Sermon on Exodus 1:15-22 – “The Virtue of Disobedience”

Sermon for Sunday, January 3rd, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Exo 1:15-22 ESV] 15 Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. 18 So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”

New Testament reading:

[Act 5:27-32 ESV] 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Gospel reading:

[Mat 2:13-18 ESV] 13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

 

INTRODUCTION

Pharaoh’s first plan failed. He put the Israelites in slavery to prevent them from growing in power, yet the Lord blessed the Israelites and their number grew.

So Pharaoh moves on to his second plan.

His second plan is to have the midwives kill all of the male children born to Hebrew women.

When this fails, Pharaoh moves on to his third plan.

His third plan is to cast into the Nile every son born to the Hebrews.

This third plan sets the stage for the birth of Moses, which, Lord willing, we will get to next week.

The title of the sermons this week is designed to catch attention, or even shock you. “The Virtue of Disobedience”? How can disobedience be a virtue? Do we not sing “Trust and Obey” “for there is no other way”? And does not the Lord command obedience?

I. The Virtue of Obedience

He certainly does.

In the vast majority of cases we are to follow orders. We are to obey.

Whether this is obeying governing authorities,

or obeying our parents,

or obeying our church elders,

or obeying our boss at work.

Obedience is a virtue.

In a number of places the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 21:18, Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20) there are explicit commands to obey your father and mother. In the Ten Commandments the Lord says “Honor your father and your mother.” And surely we cannot honor them if we do not obey them. Children, obey your parents, for this is the only command that comes with a promise – that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land. Those who do not obey their parents in the Lord wander into evil that shortens their lives.

We are also called to obey the government. Romans 13 is the exemplar. But 1st Peter chapter 2 also tells us to “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution whether it be the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”

And servants in the Bible are called to obey their masters. And while, praise the Lord, we do not have slavery in our land today, we no doubt can say that employees should obey their employers.

Obedience is a virtue. Obeying authorities is the right thing to do.

But in almost every case in the Bible where the word “obey” comes up, it is in reference to God. We are, above all, to obey the voice of the Lord. We are to obey His commandments.

Moses says in Deuteronomy chapter 12:

[Deu 12:28 ESV] 28 Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.

II. The Virtue of Disobedience

It is then because we are to obey the Lord that we must at times disobey others.

The virtue of obedience ends where the morality of the demand upon us no longer stands. [REPEAT: The virtue of obedience ends where the morality of the demand upon us no longer stands.]

When we are commanded to do something immoral, disobedience because a virtue.

It is in exactly this situation in our text this morning that we find the midwives Shiphrah and Puah.

Now children, a midwife is a special nurse who helps a pregnant woman have a baby.

Shiphrah and Puah are midwives who fear God. They are “women of the Bible” to look up to. Heroes of the faith. Women should especially remember these names: Shiphrah and Puah. The first, Shiphrah, means “beauty” and the second, Puah, means “splendid.” They are women beautiful and splendid in their obedience of the Lord.

Pharaoh commands them, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter she shall live.” (v. 16)

Pharaoh’s command was not just to these two midwives, but surely to all of them. Possibly Shiphrah and Puah were the head midwives of the whole profession.

The command they received has come from an earthly authority, the Pharaoh of Egypt. But it is an immoral command.

So here we find the virtue of disobedience.

“But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.”

They feared God!

And in their fear of Him they obeyed God rather than Pharaoh. They did not do as the king of Egypt command them.

Nowhere is this teaching about obedience more clear than in our New Testament reading from the book of Acts.

There the high priest tells the apostles to stop teaching about Jesus. And how do they respond? Do they obey the high priest? Surely, no.

Rather Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” [REPEAT: We must obey God rather than men] And they continued to preach about Jesus in Jerusalem and Judea and to the ends of the earth.

We can see then that there are certain occasions where it is proper and necessary that one disobeys the authorities. That is, whenever obedience would be immoral, then disobedience is a virtue. Such an occasion we come upon here in the Book of Exodus.

The command of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, that they kill all of the Hebrew boys at birth, is an immoral command.

It is infanticide. It is murder. And Pharaoh is an incenter of the crime; nearly an accomplice in it.

The killing of children is a great abomination to the Lord.

This was the practice of the ungodly Ammonites who sacrificed children to their false God Molech.

To kill children, the Scripture says, is “to profane the name of God.” (Leviticus 18:21)

We look back in disgust upon the children sacrifices of Ammonites or of Aztecs. But, in our time, the evil is much much worse. The most unspeakable, shameful, disgusting, abominable practice is the history of the world has occurred over the past few generations; I am speaking of the abortion of millions and millions of defenseless children in the womb. The numbers are staggering, the practice abhorrent, heinous, revolting.

We should cry out, “Lord have mercy on our nation.” “Have mercy on this world.”

Unlike so many in our times, Shiphrah and Puah feared God and “did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” (and the female children as well)

For they knew that to obey an immoral command is immoral.

These Hebrew midwives feared God!

So Pharaoah the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them “Why have you done this, and let the male children lives? (Why have you disobeyed me?) The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”

There can be no way around this; our heroes Shiphrah and Puah have told a lie. At best it is a half-truth. The Israelites, enslaved with much labor surely were more vigorous than the Egyptians. And the Hebrew women may very well have given birth more easily. But yet, Shiprah and Puah have lied. And nowhere in the account are they excused for this. We continue to see in the Scriptures that there are no sinless people. The heroes of the Bible are shown as sinful people. None are perfect, but Jesus Christ.

As for the lie of Shiphrah and Puah, the Lord blesses them, not because of their lie, but in spite of it. The Lord blesses them for obedience to Him.

Here is how He blessed them:

“God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.”

Shiphrah and Puah are blessed with children and households. We again see (as we saw last week) that children are a blessing from the Lord. Even if they are born into slavery! Even if they are born in the worst of conditions! It is far better than they are born and kept alive even into a difficult life than being killed at birth. There is simply no Scriptural warrant for that pathetic excuse given by promoters of abortion that somehow death is better than a hard life. That is utterly ruled out in our passage today.

Now, perhaps some pastors would hesitate to speak boldly about the evil of abortion, for fear of scaring off some in their congregation. But I am not saying anything that the text of the Bible itself is not saying. Abortion is murder of the very worst kind and is sin of the very worst kind.

I don’t know you all perfectly well. It is possible that someone here has had an abortion deep in their past. It is likely that you know someone who has. And while it is a great sin, it is my calling to tell you that we have an even greater savior. There is forgiveness of sin in Jesus Christ for even the very worst of sins, for all who believe in Him. We must comfort the grief-stricken with the hope of the Gospel. Even you, sinner, are called to obedience in Jesus Christ.

III. A Type of the Massacre of the Innocents

Now, to return to our account in the Exodus.

Pharaoh’s plan has again failed. So he moves on to his third plan, in his attempt to restrain the strength of the Israelites.

He commands “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”

He had tried slavery to suppress the strength of the Hebrews.

He had tried having the midwives kill the children to suppress the strength of the Hebrews.

And now he tries drowning the infant males.

Now, where else in the Bible does a ruler command the murder of infant males? We find the same practice commanded by Herod the (so-called) Great after the birth of Jesus. He commands that all the male children in Bethlehem under the age of two be killed. This is known as “The Massacre of the Innocents.”

And now we can ask, why do they target boys? Why, like Herod, did Pharaoh command the midwives to murder the infant Hebrew boys? And why did Pharaoh command all his people to drown the infant Hebrew boys in the Nile?

This is the answer: It is so that the Israelites would never have a deliverer who would grow up to lead them out of slavery!

Pharaoh is trying to prevent there from being a Moses to save Israel from slavery. And Herod is trying to prevent there from being a messiah who saves his people from their sin.

While these leaders have their plans, the Lord has other plans. [REPEAT: The Lord has other plans]

We pray “deliver from evil.” The Lord delivers the Hebrews from Egypt. (Spoiler alert) And he delivers us from our sins in Jesus Christ.

CONCLUSION

As we conclude, and as we think about our own obedience in the world, we must realize that saying “my superior, my boss told me to do it” will not suffice as an excuse. By such means the rank and file Nazi’s washed their hands of their horrendous deeds; claiming that they were merely following orders. It is not always a virtue to follow orders. There is a time of virtuous disobedience.

That time may be very hard to determine.

But if you are told to do something immoral, you never obey.

And if you are told NOT to do something which is in fact good, there is much conflict in obedience.

In these difficult circumstances we must seek the Lord’s will, through the Scriptures and prayer so that we may obey His commands.

Let us pray for the ability to obey, and for the knowledge and discernment of when not to.

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