Calvin on submission to the civil magistrate: "manliness" vs. "effeminacy and cowardice"...
(Tim) Speaking of Shiphrah and Puah, here's Calvin on the godliness of these Hebrew midwives in rebelling against the unspeakable wickedness of Pharaoh demanding the slaughter of Hebrews' infants. It's clear Calvin would not be a 2-K man, today. TODAY.
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Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was named Puah; and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” (Exodus 1:15-16).
The tyrant now descends from the open violence and cruelty which had availed nothing, to secret plots and deceit. He desires the infants to be killed at their birth; and commands the midwives to be the instruments of this dreadful barbarity.
We read of no such detestable example of inhumanity since the world began...
I admit it has occasionally happened, that, upon the capture of a city, the conquerors have not spared even children and infants; that is to say, either in the heat of battle, or because the defense had been too obstinate, and they had lost many of their men, whose death they would avenge. It has happened, too, that an uncle, or brother, or guardian, has been impelled by the ambition of reigning to put children to death. It has happened, again, that in the detestation of a tyrant, and to destroy the very memory of his family, his whole offspring has been slain; and some have proceeded to such cruelty against their enemies, as to tear the little ones from their mothers’ breasts. But never did any enemy, however implacable, ever so vent his wrath against a whole nation, as to command all its male offspring to be destroyed in the midst of peace...
But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?” (Exodus 1:17).
But the midwives feared God. Moses does not mean that they were then first affected with the fear of God; but he assigns this reason why they did not obey his unjust command, viz., because reverence towards God had greater influence with them. And certainly, as all our affections are best directed by this rein, so also it is the surest shield for resisting all temptations, and a firm support to uphold our minds from wavering in seasons of danger.
Now, they not only dreaded this crime as being cruel and inhuman; but because purer religion and piety flourished in their hearts; for they knew that the seed of Abraham was chosen of God, and had themselves experienced that it was blessed; and hence it was natural to feel, that it would be an act of very gross impiety to extinguish in it the grace of God.
We must also observe the antithesis between the fear of God and the dread of punishment, which might have deterred them from doing right. Although tyrants do not easily allow their commands to be despised, and death was before their eyes, they still keep their hands pure from evil. Thus, sustained and supported by reverential fear of God, they boldly despised the command and the threatenings of Pharaoh. Wherefore those, whom the fear of men withdraws from the right course, betray by their cowardice an inexcusable contempt of God, in preferring the favor of men to his solemn commands.
But this doctrine extends still more widely; for many would be more than preposterously wise, whilst, under pretext of due submission, they obey the wicked will of kings in opposition to justice and right, being in some cases the ministers of avarice and rapacity, in others of cruelty; yea, to gratify the transitory kings of earth, they take no account of God; and thus, which is worst of all, they designedly oppose pure religion with fire and sword. It only makes their effrontery more detestable, that whilst they knowingly and willingly crucify Christ in his members, they plead the frivolous excuse, that they obey their princes according to the word of God; as if he, in ordaining princes, had resigned his rights to them; and as if every earthly power, which exalts itself against heaven, ought not rather most justly to be made to give way.
But since they only seek to escape the reprobation of men for their criminal obedience, let them not be argued with by long discussions, but rather referred to the judgment of women; for the example of these midwives is abundantly sufficient for their condemnation; especially when the Holy Spirit himself commends them, as not having obeyed the king, because they feared God.
Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive.” (Exodus 1:22).
The tyrant, finding that his snares and deceit availed nothing, now shakes off fear and flies to open violence, commanding the little ones to be torn from the breasts of their mothers and to be cast into the river. Lest there should be any lack of executioners, he gives this charge to all the Egyptians, whom he knew to be more than ready for the work. He spares the daughters, that, being enslaved and allotted to the Egyptians, they might produce slaves for their masters, whilst by them the races and names could not be preserved.
Here it may be worth while to meditate on a comparison with our own times. Antichrist, with all his murderous agents, leaves in peace those who by their treacherous silence deny Christ, and are prepared to embrace as slaves every kind of impiety; neither does he exercise his cruelty, insatiable though it be, where he sees no manliness to exist; and he exults and triumphs, as if his end was gained, when he perceives any who had some courage in professing their faith fallen into effeminacy and cowardice. But how much better is it for us to die an hundred times, retaining our manly firmness in death, than to redeem our life for the base service of the devil.