The Wickedness of Guile
Robert Wurtz II
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. (Psalm 32:2)
Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! (John 1:47)
Though his hatred is covered by deceit, His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly. (Proverbs 26:26 NKJV)
Someone once said, “God can’t change the person you’re pretending to be.” Many people can fake all kinds of personalities in short bursts. They alter their beliefs and convictions depending on the present company. Sometimes you want to ask, “Who are you? What do you truly believe?”
Sadly, those who practice such behavior couldn’t tell you. They’ve put up appearances and play-acted for so long; they don’t even know who they are. They have no identity and will say or do whatever is necessary to deceive people. With such pretense and fakery in the world, who can be trusted?
Three Golden Texts
I chose three texts to illustrate the meaning of the Greek word dulos, which is translated as “guile” in John 1:47, and “deceit” in Proverbs 26:26 (LXX). It comes from a root that means “decoy.” It’s first used in Genesis 27:35 (LXX) when Isaac stated, “Your brother, coming with deceit, took away your blessing.” (Genesis 27:35 NETS) Jacob disguised himself to take the blessing of the firstborn. His mother devised the strategy. Later, Jacob turned from his deceitful ways and received the name Israel. (Genesis 32:28) Interestingly, a few verses after John 1:47, our Lord called to remembrance Jacob’s ladder experience. (John 1:51) Unlike young Jacob, Nathanael was an “Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile!“
Nathanael (Bartholomew) didn’t mince words. When Philip told him about Jesus, he asked, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip answered, “Come and see.” (John 1:46 KJV) Nathanael was no cynic. He would change his mind on a dime if the evidence warranted it. Though at first skeptical, he was one of the first to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Messiah.
Nathanael did not tend to pretense. You could safely trust him. What you see is what you get. A guileless person doesn’t use flattery or other forms of manipulation; they are honest and genuine. Nathanael didn’t “befriend” people for ulterior reasons. You could take him at his word. He wasn’t the “win friends and influence people” type. His guileless personality didn’t allow for such deceit and pretense.
Jesus praised the man who asked, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?“ Why? Because Nathanael was guileless. Jesus wasn’t praising unbelief — but brutal honesty. This man had no desire to deceive or be deceived, and it is praiseworthy. Peter instructs the saints to put aside all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and evil speaking (1 Peter 2:1). In other words, be like Nathanael. Don’t be like the hypocrite who can smile in someone’s face, shake their hand and then stab them in the back.
He who hates disguises it with his lips, And lays up deceit within himself; When he speaks kindly, do not believe him, For there are seven abominations in his heart; Though his hatred is covered by deceit, His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly. (Proverbs 26:24-26)
Unlike Nathanael, it is common for people to flatter you while entertaining seven abominations in their hearts. Seven speaks of completeness and it reveals God’s estimate of a guile-filled (deceitful) person. They hate you entirely in their heart, work towards an opportunity to harm you, but cover their feelings with kind words and greetings. It is wickedness. Concealed hostility is bound to come out. It manifests in slanderous acts and other forms of malice and treachery “in the assembly.” (Proverbs 26:24)
Rejecting the spirit of Nathaneal
Where there is competition, there is usually enmity. Where there is enmity, there is usually slander and deceit (guile). Yet, Christians are expected to behave lovingly in the churches, so the deceitful will just “put it on.” Beware of people who transform into an “angel of light” in public but (as the Serpent) spew the venom of malice behind the scenes. The destructiveness of such behavior puts the churches at risk. The world doesn’t mind misleading, using, and destroying people; but we should never tolerate this in the churches.
Matthew Henry once said that we must never be foolish enough to be deceived into a pretentious relationship. Always distrust when a person flatters you; don’t be eager to believe them unless you know them well. Why? Because they might have seven abominations in their heart, a great many projects of mischief against you, which they labor industriously to conceal with their kind words. Proverbs 26:24-26 reminds us that hatred seeks to conceal itself by hypocrisy and guile (deceit), but it will be revealed in the assembly. Malice done in secret will be proclaimed on the housetops.