44).
What is the lesson to take from this lengthy survey of deception and lies? That doing things purely for self-interest breeds dishonesty and distrust, which bring disastrous results, and that the sins of one generation are readily passed to the next. Certainly these examples prove that God’s word is true when the prophet says, “As you have done, it shall be done to you; Your reprisal shall return upon your own head.” (Obadiah 15) Let us strive for honesty always and seek God’s mercy for us and our children.