January 22, 2016

Yahweh’s rebuke of abortion

by Jesse Johnson

There are many passages that teach the sinfulness of abortion, but often overlooked is the encounter between Yahweh and Moses described in Exodus 3-4. This passage is particularly applicable to those considering abortion because of some perceived defect or genetic disability diagnosed in the baby.

The scene is this: Moses had been in Midian for decades, and had obviously settled down. He had a wife, a family, and a job. But Yahweh “remembered” Israel, called Moses out of retirement, and told him to go and lead the Israelites to freedom.

Moses declined, and gave a series of excuses to God. First, he said he wasn’t sufficient (God’s answer: of course you aren’t, but the Lord is). Then he said he didn’t even know who God is (God’s answer: Yahweh). His third objection was that nobody would believe Yahweh spoke to Moses (God’s answer involved leprosy, snakes, and turning water into blood).

But then Moses got personal. He told God that he couldn’t go lead Israel, because his tongue didn’t work. God made him with a defective mouth. Literally, he says “my tongue is too heavy, my speech is unintelligible” (there is debate in commentaries about if Moses always had this impediment, or if he developed it by burning his tongue with a coal, as many Jewish historians allege). The point is Moses couldn’t talk well, and—in the interest of full disclosure—God should know about that if he is going to ask him to lead.

And here is where Yahweh’s response to Moses’ objection gives a window into why God hates abortion:  

“Then Yahweh said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, Yahweh?  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”

This answer teaches us at least three truths about the evil of abortion:

  1. It is Yahweh who creates life.

God’s response begins by declaring that he is the one who makes man. People don’t just appear—they are made by Yahweh. This is what David had in mind in Psalm 139:13 (“you formed my inward parts”). That God is the creator is obvious with Adam and Eve—but it is equally true with every human being.

I know you can’t read the tone of someone’s voice when their words are written, but Yahweh’s rhetoric sounds at the very least aggravated with the implication that Moses’ life belongs to Moses. God made Moses, and this is true because God makes all life.

It follows then that abortion is evil because it murders a life that God himself had made.

  1. Yahweh even makes those with “disabilities.”

When he declares that he is the one who made Moses, Yahweh doesn’t generically claim that he is sovereign over all life. Instead, he specifically hones in on what Moses had described as a disability. Moses tried to use his misformed tongue as a reason to not obey God, to which God replies, “who do you think made your tongue?”

To our looks-obsessed, externally driven, achievement-oriented culture, Moses’ disability would be seen as a liability: a product of nature, or perhaps (in the more spiritually minded) the fruit of living in a fallen world. But to God, Moses’ mouth was Yahweh’s handiwork.

It follows then that parents who pursue abortion because of a perceived malformity in their child are pursuing something evil, because they are viewing something that God made, and calling it unwanted. If a person is willing to end life because that life does not meet their standards, they are actually seeking to end the life of a person God has made—and God has made that person exactly like he wanted to.

  1. Yahweh can use all people for his purposes

The problem with Moses wasn’t his speech, but his lack of faith. God did not simply tell him, “Look, I made you,” but instead goes on to say, “I made you, and I will use you.”

Yahweh took Moses’ weakest point and declared that he made Moses that way intentionally, and he did so in order to use him. Moses thought he couldn’t lead because he wasn’t made well, and God said, “I made you that way so I could lead you.”

This truth is seen in the New Testament as well. Paul says that God chooses to use the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). God often saves the disabled, so that God gets all of the glory.

It follows then that abortion (especially in the case of perceived deficiencies in the baby) is evil because it denies that God can use the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.

Yahweh’s rebuke of Moses was more than a mere rebuttal of his apathy—it strikes at the heart of what it means to esteem life.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Wes O

    Thanks for this article. One question though: I had understood Moses’ response to God re: his ‘tongue not working’, as simply being too scared to face Pharoah or too scared to face his brethren, the Hebrew nation; that ‘why would God speak to Moses and not one of the Hebrews being actually oppressed’ to free them. He knew that he would be identified with the very ones who oppressed them in the first place. In this instance, wouldn’t God simply be rebuking Moses for his lack of faith and lack of dependence on God.

    I certainly appreciate what you bring out, especially with the fact that God does use the weak to shame the wise so that He, and He alone, should be given the glory. Again showing that we, indeed, should be fully dependent on a holy and trustworthy Savior.

    • Thanks Wes. That’s certainly possible (that Moses simply meant he was afraid to speak), but that is not what most commentators say on the passage. The words he uses imply that there is something physically wrong with him, and God’s response seems to connect that to the way Moses (and his mouth) were made. But there is sufficient ambiguity here, that I wouldn’t make a big deal about it.

  • Still Waters

    The two themes, that God makes all human life, and that He uses the weak intertwine all of Scripture. In Genesis 9, when God grants Noah and his descendants the right to kill animals, specifically withholds that right over other human beings, giving as the reason that man is made in the image of God. Later on in Genesis, when Rachel demands children from Jacob, he angrily asks, “Am I God?” God repeatedly claims responsibility for opening the womb and closing the womb; and he repeatedly points out to those whom He chooses that He did not choose them for their strengths. From Israel to the apostle Paul, they are constantly reminded that His strength is made perfect in their weakness.

    That is why I find it far more terrible to hear a Christian say of a promiscuous woman who keeps getting pregnant, “They should sterilize people like that” than I do to hear a non-Christian declare women have the right to abort because it is their body. I expect non-Christians to know no better – their hearts must be changed before they can see the sanctity of human life. But the Christian should know better, they should remember the story of Tamar, who shouldn’t have been pregnant with her father-in-law’s children, but who bore the ancestor of David’s line from whom Christ came. They should remember that even the prostitute who conceives only conceives because God has decreed that she will. Christians are the salt and light of the world, and if they begin to value children based on whom they are born to, then no wonder the rest of the world places the value of children on whether the parents chose to have them or not.

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  • tovlogos

    An excellent post, Jesse — you have brought a little attention to the disabled, who often reside in the shadows. The light shines on them as well.

  • Ed

    I have worked with people with mental disabilities for a number of years. Often, one hears statements like, “There’s nothing wrong with George. He’s made by God exactly the way God intended him to be.” But George has FAS, because his mom drank a lot while she was pregnant. Is it really fair to say that God “created him that way”? I have no problem with the value of the life, by the way – these people are some of the the kindest and gentlest I have ever met – and reject the idea that abortion should be an option.

    • Jason

      The first part of the statement is what I find the least correct.

      There’s something wrong with every single bit of creation (including every descendant of Adam), which has been groaning under the effects of sin since Adam first sinned (Romans 5:12, Romans 8:22).

      To be sure, God’s ultimate intent is for his Kingdom to be without any of the effects of sin (Revelation 21:4), but everything that happens is according to God’s purposes (Psalms 115:3). So, in that sense, everything is made exactly as God intends for it to be, though he doesn’t intend to leave any of creation this way.

      I have a feeling that when the saints are looking back on this life we’ll all realize how damaged we all were from the start. We, in our worldliness, tend to only give some infirmities names, but our blind eye doesn’t make our brokenness any less real. We all were created as God intended, and we all are not at all what God intends for us to be.