De·ceiveverb gerund or present participle: deceiving (of a person) cause (someone) to believe something that is not true, typically in order to gain some personal advantage.” Whenever we hear the word, deceive or deceiver, we immediately conjure up images of evil. No doubt the word has evil connotations, but I am going to focus here on the positive aspect of deception. What I mean is there is “Evil Deception” and there is “Good Deception” and I shall discuss good deception using the Bible.  Look, I do not want to cause anyone any confusion or mock your spirituality. So, if you do not want to hear something that is potentially new and controversial skip this introduction right now and go on to read the plays.  But if you want to read on let’s get rid of some ideas on deception that is familiar. In the bible Satan is called a deceiver (Revelations 12:9, 20:10) of the nations and God didn’t like this. Why should he?  Satan uses several techniques for deception; first, he takes a truth and perverts it with an attached or alternative meaning.   Second, he associates a Bible truth with a false religion, causing Christians to reject it as the truth.  Third, he takes a Bible symbol of truth and possesses it as a satanic symbol so that Christians again reject this truth completely.  I can go on, but the point is, there are so many complex methods of trickery involved in deception and you should become intimately knowledgeable of every method that you can so that you are not the one deceived in the future.  However, what I want to write about here is positive/good deception using the Bible as a base. Obviously because you’ve been socialized to see deception and lies as evil sin, your religious mind is probably giving you fits saying, “I didn’t know deception had any positive side or use”.   Well it does. I guess most people struggle with this subject because no preacher will tell you (or you do not realize) that there are various types of deception found in the Bible and how some/any level of deception could be permitted at times to achieve a positive outcome.

Many religious people look purely at the existence of only one type of deception that they associate with someone telling someone a lie.   They then lump all deception into this same basket category as being an evil sinful lie.  Let me start by citing the example in the Bible, (Genesis 12), where Abraham goes around telling everyone his wife is his sister so that no one would kill him to get her.   Is Abraham a liar? Let’s break this down. His wife Sarah was his half-sister – it says so in Genesis 20:12. They both had the same father but different mothers. So, they were clearly brother and sister to each other by definition, yet Abraham married his sister and she became the wife who gave birth to the promised child Isaac. Let’s for one moment forget the incest that this is, and focus on the issue at point – positive deception. So, the only thing Abraham was guilty of was remaining silent on the important fact that Sarah was also his wife and not just his sister.

But is silence a sin?  Can you find anywhere in the Bible where it says if I’m silent even on a key point of information that I have committed a sin?  I searched my Bible and I did not find one verse that says silence is a sin. Of course your silence can be tied to your motivation of why you are being silent and that fact alone makes this subject infinitely more complex – we’ll get to that in a bit but, believe me, I searched and searched the Bible for a verse that said silence is a sin and I did not find one.  Did Abraham commit a sin of an invented name called a “lie of omission”.  According to some definition, a “lie of omission” is remaining silent on any important information that could have been said to purposely deceive someone.  I did not also find the term “lie of omission” and its definition anywhere in the Bible so it must come from human reasoning.  The human intellect is an amazing God-given blessing, however it is rarely God-inspired thoughts unless you have thoroughly renewed your carnal mind with God’s spiritual knowledge, understanding and wisdom.  Therefore, you cannot count on anything that comes from your carnal mind as being the truth.  In Matthew 7:26 Jesus calls this action of ignoring God’s word the act of a foolish man who has builds his house on sand.  To base your beliefs on your own human reasoning instead of the Bible will cause you to be wrong 100 times out of 100 tries.  What we must do is to build our house on the Rock of the Word of God and base our beliefs on what God says and only what God says, in order to be assured and have confidence in what we know and teach to others.

At this point, let me quote a definition of the word “deceive” that I found: Deception, beguilement, deceit, bluff, mystification, and subterfuge are acts to propagate beliefs that are not true, or not the whole truth (as in half-truths or omission). Deception can involve dissimulation, propaganda, sleight of hand. It can employ distraction, camouflage or concealment. And some synonyms for Deception from the Thesaurus: Trick, Trickery, Sham, Fraud, Con, Cheating, Pretext, Duplicity, Deceit. This definition seems complete, isn’t it?  However, I noticed two things directly missing from this definition of deception; one being the motivation of the individual doing the deception and the other being the purpose for the deception or you could say the expected outcome for the deception.   It further does not say or even imply that there are potentially times when deception is good, or that the results of the deception can cause a positive outcome to occur.  According to this definition you can clearly see that Abraham was absolutely guilty of committing a level of deception for either evil or for whatever purpose.

However, I believe that to remain silent is still quite different than to deceive someone by telling him/her a lie.  There are many verses in the Bible that say “Thou Shalt not lie” (Leviticus 19:11, Zephaniah 3:13). But, like I said, I did not find any verse in the Bible that says to be silent is a sin.  In rationalizing this story (found in Genesis 12 and 20) of Abraham telling the kings that his wife is his sister, I did not find any verse where God rebuked, chastised or punished Abraham for what he did or in this case didn’t do.  Can you find this anywhere?  Yet, God punished Pharaoh with plagues (Genesis 12:17) and appeared in a dream telling Abimelech that he is a dead man (Genesis 20:3). In other words, God focused on what the kings did and not what Abraham did or in this case did not do.  In The Deceivers, Solo, Kora, and AJ were silent on important parts of the relationships between them, are they guilty of deception? Do you understand where I am going with this?  You do? Good, so let me now introduce you to the first new factor about deception that may upset your understanding of deception.   This concept is called “Self Deception” where a person deceives himself/herself into doing the wrong thing based upon his/her own personal thoughts, motivations or his/her natural physical or emotional desires.[1]

Let’s go back to the Abraham story. You can clearly see that the kings (Pharaoh, Genesis 12) and (Abimelech, 20) are only interested in themselves and what they want.  They did not ask Sarah what she wants, did they?  Of course back then (or still now with some African leaders) it was a male dominated world and when a male king wanted a woman, there were no options for the woman.  When Abraham tells the kings she is his sister, the kings ASSUME that she is available to be taken like a stray dog that doesn’t belong to anyone.  They make this wrong assumption because they did not know all the facts that they could have found out if they had just asked some more direct questions.

There are three basic factors critical to the understanding of deception that are often overlooked.  First, there are different types or methods of deception.  You can clearly see this by someone telling a lie, but you can also see this by someone just failing to tell the truth.  The character Bigboy in Requiem typifies this. They are dramatically different types of deception in the eyes of God.  Second, there are different reasons or motivations for using deception and the intended outcome of the deception – all the characters in The Deceivers exemplify this.  In other words, is the person doing the deception doing it to harm, hurt or destroy someone else or doing it for a purpose of overall good?  Then the third factor to consider is the nature of the intended target of the deception.  Is the one being deceived a good person or an evil person?  Can the one being deceived do you any harm if they are not deceived?  These three factors matter in determining the sinfulness of any deception in God’s eyes.   This is the premise from which the characters in Requiem are created.

Would I be wrong to say there is an implied problem with deception that you have not fully thought of or comprehended fully till now? Silence!  If you take the literal definition of deception and apply it as it was written that the omission of information or truth is “deception” then God is guilty of deceiving us all.  Oh My God! Blasphemy! Is God a deceiver?  If you only take this definition, He is, because He knows things that we clearly do not know and many of them that if we knew we would not end where the characters in Requiem ended up. Remember King Oedipus? The gods were silent on the identity of his parents – did they deceive him? Maybe this is the way of the gods. Well, you figure that out for yourself.

But God is not a deceiver! Yes, I said it, and before you throw my book aside read on ten more lines. Most people conclude that all deception is sinful but this is not what the Bible teaches.  That statement is really going to shock many of my readers …  However, what people have done is taken a complex subject and oversimplified it and caused all deception to be thought of in a negative light.  Let me give you an example of some deception that may be familiar to you in a different version.  Every mother is a known and practicing deceiver; every mother deceives her child at one point or the other.  You don’t think so? Imagine this: a mother tricks her own son/daughter into eating squash by mashing it up and stirring it into a bowl of creamed corn.  They are both yellow vegetables and when they are mixed together the child will not be able to tell that the squash is present in the bowl of creamed corn.  You see the child likes creamed corn but he/she does not like squash, and he/she had refused to eat it.  However, by her trickery and deception of her mixing squash with creamed corn, and then by purposefully not telling the child about her methods, the child eats it without knowing he/she is eating it.  Sounds familiar? Clearly she withheld key information and truth from the child and clearly this is an intentional act of a hidden deception. By the definition of deceive that we looked at, she is clearly guilty as Abraham, but, is this deception a sin?  Did this mother sin by hiding squash in the bowl of creamed corn and not telling the child about it?  Most of my first year students said she did when I used the analogy for King Oedipus.  However, is this not just an example of the practical use of deception to achieve a positive outcome for the child?  You can see it was the only way that the child was going to eat squash so it worked.  What was the mother’s reasoning and motivation for deceiving her child?  Was it to do evil and harm to the child or was it to do something good and positive for child’s benefit?  In her mind it was to do good so that the child would eat his/her vegetables and grow up strong and healthy.  So hopefully you can see that not every type of deception is a sin from this one simple example.

Now, let’s change the scenario and assume someone hid poison in your food or refused to tell you he/she has HIV/Aids but insists on unprotected sex with you.  Even if the person at the receiving end of the poisoned sexual pleasure is a bad person – it’s not your place to kill (Exodus 20:13) or punish/judge (Luke 6:37, Matthew 7:1) anyone. But this of course changes everything dramatically.  Now we have a different motivation for a different purpose and the expected outcome of the deception is completely different.  Clearly anyone who would do this is well within the realm of committing a horrific sin by using a very similar deception method that the mother was guilty of.  As you read Thirst Land where do you think the element of deception lie? I hope that you can begin to see the impact that motivation and purpose play in deception.  Do you see the potential dilemma being presented to you from the food analogies of deception?  It matters who is deceiving, why they are deceiving, who is deceived and what is the intended purpose of the deception in order to make a determination if it is a sin or not.  Just because the mother hid squash in the child’s creamed corn and did not tell him/her that she did, does not constitute an evil act of the sin of deception.  I hope I am making myself clear.  You see, if you only use the definition (above) of the word “deceive” you can clearly see the mother is guilty of “deception”, therefore she should go to jail or hell like Sanele in Requiem.  But, her reasons for doing it were justified to achieve a positive outcome for the child.  This is called “Righteous Deception” and we shall return to the Bible shortly to see how it works.  For now, let’s go back to the story of Abraham and see who did what, where and why?

Abraham tells his wife to tell everyone that she is his sister so that the godless people will not kill him to get her.  So the motivation of Abraham is not to do any evil to anyone, but to preserve his own life in an uncertain set of circumstances involving evil people.  The Egyptians (and not Abraham) who take a woman just because she is pretty and good-looking are the evil ones in this instance.  No one asks Sarah what she wants; they simply decide what to do with her based on what the kings want.  Was this the right thing to do?   Obviously God did not think so.  So, Abraham was dealing with an uncertain evil nation of people who could potentially do great harm to him for what they want.  Do you see any difference now in this type of deception initiated by Abraham?  Abraham never had the intention to harm anyone in being deceptive.  So by not telling them all of truth; did Abraham lie?  I still do not think so!  Did Abraham sin?  I still do not think so.  Abraham’s heart was clear before God.  I hope that you can see this.

My intention here is to prove that not every deception is a sin in the Bible, and I will now give you more examples of this in these next verses from the book of Genesis.  In Genesis 38:6 we have a story that deals with the concept of “Righteous Deception”.  Judah, the son of Jacob, gives his firstborn son, Er, a wife named Tamar.  However, in verse 7 we read that because Er is wicked in the eyes of the Lord, God kills him.  Not good for Er!  With Er now dead Judah gives Tamar to Onan his next oldest son and tells him to have children for his dead brother Er.  I don’t think Judah read Leviticus 18:16. Onan is also wicked in the eyes of the Lord because he refuses his father’s request so God kills him.  Well, I am not going to say God didn’t also read Leviticus 18:16 but God does kill Onan for spilling his seeds on the ground instead of impregnating his late brother’s wife. Judah then tells Tamar to go to her father’s house to wait for his third son to get old enough so she can marry him.  Tamar does as she is told – she waits and waits but Judah says nothing – then Judah’s wife also dies.

In Genesis 38:13 someone tells Tamar that her father-in-law, Judah, would be going to a certain city to shear his sheep.  So Tamar comes up with a plan of deception: Genesis 38:14:  And she put her widow’s garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife. Here we have a part of the story that is easily missed.  You see, Tamar can see that Judah’s third son is grown up and she knows that Judah has not fulfilled his word to her.  By not doing what he said; Judah has become a liar and that is not good is it?  By taking off her widow clothes and disguising herself with a veil Tamar takes on the outward appearance of a prostitute and she places herself in the path of Judah on purpose. Genesis 38:15:  When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. Judah sees the disguised Tamar and thinks she is a harlot available for hire.  It is very important to note that Tamar does not say she is a Harlot; it is Judah who assumes the wrong things based on a perceived impression of outward looks.   Judah could have asked to see her face or spoken with her to find out the truth, but he has been self-deceived by his natural human male desire and lust.

This sounds a lot like what the kings did when they saw Sarah. Men! Genesis 38:16:  And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me? So, technically speaking while Tamar never says she is a prostitute you have to consider what she says very carefully.  It would appear that she is asking for money for her sexual favor, but examine her heart and think again.  She is really just asking for what she was already promised by Judah.  Nowhere in this story is her deception an evil, intentional act to harm Judah or an attempt to get back at him for his lie.

Genesis 38:17:  And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it? Judah tells Tamar he will send her a kid from the flock, but Tamar knows who she is dealing with and says she needs some security to insure that he will do what he says.  Genesis 38:18:  And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him. We can see Judah here negotiating the price and the collateral like any normal business transaction, which forces Tamar, based on her prior knowledge of his reneging nature, to ask for his signet, his bracelet, and his staff as collateral.

What are the principle and symbolic meaning of these items?  A signet was like giving your credit card to someone today.  With it they could command you to pay everything that they charge with it.  The first time bracelets are mentioned in the Bible is when the servant gave Rebekah two bracelets for her to become Isaac’s wife (Genesis 24:53), so this is a clear parallel to this story in Genesis 38.  The staff was of course a symbol of power and the main instrument of a shepherd.  So Tamar was not asking for trivial things, these were signs and symbols of this man’s identity.  In the Bible it says severally (Matthew 19:5-6, 1 Corinthians 6:15-16, Deuteronomy 22:28-29) that having sex with a prostitute (or a virgin) causes you to become one flesh with her.  So the sexual act between Tamar and Judah can be considered a marriage covenant.   Therefore, Tamar has to gather items that she can use later to identify him as the one who had sex with her.  Smart! Anyway Judah agrees and gives her these three items and then he makes Tamar pregnant with his children before going home.

Genesis 38:19:  And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood, and then waits.  Meanwhile, Judah sends people to find the prostitute with the sheep that he promised so that he could get back his possessions and they cannot find her.  Nobody has ever seen this woman, so she was clearly not a prostitute for financial gain or income.  So, if money was not Tamar’s motivation what was her motivation, and who did she deceive?  It is very clear that it is deception to some degree.  But, I did not read anywhere that Tamar lied to achieve this deception, nor did I read anywhere that she did it to cause hurt or harm to anyone else.  The purpose of this deception was not for evil but for the good outcome of the continuation of the family name of Judah.  Is this the same thing with Thato in Dinner for Promotion? Did her deception hurt Kitso? Did she do it for herself or the good of her brother, Thabo (and his friend Kitso)?

Anyway, Judah finally hears about Tamar when her pregnancy begins to show.  Everyone knows that Tamar is a widow so when she shows up pregnant it is a perceived problem for Judah and the community.  Remember Zeinat’s problem (when her daughter Ni’ma gets pregnant) in Alifa Rifaats’s An Incident in the Ghobhashi Household? Judah sends for Tamar so that they can put her to death for being a whore, but when Tamar shows up at his house she has his signet ring, staff and bracelets that show who the father is – and Judah cannot not deny it.  Judah says Genesis 38:26:  She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more. By his words Judah calls Tamar’s deception a “righteous justified act”.

Because, of this woman’s trickery the family line of Jesus was preserved and Jesus was still able to come into the world as God had designed.  You can clearly see this honor by reading the genealogy of Jesus given to us in the book of Matthew Chapter 1.  There are only 6 women mentioned by name in this list of father names and Tamar is one of them.  She earned a mention of prominence by a simple act of righteous deception.  Tamar has arisen to the level of prominence in the Bible because she used deception for the good of someone other than herself.  This is a very important part of deception that is rarely taught and seldom mentioned.  I hope that you can now see and understand that not every deception found in the Bible is a negative sin in the eyes of God.  So, as you read this collection of plays don’t be too quick to judge the characters. But more importantly, I hope you have learned something from all this that you can take away in growing in your relationship with God.  God Bless The Deceivers!

[1] You can read scriptures about being “Self Deceived” in Jeremiah 37:9, Obadiah 1:3, 1 Corinthians 3:18, Galatians 6:3, James 1:26 and 1 John 1:8.  In these verses the common factors that cause self-deception include pride, arrogance and the wrongful act of thinking too highly of yourself or seeing yourself as world wise.  In these verses you see how people can deceive themselves and see how these verses can easily apply to the kings in Abraham’s story.