by Lenny Cacchio
Scriptures say what they say, and sometimes it’s hard to understand why. There was a time in Egypt when a couple of Israelite women told very deliberate lies and were honored for it. They were so honored for this that the Bible preserves their names, Shiphrah and Puah, for every generation since.
Being hesitant to extol the virtues of taking liberty with the truth, I am a bit uneasy that the Scriptures say what they say. But if there were not a lesson in it for us, God wouldn’t present the way he does.
Shiphrah and Puah were midwives when the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt. In spite of their position of servitude, the Israelites were a prolific lot and began to outnumber the native Egyptians. Egypt’s answer was to kill their babies just inches removed from a partial birth abortion.
“When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth,” Pharoah said to the two midwives, “and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him.” (Exodus 1:16 NIV) The women’s conviction and courage led them to disobey this command. When confronted for an explanation, they did what many of us might do: they lied (and were a bit snarky too, bless them). “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women. They are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” (verse 19). The rest of the chapter gives a good indication that they didn’t always arrive late, and God for his own reasons honored these women in spite of their loose interpretation about what had happened.
If we accept the idea that lying is contrary to God’s law, we have to do something with this account. I’m no theologian and don’t know about all the different priorities of obedience that such scholars often discuss. I only know that the example is there and we have to do something with it. But it might not be all that complex to understand. God is a God of grace, after all, and grace is not confined to the New Testament. In fact, it shouldn’t be confined to a book at all. It should be a daily lifestyle.
I am not going to say that lying is a good thing, or even that lying is justified in some circumstances. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But I will say that when someone does something that appears to be breaking God’s law, it would behoove us to understand the circumstances even as we acknowledge the fault. It’s wrong to steal a loaf of bread, but if the boy is starving, can we blame him? “Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving.” (Proverbs 6:30 NIV) And I don’t think God would despise him either.
We don’t know everything that drives people to do what they do. We don’t always know why a parent can’t seem to control an unruly child, or why someone has a worry streak, or why someone has financial problems. We don’t know all the foibles, stressors, and fiery arrows that led to that person’s state. And it is surely not our place to judge if God is showing them grace.