Message Shared by Sandra Monroe
for the Giddings Lovejoy Presbyterian Women’s Gathering
October 21, 2023
15 The king of Egypt spoke to two Hebrew midwives named Shiphrah and Puah:
16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women give birth and you see the baby being born, if it’s a boy, kill him. But if it’s a girl, you can let her live.”
17 Now the two midwives respected God so they didn’t obey the Egyptian king’s order. Instead, they let the baby boys live.
18 So the king of Egypt called the two midwives and said to them, “Why are you doing this? Why are you letting the baby boys live?”
19 The two midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because Hebrew women aren’t like Egyptian women. They’re much stronger and give birth before any midwives can get to them.”
20 So God treated the midwives well, and the people kept on multiplying and became very strong.
21 And because the midwives respected God, God gave them households of their own.
22 Then Pharaoh gave an order to all his people: “Throw every baby boy born to the Hebrews into the Nile River, but you can let all the girls live.”
The word of God for the people of God.
These are the verses that specifically pertain to the midwives-which are the subject of this afternoon’s message. However, in order to more completely understand these verses, let’s also take a look at verses 1-14 of chapter 1 – the verses that directly precede these verses.
1 These are the names of the Israelites who came to Egypt with Jacob along with their households:
2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah,
3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin,
4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.
5 The total number in Jacob’s family was seventy. Joseph was already in Egypt.
6 Eventually, Joseph, his brothers, and everyone in his generation died.
7 But the Israelites were fertile and became populous. They multiplied and grew dramatically, filling the whole land.
Israel is oppressed
8 Now a new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph.
9 He said to his people, “The Israelite people are now larger in number and stronger than we are.
10 Come on, let’s be smart and deal with them. Otherwise, they will only grow in number. And if war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us, and then escape from the land.”
11 As a result, the Egyptians put foremen of forced work gangs over the Israelites to harass them with hard work. They had to build storage cities named Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh.
12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they grew and spread, so much so that the Egyptians started to look at the Israelites with disgust and dread.
13 So the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites.
14 They made their lives miserable with hard labor, making mortar and bricks, doing field work, and by forcing them to do all kinds of other cruel work.
This is the word of God.
The Jacob, mentioned in verse one- is the Jacob, who was the son of Isaac,
who was the son of Abraham. These “Hebrews” the Pharaoh speaks of are the direct descendants of Abraham and Sarah. And Joseph with the coat of many colors was Jacob’s son. Joseph had lived with the Egyptians for many years and when the rest of the family came to live Egypt they were welcomed and treated well by the Egyptian royalty.
However, as these verses tell us, this time has passed. Joseph and all the original family members have died, but the clan has continued to reside in Egypt and to multiply in number. A new Pharaoh has come to power and this ruler does not know of Joseph or his legacy and it seems pretty clear he doesn’t care. You might notice that in the earlier verses, outlining the history of the family, they are referred to as Israelites, but when the verses begin to refer to the Pharaoh’s references of the Israelites they are called “Hebrews”. According to the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary on the book of Exodus, in the ancient Near East “Hebrews” was a reference to “any group of marginal people with no social standing, owning no land and who endlessly disrupted ordered society.” They were considered “low-class folks” who were feared, excluded and despised. As they were blessed with the ability to be fruitful and multiply, the Pharaoh saw them as a threat to his ability to maintain power (and order) in his country, especially as their numbers began to surpass those of the Egyptians. The Pharaoh attempted to subdue them by enlisting them in forced labor to build storehouses with tight oversight, and yet the Israelites continued to be fruitful in the reproduction of their numbers. The Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites, but still, reproduction continued. This “reproduction of their numbers” was a continuation of God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5).
So, in an attempt to halt this reproduction, the Pharaoh called forth Shiphrah and Puah – the midwives and ordered them to do a most horrific act and murder the male babies of the Hebrews as soon as they were born. Can you imagine? These women, who have dedicated their lives to keeping women and babies as safe as possible through the birthing experience and now they are commanded to do the opposite. To kill babies.
The Scripture does not expand on how the midwives devised their plan to avoid killing the male babies and still avoid the Pharaoh’s wrath, but it does tell us why. Shiphrah and Puah respected God. They did not have an overwhelming obedience to the Pharaoh, nor is it recorded that they had an overwhelming love for the Israelites. The midwives respected God, and therefore, God’s creation. They knew that destroying the precious lives of newborn babies would not be God’s will. And the descendants of Abraham continued to be fruitful and multiply.
Scripture also does not tell us how long the midwives continued their practice of birthing both male and female descendants of Abraham, but we do know that if it wasn’t for the midwives and their decision to respect God through respecting God’s creation that many male children would not have been born.
But at some point, the Pharaoh catches on and calls them out on their deception. I can only imagine how they felt when they received the summons to appear before the Pharaoh. They were merely midwives and he was the Pharaoh with ultimate power and the resources to carry out any consequences he ordered. Was there some fear and trepidation knowing their days could be numbered? Or did they approach confidently, knowing God would protect them in their righteous actions?
Whatever the case, we do not know the Pharaoh’s reaction to their claim that the Hebrew women were stronger and gave birth before the midwives could arrive. The Pharaoh already knows they are a strong bunch, because of the oppression they have endured, the hard labor they have been forced to do and their reproduction habits, so it is feasible that he believed Shiphrah and Puah. We do know the midwives were not killed, because they were blessed with families.
A desperately fearful leader, who is never given a name in this narrative, makes extreme choices in order to keep his perceived power, but the nervy midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, walked in their faith determined to make a way for God’s way.
Where in the world today is there a need for “midwives” for God?
-In the Amazon region of South America to save the ecologically needed rainforest
-Offering to be foster parents for children who find themselves in the foster system
-Calling out friends/colleagues on their micro-aggressions against those who are oppressed
-Supporting and advocating for policies to support and not criminalize our homeless friends.
How can we “walk like the midwives” in our lives?
Who are the pharaohs of our time and in our lives who need pushback in the name of justice?
Where are we being asked to step up and stand up for God, despite the perceived circumstances and/or consequences? Where can we make a difference?
Shiphrah and Puah made a difference.
-Moses would not have had 600,000 people to lead out of Egypt, if it wasn’t for the midwives!
-There would be no Passover, if it wasn’t for the midwives!
-The parting of the Red Sea would not have happened, if it wasn’t for the midwives!
-There would be no David to slay Goliath if it wasn’t for the midwives!
-The story of the Gospels would be entirely different if it wasn’t for the midwives!
How will the story of the world be different because of us?
How will the story be different because of Christians?
How will the story be different because of the PCUSA?
How will the story be different because of Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery?
How will the story be different because of this group of Presbyterian Women?
How will the story be different because of your congregations?
How will the story be different because of you and me?
Member of LoveJoy United Presbyterian Church
Enrolled as Inquirer to become a Minister of the Word and Sacrament
Overnight Chaplain at Saint Louis University Hospital