Defying Authority

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Open defiance. Rebellion. Sticking it to the man. These describe the actions of those who oppose authoritative actions, regardless of whether the defiance is against Devine or human authority. These sayings embody the desire to do things one’s own way, and no one else’s. When an authoritative body makes decisions that go against our individual wisdom, our individual opinion or our personal beliefs, each one of us has to determine whether to stand against authority or submit to it. As difficult as it may be to allow someone’s lack of wisdom, or unintelligent opinion to rule over us, Christians are to demonstrate one of the highest forms of peaceful living by submitting to those in authority. Christians are to submit, firstly, to God Himself;1 to the congregational eldership;2 additionally, Christians are to submit to one another;3 and to those in governments.4 However, maybe to our dismay, but possibly more to our pleasure, there are times that defiance it applauded.

As the book of Exodus opens, the descendants of Israel (Jacob) had grown in numbers and strength. The Hebrews had grown so powerful that Egypt’s pharaoh was concerned about the possibility of a Hebrew political coup and ordered oppression of all Hebrews. Yet in the midst of calamity and misery the Hebrew people still increased. So the pharaoh gave authorization for all Hebrew newborn male children to be assassinated. Working in harmony (the tortured death of male slaves by hard labor, and the extermination of Hebrew male children), the pharaoh believed his national defense policy would be successfully orchestrated, eliminating any future possibility of Hebrew males growing in military strength and turning traitorous against Egypt by joining any of Egypt’s enemies.

Unforeseen by pharaoh, there was to be a small group of defiant women. Scripture identifies this group as the Hebrew midwives. Only two midwives’ names are mentioned, but surely there had to have been more than two; how could only two midwives serve a mighty and growing multitude of Hebrews? And it is just as certain that not every Hebrew midwife defied the pharaoh; as with all national policies, there are loyalists who will discharge the orders. Yet, Scripture extols the women who defied sovereign authority.

As mentioned earlier, defiance and rule breaking is not a characteristic that God prizes. Yet, God rewards these women for their non-submissiveness to the pharaoh. So comes the question, is there ever a time that permission is granted for non-compliance? The answer is, yes. But the times for defiance are limited. In this instance the midwives rebelled against a national policy of infanticide (the practice of intentionally causing the death of an infant).5 Regardless of time period, God has always expected a value of life. These women were committed to a higher authority for the preservation of innocent life, instead of brutal murder of infants.

There are times to defy governmental authority; and this national policy was the proper time. Because the midwives feared and valued something greater than national rulers and prominence, Jehovah rewarded them. There are necessary exceptions to the command of submissive compliance to human authority, but only a few. When faced with human authoritative injunctions that contradict God-derived morality, we must remember that God expects His morality to be preeminent. And in the face of certain danger for one’s defiance, one must commit themselves to God’s righteousness remembering: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to [human authority] rather than to God, [those in human authority] must judge.”6

1 James 4.7
2 Hebrews 13.17
3 Ephesians 5.21
4 Romans 13.1
5 Wikipedia,, April 2, 2007
6 Acts 4.19