Friday, June 22, 2012

Shiphrah and Puah engage in Civil Disobedience

At the beginning of the book of Exodus we see the the King of Egypt growing increasingly wary of the Israelites and we meet two women. Their names are Shiphrah and Puah and they are Hebrew midwives.

The king instructs them to commit gendercide at the births of the Hebrew children. The females may live; the males must be killed.

However, "the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live." (Ex 1:17)

They are called in front of the king and he asks them why.

Their response makes me giggle a bit. I can almost see them feigning perplexity, "The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian Women. They are just so strong and full of life that they pop those babies out before we can get there!"

The King seems to accept that all the women of the nation are blessed with speedy labor and deliveries and the Shiprah and Puah do not appear to receive any type of punishment from the King for their inability to follow his orders. Their quick thnking has spared not only the lives of the children, but their response has also seemed to spare them from any anger or repercussion from the king.

Shiphrah and Puah find favor with God for their refusal to obey the order of the King of Egypt. We read "God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families."

The King, however, does come up with a new plan to kill the male infants - he orders all of his people to throw the male babies into the Nile.

At first glance I think, "Ok. They saved one round of births from murder, but ultimately the king still had baby boys dumped into the Nile. Was it really that effective?"

And then I realized, the kings plan B gave the Israelites much more knowledge and notice of the evil happening around them.

I'm certain, that as midwives, Shiphrah and Puah could've found ways to quickly and quietly kill the male babies, making it look like an accident or a natural consequence of birth. As it went on, the people may have begun to suspect something when only female babies survived. But, the king's proclamation spoken to only these two women could've gone undetected for a while.

However, with the womens' fear of God the king's hand was forced into a more overt tactic. He "commanded all of his people" to take the male babies and cast them into the Nile. There is nothing quiet, underhanded, or sneaky about that. He was brazenly declaring his edict and the Israelites knew immediately to fear for the lives of their sons.

At least one family in particular made use of this knowledge and was able to protect their son. Their son's name was Moses.

Had Shiphrah or Puah attended the birth of Moses and followed the king's command, there would've not been time for the familiar story of months of hiding and a float down a river in a basket to be discovered and saved by the house of Pharaoh.

Shiphrah and Puah's civil disobedience did not stop the killing of all of the Hebrew male children, but it did make the king choose another plan. And that change of course enabled a storyline that allowed a child named Moses to grow. A child that would indeed, lead the people to protect their firstborn with the blood of a lamb and ultimately lead them into a promised land of freedom.

Our counter-cultural decisions that we make out of fear and respect for the Lord may not seem immediately beneficial. It may feel as though we only temporarily delayed the destruction we were hoping to avoid entirely, but we must trust that the fear of the Lord and obedience to Him will bring about His purposes and make His name great.

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