lying for God?

There’s one more thing from Exodus 1 that I want to look at. First let’s review what we’ve learned so far. Exodus opens with several lessons on fear. The Egyptians allowed fear to take control and so devised a terrible plan for mistreating the Israelites through enslavement and a plan to control their numbers by killing their babies. The midwives, on the other hand, had been given the task of killing these babies. But they feared God more than the Egyptians and so they did not obey. Taking their lives into their own hands, they chose to protect and keep alive the newborns.


But here’s the issue that I can’t just ignore from Exodus 1. I would rather just move on, but I at least need to acknowledge that I see what’s happening here. I’m talking about the fact that these midwives who fear God are honored for their behavior—behavior which includes lying.


Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.         Exodus 1:18-20


This isn’t the truth; the problem isn’t that the midwives are mis-timing their arrival and the delivery. Verse seventeen states clearly that because the midwives feared God they let the boys live.  And here they lie and tell the Pharaoh that they just aren’t arriving in time; the women are having the babies too quickly. “So God was kind to the midwives…”


They lied…and God was kind to them for it.


This isn’t the only time this happens in the Bible either. I’m thinking of Rahab in particular (See Joshua 2). She lies very clearly and directly, telling the men looking for the spies that the spies left and even gives a direction they went in (all while they hide at her home). So what’s the deal?! I thought lying was wrong. It is wrong, isn’t it? If so, why is God honoring these midwives and blessing them? Why does he spare Rahab for it? She’s even mentioned in Hebrews 11 with all the faithful.


I’ll be honest, this doesn’t actually bother me. I find it encouraging. Granted it’s a little perplexing and feels somewhat paradoxical, but still I find comfort in it.


First, it tells me how important human life is to God. These midwives are choosing to do whatever is necessary to keep the new born babies alive—including lie. And God’s interest is in the fact that these children are living; that these midwives are protecting the helpless and innocent. So to God, life is more valuable than telling a lie. That gives me a sense of relief. God has priorities.


Second, and perhaps more importantly, it tells me God is not a moralist. Let me explain. I’m not saying God does not have morals or that having them is not important to God. What I mean is this. A moralist is someone whose life is defined by the morals he/she keeps. “These are the rules and these are the only rules. Regardless of what’s going on these rules are the rules and rule one is follow all the rules all the time.”


God—who gives us lots of rules—isn’t defined buy rules. He is defined by relationships. He is defined by life. In both cases (Exodus 1 with the midwives and Joshua 2 with Rahab) it’s all about relationships and life. Lying to protect the lives of those who can’t protect themselves (Exodus) or lying to protect the lives of those who are following God (Rahab).


Again, I’m not saying we have a license to lie and I’m not saying that God doesn’t care about rules. What I’m saying is that what’s most important to God—most important—is life and our relationship with him. There are plenty of cases in the Bible (Abraham twice!) where someone lies with the pretense that it’s to save life, when actually it’s just a selfish act that comes out of a lack of faith. So this is a sticky subject to say the least. But what I get from this is that God has priorities and the rules are not it. You and I are the priority. Life and humanity and relationship.


It’s comforting to know that God isn’t a put-your-head-down-and-plow-through-the-rules-no-matter-what kind of guy. There is more going on. There is life and there is relationship. Everything isn’t black and white. Relationships are messy and don’t always fit into a nice neat package.


I would imagine that for some of you what I’m saying here comes as a great relief. You love what you are reading. Let me caution you: don’t love it too much. Don’t let yourself use this kind of thing to justify lying. These are isolated events—extreme events—and they should be used to teach us about God’s character and value system more so than a justification for our own behavior.


For others this is just disturbing. I would caution you as well. Don’t let it bother you too much. Mainly for the same reasons I gave above. This is a lesson in God’s character. It’s not all about rules, it’s all about relationship and the value of human life.


The bottom line—for me—is that these midwives stood up for those who could not defend themselves. They stood up against a terrible and evil empire that sought to kill the innocent and enslave a people. God values that. God honors that.


God values life, he values us. That’s what I am celebrating here.



12 thoughts on “lying for God?

  1. ” A moralist is someone whose life is defined by the morals he/she keeps. “These are the rules and these are the only rules. Regardless of what’s going on these rules are the rules and rule one is follow all the rules all the time.””

    This is the best phrasing of this distinction I have ever heard. Really terrific post. Really terrific.

    • Kelly, thanks so much. I’m really thankful that you found value in these words. I have been thinking about this for some time now and finally found the words I felt at least would address what I was thinking.

      Grace and peace to you.

      – Joel

  2. Interesting 🙂 I have quite a few questions here so forgive me if I go on a bit too much.

    This raises questions about “white lies”. If you lie to spare someone’s feelings etc. What are your beliefs about that? Also would you say it is the intentions behind the lie that matter? For example Abraham’s intentions were selfish whereas the midwives lied to spare lives? However they were also lying to spare their own lives so there is also selfishness in it.

    Another thing to consider is that (to me at least), God seems to have slightly different approaches to things in the old testament compared to the new testament. Eg in the new testament Jesus teaches to turn the other cheek and to love your enemies, this doesn’t always seem to be the case in the old testament, so could this rule about lying also be something that may not apply anymore?

    • Costas, I am so glad to read your questions here. I can always rely on you for thoughtful questions that push me to consider more deeply what I have come to think on something. Thanks for that!

      Let me try to respond to your questions here. These of course, are only my opinions so feel free to push back, to agree/disagree, or ask more.

      First, with regard to “white lies.” I will be very direct on this as I am very opinionated about this concept! I do not like the reasoning of lying to “spare someone’s feelings.” I know the temptation of it and I understand the motivation behind it, but in the long run I think this is typically used simply because it’s easier on us (the one’s telling the white lies) because we don’t have to have an awkward conversation. It feels very selfish to me. Also, I think it breeds very unhealthy habits in a relationship to be gauging what I say based on what the other operson will feel/think rather than what is true. This does not mean that I should offer up every opinon that I have regardless of how it will affect others. Sometimes I just need to keep my mouth shut. But if I am asked directly, or the circumstances don’t allow for keeping my mouth shut I feel that telling the truth as kindly as possible is the better option. This builds emotionally healthy relationships.

      As to your point about intentions behind the lie, I do think this is part of what is important. And yes, the midwives were saving their own skin as well so in part they were being selfish. But here is the distinction for me. In Abraham’s case the lie was solely selfish. In fact his lie not only protected him, but harmed another (his wife Sarah). He lied and said they were not married (twice!) so that he would be spared. His wife, on the other hand was taken by the king to be one of his wives. So Abraham’s lie was solely for his own gain and was bad for others. The midwives, on the other hand, while benefiting themselves from the lie were also protecting and saving the lives of many others. The moralist would say, “No, it’s wrong to lie. Tell the truth–always.” But their lie actually saved lives. And God seems to honor that. Hopefully that makes sense. Let me know.

      Now, as to your last observation about things being different in the Old and New Testament I would say yes…and no. I think some things are different. God, of course is not different. But the system of relating to him is. In the OT the relationship was very much defined by rules (keeping the Law) so it was more scandolous for God to honor rule breakers (those who lie). When Jesus comes along the relationship is defined by the relationship only. There is no more rules to follow in order to access God. There are still rules and they are still important, but now they serve a different function. Rules don’t give us access anymore. They are a response (that’s another interesting topic to explore sometime). As a general principle lying is still not something God wants us to do. For the most part lying is something we do to serve ourselves and decieve others out of convenience or personal gain. This wasn’t okay in the OT and still isn’t okay. I think instead of trying to establish the rule on lying I was observing that it seems to me that to God rules are secondary to people.

      Hopefully these responses are helpful. Let me know your thoughts. And if I have failed to answer what you were looking for just say so.

      Again, thanks for the great questions!

  3. I really appreciate you pointing out the real importance here. This is definitely a subject no one has ever talked about before. It’s good food for thought. THank you.

    • Cristy, thanks so much for reading.

      I would agree that I’ve not seen this subject addressed before. This caused me some hesitation and careful considering for how to speak to it and what conclusions to draw. But it also led me to feel compelled to say something; to acknowledge that this is what is happening even if I’m not totally resolved on what it means for us.

  4. Well I’m also against white lies mostly because people have a tendency to misuse what they have been given. Most people that use white lies will gradually drift off into bigger lies. It’s a gradual process that happens without you realising so it is best to stay clear of them even if they were justified.

    As for the midwives situation I do see the difference, however I don’t see where it begins or ends. I realise that the article is focusing on God’s character, but this detail won’t leave me alone. They lied to protect life. How many Christians however were prosecuted and died because they refused to lie? I’m guessing that the difference is in what the consequence of the lie is. Whether it shows faith or lack of it perhaps?

    • Agreed on the white lies leading to larger lies. Lying is one of those habits that starts and is just too easy and convenient. Good thoughts there.

      “As for the midwives situation I do see the difference, however I don’t see where it begins or ends.”

      I think this is part of the point I am coming to realize. There are not any hard and fast rules determining “in this case and that case it is always okay to tell a lie for the benefit of others.” Because God’s value system rests in relationship these become very muddy waters. The consequences of the lie certainly play a role, as does the motivation for lying. Was it due to lack of faith, or fear of life or selfishness or a matter of convenience, etc.? And I think where I am in my relationship with God is also part of it. What does he require of me based on where I am in the journey with him? This isn’t black and white and it’s not going to be the same for every person in every circumstance. This would go to your point of how many Christians have suffered and died for refusing to lie. I don’t think it’s necssarily bad that this detail is sticking with you. this is a good concept to wrestle with.

      Lying is still wrong and generally it’s destructive. At the very least lying is disrespectful to the one we are lying to. But at the end of the day we live in an evil world of sin. If I lie to protect the life of a child, God honors that. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everything we are tempted to lie about. 🙂

  5. Pingback: when God changes his mind « soul grit

  6. If we agree that “white lie” is ok with God then we also have conclude that it is not against His character. So it means that even He Himself can tell lies. White lies.
    Somebody wrote earlier that God’s approach is different in the NT compared to the OT. Which means He changes. So whats with the text “I’m the LORD your God, I do not change?”

    So who’s right here? I think GOD does not change and He cannot lie. This is what the Bible teaches. I believe God is eternal and so is His Law.

    When we try to excuse these white lies we limit GOD’S hand. Because we think we cannot tell the truth because this is the situation we have to solve as God cannot solve it. He is not all-powerful. He needs our help. And as a consequence we miss out on possible miracles when He could do marvelous things for us such as He parted the sea for Israel. Our doubts and faithlessness shortens Him and puts Him in a box which is labeled as “An Almost Powerful God”.

    • Peter,

      I don’t think I can agree with some of your logic here. First, I wouldn’t say (and I don’t think I did say) that God is “ok” with lying. What I said was that God, in dealing with us in a fallen sinful world, has priorities. In these circumstances where the midwives lie as an attempt to protect the lives of newborn babies God does not punish them for lying but was actually kind to them. This doesn’t mean that God is okay with lying or that he himself would lie (I’m not sure how you take that step in your logic), but it shows us from the Scripture referenced here and in Joshua, that God does not punish for lying in these two instances. If you have a different explanation for what is happening here, please let me know. But in both cases I see people blatantly lying for the purpose of protecting either new born babies or those sent by God to spy out the land. In both cases God does not commend them for lying, but also does not discipline them or speak out against it. Again, not because God is okay with lying but because he has priorities.

      Also, I would disagree with your logic that if we say God’s approach is different from O.T. to N.T. that God himself is different. Nothing could be further from the truth. God does approach humanity differently, radically differently, in the Old and New Testaments. We go from Law to grace. Nothing could be more different! But God is completely unchanged. His character and standards are identical, but how he approaches us and allows us to apporach him is as different as could be.

      I think ultimately you missed the point of what I was writing about. I never claimed God tells lies or even condones lying. I merely pointed out that in two instances people lie and God still shows them kindness. Do I think that’s because God likes lying? No. As I wrote, it shows that God has priorities and is interested in relationship with us. No where in my post do I excuse lying or call it good or even okay. No where do I claim it’s God’s way, or that he would have us choose it. I simply identified that there are places where it occurs that God doesn’t punish those who do it. And there are other places where God comes down hard on those who lie. As we find everywhere in the Bible God’s interest in in the heart of man, not the rules we follow. Sometimes that means, even with a heart seeking to do good (like protect the newborn babies), we will choose something that God does not condone. But because God is interested in the heart he may show us kindness anyway. Because he is fuill of grace, not because he has no problem with lying.

      This post had nothing to do with limiting God or relegating him to almost powerful. if anything it magnifies the power and greatness of God who has such perfect standards for holiness and measures that out perfectly with grace and kindness for sinful humanity.

  7. Joel- lady night a friend & I were discussing Rahab & how God honored her lie. Today as I was reading the bible in my youversion app, I decided to research Rahab.

    While reading Joshua 2 I viewed this comment you posted. I started to read it & when you brought up the point about the Egyptusn midwives my spirit cried “yes” this is another example to be examined.

    When I read your explanation that God is not a moralist but is defined by relationships I knew I would now finally fully understand this perplexity of examples of biblical lies that resulted in kindness from God.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the first comment here by Kelly. She sums up my thoughts perfectly. And then I take it a step further & open my eyes & my heart to God & say, “Lord, do I have moralistic tendencies that I honor above my relationship with You?”

    And this is where God has brought me. Thank you for writing & publishing this. My heart sings at the new truths revealed to me & the freedom it brings to know that I can now clearly understand & discuss this topic.

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