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.