“Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’”-John 1:47
It can be a temptation to over-interpret a verse. We can focus so singularly on a word that we exclude the context of a subject and simply, miss the point. My prayer is that I am not about to put down in print my own example of this phenomenon. However, something jumped to my mind while reading this that I must share. But before I do, I owe it to the Scriptures to give the plain meaning of the text.
First, let’s examine what we know from John 1:35-51. Just as recorded in Matthew and Mark, Andrew and his brother Simon (Peter) were the first to be called to follow Jesus. John (the author of the fourth gospel), almost certainly out of humility, skips his call (and that of his brother John) from Jesus and records the third set of brothers approached by our Lord.
In verse 43, we find Philip and his interaction with the Christ. That brings us to his brother Nathanael. It must be noted at this point that it is Philip who becomes an apostle of Jesus and his brother disappears from Scripture with the exception of a brief notice in the 21st chapter of John. From the high praise heaped on Nathanael by Jesus, you would think it was he who would be one of the twelve.
Nathanael immediately recognizes Jesus as “Rabbi…Son of God…and King of Israel!”-v49. Our Lord even tells Nathanael, he will see, “the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”-v51. Heady stuff for a man not chosen to be an apostle.
This brings me to a layer of this story I have overlooked. Jesus is making a play of words in verse 47. It may be plain to you, but it has gotten by me until preparing to write this article. Jesus is saying, “Here is a deceiver in whom there is no deceit!” Jacob, the son of Isacc and grandson of Abraham, later had his name changed to Israel and his descendants became known as Israelites. But Jacob’s name means, “to trip by the heel,” literally a “heel-catcher1.” Another form of the same Hebrew word puts it more plainly, Israel was deceitful! So what Jesus is actually saying here is, “Behold a deceiver in whom there is no deceit!”
The Bible truly is a fountain that never runs dry! But as awe-inspiring as our Lord’s play on words must have been to Philip and Nathanael, it has always been the word used in the King James translation of this verse that charmed me. The King James Version records Jesus’ words this way, “an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.”-v47. Is there a higher compliment a person can be paid? Jesus is saying, “Here is a man you can trust. He does not lie. He is pure of heart and motive.”
Lord, please remove deceitful men far from me! I have had my fill with shrewd people who think it a game to trip up the children of God. Think of the peace within families or our work environments that would break out if there were no hidden agendas. How much more would we love each other as members of a local church if we never had to fear a deceitful heart?
Jesus said those words to Nathanael because he could trust him. Trust and faithfulness bring rest. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”-Matthew 11:28-29.
May God purge us of guile and bless us with times of refreshing.