Scripture: “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. Exodus 1:16-17 ESV
Observation: As the narrative leading up to the birth of Moses continues, the author tells us that as the Israelites multiplied in number, the Egyptians equally grew in their sense of dread over them. So Pharaoh deals ruthlessly with God’s people: enslaving and embittering them with a heavy workload. Still, they prospered. Thus, Pharaoh commands the Hebrew midwives to kill all newborn males, but the midwives rightfully disobey Egypt’s king for fear of God (above verses). So Pharaoh summons the midwives and questions why they did not follow his orders. They lie and say that the Hebrew women are vigorous and give birth to their children before the midwives arrive. And the people of God continue to thrive and increase in number. Hence, Pharaoh commands all his people to cast every Hebrew male newborn into the Nile.
Takeaway: It’s interesting to note that God blessed the midwives for fearing him over Pharoah. Even though they lied to Egypt’s ruler, the Lord seemed unconcerned. Indeed, the author tells us in the following two verses that consequently, “God dealt well with the midwives” and “gave them families” (1:20-21). As addressed in our May 11 Daily Focus, this raises a question of “situational ethics.” Even though the ten commandments prohibit lying, are there particular circumstances where lying serves God’s purposes and does not count as sin in his economy? It appears from this example the answer is yes, for it is better to lie to save another’s life.
So how can we be sure of when and if it’s okay to lie? There are no hard-fast rules regarding situational ethical behavior other than fear God above the threats of others. But one scenario is not “gray.” Jesus taught that if we deny him before men (a form of lying), he will deny us before the father (Matthew 10:33). His disciples understood this teaching to include even circumstances where others threaten our lives. Still, even if we miss the mark and seek self-preservation over our allegiance to Christ, like Peter, forgiveness is never beyond our reach. And when we stand up for the vulnerable and uphold that sanctity of life as did the Hebrew midwives, even if we lose our lives, great is our reward in eternity.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who always sought to do your will, who never succumbed to the threats of those in authority, and who sacrificed his life to stand up for us. Would you please help us follow his example and fear you above the threats of others and discern your will at those moments of ethical quandary? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling