Was it common in ancient Hebrew to express permission by commanding a person to do what they asked for permission to do? For example, consider 1 Kings 22:

20 And the LORD said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. 21 And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him. 22 And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so. 23 Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee.

Did God necessarily command the spirit to lie, or did He simply express His allowance of the spirit to lie? Was the so-called "permissive imperative" commonly used in Hebrew, or used at all?

Also, a question by extension would be whether or not God actually put the spirit into the mouth of the prophets or simply allowed the spirit to enter into them.

2 Answers 2


This is an excellent use case for an annotated treebank in which you can search for syntactic constructions. We have such a system for the Hebrew Bible, called SHEBANQ. The following query finds cases where an imperfect is followed (within 30 text positions) by an imperative of the same root:

select all objects where
[word as v focus vt=impf]
.. <= 30
[word focus lex=v.lex AND vt=impv]

This is not specific enough, as it finds cases like עשׂה in Gen 18:5–6, but also some useful cases where the usage is as you describe:

  • Gen 19:20, 22 with מלט "escape"
  • Gen 23:4, 6 and vv. 13, 15 with קבר "bury"
  • Gen 24:14 with שׁתה "drink"
  • Gen 47:4, 6 with ישׁב "dwell"

Etc. You can create an account for free and execute the query yourself to see all finding places (but again, not all are relevant). I expect there to be also cases where the same verb is not used, but עשׂה "to do" is used, as in "Do as you say", but no example comes to mind right now.

Hebrew doesn't really have a word for "You may ..." — יכל does mean being able to do something or being allowed to do something, but it feels quite heavy in these cases. Another construction that may be of interested we find in Esther 3:11: "the silver is given thee, and the people also, to do as you deem good" with a passive participle נתן "give" and an infinitive construct עשׂה "do". But such a construction is only possible if there is something that is given.

Given that there is not really any other construction that could have this meaning, and given the examples we have seen, it seems likely that this is a standard use of the imperative. I don't have a grammar nearby but could look it up later if you want.


As a well known preacher has oft said "A text without a context is a pretext"...So my analysis is that Micaiah is privy to a conversation that is happening in heaven between God and various spirits. And I say spirits because there are good and bad spirits...By deduction I would say this is a fallen spirit because of clear intent (to deceive). In regards to permission, nothing can be done without God's permission ultimately...Even we human beings or heavenly spirits having a free will do not countermand God's Omniscient Will because He is able to know all future decisions by every living being and can say yea or nay as it pleases Him. So God ultimately says in verse 22 "Go ahead".

  • 1
    Thanks. What you're saying makes sense, but it does not concern the literary construct in Hebrew.
    – CMK
    Dec 4, 2017 at 18:05

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