When Moral Dilemmas Arise

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

How would you clean Dracula’s teeth? Assuming the “Prince of Darkness” was a real personage and someone was given the unfortunate opportunity to perform dentistry work on Dracula, one would certainly do so with the utmost caution. There is a very real application of the question in relation to Christian ethics. In a world permeated with complexities, how do believers determine their response when encountering moral dilemmas? How is the Christian able to determine whether or not their actions are pleasing to God in those situations? Three biblical texts will help answer that question: Genesis 12, Exodus 1, and Joshua 2.

GENESIS 12:10-20
Genesis 12 provides the account of Abram’s journey to Egypt. God had just promised to bless Abram and his seed. Abram was in the land that God had promised, yet that land was afflicted by a famine. While there was famine in Canaan, there was enough food in Egypt, so Abram journeyed there to take refuge there until the famine had elapsed. The occurrence of the famine was to prove the faith and obedience of Abram.

Abram’s moral dilemma in journeying to Egypt is evident in his fear that the Egyptians would be captivated with the beauty of Sarai and kill him. The behavior of the Egyptians was certainly sufficient reason for the moral dilemma to arise (Gen 19). Knowing they were a lustful people, Abram feared he would be murdered as Sarai’s husband, which would mean it would be free and lawful for one of the Egyptians to marry her.

Abram’s resolution of the dilemma was for Sarai to say that she was his sister. There is a certain degree of truth in the statement, since Sarai was his half-sister (11:29), and the Hurrians adopted a legal form of sister-marriage (however, it is not likely that Abram was mindful of that text because the details of patriarchal and Hurrian marriage documents are rather dissimilar). Another possibility is that Abram hoped that his “brother” status would allow the prerogative to accept and deny all suitors’ requests (cf. Gen 24:55; 34:13-17). Whatever explanation is given to explain his motivations, the fact is that Abram deliberately concealed truth in order to deceive the Egyptians, and he should be condemned for his complicity in lying.

Based upon the promise of 12:1-3, Abram should have trusted God to protect and care for him. One can certainly understand Abram’s fear; however, because he succumbed to unbelief, his actions were not just. Abram probably did not understand the actual outworking and fulfillment of the promise that God had made with him. Being mindful of the promise of God, it would have been easier in Egypt for Abram to acknowledge Sarai as his wife. The problem with Abram’s actions is that he should have never journeyed to Egypt. Though there was a famine in the land of promise, God could have supplied his needs (especially in light of the covenant with him). However, once in Egypt, Abram should have been thoughtful enough not to compromise his faithfulness to God. God could have protected Abram in Egypt, so that Abram did not need to depart with the rebuke of Pharaoh.

God had promised to raise a nation through Abram, and that his descendants would bring blessing to the world. Even though he acted in deception, God graciously protected the promise. The account demonstrates that lack of integrity is never a means to accomplish justice. Even though Abram prospered from his injustice, his acquired riches from Egypt would provide continual problems with Lot, and then with Hagar. The esteem of God should be the most treasured possession of any believer. When the justice of God was not sought by Abram, the riches he acquired were a diversion from the glory of God. In fairness to Abram, it is crucial to remember that his faith developed over time. Abram’s need to be truthful and trust in God is a lesson that many believers are still learning.

EXODUS 1:8-22
Following the death of Joseph, “the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them. Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (1:7-8). The new king was fearful because “the sons of Israel [were] more and mightier than [the Egyptians]” (1:9). The first policy of the new king was to appoint “taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor” (1:11). The policy failed because “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out, so that they were in dread of the sons of Israel” (1:12).

The second policy of the new king was to attack the children. Pharaoh instructed the midwives to the Hebrews, Shiphrah and Puah, to kill all the male babies (1:15-16). Apparently, the murder of the male babies was not to be necessarily obvious, but blamed on the difficulty of the birth (1:16). The female babies would not be a threat to the Egyptian dynasty, as they would likely serve the lusts of the Egyptians.

Moses told his readers that these two midwives had a fear of God, “and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live” (1:17). Whether the midwives were Egyptian or Hebrew is not readily evident, though it does seem more probable they were the former. The midwives did understand the law of God and knew it to be more important to obey God than man. Shiphrah and Puah would not violate the sanctity of life. These midwives could not obey the command of the king of Egypt. The moral dilemma for them was murder of the innocent and disobedience to government.

When questioned concerning their obedience to the king’s command, the explanation was that the Hebrew women were athletic and vigorous, and gave birth to their children before the midwife could get to them. The assertion is truthful because slave women would not be as delicate as the women of Egypt, for they had well toned muscles to deliver their babies much faster than women who live a sedentary style of life. The midwives succeeded in answering Pharaoh with this explanation. Another possibility is that the midwives could have delayed the babies’ arrival, which would have given sufficient opportunity for both Hebrew mothers and babies (subsequent to birth) to be taken to a safe location. If it said that the midwives actually lied, they would not be justified, even when moral absolutes (such as protecting life and honoring the truth) were conflicted. The midwives were obligated to safeguard life and to speak truthfully.

God blessed the justice of the midwives (1:20-21), and “established households for them.” The midwives opposed the unjust government, which had no moral basis to commit murder. God rewarded the midwives’ just actions of disobeying the unjust command of Pharaoh.

JOSHUA 2:1-24
God sent two spies into the land of Canaan prior to the armies of Israel crossing the Jordan as a group. The spies were necessary to gather information, and Joshua was wise in seeking details prior to any action. Even though God had promised help in the conquest of Canaan, Joshua acted prudently by gathering all facts prior to making a decision for action.

The king of Jericho received word that the spies had entered the house of Rahab. Believing “they have come to search out all the land” (2:3), the king summoned Rahab to deliver the spies. In the process of their military expeditions, these men were unaware that God would bring them into contact with a person who needed spiritual encouragement.

According to the testimony of Rahab (2:9-11), knowledge of God was widespread even in the city of Jericho. Rahab knew that God had given the land to the Jewish people. Consequently, she acted upon this knowledge and confessed faith in the “LORD your God” (1:11). The evidence of Rahab’s faith is that she was willing to hide the spies in her home, and even to lie regarding their presence in her home in an effort to save their lives (2:4-5). God commended Rahab for her faith in hiding the spies (Heb 11:31; Jas 2:25). Her desire to help the spies was just, but her lie was not.

Rahab lied to the soldiers concerning the spies, while helping them to safety. The moral dilemma is evident: (1) obedience to the soldiers as representative of the city government of Jericho; and, (2) recognition of the sanctity of human life by not bringing the spies to the soldiers of Jericho.

There is no doubt that Rahab lied, and she is nowhere commended for her falsehood. The deception by which she sought to avoid all suspicion of assisting the spies was not necessary. Rahab was rightly convinced that God would give the land to the Jewish people; therefore, any opposition to God’s plans would be futile. Rahab would have been wrong to surrender innocent lives simply because the government ordered it. She could have hidden the spies and refused to answer whether she was hiding them, and then prayed that God would make the pursuers exceptionally imperceptive if her house was searched.

In the account of Joshua 6 (cf. Heb 11:31), God blessed Rahab for her faith and how she treated Israel. God rewarded her in spite of the fact that she lied, rather than because of her lie. God not only spared her life, but also her family. Scripture does not say anything more regarding the lie, but it simply records what was done. The one quality that resulted in God’s blessing was Rahab’s genuine faith in Him. The “scarlet thread” was the evidence of her trust in the promise of deliverance.

Believers are to heed the absolute ethical norms of Scripture as a guide for moral living. Thankfully, the majority of instances do not present any questions regarding what norm should apply in a given circumstance. When moral norms do seemingly conflict, the Bible provides many examples. Christians must implement a moral that recognizes that no government has the right to engage in that which Scripture condemns. Believers have no reason to practice falsehood, and must use sanctified common sense to honor the Lord God and His righteous moral.

Midnight Call - 08/2017

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