Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “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.” But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” 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.” So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 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.” (Exodus 1:15-22 ESV)
Satan, the serpent of old, seeks to kill and destroy God’s people, and through the Pharaoh of Egypt he attempts to exterminate Israel by killing off her sons. Pharaoh seeks to enlist the aid of the Hebrew midwives, perhaps because an outright slaughter would bring some resistance from his own people. Paul tells us to obey the authorities God has put in place over us but he does not mean to obey them in contradiction to God, and even as the apostles John and Peter disobeyed the Sanhedrin when they told them to stop preaching in Jesus’ name, the midwives disobeyed Pharaoh.
But to protect themselves the midwives made up a lie about Hebrew women and their birth practices. Pharaoh’s prejudice against Hebrews made him susceptible to believing that their women were different than other women and didn’t need midwives, something obviously contradicted by the fact that there were so many Israelites identified as midwives. God blessed these lying midwives with families of their own. Apparently childless women often became midwives to help those who could have children, a sad and ironic practice taken one way or, taken another way, a chance to celebrate with others what you could not experience yourself.
It is sometimes okay to lie, as when a threat is made against you or those you love by someone violating God’s will. Would God have protected them if they had told the truth? Perhaps. But Pharaoh did not deserve the truth, just as an assailant breaking into your home and asking if anyone else is there does not deserve the truth. There is a hierarchy of values, obedience to God, for example, taking precedence of obedience to a divinely permitted authority. And protecting people takes precedence over telling the truth. Those who have sought to rescue Jews during the Nazi regime or to rescue slaves during the Civil War era, understood and practiced this.
Pharaoh does not quit in his quest to decimate Israel. Now he commands the mothers and fathers themselves to drown their sons in the Nile. Allowing newborns to die like this was the equivalent of modern day abortion and widely practiced in many nations. But it was not practiced in Israel and was abominable to God. And these mothers wanted their children. How many Israelites complied we do not know, but we’ll see that one mother refused to submit to Pharaoh’s command.