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Top 10 Betrayals in the Bible

Betrayal. You’ve probably experienced it. You might have caused it. It’s the cruelest of vices as it stabs the back only after inviting the embrace. Its victims didn’t see it coming, and that’s why its pain cuts deepest and lasts longest. It’s the affair that wrecks a trusting spouse. It’s the vertigo that sets in when a decades-long friendship implodes in a minutes-long conversation. It’s when hopeful, happy people grow hard, invisible shells.

Here are 10 stories of betrayal in the Bible, and each one teaches us something about the nature of betrayal.

1. Satan betrays Eve (Gen. 3)

The serpent won Eve’s trust with innocent curiosity (“Did God really say?”) and confidential advice (“You will be like God, knowing good and evil”). Bypassing the husband, the deceiver took her aside and offered her secret knowledge and unending reward. They realized they’d been betrayed when “godlikeness” turned out to feel a lot like shame, blame, fear, and alienation. Before unmasking itself, betrayal will puff you up on what you want to hear.

2. Cain betrays Abel (Gen. 4:1-12)

Brothers can and ought to be the best of friends, which makes this story one of the saddest in the Bible. When the brothers gave offerings to God, but only Abel’s was favored, Cain grew jealous and sullen. God warned Cain of the evil crouching at his door, yet Cain’s mind only kept pulsating with the need to get even. A plan came to him, a plan which involved betrayal. Pretending as if things were fine once again, Cain gave his brother a friendly invitation: “Let’s go out into the field.” When there, Cain killed him. Something as repugnant as betrayal sprouts best in the shadows of envy.

3. Joseph’s brothers betray Joseph (Gen. 37)

Abraham’s grandson Jacob had twelve sons, one of which was clearly his favorite (as the firstborn of his favorite wife). The favorite son, Joseph, cluelessly shared his dreams with his brothers, even when those dreams depicted his brothers bowing before him (first as sheaths of grain, then as stars). As shepherds, the brothers were grazing their flocks when their father sent Joseph to check on them. When they saw him coming, they voiced to each other how much they hated him and wanted to see him dead. Wishing turned into plotting. They needed only to wear the mask a few moments longer, until he was safely in their ambush. The brothers then grabbed him, stripped him of the multi-colored tunic which set him apart as their father’s favorite, and threw him into a waterless cistern.

Envy is the narrowest set of blinders you can wear, as it reduces your sense of justice to a single, obsessive bullseye. It didn’t matter that Joseph had done nothing worth punishment or that he was their flesh and blood. All that mattered was expunging him from their lives to make room in their father’s heart for themselves. When your sense of justice is dialed in by envy, the bullseye will feel like justice for you, though the bullet will hit the other person as betrayal.

Betrayal in the Bible: “When your sense of justice is dialed in by envy, the bullseye will feel like justice for you, though the bullet will hit the other person as betrayal.”

4. Delilah betrays Samson (Judges 16)

Although lovers, Samson and Delilah didn’t trust each other. Samson, the strongman whose secret was yet unknown, kept telling the persistent Delilah the secret to his strength (e.g., I’ve never been tied with fresh bowstrings…I’ve never been tied with new ropes…My hair has never been woven into the fabric on the loom). Suddenly, she would do what would supposedly drain him of his strength and then call the Philistines to come arrest him—only for him to laugh it off and easily fight the soldiers off as normal. Both Samson and Delilah kept up this flirtation until it escalated into Samson finally revealing the true secret. “After putting him to sleep on her lap, she called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him” (Judges 16:19). Don’t be surprised if a relationship built on self-interest consummates in betrayal.

5. Saul betrays David (1 Sam. 18-26)

King Saul was at one time a father figure to the young warrior David. David married his daughter and was as loyal and competent a soldier as Saul could have asked for. Yet, at David’s successes on the battlefield, Saul became jealous and sensed a threat to his reign. Saul’s bout with evil spirits necessitated a calming force, and David, as a musician, was often called in to play the harp for Saul. Three times, Saul took advantage of the situation and tried to spear David to the wall. After David escaped and went on the run, Saul sent soldiers and then eventually took an army to pursue and kill David. When David and his own soldiers had the opportunity to kill Saul (by secretly cutting off a corner of his robe when he could have knifed him), David used it as an opportunity to prove his loyalty. When Saul realized David had spared his life even when being hunted, Saul expressed how sorry he was and how much he had misjudged David. And yet, a couple chapters later, Saul was back with his army, pursuing David again. Thankfully, none of these betrayals led to David’s death or capture. But they all show us that words of sincere regret aren’t proof that we’re out of the woods. As long as envy persists, so does the potential for betrayal.

Betrayal in the Bible: “As long as envy persists, so does the potential for betrayal.”

6. David betrays Uriah

One of King David’s loyal soldiers (called David’s “mighty men”) was Uriah the Hittite. When Uriah was off at battle, David slept with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. When she became pregnant, David had Uriah called back from the battle to go home and be with his wife to make the pregnancy look like his. Uriah refused to return to his house out of loyalty to his fellow soldiers because they were roughing it on the battlefield. So, David went with Plan B, returning Uriah to the battlefield and secretly telling the commander to withdraw troops from Uriah at the heat of the battle so that he would be killed. Plan B came with subpoints, such as the lecture David would give when he learned that the soldiers had made such a foolish move on the battlefield. Plan B worked and now David could have Uriah’s widow as often as he wanted without suspicion. Betrayal may be morally comatose and yet tactically meticulous.

7. Ahab betrays Micaiah (1 Kings 22)

When the kings of Israel and Judah united to go to war against Aram, they consulted Israel’s prophets to see if it would be wise or unwise. The problem is that King Ahab’s prophets were universal in their praise of Ahab and any plan he had. So, the other king, Judah’s King Jehoshaphat asked if there was a true prophet of Yahweh left in the country. Ahab grudgingly said that, yes, there was one, but that Ahab couldn’t stand him because he prophesied negativity. Nonetheless, he summoned the prophet Micaiah. At first, Micaiah feigned support along with the other prophets, but Ahab knew it was an act. “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” Ahab asked, thick with irony but unaware of it. Then Micaiah gave the true prophecy. The joint armies would end up scattered, leaderless. Although inviting and even forcing Micaiah to tell the truth, Ahab’s response was vindictive. Micaiah was to be thrown in jail until Ahab returned—a return which wasn’t going to happen. Sometimes betrayal takes the form of responding with fury to truth spoken in good faith.

Betrayal in the Bible: “Sometimes betrayal takes the form of responding with fury to truth spoken in good faith.”

8. Joash betrays Zechariah (2 Chron. 24)

One of the kings of Judah died and the queen mother, Athaliah, responded by killing the rest of the family and usurping the throne. However, she missed one baby grandson named Joash. To protect him, the baby was taken, hidden, and watched over by a priest named Jehoiada. Then, when Joash was eight years old, Jehoiada brought him out of hiding, proclaimed him king, and in the uprising that resulted, Queen Athaliah was killed. Now that Joash was king, he led the nation in following God—until Jehoiada the priest died in old age. At that point, King Joash surrounded himself with new advisers and began bringing idols into the palace. Jehoiada the priest had a son named Zechariah who, when he found out what the king was doing, began to denounce the idolatry. At this, King Joash gave the command, and Zechariah, the son of Joash’s father figure and protector, was stoned to death. Often, one of the conditions that needs to be in place for betrayal to take root is the ingratitude that comes from forgetfulness.

9. Judas betrays Jesus (Luke 22:47-48)

Judas Iscariot’s name became so synonymous with betrayal that he is hardly mentioned in the Gospels without a phrase such as “who betrayed him” or “who became a traitor.” We aren’t sure exactly what motivated him to betray Jesus, except we do know he struggled with greed, and he agreed to betray Jesus to the authorities that wanted Jesus dead for a price—thirty pieces of silver. He arranged to lead them to Jesus and give them a signal. He would let them know which one was Jesus by greeting him with a kiss. Thus, “Judas’s kiss” has become the quintessential metaphor for betrayal. Jesus’ question in reply says it all: “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48).

Betrayal in the Bible: “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

10. God’s people betray God (Ezek. 16)

“You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband!” says God to his people when they were chasing after idols (Ezek. 16:32). That idolatry is depicted as adultery throughout the Bible tells us just how betrayed God feels when people break covenant with him. It makes no sense to us that God should stoop to create beings who can cause him pain through unfaithfulness, but such is the logic of love. It’s even more incomprehensible how consistently he responds to our betrayal by working to woo us back.

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