Exodus 1:19-21

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Delivered 2 January 2016



Drash Exodus 1: Servants of Truth and Life


"19 And the midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and they are delivered before the midwife comes to them." 20 So God was good to the midwives, and multiplied the people, and they grew very mighty. 21 Because the midwives feared God, He gave them households." (Ex 1:19-21 mine)

The text for today comes from Parashah 13, Sh'mot, which means "these are the names."

In this familiar story the Pharaoh felt threatened by the increasing Israelite population, so he ordered two prominent Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to kill male babies as they were being born. The midwives knew they were being told to commit murder, so they not only disobeyed the order, but enabled the male babies to live. When questioned about the matter the midwives offered a rationalization that could have been a bald-faced lie or perhaps a lie wrapped in truth. They said the Hebrew women were vigorous in delivering babies. The Sages interpreted the adjective "vigorous" to mean "like animals" [Sotah 11b]. In other words, Hebrew women give birth quickly like animals in the wild. The Targum interprets the adjective to mean that the mothers were "as skillful as midwives," a view favored by Rashi. In any event, God rewarded the midwives and blessed their faithfulness to life by giving them "names" to add to the house of Israel.

This story presents the moral dilemma of whether lying may be justified. While some would paint the issue starkly black and white, the issue is far from simple. There are three basic axioms concerning lying in the Bible. One, God does not lie; two, Satan is a congenital liar, and three, all human beings lie. It is safe to say that everyone lies about something. You may have even lied this morning. Lies may be categorized as evil, justified or benign.

Evil lying is often done to cover up sin, to tempt someone into sin or to cause harm to another. The first evil lie recorded in Scripture came from the enemy of God, which resulted in the fall of Adam and his wife. One lie caused countless misery to the human race. Evil lying is condemned in the ninth commandment, which relates to perjury but the principle applies to other kinds of deceptive or dishonest behavior. There are many examples of evil lying in the Bible, but followers of Yeshua are particularly warned about false teachers and false prophets.

Yet, there are some situations in which lying may be necessary. Lying may be justified to protect yourself or someone else from harm, such as Christians who sheltered Jews from the Nazis in World War II. Lying to an enemy in the form of deception is often necessary to win a battle in war.

A number of Bible characters misrepresented the truth for good reasons. Abraham asked Sarah to be silent about their marriage when they met Pharaoh and Abimelech. He introduced Sarah as his sister, which she was. He was merely trying to protect her and Sarah obeyed, because she regarded her husband as her lord (I won't comment further). When her welfare was jeopardized God protected her. It was Pharaoh and Abimelech who were chastised by God, not Abraham.

Similarly, Jacob deceived his father to keep him from wrongfully transferring blessing to Esau that God had decreed belonged to Jacob. His deception accomplished the will of God and prevented his father from committing a great evil. Rahab the harlot lied to the King of Jericho to protect the Israelite spies that Joshua had sent. Due to her loyalty she and her family were rewarded with their lives and inclusion in the nation of Israel (Josh 6:25). She eventually joined the Messianic line (Matt 1:5). The apostles named Rahab as a fitting model of faith and faithfulness. And, don't forget Abigail who deceived her fool of a husband to protect her household from the wrath of David. Then in the category of stranger than fiction Yeshua told his brothers an apparent falsehood in order to protect the secrecy of a trip to Jerusalem for Sukkot.

Lastly, there is what I call benign lying. People may lie to defend personal privacy, to diffuse a tense social situation, to avoid hurting someone's feelings or to calm someone who is frightened. "Say honey, how do I look?" Typical greeting exchanges go something like, "Hello. How are you?" "Just fine, how are you?" The reality is that often we are not "fine," but we don't really want to get into an extended conversation about the matter.

Distinguishing between the types of lies is not intended to justify dishonesty in our words. It's easy to point to a Bible character and say, "he or she lied, so I can, too." However, the circumstances of justified lying in Scripture are extremely narrow in scope. We are commanded in Scripture to speak the truth to others, because relationships require trust to remain healthy and trust is based on truth.

God knows the motivation of our hearts and will judge us accordingly. Let us be people of truth as well as people who value and protect life.

Barukh HaShem.

Copyright 2016 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.