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The king summons Jeremiah (38:14) and talks about whether to surrender to the enemy. Then, the king tells Jeremiah to, if asked, characterize their conversation as being about something else.

That seems like a lie. Is Jeremiah lying?

Jeremiah 38:27 (NASB) emphasis added

24 Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “Let no man know about these words and you will not die. 25 “But if the officials hear that I have talked with you and come to you and say to you, ‘Tell us now what you said to the king and what the king said to you; do not hide it from us and we will not put you to death,’ 26 then you are to say to them, ‘I was presenting my petition before the king, not to make me return to the house of Jonathan to die there.’” 27 Then all the officials came to Jeremiah and questioned him. So he reported to them in accordance with all these words which the king had commanded; and they ceased speaking with him, since the conversation had not been overheard. 28 So Jeremiah stayed in the court of the guardhouse until the day that Jerusalem was captured.

  • During their conversation, the King uttered words to Jeremiah regarding a certain topic. Jeremiah then reported that topic of conversation to a third party. What is there about this that makes you think anyone lied about it ? – Nigel J Oct 6 '19 at 16:04
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    King spoke with Jeremiah about topic A and then he said, if anyone asks tell them that we spoke about topic B. – RobV Oct 6 '19 at 17:32
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    That is not how I read it. King spoke about topic A and also mentioned Topic B. Then, if anyone asks, just mention Topic B and Topic A will be a private matter, and confidential. I cannot see that that can be a 'lie'. – Nigel J Oct 6 '19 at 18:28
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No, he "obscured" to honor the king

Jeremiah had indeed made this very request of the king in a previous visit.

Jeremiah 37:15, 20 (NASB)

15 Then the officials were angry at Jeremiah and beat him, and they put him in jail in the house of Jonathan the scribe, which they had made into the prison.

"...20 But now, please listen, O my lord the king; please let my petition come before you and do not make me return to the house of Jonathan the scribe, that I may not die there.”

Is this lying?

No.

Honesty does not require us to tell all truth to all people, even including the truth that enemies would use to hurt good people. There is a time when the "honest" thing to do involves not giving full disclosure.

Proverbs 12:23 (NASB)

A prudent man conceals knowledge,

But the heart of fools proclaims folly.

Consider that with...

Proverbs 17:9 (NASB)

He who conceals a transgression seeks love,

But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.

...applied more widely by Petr...

1 Peter 4:8 (NASB)

Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

...And one last look at how much Mary didn't jabber on...

Luke 2:19 (NASB)

But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.

...Our hermeneutical conclusion from this mini Bible-theo study on "honesty vs spilling our beans" is that there are surely times when wisdom knows when not to speak about a matter, and this strongly relates to love for others.

By telling Jeremiah to say that they talked about something they actually had talked about, the king is making a way for Jeremiah to not lie, while also honoring Proverbs 12 & 17.

This actually sets a Biblical model for "top secret" information in government.

Consider the situation (context)

This was a way to keep the city safe.

It is a time of invasion and siege. Guards suspect desertion (37:13). Soldiers are losing their trust from the public (38:4). There is no bread left in the city (38:9). The king fears betrayal from some of own people (38:19). People are being led out of the city (38:22). Everything is a security risk.

If word gets out that the king was actually considering a prophetic word to surrender to the invading enemy, the king himself could be regarded a traitor by the people and by his soldiers. That would make things even worse and wouldn't help anyone.

By being selective in his answer, Jeremiah allows the king to go about his decisions, which the king alone must make, without disturbing what little order is left in peaceful governance of the city.

Hermeneutics

On a hermeneutics site, "how we reached this conclusion" is the most important part of an answer. The hermeneutic we use here is about "connection".

When you read something that raises a yellow flag, research the background of the words. The king told Jeremiah to say something that raises eyebrows and makes us wonder what's going on. In that, he said something about "the house of Jonathan", so we should research to find what connection Jeremiah and/or the king had to "the house of Jonathan".

Don't make any conclusions—and don't start making explanations or excuses—before letting the context provide a response. Yellow flags call us to do research, not get theological. We may not even need to excuse lying or explain how even a prophet can lie sometimes. Perhaps, what happened wasn't even a lie, it just looks like one. "Quick to listen, slow to speak" from James 1:19 somewhat applies as our hermeneutic.

By doing research in the face of a yellow flag, we find that Jeremiah indeed had asked the same question the king told him to say he had asked.

So, the answer to your question is:

No, he obscured truth about a national-security matter to honor the king, to obey Proverbs 12, and to keep the people safe.

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    I upvoted your answer. I read somewhere (and I can't remember where) Proverbs 12:23 would be better translated "clads himself with knowledge" rather than "conceals knowledge", especially since LXX says something like "is a seat of knowledge". But even if we set that aside, still a good answer. – Jack Oct 15 '19 at 3:23
  • Thank you, in light of that I added a bit more on that because it is arguably at the core of this question. About the LXX and "clads himself", careful with using the Septuagint over the Biblia Hebraica; we need Hebrew. From what I read, I get "clever man conceals knowledge in heart". My prof (Saur) often discussed this verse and he is among modern scholars, also personally tutored by FF Bruce. So, I won't cite a commentary because I can cite him on how the NASB has it more or less right. Always fun bantering on grammar, still I added verses bec. you've got a very good point. – Jesse Steele Oct 15 '19 at 3:51

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