The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
The Milgram Experiment was social psychology experiment used to test a person’s obedience to authority figures. It measured the willingness of the participant to obey an authority figure against their own conscience. The study used a device that was setup to look like an electric shock generator controller by an authority figure. The participant was then told to quiz (multiple choice question) a student strapped to the device to help him/her learn a set of paired words. The student would then be strapped up and put out the participant’s view. If the student answered the question wrong, the participant would administer a shock to him/her and the voltage would increase 15-volts for every wrong answer. This went on to a maximum of 450-volts. The authority figure was also given fixed verbal prods to encourage the participant to continue if they wanted to stop. The electric shock is not real (of course) and the student is just an actor. Recorded sounds were also used to replicate any noises of suffering.
In the original experiment held at Yale University, 65% of participants administered a final 450-volt shock. This experiment was replicated in many places and the results were aggregated. It was found that regardless of time and place, 61-66% of participants were willing to inflict fatal voltages to the students. Read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment
In Milgram’s article was published in 1974 titled “The Perils of Obedience”, he wrote:
The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ [participants’] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ [participants’] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.
Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.
What is the significance of the Hebrew midwives allowing the boys live? They made an intentional choice not to do what the king of Egypt had ordered them to do. In Milgram’s experiment, they would not be found in the compliant 60+%. They understood the difference between authority and morality. What the king of Egypt said was authoritative, but what superceded that was a morality that came from God (Genesis 9:4-6). They knew that the consequences of disobeying the king of Egypt would be severe and could possibly mean their death but their fear of God was even greater than their natural fear (Acts 5:29). They protected the Hebrew families and thus were blessed with families of their own (Proverbs 31:30).
Did they lie to the king of Egypt? Well, they didn’t have to. The fact was that the Hebrew women had quick and easy deliveries – unlike the Egyptian women. They must have had knowledge of how Egyptian women gave birth – long, tedious and painful. It is interesting that Egypt was a metaphor of human effort while the Hebrews were a picture of reliance on God. Symbolically the midwives arriving means the death of a male child – since they were commanded to kill, and the birth is not just a birth, it was a lease on life! It was God sparing them from death. Now the passage looks like something from the New Testament about our new birth! Re-reading the passage with these symbols: “God reliant women are not like human effort women; they are vigorous and attain life before death arrive.” Whoah! What a prophetic statement from Godly midwives!
What a picture of humble obedience and a prophesy of great mercy and grace! What can we take from this story? First, fear God, not man in every circumstance, even when it is difficult. Second, rely on God’s favour, not man’s effort for life and life thereafter.