Having discussed the problems of concealment by human authorities here and here, let us conclude our present discussion of this topic with a look at why it is that human rulers like to conceal matters in the way that God does. Whether we look at history or at scripture, as we have briefly seen, concealment by human rulers can create all kinds of unpleasant consequences for others. It would be easy to see from this that a case could be made that such concealment was automatically negative, but as we have seen, that is not the case. Instead, some people in the Bible have been praised for their concealment, and if one takes being “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” as a statement of ideal behavior, then concealment may be required in that task if it is wise to do so, something that depends on judgment and wisdom. It would be simpler, I suppose, if we could say that concealment was always good or always bad, but that is not the way it is.
Let us briefly look at two examples of concealment and see if a case can be made for the sorts of situations where concealment may be warranted and justified. The first example can be found in Joshua 2:1-14, when Rehab hid the spies in Jericho: ”
Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.”So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there. And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, “Behold, men have come here tonight from the children of Israel to search out the country.” So the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the country.” Then the woman took the two men and hid them. So she said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them.” (But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order on the roof.) Then the men pursued them by the road to the Jordan, to the fords. And as soon as those who pursued them had gone out, they shut the gate. Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, and said to the men: “I know that the Lord has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the Lord, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father’s house, and give me a true token, and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.” So the men answered her, “Our lives for yours, if none of you tell this business of ours. And it shall be, when the Lord has given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you.””
A second example can be found where Samuel anoints David as king over Israel in 1 Samuel 16:1-5: “Now the Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have [a]provided Myself a king among his sons.” And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” But the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Then invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; you shall anoint for Me the one I name to you.” So Samuel did what the Lord said, and went to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice.” We can see some patterns emerging from these two examples. Namely, both involve concealing the will of God from wicked and corrupt rulers who do not necessarily deserve the truth (a similar example of this can be found when David feigns madness to avoid being put to death in Gath later in 1 Samuel, a rare praiseworthy case of David’s seemingly habitual practice of the arts of concealment). We can see that the concealment practiced by Rahab, for which she was praised in Hebrews 11 as a heroine of faith and for which she entered into the ancestral line of Jesus Christ, and that of the godly prophet Samuel was not done in order to manipulate people for selfish benefit, but rather to serve the will of God in protecting innocent lives from tyrannical and abusive authorities. This particular case would similarly justify concealment in the case of the Nazi at the door, a classic contemporary ethical dilemma where honesty and goodness are often pitted against each other.
We might contrast what separates these positive examples of concealment with the negative examples we looked at earlier in the Bible and in more recent history. Concealment can be justified if one is working out God’s plans and dealing with wicked rulers who intend harm against godly or innocent people. We can safely lie to the Nazi at the door without jeopardizing our salvation, just as Rahab lied to the ruler of Jericho and just as David feigned madness before Achish to save his skin. However, we are not justified in concealment when we are seeking to formulate our own selfish or even sinful acts and thus seek to deny others the information that they would need to make a well-informed decision. This sort of concealment is the general practice when governments lie about their behavior and put their citizens in harm’s way when others wish to respond violently to a country’s misdeeds, or the sort of concealment that happens when a teenager wishes to hide some sort of improper or illegal actions that they are engaged in from parents who are legally responsible for them still, and so on. Context matters a great deal when it comes to the justification of concealment. Since God cannot sin and since no one can conceal from Him, His concealment can be justified in ways that it is far more difficult for us to justify unless we are concealing so that the plans of God may be accomplished.
When human beings try to justify their concealment of needful matters, the usual problem is that such people think of themselves as better equipped to handle the truth than those from whom the truth is being improperly denied. When a human being, a being of limited wisdom and foreknowledge and frequently high amounts of self-deception, chooses to deny the truth to someone else and thus potentially puts them in harm’s way from having an inaccurate understanding of reality, there is often a stark difference being seen as God’s anointed or a divine right authority and being an ordinary human being. We ought to be careful of the human desire to justify ourselves and ought to be cautious about when we adopt concealment, remembering who we are supposed to protect and defend with our hiding.