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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Christian journalist: Liar, liar pants on fire, #4 (1 Samuel 16)

1 Samuel 16:1b-4a. “The Lord said to Samuel, ‘. . . .Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.’ But Samuel said, ‘How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me.’ The Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.’ Samuel did what the Lord said.”

Exegesis and Application

This incident makes clear that it is proper under certain circumstances to conceal or withhold part of the truth. Samuel is required by God to give a statement which does not disclose the main purpose of his visit to Bethlehem. There is suppression or evasion of the most important facts relevant to Samuel’s mission to Jesse. And it is all under the direction of God Himself. What this incident teaches is concealment is not lying to God.

What I find interesting about this and similar biblical passages is that God is instructing heroes in the Christian faith to conceal the whole truth from others. These are not marginal figures in biblical history: Abraham, Jacob, Samuel, Elisha, and Jeremiah. There are other examples (i.e., Rahab) but the Lord uses key figures in our faith to show the nature of truth-telling so that we might be better instructed in how to please Him.
We must notice in this report that Samuel does not tell a lie. There is no untruth spoken here. Only partial truth. This is a biblical distinction that must be maintained. John Murray eloquently argues that “this is not a fine distinction; it is a rather broad distinction. But if we wish to call it a fine distinction, we must remember that the biblical ethic is built upon fine distinctions.” In short, we need to be biblical in our thinking.
Knowing when to speak and when to keep silent is a prominent Old Testament wisdom theme in Job and Proverbs. Confidentiality and secrecy are biblical values that are justly guarded by silence.  The biblical demand for truthfulness does not mean that everyone has a right to know what we know. Samuel could selectively tell the truth under the circumstances and still be faithful to his God.

1) Christian journalist, in the preparation of your stories you do not need to disclose all the information you have to other sources. Nor do you need to put everything you know into the story. The biblical view of truth-telling is circumstantial and you are right to withhold some information in certain circumstances. The challenge for the journalist is to know when to withhold what information and from whom.

2) Christian journalist, you are not permitted to lie, to speak falsely. So you need to be clever and thoughtful to be faithful to our Lord in these matters.

3) Christian journalist, notice that God promises to be present during such times. He tells Samuel to follow His lead. As you do your stories, be spiritually prepared to be sensitive to the guiding of the Holy Spirit. There is no time to get right with God in the midst of reporting a story.

4) Christian journalist, be honest and open with God about your fears, frustrations and problems in reporting a story (i.e., “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me.”) Ask Him for sources, leads, help with story structure, etc.

5) Christian journalist, the biblical narrative format forms a structural model for you: Creation = David being chosen by God, Fall = Deadly opposition from Saul, Redemption = Samuel safely anointing David.

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