Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Shiphrah and Puah
On one side of the story we find that a new type of Pharaoh has come to power, the type that has forgotten old promises, the type of Pharaoh who believes it is better to preemptively strike then face possible opposition. This, as is always the case, only serves to create the opposition the Pharaoh feared. We, today, are still very familiar with these types of Pharaohs. These are the Pharaohs who rule by economic and social stratification. These are the Pharaohs who maintain the appearance of peace through the use of might. These are the Pharaohs who garner support through the spreading of fear. To question these Pharaohs is to be unpatriotic, disloyal, a traitor, and so these Pharaohs' evils go unchecked and unchallenged. No one is immune from the temptation of becoming such a Pharaoh. This Pharaoh is, after all, merely the product of power that has taken a narcissistic turn. I heard a phrase on a television show that went something like this, "Do you know what they call it when a government always breaks its own laws because an emergency demands it? A dictatorship." A Pharaoh like the one that arose over Egypt is the natural outcome of power only thinking about itself.
How does one stand up to such Pharaohs? What can one possibly do against such odds? Shiphrah and Puah can tell us. Two simple midwives, Shiprah and Puah refuse to do as the Pharaoh commands. They fear God more than they fear the Pharaoh, and so when the Hebrew women have little squalling boys, Shiprah and Puah let them live. And when the Pharaoh demands an answer for such blatant disobedience, what is it the midwives say? They say, "Oh, but Pharaoh, we're trying. The Hebrew women, they're just to strong. By the time we arrive, the Hebrews have already had their children. Our hands are tied!" This is, of course, a blatant lie, a courageous lie. It's not everyone that has the guts to thumb their noses at the one who has the power to separate head from shoulders.
We have a few recent examples of this type of courage: Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm sure there are others, but those come to mind. This is not the type of courage that says, "I will use your own oppression and manipulation and fear to fight," or in other words a courage that fights death with death. This is a courage that fights death with life. This is a courage that quietly goes about delivering healthy baby boys. This is not a courage that can take Pharaoh off the thrown, but it can steadily go about the work of empowering an oppressed minority.
Midwives, who would have thought that midwives could topple kingdoms? They in no way intended to topple Egypt, but by finding the courage and developing the character to not go along with the political winds of their time, that is precisely what they accomplished.
Moses is of course the hero who leads the Hebrews out of their land of bondage, but without Shiphrah and Puah, there is no Moses to begin with.
Stopping point: Exodus 3