Disobeying Government Authority

Question

The midwives (Exod. 1:17) disobeyed the command of Pharaoh (Rom. 13:1) and lied in the process (Prov. 12:22). How could God bless the midwives (Exod. 1:21) for disobeying Pharaoh?

Answer

Exodus 1:15-21 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, "When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live." The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, "Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?" The midwives answered Pharaoh, "Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive." So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

Proverbs 12:22 The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.

Romans 13:1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

The midwives indeed did not obey the command of Pharaoh! They lied. Was this a violation of Scripture?

First, as Christians, we should obey government authority as a norm (Rom. 13:1-6; Tit. 3:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:12-23). For instance, we should always tell the truth in a court of law (Prov 19:9; 6:16-19). Human government receives delegated authority from God (Dan. 2:21; 4:17; John 19:11). However, this assumes that the delegated authority will be used for good - not evil. When governments do evil, they are not acting under God's delegated authority. Therefore, a Christian should never murder, rape, or violate other commands of God upon the orders of an evil government.

Even the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) makes it clear that military personnel need to obey only the (1) lawful command of his superior officer (809. ART. 90 (2)), (2) the lawful order of a warrant officer, noncommissioned officer, or petty officer (891. ART. 91 (2)), or (3) the lawful general order or regulation (892.ART.92 (1)), etc. So, military personnel have a moral and constitutional duty to only obey lawful orders but also have moral and constitutional obligation to disobey unlawful ones. Their moral and legal obligation is to the U.S. Constitution and not to those who would issue unlawful orders.

In Acts 5, we have a clear picture of what Paul was saying in Romans 13:1 concerning proper submission:

Acts 5:25-29 Then someone came and said, "Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people." At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood." Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than human beings! "

Clearly, God's laws are seen as superseding man's delegated authority. This is the general principle we are to follow when making these types of ethical decisions. We should follow the higher law (Matt. 10:37; Acts 16:19-28); just as military personal are to obey the Constitution over an unlawful order of a superior (see above). The midwives were justified in obeying God's law of not murdering Moses (Exod. 1:17). Their disobedience to Pharaoh was an essential part of saving so-called innocent lives. Note that this is not the only example in Scripture (Josh 2:1-24 (Heb 11:31: Jas 2:25); Josh 8:3-8; Judges 4:18-21; 5:24-27; 1 Sam 16:1-5; 19:12-17; 20:6; 21:13; 27:10; 2 Sam 5:22-25; 15:34; 17:19-20; 1 Kings 22:19-23; 16:14-20; Jer 38:24-28; Luke 24:28; 2 Thess 2:11).

Christians should not lie as a norm. However, Exodus 20:16 states, "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor" (cf. Exod 20:17). A true neighbor does not tell us to murder, rape, etc.! Those are the commands of an enemy - the Enemy (John 10:10). While Christians should (1) always pray for their enemies and government authorities (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:28; 1 Tim. 2:1-4), (2) in certain circumstances aid their enemies (Good Samaritan - Luke 10:25-37), and (3) even obey their enemies (Rom. 13:1), at times we must lie to them when they command us to do evil (cf. Rehab the Harlot; Josh. 2:1-6; Heb. 11:31). If an armed gang enters into your house to rape your daughter who is hiding in the closet, are you going to tell them where she is, or are you going to protect your family? As a former police detective my answer is be prepared with a convincing answer which glorifies God; lie in order to protect your family against the enemy!

The midwives were blessed for fearing God (Exod. 1:21). The fear of God led them to rightfully balance the commands of Scripture, for which they rightfully were rewarded.

These types of ethical decisions are difficult to make. God expects Christians to properly balance what is right and what is wrong, to not to take things out of their proper context, or use false excuses to lie and/or disobey delegated authority. In my experience, I have seen people justify about anything, even murder for a 69 cent hairbrush (literally). Remember, God is the final Judge. Tread carefully, as he knows your heart (Acts 15:8). God weighs our hearts, knows our secrets, and understands our thoughts (Pss. 17:3; 44:21; 139:1-4). God tests our hearts and rewards and/or punishes accordingly (Jer. 17:9-10). So, we need grace and wisdom to purify our hearts before him (Matt. 5:8; Jas. 4:8).

Related Topics:

Must We Always Tell the Truth?
Why Did Elisha lie?
Did God tell Samuel to lie - 1 Samuel 16:1-5

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).