Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, ‘When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.’ The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.
We can often recall the names of people who have taken a stand against evil and injustice, and recount the details of their history-making exploits. However, they never arrive there alone. This is no truer than in the story of Moses, the leader whose calling by God to speak truth to power has inspired Christian movements for liberation throughout history.
Moses is born at a time of infanticide. Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, seeks to control the Hebrew immigrant population by killing all male babies and effectively ending their family lines. Under this bloodthirsty regime, the midwives receive a murderous command: kill the baby boys. Instead of obeying, however, they resist the reign of evil that would be enacted through their hands. Their resistance protects the lives of many Hebrew sons – one of whom grows up to become Moses, the liberator of his people.
These Hebrew women are not the people we might think of when we consider what it means to change the world. We are led to believe that it is only by holding positions of power in institutions or commanding huge budgets and having wide influence that we can really make a difference. But these women were able to have an impact right where they were, in acts of resistance which shaped an entire generation. The time did come for the historic acts which we read about in the subsequent chapters, but it all begins in a tent, with one woman giving birth, and her midwives refusing to comply with the demands of an evil regime.
We live in a world filled with narratives, agendas, and objectives that undermine the good intentions of God for his creation. The task of resistance lies with all of us, whether we are the ones to stand in the place of power, the ones who have a role to play in someone else’s organisation, or in the simple relationships of family and friends.
At our particular time in history, there are groups of people who, like those babies, are vulnerable and threatened with violence and oppression. In our own contexts there are people whose futures are at stake because of the choices and agendas of those more powerful than them. May we, in our small choices and larger decisions, act with the courage of these midwives, to resist and protect those unable to defend themselves.
Tutor and Lecturer in Political Theology at St Mellitus College