My guest blogger is Lynda Weaver-Williams, who long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away showed me the importance of the Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1.
Two Daughters of Israel Just Say No
Unless you have been hibernating this winter, you are aware that a great freedom movement happened in Egypt this year. By the millions, Egyptian women and men rose up against their iron-fisted leader of 30 years and in less than a month and with very little violence on their part, he was headed to a resort on the Red Sea.
It was not the first time women in Egypt took a stand for freedom. The first chapter of Exodus records a brief but vital story of two women who challenge another iron-fisted Egyptian leader and it sets in motion the survival of the people of Israel (Exodus 1:15-21).
Their names are not household words: Shiphrah and Puah. They are Hebrew slaves and they are midwives. Their job is to make sure babies and their mothers thrive (the first ‘Thrive’ moms?). The King of Egypt commands the midwives to kill the male babies as soon as they are born, or ‘on the birth stool’ as the Bible says (Ex. 1:16). This King is threatened by boy babies (for him, soldiers in the making). Some King. But Shiphrah and Puah defy this King and let all the babies live.
For me, the ‘God’ part of the story is that the midwives know who is ultimately in charge. There is a King, and it may appear for all intents and purposes that he is the authority. But, as scripture says, ‘The midwives feared God.’ (v. 21). It is important that we know the meaning of ‘fear’ in this context. It is not terror, panic, alarm, dread or the heebie-jeebies.
In the Old Testament when we come across the word fear in relation to God, it conveys a sense of deep reverence and awe. It is based on an understanding that there is in human affairs a Sacred Presence beyond our control and inclined to our well-being.
The midwives have this sense of who is really in charge in this world. They know where true power resides. It seems to me that it is always a challenge for us to figure that out: is the power of our culture—of what to own, how to look, how to spend our time, money, energy, what to do with our bodies, etc.—ultimate? Or, like Shiphrah and Puah, can we trust that there is a Sacred Presence beyond our control who is inclined to our well-being?