I have a question for you. A little Bible trivia to start off the exhortation. Who in scripture is said to have disguised themselves? Specifically, those who disguised themselves to try and fool God. For some reason, as we’ve been doing our readings this year, I picked up on these characters and have been pondering it.
I asked the question at our dinner table last week and got some answers I hadn’t thought about like Jacob pretending to be Esau, or David feigning to be mad at the gates of Gath or even Esther not revealing that she was a Jew. There was some discussion on whether Adam and Eve would count as they made themselves fig leaves and hid in the garden.
But these are incidents where the word “disguise” is used, and they are people that thought they could get around God by disguising themselves. Any guesses? They are Saul, Jeroboam’s wife and Ahab. Saul when he went to the witch of Endor, Jeroboam’s wife when she went to the prophet to inquire about her son, and Ahab when he went into battle even though God said he would die if he went.
We’ll consider these events for exhortation this morning. It’s easy though to read it and think how ludicrous it is. How you would never do anything like it. Yet these things are written for our example. They epitomize human nature of which we all share. Though these may be extreme examples of hypocrisy they warn us of a trait which is so detrimental to our salvation. Hypocrisy is one of the most hideous of sins because it so easily hides itself but it effects everything to do with our faith, our prayers, proper judgment, and our love. It seems no better time to consider this as we come before the memorials and ask God to search our hearts and to try us.
Three Who Disguised Themselves before God
Let’s start by considering those who disguised themselves. The first being Saul.
Turn to 1 Samuel 28 and starting at verse 3,
“Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah, even in his own city. And Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land. And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa. And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled. And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets. Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor. And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee.”
Isn’t it crazy how his desperation takes him to a witch who earlier he would have killed according to the law to get answers from the dead prophet Samuel? Did he really think he would get an answer from God by these means?
Isn’t it ironic that at the end he takes off his kingly attire and disguises himself? Maybe this disguise was not a disguise at all but his true self. This final act of Saul really is telling of the man he was from the start.
In the beginning of his reign in 1 Samuel 15, you may recall how Saul was commanded to utterly destroy the Amalekites. Yet, the commandment somehow in his mind morphed into what he thought was right by saving alive the Amalekite king Agag and the best of the spoils. Saul betrayed his true intentions in verse 24, “I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.” Seeking the praise of men rather than of God is hypocrisy. For this Samuel says to him in verse 23,
“rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.”
Maybe it was these words that spurred him on to “put away” all the witchcraft in the land following the law of Moses (1 Sam. 28:3 cp. Ex. 22:18; Lev. 20:6,27; Deut. 18:10-11). But it was another halfhearted attempt. He never completed even this command of God for when he asked his servants where a witch might be found they knew exactly where one was. He was now completing the hypocrisy that had plagued him his whole life. The disguise he put on was indicative of who he always was.
The second occurrence concerns Jeroboam in 1 Kings 14:1-2,
“At that time Abijah the son of Jeroboam fell sick. And Jeroboam said to his wife, Arise, I pray thee, and disguise thyself, that thou be not known to be the wife of Jeroboam; and get thee to Shiloh: behold, there is Ahijah the prophet, which told me that I should be king over this people.”
Jeroboam was a man much like Saul. God had promised him that if he obeyed his dynasty would be established. But Jeroboam could not bring himself to fully trust in God. Rather he feared losing the devotion of his people, so he set up the golden calves in Dan and Bethel and made Israel to sin.
Now in his desperation, as he son lay dying, he disguises his wife to come to Ahijah the prophet for an answer. Maybe they thought they could deceive an old blind prophet (v. 4), but the attempt seems comical. How could you expect an answer from God and keep concealed who you really are? Her disguise was exposed immediately as she entered the room and she learned that her son would die the instant she crossed the threshold of the city. Makes you wonder how long she tarried outside the walls before giving in and entering into her house to find the words of the Lord fulfilled.
The third example of someone disguising themselves is probably the most incredulous. King Ahab in 2 Chronicles 18. We read at the beginning of this chapter how Jehoshaphat the good King of Judah joined affinity with Ahab the wicked king of Israel. However good Jehoshaphat’s intentions were this fellowship he had with Ahab was evil. Nothing good could come of it.
But here was Jehoshaphat in this compromising position agreeing to assist Ahab in his war with the king of Syria. Jehoshaphat knew they should inquire of the Lord so Ahab got for him four hundred prophets who all agreed they would win the battle. Jehoshaphat scanned the group and could not find one that was a true prophet of Yahweh. Ahab therefore conceded and called Micaiah who spoke the true words of God that Ahab would die in the battle.
So, what did Ahab do? He threw Michaiah into prison and said to Jehoshaphat in verse 29,
“I will disguise myself, and will go to the battle; but put thou on thy robes. So the king of Israel disguised himself; and they went to the battle.”
Obviously, Ahab was worried about Michaiah’s prophecy. We are not told what Jehoshaphat thought about this arrangement but nevertheless to the battle he went. Ahab’s plan seemingly worked as the Syrians mistakenly targeted Jehoshaphat as the King of Israel. But because there was something good in Jehoshaphat it says in verse 31 that, “the Lord helped him; and God moved them to depart from him.”
Still, Ahab must have felt pretty good about himself until, as it says in verse 33 of the ESV,
“a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate.”
The word “certain” is not in the original text. There’s interesting circumstantial evidence that this man was none other than Naaman the Syrian. The word “random” or “at a venture” is the Hebrew word “tom” which means innocence in a moral sense but also perfect or complete. This was no random act. As the man drew back the bow, he did so with just the right tension. As he raised the bow, he released it at just the right angle for the bow to arc through the air and pierce Ahab at the one exposed place in his the armor. God guided that arrow. No disguise could get around that.
These three incidents just seem so foolish to me. How can one think they could disguise themselves and get around God? It’s ludicrous! Insane! You don’t know whether to laugh or cry at such a farce.
But that is what sin is. If we were somehow fully aware of God’s presence all the time we would not sin. It’s somehow justifying that God won’t see. It’s the foolishness inside us that forgets about God and goes on to transgress. If our life story was in the Bible, would it seem just as crazy in some parts? What would be our disguise?
When Jesus came, he strongly condemned the scribes and Pharisees, calling them “hypocrites”. Disguises are hypocrisy.
In Greek literature an hypokrites was a person who played a part on stage. He usually wore a mask and imitated the character of the person he represented. He was a play actor. There was no necessary connotation of evil or deception involved in the early use of these terms.
When it comes to the New Testament though there is nothing good about play acting. That’s because it is the most insidious of sins. At the very heart of it is deception. An unwillingness to accept that what one is doing is not genuine or contradictory. The flesh seeks to justify its motives and actions and therefore creates a disguise against being discovered and dealt with.
Think how many times Jesus warns against hypocrisy. It’s so important to him because hypocrisy undermines the basis of our discipleship.
In Matthew 6 he says don’t be like the hypocrites, that is seeking to be seen of men, putting on this air of righteousness when you give alms (charity), when you pray and fast. None of our sacrifices to God will be acceptable to him if in reality we are doing it for the praise of men.
In the next chapter, Matthew 7:1-5, hypocrisy ruins acceptable judgment. God wants us to judge with righteous judgment but if we are hypocrites then all of it is an utter sham.
Even our faith is corrupted by hypocrisy. In John 5:44 Jesus said, “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” No, our faith must be sincere. Sincerity is the opposite of hypocrisy. We can only worship God in sincerity and truth. Paul says to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:5 “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” The word unfeigned literally means without hypocrisy.
Finally, hypocrisy spoils our love. In Romans 12:9 Paul says, “Let love be without dissimulation.” The NASB says, “Love must be free of hypocrisy.” Isn’t that true. What is love if it is not sincere? Peter recognizes that this is not easy and that it is a process of the word of God working in us as he says in 1 Peter 1:22, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.” Again, that word unfeigned literally means without hypocrisy.
Brothers and sisters, we have a real problem if there is any hypocrisy in us. Charity, prayer, fasting, right judgment, faith and love all have to be without hypocrisy. Any of these with hypocrisy is nullified in the eyes of God. It’s just play acting. It’s a disguise. It’s not real. That why hypocrisy is such a deadly sin. It has such a negative power over all our discipleship. We may have any number of vices like pride or covetousness but its hypocrisy that gives it a cloak of invisibility.
Search me O God
The problem with hypocrisy is it is not easily discoverable. Hypocrisy by its very nature is deceptive. It’s hard for us to examine ourselves and really notice it. There are incorrect ways of thinking and things we do wrong that are hidden to ourselves, but God sees them. Nothing is hidden from his eyes.
There’s a very powerful verse in Hebrews 4:12-13 that hearkens back to the sacrifices being flayed, or cut open, and laid out in an open position on the altar. As we come to the memorials now and think about how we are to be crucified with Jesus, think about this verse. This is the ESV.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
The best thing for us to do at a moment like this is to recognize that there are no disguises that can hide us from God. We must acknowledge that he knows every nook and cranny of our thoughts and intents. We must open ourselves up willingly and invite God to reveal unto us our hidden faults.
This sentiment is also expressed for us beautifully by David in Psalm 139. Psalm 139 is often a Psalm we go to proving that God is everywhere present by his Spirit. He is omnipresent. The Psalm starts off though with a wonderful recognition of the omniscience of God, that he knows all. Reading verses 1-4 from the NASB,
“Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I get up; You understand my thought from far away. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, Lord, You know it all.”
What a wonderful expression and acknowledgment of God’s omniscience. Now we know David wasn’t perfect. Far from it. There was a time when he lost this sense of God and he had to work his way back into this mindset. You can only do that by inviting God back to search your heart. He ends the Psalm with this in verses 23-24 reading from the NLT,
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
If anything, brothers and sisters, as we partake of this bread and wine, let this be your prayer.