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Daily manna from the Torah by Dr Ketriel Blad

Shemot 13-2


Exodus 1:18 – 2:10 

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."

Ex. 1:19 ESV

Is it allowed to lie in order to save lives?

The Hebrew midwives feared the Almighty more than Pharaoh and that's why they didn't kill the Hebrew male children who were born, which was the order from the king. When the king reprimanded them, they responded with something not totally true.

Is it allowed to use lies in order to save lives?

To lie is to say words that twist the truth. Is it true that Hebrew women were vigorous (the Hebrew text literally says that they were "animals" implying that they were able to give birth without help like animals do) and that they gave birth before the midwife could get to them? It is very possible that it was so sometimes, especially given the severe situation all the people were in. It is also true that the midwives actually assisted the Hebrew women when giving birth (v.17) though it was not always so. Thus, we could understand that the midwives' words were just true in part. They didn't tell Pharaoh the whole truth to save their lives and the Almighty honoured them for having acted that way.

According to Jewish law, it is allowed to break almost any commandment in order to save a life in a very critical moment. The halachah – practical Jewish law – establishes that it is allowed to break all the commandments except three – blasphemy, murder and adultery – in order to save a life. This principle is called pikuach nefesh פיקוח נפש salvation of the soul/life. Commandments were given to live by them not to die by obeying them (Lev. 18:5). In this way, what the midwives did could be justified. They used a half-truth to save their own lives as well as others'.

Rachav lied to save lives (Jos. 2:5). Michal, King David's wife, used a lie to save lives (1 Sam. 19:14, 17). There are other examples in King David's life in which he hides truth or lies to save lives (1 Sam. 21:2, 13; 27:10-11).

We must remember the fact that King David was a man after the Eternal's heart (1 Sam. 13:14) who knew that the Eternal desires truth in the inner parts (Ps. 51:6) and who was aware that only the one who speaks truth in his heart will dwell in the presence of the Eternal, as it is written in Psalm 15:1-2: "A Psalm of David. O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart.” (ESV) And in Psalm 26:3 king David himself says: "For Your mercy is before my eyes; and I have walked in Your truth." (LITV)

The Eternal cannot lie. Lying does not come from Him. Hasatan – an angel who rebelled against the Eternal – is the father/origin of the lie (John 8:44). The children of the Eternal don't associate with lying and if they lie by error, they repent in order to avoid being judged together with the father of lies.

I am personally convinced that we should never use lies, no matter how critical the moment is, not even to save lives. In a grave situation, there are other ways of speaking to hide a truth that could harm or even cause someone's death.

May the Eternal help us never to lie and may He give us wisdom to know how to hide part of the truth when necessary to avoid damage to others.

May the Spirit of truth be poured upon us abundantly.


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