Exodus 1:15–21—How could God bless the Hebrew midwives for disobeying the God-ordained governmental authority (Pharaoh) and lying to him?

Problem: The Bible declares that “the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Rom. 13:1). The Scripture also says, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 12:22). But the Pharaoh (king) of Egypt had given a direct order to the Hebrew midwives to murder the newborn Hebrew boys. “But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive” (Ex. 1:17). Not only did the midwives disobey Pharaoh, but when he questioned them about their actions, they lied saying, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them” (Ex. 1:19). In spite of this, Exodus 1:20 states that God “dealt well with the midwives … He provided households for them” (v. 21). How could God bless the midwives for disobedience and lying?

Solution: There is little question that the midwives both disobeyed Pharaoh by not murdering the newborn male children, and that they lied to Pharaoh when they said they arrived too late to carry out his orders. Nonetheless, there is moral justification for what they did. First, the moral dilemma in which the midwives found themselves was unavoidable. Either they obeyed God’s higher law, or they obeyed the lesser obligation of submitting to Pharaoh. Rather than commit deliberate infanticide against the children of their own people, the midwives chose to disobey Pharaoh’s orders. God commands us to obey the governmental powers, but He also commands us not to murder (Ex. 20:13). The saving of innocent lives is a higher obligation than obedience to government. When the government commands us to murder innocent victims, we should not obey. God did not hold the midwives responsible, nor does He hold us responsible, for not following a lower obligation in order to obey a higher law (cf. Acts 4; Rev. 13). In the case of the midwives, the higher law was the preservation of the lives of the newborn male children.

Second, the text clearly states that God blessed them “because the midwives feared God” (Ex. 1:21). And it was their fear of God that led them to do what was necessary to save these innocent lives. Thus, their false statement to Pharaoh was an essential part of their effort to save lives.

Third, their lying is comparable to their having disobeyed Pharaoh in order to save the lives of the innocent newborns. This is a case where the midwives had to choose between lying and being compelled to murder innocent babies. Here again the midwives chose to obey the higher moral law. Obedience to parents is part of the moral law (cf. Eph. 6:1). But if a parent commanded his or her child to kill a neighbor or worship an idol, the child should refuse. Jesus emphasized the need to follow the higher moral law when He said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37).