(Ezek. 14:9) Does God deceive people?

CLAIM: Ezekiel states, “If a prophet is deceived into giving a message, it is because I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet. I will lift my fist against such prophets and cut them off from the community of Israel” (Ezek. 14:9 NLT).

RESPONSE: There are several ways to understand this passage:

OPTION #1. This is a mystery of God’s sovereignty and human freedom. Alexander seems to want to have his cake and eat it too, when he writes that God “permitted” the false prophets to speak. But then, he quickly states that “God ultimately controls all things, even false prophets.”[1] But which is it? Does God permit deceit, or does he control and cause it? This view seems untenable.

OPTION #2. The Hebrew authors didn’t carefully distinguish first and secondary causes. G.A. Cooke writes, “Ancient habits of thought overlooked secondary causes, and attributed events directly to the action of God.”[2] Taylor concurs, “[The false prophet] is deceived because he has lost his spiritual perception.”[3]

OPTION #3: God is giving the false prophets poetic justice. Block argues that God “answers insincerity with insincerity.” He continues, “Unrepentant kings and unrepentant people, who seek confirmation of their perverse ways, and who clamor for reassurances of well-being, do not deserve a straight answer.”[4] This is similar to what David said, “With the pure You show Yourself pure, and with the perverted You show Yourself astute” (2 Sam. 22:27).

OPTION #4: The grammar refers to future judgment, rather than present deception. The Hebrew verbal form is a perfect, and it is often translated as a present perfect (“I have enticed”). However, the perfect verbal form is translated as a future perfect in verse 4 (“I the LORD will be brought to give him an answer”) and verse 7 (“I the LORD will be brought to answer him”). Therefore, it makes better sense to translate it as a future perfect here (“I will entice”). This would simply mean that God will judge these false prophets based on what they have chosen (see the NET note for a fuller explanation).[5]

For further reading, see comments on Isaiah 45:7.

[1] Alexander, R. H. (1986). Ezekiel. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel (Vol. 6, p. 805). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[2] G.A. Cooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Ezekiel (International Critical Commentary, 1936), p.151.

[3] Taylor, J. B. (1969). Ezekiel: an Introduction and commentary (Vol. 22, p. 127). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[4] Block, D. I. (1997). The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 1–24 (p. 435). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[5] The NET suggests this article, but we haven’t read it. R. B. Chisholm, Jr., “Does God Deceive?” Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (1998): 23-25.