Simple Studies in the Scriptures
7 ¶ And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.
The word “fruitful” is found in Genesis 1:22 in the divine mandate to replenish the earth. There might have been as many as two million Hebrews to come out of Egypt based on ancient population studies.
8 Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.
Egypt is a tableland of sand. However, because the Nile River flows for five hundred miles down into the Mediterranean, and because it overflows every year with the water that comes down from the highlands in Central Africa, a great nation can be supported. Each year the river overflows and floods for about seven miles on each side of the Nile so that it becomes some of the most fertile land in all of the world. Spiritually, Egypt has become a symbol of worldliness and prosperity with little need for excessive labor. When people prosper, they tend to forget the Lord. The book of Genesis ends where the children of Israel are invited to move from famine stricken Canaan to Egypt. They accepted the provisions Joseph made for them and settled in the land of Goshen. As the years passed, the population of the Jews grew. A new Pharaoh came to power who did not know Joseph, leading to a dramatic shift towards the Hebrew immigrants.
9 And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we:
This is a hyperbole, but it reveals a concern on the part of the Pharaoh with the Jewish foreigners.
10 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.
A major concern for the Egyptians was that the Jewish immigrants would not be loyal in time of national crisis but would join in an insurrection. The solution the Pharaoh proposed was to control the Jews through the legal use of force. The Pharaoh thought he was being wise in keeping a cheap labor force in the land, while controlling their population growth. There is a wisdom of the world that satisfies the human ego, but eventually brings hardship and death to others. Ideas have consequences.
11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.
Beliefs dictate behaviour. Because the Pharaoh feared the Jewish immigrants in the land, he imposed heavy burdens of labor upon them. The main idea was that the greater the labor, the less likely Jews would live to old age. The life expectancy of the men would be shortened. Through the slave labor of the Hebrews, important cities were built for the Pharaoh, such as Pithom and Raamses.
12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel.
The Pharaoh forgot, or ignored, the good the Hebrew immigrants had already done for Egypt over the years, and demanded more labour from them in order to decimate their population. But the more that was demanded from the Hebrews, the more the people multiplied. The result was that the Egyptian policy did not work by enforcing slave labor with a view to population control. When a governmental policy does not work, a wise ruler will change the policy. A foolish national leader will “double down” on a bad policy making a terrible situation worse. The Pharaoh “doubled down.” The Egyptians lived in dread of the children of Israel, which is surprising, because the children of Israel were the ones being enslaved. Here is an insight into the heart of every foolish national leader who realizes their policies are not working. Such rulers live in mental dread of the people ruled over. They are angry with them. They hate them. They are afraid.
13 And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour:
Forced slave labor camps gave way to secret genocide, which in turn became open ethnic cleansing, and at the height of persecution, a pogrom. The Israelites were compelled to learn the blessing of suffering.
14 And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.
Many lives are made bitter because of poor choices in life, because of the poor choices of family forefathers, and because of rulers who are self-absorbed with power and pride. In desperation, the Pharaoh, who realized his policy toward the Hebrews was not working, issued another royal command, more evil, more inhumane, and more diabolical than his former decree. A foolish heart does not grow wiser with time, only more sinister and desperate.
15 ¶ And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah:
The early chapters of Genesis preserved the story of God’s providence in giving the world Moses. The story of Moses begins with two midwives. The first midwife was named Shiphrah. She remains an unheralded bright figure in faith’s hall of fame, along with another splendid heroine named Puah.
16 And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live.
It is often thought that mass murderers are nothing more than an irrational people, void of any moral compass of determining right or wrong. That is an unfortunate view of these individuals because it diminishes the culpability of personal responsibility. Pharaoh will be forever responsible for the slaughter of the innocent, as much as king Herod will be held accountable for the children he killed while seeking the life of Christ. “Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not” (Matt. 2:16-18). In prophetic anticipation of the dark deeds of Herod, the king of Egypt issued a decree to kill the male Hebrew children. This decree was not merely an allowance of abortion, as abominable as that is, this was government sponsored infanticide. The midwives were told that it was their civic duty to kill a boy born. If the child was a girl, it was to live.
17 But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.
It is probable that the midwives were intimidated by the power of the king’s decree. But, and that word is a lovely conjunction of contrast, the midwives feared God more. There is wisdom in fearing God. Those who fear God will not kill babies, and they will not seek to perform abortions, early or late term. Those who have no fear of God will kill babies, and then sell their body parts for profit. God fearing women do not kill their children. The civil disobedience of the midwives received the blessing of God. Christians are always to obey the civil magistrates unless they issue a policy that is contrary to the known will of the Lord. Nothing must be done that would violate the character of God, or violate the conscience of a Christian. The midwives “saved the men children alive.”
18 And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive?
When it was brought to the attention of Pharaoh that the midwives were not obeying his royal decree, the king was outraged. He demanded that the midwives be brought before him for intimidation and interrogation. It is the nature of tyrants to want to be obeyed immediately, and without question.
19 And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them.
The midwives did not avoid answering the king. Using wisdom, the midwives gave an appropriate response. Pharaoh was told that Hebrew women were stronger than Egyptian women, and were able to deliver babies without their services. Surprisingly, Dr. R. C. Sproul calls the response of the midwives “a righteous lie”. Dr. Sproul argues that the truth is to be told, but only to those to whom the truth is due. The truth is to be told in every case where justice is involved. However, there are occasions when the truth will cause injustice and death. In such a situation, the Christian is not bound to co-operate with those who kill. In July, 1987, former Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North told a Congressional subcommittee that he was willing to “trade lies for lives” if necessary, and he did when he traded money and arms for hostages in Iran without legal approval and tried to cover up his actions. Spiritually, there is a typology in the narrative that must not be overlooked. Pharaoh is a type of Satan, and like Satan, he is stupid when it comes to spiritual matters. The midwives obviously made up a story, but Pharaoh accepted it.
20 Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty.
It is questionable whether there is such a thing as a “righteous lie.” That language seems like a contradiction in terms. It is like speaking of a “heavenly devil.” The followers of Sun Myung Moon taught the doctrine of “heavenly deception”. Perhaps it is the motive which drove the midwives to circumvent the truth that God honored. The Lord looked into the hearts of the women and saw that they feared Him. Though sin was present, grace was much more present.
21 And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses.
The Lord honored the midwives with families of their own. Question: “How could God have blessed the midwives when they lied?” In the fifth century, Augustine thought about this and wrote a work called, De Mendaci or “Concerning Lying”. Today this question is discussed under situational ethics. Augustine decided it is always wrong to lie, but God blessed the women because their lying was an expression of their fear of God. Faith is not always a perfect faith. Rahab did the same thing. She lied, and yet she is listed in Faith’s Hall of Fame. God blessed Rahab, not because she lied, but because she was moved by faith. God sovereignly uses sin, including the sin of Deicide (Acts 2:23), to advance His will (Rom. 8:28).
22 And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.
When Pharaoh heard the response of the midwives, his anger was increased. In his anger, Pharaoh made another foolish policy decision that expanded his murderous rage. Every male child, Egyptian or Hebrew, was to be thrown into the Nile River. There were to be no exceptions. One way or another Pharaoh was to get the object of his wrath, no matter how many of his own people he hurt. The evil in the heart of a tyrant is without boundaries. The evil person does not care who is hurt. The midwives stand in stark contrast to Pharaoh and reminds the church that godly women do not kill babies.