Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Rewards of Obedience, Not Sin -- Exodus 1:18-20


So the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?”  And the midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous, and they give birth before the midwife can get to them.”  So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty.

A king gives a direct order and those charged to carry it out disobey.  The king has them brought before him (we assume but can’t verify it is the same two he originally gave the order to) and asks them to explain why they did not do as commanded.  So the midwives start to tell the Pharaoh that they could not kill the male infants as the Hebrew women, due to their ‘vigor’, would give birth before the midwives arrived and thus there was no way to accommodate the king once the child had been passed over to the waiting hands of family and others.

Three issues arise in my mind with this response or interchange between the midwives and the Pharaoh.  The first is that their actual words may well be what gives rise to the thinking of some commentators that the two midwives were indeed Egyptian and not Hebrew, otherwise they would much less likely to have so boldly told the Pharaoh that Hebrew women were superior to the Egyptian ones, unless they themselves were Egyptian.  (However, their names, Shiphrath and Puah, being Hebrew ones, are more likely to place the midwives among the Hebrews.)

The second issue that arises is that while the midwives ‘feared God’ and thus took the action they believed He would have preferred and let the male babies live, they seem to have had no problem in lying to the Pharaoh.  (This assumes that they did lie; one commentator I refer to below indicates this may not have been the case.) Let us for the moment assume that they did lie.  This type of action continues to present difficulty for some readers.  It is especially troublesome when it is immediately followed with the phrase “So God was good to the midwives.”  The question before us is this: Does God condone lying in certain situations?  Such a question is even more relevant today for Christians as we are faced with the knowledge that many Muslims believe and admit that lying “for the sake of Allah’s will” is perfectly acceptable for Muslims.  Christians on the other hand are taught that we should not lie (one of the ten commandments we will encounter later in our study) and that our “yes should be yes, and our no, no”.  So, how then do we deal with such reports of God “blessing” those that lied?  Clearly, this is not the first place in Scripture where we came across this.  You may remember that Abraham lied, Jacob cheated, and so on in Genesis, yet God blessed them.

When I wondered about how I would handle this issue again at this point of our study, some suggested that I simply state that God’s ways are not our ways and this is one of the mysteries of Scripture that we do not understand at this point in time.  Unconvinced, I was not willing to give up that easily.  These midwives appear to have lied and the text says, “So, God was good to” them.  You can’t avoid that, no matter how you try to rationalize it.  It’s a possibility.
In an article entitled, “Did God Reward Midwives for Lying?” Jason Jackson writing in ChristianCourier.com has much to offer us in understanding this dilemma (and also the one about the prostitute Rahab’s lying later in the Old Testament, as well as the lying of Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament).  He writes:

“First of all, the midwives may have told the truth. It may have been the case that the Hebrew women, fearing the commandment of the king, did not call for the midwives in a timely way.  Second, one is not obligated to tell all he or she knows. Withholding information is not necessarily falsehood (cf. Luke 23:9).  Third, if one believes that the midwives were deceptive, he must understand that they were rewarded for their works, not their words.  They were blessed for refusing to murder the babies.  All who are rewarded by God, in any age, are blessed in spite of their sins, based upon the gracious forgiveness of God.”


Lest we as New Testament Christians get carried away thinking we can lie our way to blessings, Jackson adds, “The Lord, however, is not arbitrary in dealing with sin. As Paul observed, God is just, and the justifier of them that have faith in Jesus, whom he sent to be a propitiation for our sins (Romans 3:23-26).  Bible narratives often relate events without passing a moral judgment on the circumstances.  Similarly, Rahab was justified by her works — not by her words of deception.

“Fourth, one must remember that these individuals, the midwives and Rahab, were not New Testament Christians. God tolerated certain things, like polygamy, in Old Testament times — the times of ignorance. But now, in the light of the gospel, he commands all men everywhere to repent and live according to the high moral standard of Christianity (Acts 17:30; Titus 2:11-12). Additionally, not all is settled in this life. Justice will be equally dispensed on the Judgment Day (2 Corinthians 5:10).

“Fifth, the case of Ananias and Sapphira is not parallel. These individuals were New Testament Christians who lived in the light of the Gospel Age. They lied for the sake of financial gain, pride, and a desire for prominence within the church.  But the midwives, who lived in Old Testament times, may have used deception to save their lives. They refused to murder. The cases simply are not parallel.  It is incorrect to say that God rewarded the midwives for lying. The Bible does not affirm that conclusion.  The Lord blessed them for their refusal to kill baby boys — for their interest in obeying God rather than man.”

I agree with Jackson, but add my own perspective as follows.  I believe God loves us so much that while He hates any sin, he is more concerned with our obedience.  He wants the sin to be recognized, repented for, and stopped.  Then like a great Father, He does not neglect to bless us as we give Him our Heart and obey Him going forward.

Note to readers: Some of you who know have followed some of my writings on social media and elsewhere may well ask me the following question: “Why not apply the thinking you laid out above to homosexuality and homosexuals?”  Here is my response: I do, totally.  God hates the sin of homosexuality and He loves the homosexuals.  He wants them to recognize their sin (as we all have to do), repent for it, and stop repeating it.  And I believe they can do that if they give God their heart and want to obey Him.  Then His blessings are all theirs as they are ours.


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