Exodus 1:15-22 (CSB) The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives—the first, whose name was Shiphrah, and the second, whose name was Puah—16 “When you help the Hebrew women give birth, observe them as they deliver. If the child is a son, kill him, but if it’s a daughter, she may live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt had told them;l they let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this and let the boys live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.” 20 So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied and became very numerous. 21 Since the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Pharaoh then commanded all his people, “You must throw every son born to the Hebrews into the Nile, but let every daughter live.”
Matthew 10:16 (CSB) Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.
These eight verses in Exodus 1 used to make me scratch my head. Rhab’s “diversion” in Joshua recorded during the spy’s visit to her was a similar kind of head scratcher.
In each of these instances, a person is pitted against a governing authority that was seeking to do harm to God’s people, and hard decisions had to be made in the heat of battle.
It’s very easy to look to Romans 13 as justification for simply obeying absolutely everything mandated by governments, kings, or authorities. But that is simply not the case. In the same correspondence to the church at Rome, Paul draws on Exodus and Pharaoh in Romans 9 in which God sent Moses to resist the Egyptian governing authority. So, clearly, God does not expect his people to simply march along in lock step with governments and regulations and laws and dictates that run contrary to his kingdom and his ways on the earth.
This requires knowledge of God’s word, a thriving and living relationship with God through Jesus Christ and the indwelling counselor Holy Spirit, but it is REQUIRED. We have to navigate kingdom life as it runs alongside life in earthly kingdoms almost daily.
Jesus sent out his disciples to preach the kingdom and reminded them that he was sending them out vulnerable, therefore they needed to be wise, tactically shrewd, and holy. We have the same orders that accompany our being sent to the nations. Shrewd and innocent.
Were the midwives shrewd and innocent? You bet they were. How do we know? God blessed their “misdirection” of Pharaoh and his henchmen with families of their own. God blessed them. God honored their shrewdness.
I have wrangled in my mind regarding whether they just lied or whether they were being shrewd, and if there is really a difference. I believe there is a difference. Why? God sees a difference because he honored their shrewdness.
What is the difference? The difference is found in why they did what they did. These midwives were not trying to get rich quick, save their own hyde for shameful gain, or just being evil. These precious women were preserving life from the unjust and cruel mandate handed down from a man who thought himself a “god”, and in doing so, they put themselves squarely on God’s side.
Pharoah was opposing God, and these women had to decide whose side they were on and who they would obey? The Bible says they feared God.
Peter and John had to decide what they’d do in regard to a similar government mandate when told not to preach in Jesus’ name. They said they’d have to go with obeying God over man.
That’s not so hard to process, but the ability to obey God and skirt one’s way around a difficult situation and not just dash themselves against the rocks unnecessarily and live to keep fighting is truly an exercise in holy wisdom that is shrewd and innocent.
Bonhoeffer wrestled with how to be holy and oppose Hitler actively in order to try and fight evil and live to keep fighting evil. It ultimately cost him his life, but he was able to biblically navigate being involved in plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Fascinating.
I suppose some will use such Scriptures as excuses to sin and may use this blog post as an excuse to sin, and that will be on them, and God will cause them to reap what they sow.
Some will use the same to chase ghosts and fringe ideas that don’t have much basis in reality and thus use God as an excuse to just be contrary. That is not the spirit of what we read in these Scriptures. These folks were fighting against evil in some form or another that was evident in running counter to the redemptive work of God’s kingodm.
There is never an excuse to violate God’s laws for selfish gain or covering up sin or hurting other people or justifying some fringe position.
There is great liberty to fear God and preserve people and life and health and good and order when done with fear of God and trembling at his word.
There will be some who find themselves in truly tight spots where God’s way is clear and an authority’s way is impeding God’s way and will find the liberty to be shrewd, holy, and able to live and fight another day.
I was faced with this ethical challenge on the streets of Pakistan in a cab waiting on a co-worker at a travel agency. I quietly called on the Lord, he helped me navigate the questions without giving away too much information, and the Lord produced a situation where his providence was put on display, and preserved good and right. Jesus tested me in applying his word, and I got first-hand experience in shrewdness and holiness.
Let’s grow in that kind of wisdom, and that growth will come not in theorizing but in being on mission with the Lord in our vocational domains as we make disciples and put right what is crooked.