Exodus 1 – On Lying to Save the Kids

Exodus 1 Bible with Alter Eco Deep Dark Blackout Organic Chocolate

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Today’s PassageExodus 1

Here’s a passage that used to agitate me. To set the stage, Jacob and his twelve sons have long since died, and the current Pharaoh is struggling to control the numerous Hebrews in his kingdom. He forces them into hard labor, but they still prosper. So he tries to enlist the Hebrew midwives to kill all the Hebrew sons as they’re born. The Hebrew midwives don’t comply. But they lie in order to save the newborns, and therein lies the complication.

See, the midwives refuse to comply with the Pharaoh’s command out of reverence for God. The text states: “But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live” (17). They respect God’s authority rather than Pharaoh’s, and so they refuse to kill newborn babies. I don’t need to argue that God is against killing babies, do I? That God, the inventor of human beings, opposes killing them when they are at their weakest and most fragile life stage? If, like me, you recalled Psalm 137:9, “How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock,” GotQuestions.org has an answer for that.

And God puts his stamp of approval on the midwives’ non-compliance. We read: “So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty” (20). But when Pharaoh calls them to account for letting the Hebrew sons live, they give him the explanation: “Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them” (19). This is, of course, a lie. The midwives didn’t fail to obey Pharaoh’s orders on accident; they were quite deliberate in their disobedience. So, is the God of truth supporting them in their lie?

That’s the question that concerned me upon reading this passage several years ago. I remember discussions in high school about whether you should lie in order to save a person’s life, and from those conversations I concluded that it’s due to our human limitations that we see those situations as either/or. If we are sufficiently clever, shouldn’t we be able to figure out a way of saving lives without saying false things? But God, being sufficiently clever, shouldn’t be constrained to choose between a moral rock and a hard place. God doesn’t need to endorse a lie in order to save his people.

And, ultimately, I concluded that his role in the Hebrew people’s prosperity here doesn’t constitute an endorsement of the midwives’ lie. God works through fallible people, people with shortcomings and less-than-perfect plans, people who don’t see a way of saving sons without lying. He doesn’t stand behind it when we act like an insufferable braggart just because we had some dreams about wheat or stars, or when we sell our bratty little brother into slavery to some passing Ishmaelites. But he offers us forgiveness for our evils and inadequacies. He doesn’t hang us out to dry. And if he’s powerful enough to make something good come out of our most selfish actions, he can certainly do some good when the Hebrew midwives lie to the king of Egypt because they want to save some kids.

Stick with the passage; don’t bail on it just because it gets thorny. Make no mistake, there are still passages that give me trouble, but this isn’t one of them.

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3 thoughts on “Exodus 1 – On Lying to Save the Kids

  1. As I Sam 8 and the temptation of Christ both make clear, human government is of Satan. Complying with Pharaoh would make them complicit in his murderous evil.

    Man’s law when it comports with God’s law is redundant. When it conflicts it is abhorrent. Either way, it is unfit to exist. A king or parliament or highwayman making ‘laws’ for other men to follow is an illegitimate slavemaster, no matter his intent.

    It is always moral to lie to an evil-doer to save innocent lives. Government as we know it is necessarily always evil.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Randy. The rulers and authorities of ancient Egypt, especially in Moses’ day, committed more than their share of morally indefensible deeds. And you’re right to bring up 1 Samuel 8; even the kings of Israel were not exempt from abusing their power and exploiting the populace through their actions.

      However, I’d say that lying to an evil-doer to save innocent lies, at best, is always a suboptimal solution, though I’d certainly forgive a person for choosing it if one can’t conceive of a way to tell the truth and still save the lives in question. And I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that all human government is of Satan, in light of passages like Romans 13:1-10 and 1 Peter 2:13-25. It seems to me that the Biblical position is that government, like individual humans, seldom if ever acts in complete accordance with God’s will, but sometimes it accomplishes good things, and God can accomplish good through it despite its flaws. As a Christian anarchist, what do you make of those passages?

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      1. Romans 13 is grossly misused. For starters, it is written from prison where Paul spent a lot of time because of disobeying the Roman laws (not necessarily in this case, as he appealed to Caesar), so in no way can it be construed to be saying obey every law of Caesar. Secondly, how many governments does this rule out: “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.” Pretty much every single one.

        For more elucidation, please see http://romans13.com/

        The 1Pet 2 section is largely for securing the blessings of peace by being peaceful. I’m not a violent anarchist. Those are usually those who don’t respect property rights: anarcho-communists, anarcho-socialists, anarcho-syndicalists. They are specifically *human* institutions, not godly, so bear with them. It doesn’t say they are good. Again, “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” rules out just about every ruler except to the most deceived and rosy-glassed. I do particularly like verse 16 “Live as people who are free”. Freedom is indeed godly and most excellent! And incidently impossible if you have a ruler, for then you are a slave.

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