Death or Life

obeycParents teach children to obey. Children are learning to respect authority. The Fifth Commandment ties that obedience to obeying God. But there are limits to obedience to human authority. Exodus 1:11-22 gives a powerful example of when God’s people must disobey.

You live in a culture of death. Pharaoh’s plan for Israel was extermination. Ancient Egypt may seem very strange and distant—but the heart issues are very modern. Pharaoh, who did not remember Joseph, was threatened by the size of the people of Israel. Plan 1 was to put them to hard labor, building cities for the Egyptians. When that failed to control them, Plan 1a was to treat them ruthlessly. Then he instituted Plan 2: summon the midwives and command them to make sure Hebrew baby boys did not survive childbirth. As we will see, when this plan failed, the third step was to order all Hebrew baby boys to be thrown into the Nile just after birth. Imagine the anxiety and grief!

You live in a culture characterized by death. Slavery of the kind Pharaoh practiced may not be common today, but human trafficking continues, even in our nation. Our culture with its worship of self and commitment to convenience sometimes purchase that at the price of life—both of the not yet born and of those at the other end of the age spectrum. Support for abortion is a required position in some political circles. Oregon was the first, but not the last, to legalize physician assisted suicide. Our corporate ethics are not particularly higher than those of ancient Egypt. (Remember that abortion is not an unforgivable sin. And often people other than the mother bear even more responsibility. God’s mercy and grace reach there as well.) The decision the midwives made is a decision you may have to make.

Obey God and seek life! Shiphrah and Puah refused to obey the king. We know very little about these women, except for their refusal to obey Pharaoh’s order. Instead of killing newborn boys, they let them live. The excuse to the king was that the Hebrew women delivered before the arrival of the midwife. These brave women recognized that Pharaoh’s command was wrong, and that they could not obey it.

Obey God rather than man. Peter and John made a similar stand in Acts 4 when ordered to stop preaching about Jesus (Acts 5 has a following account, involving all the disciples.) Notice that these cases do not justify any and every act of disobedience. It is when a human authority requires something that God forbids, or forbids doing what God requires, that a believer has not only the right, but the responsibility to disobey. The Bible does not permit us to take the law into our own hands. But, when human rulers require you to disobey God, you must choose to obey God. That may be costly—don’t expect those decisions to be free of consequences. Be prepared to take difficult stands. And, as you speak for what is right, reflect the compassion of Christ to those in need.

What happens? Thank God that he is the Lord of life. God honors those who fear him. In the case of Shiphrah and Puah he gave them families—their names and line were maintained, but Pharaoh remains unnamed. God, through these women, is doing more than defenidng the lives of newborn babies. He is preserving the line through which he will send the Messiah. This incident is a foretaste of wonderful ways God will continue to deliver his covenant people. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament God calls his people to show mercy to the weak and suffering, remembering their own history of being oppressed in Egypt. He continues to challenge you to do the same. “We should remember that these women did something for us. Because they rescued the babies, we will be raised from the dead! How so? If you do not have these women, you do not have Moses, the exodus, David, Mary, or Jesus. The women are so important that Moses even mentioned them by name, yet you do not see the name of Pharaoh anywhere in in this text. (‘Pharaoh’ means ‘Great House,’ just as ‘White House’ personifies the US president.) Pharaohs wanted their names remembered. They built pyramids to be remembered. Yet the only names remembered are those who feared God and protected life.” (Tony Merida, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Exodus, p. 11).

You live because of God’s mercy in Christ. Through the slavery and mistreatment God is showing his people that they need a redeemer. They are not inherently better than the Egyptians. God has made his covenant promise, and will not go back on his word. He has promised that the Messiah will come, and for the sake of his beloved Son, he will have mercy on Israel and deliver her. The mercy to that one people reaches out and draws in all the nations—and you.

God draws you to himself, not because you are so good a choosing good over evil or life over death, but because his Son obeyed perfectly. You have the gift of life because his Son laid down his life in your place. As those who have been blessed with the gift of life, reflect that blessing to those around you.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
This entry was posted in Reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.