Did God Reward Midwives for Lying?
When there arose a Pharaoh who “knew not Joseph,” the Hebrew people were enslaved by the Egyptians. Fearing the slaves might aid an enemy in any attempted overthrow of the Egyptian regime, Pharaoh devised a plan to contain the population of the Israelites. He commanded the midwives to commit murder. All male children were to be killed (Exodus 1:15-16).
The Bible indicates that the midwives feared God, disobeyed Pharaoh, and let the baby boys live. When Pharaoh learned that his plan was unsuccessful, he asked the midwives for an explanation. They said that the Hebrew women were more vigorous than the Egyptian women. The Israelite mothers, they explained, gave birth before they arrived (Exodus 1:17-19).
Subsequently, the text reveals that the Lord rewarded the midwives with families because they feared God and disobeyed Pharaoh (Exodus 1:20-21).
A reader of the web site responded to our article, “Does God Condone Lying?”, by calling our attention to the biblical account above, implying that God is inconsistent and the Bible is contradictory. She speculated that some were rewarded for lying while others were punished for it (e.g., Ananias and Sapphira — Acts 5:1ff).
“What about Exodus 1 concerning the midwives? When questioned as to why they spared the newborns, they said that the babies were born prior to their arrival. Basically, the midwives feared God more than man. But not enough to tell man the truth. Yet, God rewarded the midwives even though they lied. And what about Abraham — twice he told the half-lie that Sarah was his sister — instead of saying she was his wife. It appears that God rewards some and punishes other for their lying, when contrasting this with the New Testament story of Ananias and Sapphira.”
There are some who love to find “questions.” They make a career out of discovering and exposing alleged contradictions in the word of God. The conversation usually does not have to be long in order for one to determine that his “pearls” are best utilized elsewhere.
But there are sincere people who understand that the Bible is the word of God, yet have a difficult time reconciling what appears to be a conflict within the text.
How does a person explain, to a genuine inquirer, the moral question about the Hebrew midwives and their subsequent reward?
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.
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.
Scripture references: Exodus 1:15-16; Exodus 1:17-19; Exodus 1:20-21; Acts 5:1; Exodus 1; Luke 23:9; Romans 3:23-26; Acts 17:30; Titus 2:11-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10