Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – Obeying God Rather than Man (Exodus 1:16-17, 20-21)

“[The king of Egypt decreed], ‘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” (Exodus 1:16-17). These midwives serve as a perfect example of what St. Peter and the apostles would say thousands of years later, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). To be clear, we do have the biblical mandate to obey government (Romans 13:1-7), but when our government’s laws compel us to disobey God’s Word, God’s command takes precedence over the commands of man.

The apostles, and these midwives in Egypt, knew this. They feared God because they knew it was sinful to kill babies even if Egypt’s laws permitted it. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s also moral. So, rather than disobeying God’s moral decree, they disobeyed the Egyptian king’s legal statute to kill male babies when they were born. We know God approved of their disobedience to the Egyptian government in verses 20-21, “So, God dealt with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, He gave them families.” For obeying God over man, God multiplied His people even more and blessed the midwives with their own families.

Thus, we would do well to pay attention to the laws of our own land. Let us always compare each law with the Word of God. For example, our laws permit abortions to be done because the evil legislators don’t see them as individual human beings. God’s Word, on the other hand, prohibits murder (Genesis 9:5-6; Exodus 20:5) and recognises life in the womb (Exodus 21:22-25; Psalm 139:13-16; Luke 1:41-44). Even science agrees. The majority consensus of biologists agree that life begins at conception. Therefore, millions of Christians speak and march against murder in the womb and those in their rightful vocations work arduously to make such murder illegal.

Another example is during COVID-19 when the government has made attempts to shut down churches that were having worship services. Not only is this unconstitutional, but even more the State does not have authority over Christ’s church; they do not get to tell us when we can and cannot worship our God. Thus, many churches rightfully refused to close their doors while still practicing necessary COVID precautions. The church is essential because Christ is essential. This evidence is seen in the church’s ancient history when they worshipped God in each other’s homes because Rome and other empires prohibited their worship of Christ (which is still ongoing in modern communist China and Islamic States).

Ironically, the people who demand separation of church and state (which is in our Constitution) are the same people who want the State to tell the church what to do. “The church can’t tell the State what to do, but the State can certainly tell the church what to do,” they think. This is illogical and a double standard. First, separation of church and state does not mean what they think it means. They think it means the church does not get to influence the affairs of the State and vice versa, and yet at the same time want the State to control the church (hence the fallacy). This is not true, since Christians are clearly able to work for the government and fulfil their vocation in an honourable and holy manner.

What the separation does mean is that the State cannot nationally endorse one religion over another. The State cannot constitutionally, for example, outlaw Christianity or Buddhism or Islam or any other religion; neither can they move a legislation according to any religious tenet, whether that’s Christianity/Judaism’s Old Testament laws, Islam’s Sharia law, or what-have-you. This does not mean, for example, that a Christian senator cannot let his Christian conscience influence his decisions; but in writing, the law cannot be passed or enforced based on this or that Bible verse.

Second, the State cannot tell the church what to do not only because it’s unconstitutional but also because all forms of authority (parent, pastor, boss, governor, senator, president, king, queen, etc.) answer to God. God answers to no one. The categorical imperative of the 4th Commandment makes this clear. In Luther’s view, all authority is rooted in this commandment. No one has authority over Christ and His church, not even the State. That authority belongs to Christ alone. Thus, by telling the church to commit or omit certain practices and beliefs, the State would be attempting to usurp Christ’s headship of the church.

Let these midwives, then, be our example of courage and bravery in the face of such wicked opposition against God’s people as well as the innocent. Whether it’s injustice against the defenceless and innocent or a clear violation of God’s moral imperatives, let us stand in opposition to the State and obey God rather than man. If we won’t do it out of honour for God’s name and love for our neighbour, let us at least do it with the fear of the Lord, as the midwives did, lest His wrath come upon us as it will come upon such evil men and women who use their position of power and influence to murder when it is most convenient for them.

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