Shiphrah and Puah. Even as I type these two names into my computer, its squiggly red line asks me if I want to "auto-correct." My computer's saying, Never heard of these people before. This must be a typo. You must want to correct that.
Yet Shiphrah and Puah are two unlikely heroes in a story that unfolds in Exodus 1, after the children of Israel have been in captivity in Egypt for more than a generation. The Bible says a new king, one who didn't even know about Joseph and his position of influence, had risen to power.
When this new, unnamed Pharaoh got really nervous about how many Israelites were in Egypt, he ordered Shiphrah and Puah, two Hebrew midwives, to kill any male Hebrew baby born. Exodus 1 says that "the midwives did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live" (v. 17). In their defense, they told Pharaoh Hebrew women weren't like Egyptian womenwhen they went into labor, they were so vigorous that they delivered their babies before the midwives could even arrive. Not only did Shiphrah and Puah lie, they also got in a little dig about the superiority of Hebrew women!
Shiphrah and Puah liedand they were the heroes of the story. They got their names in the Bible when even Pharaoh didn't. And at the end of the chapter, it says God was so pleased with their actions that he rewarded them (vv. 20, 21).
A Big "What If"
The Bible and history give us other clear examples of circumstances in which lying is OK. For instance, the prostitute Rahab lied to protect the two spies Joshua had sent into Jericho in preparation for overtaking it (Joshua 2). She's named in Hebrews 11 as a hero of faith.
Type "Weapons of the Spirit" in your Internet search engine and you can read how during the Nazi occupation of France in World War II a small Protestant town sheltered 5,000 Jews in what someone called a "conspiracy of goodness." Lying was involved there. Significant lying.
So is it ever OK to lie? Sure. But there's a big "if" involved. It's OK to lie if:
you're sheltering a persecuted minority from sure death.
a government official asks you to hand over two men sent by God.
you're protecting a baby from genocide.
The reality is, most of us use lies to hide instead of to protect innocent life or messengers sent by God. We lie to avoid difficult but necessary conversations; we lie to cover what we've done or said that we shouldn't have; we lie when we didn't do or say something and we should have; we lie to get someone off our back; and we lie sometimes simply because we've gotten so used to doing it, we don't even realize we're lying.
Scripture spells out a clear picture of God's view on lying: "Do not lie" (Leviticus 19:11) and "The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful" (Proverbs 12:22). So for an engaging theological discussion, refer to the first part of this article. For your everyday life, break free from the habit of lying. Ask yourself the harder question of why you're doing it.
Have the courage to trust God and tell the truth. Be willing to face the consequences and the repercussions. God honors honesty, even when you've made a mistakefor ultimately, he's God of the Truth.
Nancy Ortberg is a church leadership consultant and popular speaker who lives in California with her husband, John, and their three children.
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
Click here for reprint information on Today's Christian Woman.