What do Pharaoh (Exodus 1) and Herod (Matthew 2) have in common? Pharaoh, fearing the rapidly expanding Hebrew population, decreed that newborn male Hebrew babies be thrown into the Nile (Exodus 1:16, 22). Herod, paranoid about a perceived threat to his throne, ordered the slaughter of all male babies in Bethlehem two years old and under (Matthew 2:16).
Does this bring tears to your eyes? Does it make your blood boil? It should! However, for the past forty-one years, the United States has tolerated a slaughter of the innocents that makes the two wicked kings look like rank amateurs. Well over fifty million unborn human babies have perished in abortuaries nationwide since January 22, 1973, when the Supreme Court handed down Roe v Wade and its companion decision, Doe v Bolton.
Is it accurate to equate the killing of the unborn (commonly called abortion) with the killing of newborns and two year-olds? Indeed it is! Even the firmly pro-abortion Dr. Peter Singer, Princeton University philosophy professor, acknowledges that “from the point of view of ethics rather than the law, there is no sharp distinction between the fetus and the newborn baby”(prezi.com). To be sure, Dr. Singer does not agree that killing a newborn and killing a two-year-old are ethically equivalent (princeton.edu). His subjective, philosophical denial that a newborn is a “person” is a separate issue for another discussion.
More important than a philosophy professor’s opinion is the fact that both Old and New Covenants teach the sanctity of human life, even when yet in the womb. “If men fight and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely (Hebrew yeled yatsa), yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him … But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life …” (Exodus 21:22, 23). Some argue that premature birth should be rendered miscarriage, thus the death of the fetus would not be a capital crime so long as the mother survived (tmcdaniel). However, this passage uses neither of the two Hebrew words for miscarriage or stillbirth: shakol and nephel. Context makes their meaning clear each time they are used (e.g. Exodus 23:26; Job 3:16, 21:10; Psalm 58:8; Ecclesiastes 6:3; Hosea 9:14).
By contrast, yeled is most often translated child or children (Wilson 76). It is so rendered ten other times in Exodus alone, always in reference to a living child. And yatsa simply means to come out (Wilson 82). The only other time it is used regarding children “coming out” of the womb in the writings of Moses is in Genesis 25:25, 26, where Esau and Jacob came out (i.e. were born alive). A kindred word is used in Exodus 1:19 regarding the Hebrew women giving birth to live babies. Miscarriage simply is not under consideration in Exodus 21 at all. Men who caused a premature birth resulting in the death of the baby were subject to capital punishment. Today such premature infants are termed “non-viable” (unable to live outside the womb); a fetus at that stage of gestation can be aborted legally. But God’s law recognized the sanctity their lives even if American law does not.
Luke, the inspired physician, joins Moses in recognizing the equivalence of pre-born and newborn human children. In Luke 2:12, 16, he used the Greek word brephos (babe) in reference to Jesus as a newborn. Yet in 1:41 he used the identical word in regard to John the Immerser as a six month fetus (see 1:36). John was not a “non-viable tissue mass”––he was a baby!
Today, both Elizabeth and Mary might be encouraged to abort. Elizabeth was past the age of childbearing. Her health might be compromised, and the baby was at greater risk for defects. Mary was betrothed to a man who was not her baby’s father. What would he do? What would her parents do? What would the deeply religious community do? She could save herself a world of trouble by aborting!
Fortunately, Elizabeth and Mary loved God and loved their children. Certainly they knew that God detests the shedding of innocent blood (Proverbs 6:16, 17). What blood is more innocent than that of an unborn child? And note that the pre-born child has its own blood supply, possibly a different blood type than the mother’s. In every abortion, innocent blood is shed.
Pharaoh and Herod shed much innocent blood. But we, in the United States, have exceeded their guilt by remaining silent while tens of millions of the smallest, most vulnerable, most innocent members of the human family have been slaughtered.
Let us pray for an end to the bloodshed! Let us pray for a return to moral sanity in our country and our
world. And let us put works with our faith by exercising our influence with our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our elected officials.
By Joseph Slater
(This guest article first appeared in the June 2014 issue of “Think” magazine.)
http://prezi.com/qdirlw4-fv8d/moral-argument/ 9 May 2014.
http://www.princeton.edu/~psinger/faq.html 8 May 2014.
http://tmcdaniel.palmerseminary.edu/LXX_EXO_%2021_22-23.pdf 9 May 2014.
Wilson, William. Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies. McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Co., no date.