The lies of the midwives

The story goes something like this:

A new Pharaoh did not appreciate the Hebrew people Joseph led into their land a generation earlier. They were so numerous that their king/pharaoh thought it best to oppress and dwindle them down by hard labor and bitter bondage. This backfires and the Hebrews grow more numerous. Thus Pharaoh decrees two midwives to kill the Hebrew male children as they are born. The  midwives fear God more than Pharaoh and let the children live. The ruler hears of the lack of deaths, and calls the two to answer for this:

 “The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.” – Exodus 1:19-21 (ESV)

Basically our hang up with this passage is that it appears that lying is sanctioned and rewarded by God. How do you reconcile this? 

One way is a saying “the end justifies the means”. So if a great righteousness is the result, the means are not counted against you. This cannot be the case, because you could then justify just about anything. Even Judas would be off the hook because his betrayal of Christ brought about the highest good. Scripture tells us that although Judas was to betray, he is held guilty for it. 

Another attempt to reconcile this is to say that in a morally Greek tragedy kind of way, the lesser of two evils were brought to bear, so although they had to lie, they are guilty for it and must repent and asks God’s mercy, although lives were spared in the end. Yet again the lesser of two evils could be used to justify about anything to say that you stabbed someone in the leg, whereas you didn’t stab them in the heart, because it was a lesser, yet warranted evil. Also I don’t believe God puts us in situations were we are required to sin. After all they are rewarded for their actions, and there is no mention of repentance. 

Another option is to say that God must have a hierarchy to the commandments, so to defend a higher moral at the expense of a lesser is excusable. Yet God never pretends to wink at or cover over sins. Truth is a defining characteristic of God, and is everywhere encouraged. But here?

The reconciliation I’d suggest is that we step back and do three things. First determine what are the real motivations being described. Is someone really seeking the honor of God, or just moral wiggle room to justify their own actions? Second, review the whole counsel of God. What does all of the Bible have to say on the topic? Lastly, what are all the circumstances? When this is applied to our story, we see midwives who fear God more than a tyrant who thinks he is a god. Scripture describes in several places how it is lawful to resist the unholy, perverse and ungodly laws of a ruler or government. The midwives considered God their authority and so Pharaoh’s demand was unjust. So they were right to rebel and resist even to the point of refusing to give him the truth. Could they have withheld the truth without lying? I think that’s splitting hairs. God rewards them not for being crafty and subversive, but because these two simple women denied the laws of a hateful ruler when they came in conflict with the authority of God (a huge theme in the book of Exodus).

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