Dealing With Deception
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” These are words that many of us spoke when we were younger when someone said something hurtful to us or about us. If we were creative we followed it up by saying, “I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” These statements sound good and they appear to provide some relief, however, they are just a defense mechanism. The truth is that words do hurt and we are not really made out of rubber. In some ways it would be nice if these words were true, but they are not. It’s no wonder Solomon wrote, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21). Among the many forms hurtful words take, lies are some of the most painful, difficult, and destructive words to be forced to face.
Sadly, our society views deception as normal, excuses are made for it, and it is even glorified. If you must lie to prevent hurting someone’s feeling, our culture gives you the green light to lie. If being deceptive helps give you an advantage in your workplace or social circles, it is rationalized. If you need to lie to achieve what you want, our world has deemed it permissible. If avoiding the truth is necessary to sidestep painful or difficult consequences, others will be understanding of it. While God’s people will strive to be a people of total truthfulness (Ephesians 4:25), we cannot control what others say concerning us or to us. With the prevalence and acceptance of lying, we will have to face people lying, manipulating, and purposefully misleading us; however, we are not alone. Consider some important things we learn from people of faith in God’s word who also had to deal with deceptive people…
When Nehemiah was making great progress in the work of rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem, there were men who opposed him through the use of lies. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem had tried their best to distract Nehemiah and upset the work he and God’s people were doing. When they realized nothing else would work, they turned to slander. Nehemiah 6:5-7 says, “In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, ‘It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king.
And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, 'There is a king in Judah.' And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.’” This message was sent by open letter which meant that anyone could read it. It named names and carried an official appearance, so many could have easily assumed the statements were true without doing any real investigation themselves. The letter contains lies about the goals of the people, the personal ambitions of Nehemiah, and their activity in Jerusalem. The lies in this letter were especially dangerous because they could have caused the people to rise up against Nehemiah and they could have caused the king to intervene and stop their work.
The lies had to hurt Nehemiah. It was an attack not only on the work he was doing, but it was personal. Nehemiah had laid his life on the line in order to do this work. He stepped up to make a difference when no one else was willing to do it. Nehemiah had given his heart and soul to building these walls. He had given himself fully to this work not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. He cared deeply about people and surely realized the threat this letter posed to everyone’s well being and work. Everything was on the line. Not only everything for which they had been laboring, but the spiritual and physical future of God’s people was on the line. Occasionally a person can keep silent when lies are spread, knowing the truth will eventually win out, but this was not one of those times. Nehemiah had to respond to the deception and manipulation being spread.
Next we read of Nehemiah’s response: “Then I sent to him, saying, ‘No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.’ For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.’ But now, O God, strengthen my hands” (Nehemiah 6:8-9). It’s amazing how few words Nehemiah needed in answering his opposition. He simply refutes the truthfulness of their statements. No evidence had to be given, no debate needed to take place, they were simply false. He also identifies the source of these lies. They made them up! They were inventions of the imaginations of his enemies. Perhaps Nehemiah was also indicating that the very things they were accusing Nehemiah of were true of themselves. They were the ones seeking personal glory and control. There was also a clear message for himself and those working with him. Those causing the opposition were trying to use fear tactics to get them to stop working. Nehemiah’s prayer shows his resilient attitude. He would not allow these evil men to make him give up. The next few verses show fear actually rising up within the hearts of those who opposed him and the wall was finished in a remarkable fifty-two days.
Like Nehemiah, there will be times in our lives in which we must face off with opposition that resorts to lies and manipulation to achieve their goal. Deceitful people will cause us problems with our jobs, in our community involvement, in our personal relationships, within our own families, and even in the spiritual work we do. It hurts, it is frustrating, and it challenges our self restraint. Do not allow evil to triumph by resorting to carnal warfare to win the battle. Learn from Nehemiah. Speak the truth in simple and clear honesty. Since truth is always consistent and lies are not, eventually the lies will be exposed. Identify the source of the deception. Perhaps it is gossip that has gone out of control, a personal grudge or vendetta, a person seeking self glory, or something else. There is a cause for the deceit and bringing that cause to light will help people see the truth. Above all, pray for strength and continue doing what is good. When good people give up because of opposition they surrender the victory to evil!
Remember the admonition of Paul as he too faced those who lied and manipulated situations to achieve a personal goal: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 1:7-9).