Ramah: The Net of DECEIT

DECEIT: ramah, verb (7411); mir’mah, feminine noun (4820); r’miyah, feminine noun (7423). 

Root: רמה

Sounds like: rah’mah

“In a time of universal deceit, speaking truth to power is a revolutionary act.” These words have been attributed to George Orwell but could rightly be said of many of the prophets in the Bible. It also accurately describes the actions of Yeshua (Jesus). Yeshua and the prophets stood up as representatives of YHWH and denounced deceit and wickedness… right to the face of wickedness itself. They were revolutionaries and many paid the price for their words… Yeshua certainly did!

Deceit in the Torah

Deceit and wickedness went hand and hand in the Bible. But it wasn’t just the enemies of the Jewish people that were deceivers. Deception was alive and well amongst YHWH’s followers. 

The stories of the patriarchs in the Torah were often engulfed in deceit… particularly in the life of Jacob. 

Jacob the “heal-grabber”/”supplanter” showed signs of his deceptive character right from his birth. 

Genesis 25:22-26

But the children struggled together within her [Rebekah]; and she said, “If it is so, why am I in this condition?” 

So she went to inquire of YHWH. And YHWH said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people will be stronger than the other; and the older will serve the younger.” 

When her days leading to the delivery were at an end, behold, there were twins in her womb. Now the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so he was named Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.

Not long afterwards we read the story about Jacob convincing his brother Esau to sell him his birthright, his status as firstborn. Esau, ruled by his stomach, sold his firstborn status for a bowl of lentil stew (see Genesis 25:34).

Jacob, the heel grabber, acquired the right to be “first” at a very measly price. His purchase needed to be verified with a blessing from his father, but his father was fond of Esau and this wouldn’t be easy. The only way to achieve his goal was by deception. With the encouragement of his mother, who favoured him, Jacob deceived his own father into giving him the blessing reserved for the firstborn: 

Genesis 27:5-10

Now Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game to bring home, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, saying, ‘Bring me some game and prepare a delicious meal for me, so that I may eat, and bless you in the presence of YHWH before my death.’ So now, my son, listen to me as I command you. Go now to the flock and bring me two choice young goats from there, so that I may prepare them as a delicious meal for your father, such as he loves. Then you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.” 

So Jacob did as his mother said, without argument, and he presented the food to his blind father Isaac, and Isaac blessed him as the firstborn. Just after blessing Jacob, Isaac’s true firstborn son, came to him:

Genesis 27:32-38

His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” 

And he said, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” 

Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, “Who then was he who hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate from all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” 

When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, me as well, my father!” 

And he said, “Your brother came deceitfully [b-mir’mah] and has taken away your blessing.” 

Then Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has betrayed me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” And he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” 

But Isaac replied to Esau, “Behold, I have made him your master, and I have given to him all his relatives as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” 

Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, me as well, my father.” So Esau raised his voice and wept.

And so Jacob did a terrible thing to his brother. He took advantage of Esau’s weakness to retrieve his birthright, and then he deceived his father to receive Esau’s blessing and his inheritance. And to add insult to injury, Esau would have to submit to Jacob as his master. 

Payback: Trickery and Deceit

Although he deceived his father and his brother, Jacob eventually felt the sting of deceit himself. Jacob had an agreement with Laban: work for Laban for seven years and Laban’s daughter Rachel would be given to Jacob as his bride. The plan was set, but Laban deceived Jacob.

When the seven years ended and time came to marry Rachel, Laban substituted his eldest daughter Leah in Rachel’s place:

Genesis 29:25-26

So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, “What is this that you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me [rimmitani]?” 

But Laban said, “It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn.”

Jacob, a false firstborn, was to marry Laban’s firstborn first. There is a poetic irony to that. 

So Jacob spent the next seven years proving his worth, to be able to also take Rachel as his wife. Deceit affects more than just the deceiver and the deceived. Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah were all victims of deception.

YHWH spoke strongly against deception and laws were put into place  to address deceiving people:

Numbers 15:30-31

But the person who does wrong defiantly [deceptively: ramah], whether he is a native or a stranger, that one is blaspheming YHWH; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Since he has despised the word of YHWH and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt will be on him.’”

Deception was a form of blasphemy. As image bearers of God there should be no room for deceit in our lives. We are meant to be reflective advocates of YHWH, not adversaries.

Deceit is Like a…

According to Psalm 10, deceit was like a net. Deception was like casting a net and catching someone:

Psalm 10:7-11

His [the wicked’s] mouth is full of cursing, deceit [u-mir’moht], and oppression; under his tongue is harm and injustice.

He sits in the lurking places of the villages; he kills the innocent in the secret places; his eyes surreptitiously watch for the unfortunate.

He lurks in secret like a lion in his lair; he lurks to catch the needy; he catches the needy when he pulls him into his net. Then he crushes the needy one, who cowers; and unfortunate people fall by his mighty power.

He says to himself, “God has forgotten; He has hidden His face; He will never see it.”

But God does see deception all over the planet… and for the unrepentant He will not forget it. His delight is in people who live honestly, with justice, kindness, generosity and gratitude. Deception has no part in the arena of God’s goodness.

Image by Quang Nguyen vinh (pixabay.com)

The prophet Jeremiah saw deceitful people as trap setters:

Jeremiah 5:26-29

“For wicked people are found among My people, they watch like fowlers lying in wait; they set a trap, they catch people.

Like a cage full of birds, so their houses are full of deceit [mir’mah]; therefore they have become great and rich.

They are fat, they are sleek, they also excel in deeds of wickedness; they do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, so that they may be successful; and they do not defend the rights of the poor.

‘Shall I not punish them for these things?’ declares YHWH, ‘Or shall I not avenge Myself on a nation such as this?’”

Deceit was also like a bow and arrow and the wicked took on the aspects of the weapon:

Jeremiah 9:3, 5-9

They bend their tongues like their bows; lies and not truth prevail in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,” declares YHWH…

…Everyone deceives [mocks] his neighbour and does not speak the truth. They have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing wrongdoing.

Your dwelling is in the midst of deceit [mir’mah]; through deceit [b-mir’mah] they refuse to know Me,” declares YHWH.

Therefore this is what YHWH of armies says:

“Behold, I will refine them and put them to the test; for what else can I do, because of the daughter of My people? Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceit [mir’mah]; with his mouth one speaks peace to his neighbour, but inwardly he sets an ambush for him.

Shall I not punish them for these things?” declares YHWH. “Shall I not avenge Myself on a nation such as this?”

What is translated as “bowmen” comes from the Hebrew descriptive phrase “deceivers with bows”:

Jeremiah 4:29

At the sound of the horseman and bowman [and deceivers with bows: w-rohmeh qeshet] every city flees; they go into the thickets and climb among the rocks; every city is forsaken, and no man dwells in them.

Psalm 78:9, 56-58

The sons of Ephraim were archers equipped with bows deceiving with bows: [rohmey qeshet] yet they turned back on the day of battle…

…Yet they tempted and rebelled against the Most High God and did not keep His testimonies, but turned back and acted treacherously like their fathers; they turned aside like a deceitful bow [r’miyah keh-qeshet].

For they provoked Him with their high places and moved Him to jealousy with their carved images.

This bow wasn’t shooting straight and its arrow turned aside and deceived. They weren’t following YHWH, they went in their own direction, and followed the gods of their fathers. They were on the wrong path.

Deceitful Tongue (L’shohn Mir’mah)

Deceit was commonly associated with the tongue/mouth/lips and words that were uttered from them:

  • Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit [mir’mah]. (Psalm 34:13-14 (see also 1 Peter 3:8-12 ))
  • Your tongue devises destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit [r’miyah] (Psalm 52:2).
  • You love all words that devour, you deceitful tongue [l’shohn mir’mah] (Psalm 52:4)
  • For they [the enemies] do not speak peace, but they devise deceitful words [div’rey mir’moht] against those who are quiet in the land (Psalm 35:20).
  • The words of his [the ungodly] mouth are wickedness and deceit [u-mir’mah]; he has ceased to be wise and to do good (Psalm 36:3).
  • For they have opened a wicked and deceitful [mir’mah] mouth against me; they have spoken against me with a lying tongue (Psalm 109:2).
  • Rescue my soul, YHWH, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue [mi-lashohn r’miyah] (Psalm 120:2-3).

YHWH had strong words in response to those with deceitful tongues:

Psalm 50:16-21

But to the wicked God says,

“What right do you have to tell of My statutes and to take My covenant in your mouth? For you yourself hate discipline, and you throw My words behind you.

When you see a thief, you become friends with him, and you associate with adulterers. You let your mouth loose in evil, and your tongue harnesses deceit [mir’mah]. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son.

These things you have done and I kept silent; you thought that I was just like you; I will rebuke you and present the case before your eyes.”

Money & Deceit

Money and deceit were another concept-pairing often found in the Scriptures:

  • A merchant, in whose hands are fraudulent [deceitful: mir’mah] balances, loves to exploit (Hosea 12:7)
  • Differing weights are an abomination to YHWH, a false [deceitful: mir’mah] scale is not good. (Proverbs 20:23)
  • [The wicked…] make the ephah smaller and the shekel bigger, and to cheat with dishonest [deceitful: mir’mah] scales (Amos 8:5)
  • “Can I justify dishonest balances, and a bag of fraudulent [deceitful: mir’mah] weights? For the rich people of the city are full of violence, her residents speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful [r’miyah] in their mouth.” (Micah 6:11-12)

Job, in his suffering, defended his reputation. He was accused of many things but he called on YHWH to weigh his character:

Job 31:5-6 (see also Job 13:3-12 &  Job 27:1-6)

[Job:] If I have walked with deception [falsehood: shaw], and my foot has hurried after deceit [mir’mah], let Him weigh me with accurate scales, and let God know my integrity.

We will be weighed and measured… and our integrity will give us away, for good or for bad. While we cheat and deceit, YHWH always measures us with accurate scales… and Job was counting on it.

Save us from the Deceitful

People lived off their deception. And others were caught, trapped and targeted constantly. Praying to be rescued from those who “plot deception [u-mir’moht] all day long” (Psalm 38:12) was undoubtedly a popular prayer:

Psalm 43:1-4

Vindicate me, God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation; save me from the deceitful [mir’mah] and unjust person!

For You are the God of my strength; why have You rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

Send out Your light and Your truth, they shall lead me; they shall bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling places.

Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise You on the lyre, God, my God.

In Whom there is No Deceit…

YHWH listened to the prayers of His people and He celebrated those who had no deceit in their hearts:

Psalm 32:1-2

A Psalm of David. A Maskil.

How blessed is he whose wrongdoing is forgiven, whose sin is covered!

How blessed is a person whose guilt YHWH does not take into account, and in whose spirit there is no deceit [r’miyah]!

Those who would have their sin covered and forgiven were blameless in the eyes of YHWH. No deceit would be found in them. 

But everyone is sinful. What human had absolutely no deceit in them?

Here’s the thing: YHWH wanted His people to be free from the burden of sin. And that was a burden we chose deliberately to carry. When Human Life decided, in the Garden of Eden, to try to become gods themselves rather than be under the authority of YHWH we willingly carried the knowledge of good and evil on our shoulders. That burden was a one-way ticket to the grave.

YHWH allowed us to choose our own destiny, but He would find a way to save us from death. He would send a sacrificial lamb to swallow up the sins of humanity and make His people blameless, without deceit. He would send His Anointed (Messiah) to make the sacrifice on our behalf:

Isaiah 53:6-12

All of us, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but YHWH has caused the wrongdoing of us all to fall on Him.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.

By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off from the land of the living for the wrongdoing of my people, to whom the blow was due?

And His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit [mir’mah] in His mouth.

But YHWH desired to crush Him, causing Him grief; if He renders Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of YHWH will prosper in His hand.

As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, for He will bear their wrongdoings.

Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the plunder with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was counted with wrongdoers; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the wrongdoers.

Isaiah’s description of the coming Messiah noted that there was no deceit in His mouth. In Greek the word for deceit is dolos. During the life of Yeshua the priests and scribes acted deceitfully towards Him:

Mark 14:1-2 (see also Matthew 26:3-5)

Now the Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread were two days away; and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest Him covertly [deceptively: dolo] and kill Him; for they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise there will be a riot of the people.”

The religious rulers hated Yeshua. He was a threat to their authority; He was a threat to their traditions; He was a threat to their comfort level; He was a threat to their livelihood… and they hated Him for it. They deceptively plotted His death. But Yeshua was not deceived. He knew exactly what was going on. 

Yeshua Ha-Mashiach (Jesus the Messiah) allowed their deceit to be fulfilled. They set the trap and He willingly walked in. He took on the role of the sacrificial lamb and bore the wrongdoings of humanity on the cross. He suffered painfully, and He died so that we could live.

Following Yeshua’s death Peter, in his ministry,  preached strongly against deceit and the other traits of the wicked:

1 Peter 2:1-2, 21-25

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit [Greek: dolon] and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, and like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord

…For you have been called for this purpose, because Messiah also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you would follow in His steps, He who committed no sin, nor was any deceit [dolos] found in His mouth; and while being abusively insulted, He did not insult in return; while suffering, He did not threaten, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself brought our sins in His body up on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

Throughout Yeshua’s ministry, which led to His death, He saw the effects of deceit all around Him. People were targeted, caught and trapped, all the time. Yeshua’s healing touch freed many people from the social evils that surrounded them. But wickedness and deceit were rampant and humans would have to do their part in suppressing evil:

Mark 7:18b-23

[Jesus:] “Do you not understand that whatever goes into the person from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thereby He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, “That which comes out of the person, that is what defiles the person. For from within, out of the hearts of people, come the evil thoughts, acts of sexual immorality, thefts, murders, acts of adultery, deeds of greed, wickedness, deceit [Greek: dolos], indecent behaviour, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile the person.”

Yeshua was the perfect example of the kindness and purity that humans were capable of achieving… if only they would turn away from wickedness and deceit. Yeshua looked at each person and saw them in their purified state, even before they were redeemed by His sacrifice on the cross. This was apparent in one of the more curious conversations Yeshua had with a man who was about to become one of His disciples:

John 1:47-51

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, Here is truly an Israelite, in whom there is no deceit [Greek: dolos]!” 

Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” 

Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 

Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel!” 

Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

This phrase has puzzled many people. “Behold an Israelite in whom there is no deceit”. Was there any human without sin, without some semblance of deceit within them? 

Nathanael was not perfect. In fact it could be said that the only true Israelite without deceit was Yeshua. 

But once Yeshua made His sacrifice, we would all be considered “blameless and deceitless” and the heavens would open up to us. Yeshua’s statement about Nathanael was prophetic. He was without deceit because Yeshua would make him that way. 

In reference to the quote, Here is truly an Israelite, in whom there is no deceit!”,  was Yeshua referring to Himself or to Nathanael? I suggest both. He certainly was the only one worth of the statement, but He was also making a theological point.

If Nathanael followed Yeshua, he too would become an Israelite without deceit. Yeshua knew Nathanael’s choice; in Yeshua’s mind Nathanael was already redeemed.

Nathanael’s response to Yeshua was a bold proclamation: You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel”.

Deceit in the Day of YHWH

The Day of YHWH is a repetitive little phrase peppered throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament). It represents the turning point in history which would put us back on the path to true life, and the day was fulfilled by Yeshua. Zephaniah prophesied about the Day of YHWH and the sacrifice that YHWH was prepared to give:

Zephaniah 1:7-9

“Be silent before the Lord YHWH! For the day of YHWH is near, because YHWH has prepared a sacrifice, He has consecrated His guests.

Then it will come about on the day of the YHWH’s sacrifice that I will punish the princes, the king’s sons, and all who clothe themselves with foreign garments.

And on that day I will punish all who leap on the temple threshold, who fill the house of their lord with violence and deceit [u-mir’mah].”

Deceivers were a threat to YHWH’s sacred space. They would not be allowed to enter the gates of heaven. Yeshua had paid our entrance fee back into the Garden of Eden, back to the House of YHWH… where His people could reconnect with their Creator and see Him face to face. But those who chose violence and deceit would be punished. And their punishment?… the entrance to the Garden would be blocked to them. They would not see the face of YHWH, instead they would go to the grave eternally. Death would swallow them up.

Psalm 24:3-5

Who may ascend onto the hill of YHWH? And who may stand in His holy place?

One who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to deceit  [vanity] and has not sworn deceitfully [l-mir’mah].

He will receive a blessing from YHWH and righteousness from the God of his Salvation.

We may, from time to time, act deceitfully, but YHWH sees us as His forgiven children, without deceit, and free from the chains of death. Let’s live up to the gift we’ve already been given and stand as purified children of God. It’s up to us to make this world an easier place to live in by reflecting the image of God to all who find themselves in our presence. Let us be kind-hearted citizens in YHWH’s Kingdom in whom there is no deceit.

Next week: Revisiting RIGHTEOUSNESS

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