Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Instructions to the Hebrew Midwives Exodus 1:15-17

Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one whom was named Shiphrah, and the other was named Puah; and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.”  But the midwives feared God, and did not do so as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live.

What is difficult to discern from the text is whether or not there were just two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, or whether these are the two the “king of Egypt” spoke to.  Perhaps these two worked right in the royal palaces taking care of the Hebrew slaves or servants who served the king and his staff.  Commentator David Guzik suggests they may have been the two head-midwives who oversaw the other Hebrew midwives in the land, although I find it strange that they would have been so organized at that time.

Mayer L. Gruber, writing in “Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia” explains the “birth stool” referred to in this text as follows: The Hebrew term for “birth stool” in Exod 1:16, obnayim, means literally “two stones.” It refers to the primitive form of the birth stool, which was simply two bricks (or stones) placed under each of the buttocks of the woman in labor. Such birth stools are depicted in the later forms of the hieroglyphic symbol for “birth” and are referred to in ancient Egyptian folk sayings, such as “He left me like a woman on the bricks.” Ancient Egyptian pictorial art shows that the two bricks were replaced by a chair with an opening in the middle (like a toilet seat) through which, with the help of gravity, the mother could push out her baby into the deft hands of the midwives.”

Of course, the Egyptian ruler only wanted male babies to be put to death, not female ones.  One is reminded of something similar that goes on in the world today, but perhaps opposite in its target.  I am referring of course to the practice in China and other parts of Asia of preferring male offspring to female ones, and even the infanticide of females some decades ago.  (Later on, for economic reasons, this resulted in China’s still enforced one-child per couple policy.)  In Western societies we currently also experience very high abortion rates.  In addition, there is a pre-occupation with knowing in advance of birth the sex of a child, as well as having a preferred sex of offspring.  That then can relate to what decision one makes about a possible abortion.  At the very root of all of this is man’s (and perhaps more particularly woman’s in this case) desire to play God and interfere with the responsibility of creation that is His and His alone.  And whenever that occurs, the society that is the proponent of such interference ends up collapsing or destroying itself.  We may well be living in the midst of that scenario in North America as we ignore the rights of the unborn.

And then along comes that favorite three-letter word of mine in the Bible – the word “but”.  Usually, as we saw in our study of Genesis, it is accompanied by the word “God” so that the phrase reads “but God” and then goes on to indicate that while man may have had certain plans and ideas, God had His own and He acted accordingly.  It is a great relief to know that all is in God’s hands and He takes the necessary action to work out His plans for both mankind and us individually.  However here in this 17th verse of Exodus chapter one, the word “but” is used in relation to individuals who feared God.  The king of Egypt may have had his plans, but God had in place people who were more in tune with His plans because they “feared” Him.  While that is one definition of the Hebrew word used, other definitions include to stand in awe of, be awed, to reverence, to honor, to respect, to cause astonishment and awe, to be held in awe, and to inspire reverence or awe.  It was this kind of fear that caused the Hebrew midwives to go against the king’s orders and let the male infants live.

So, here’s the question for each of us today.  Would you and I go against the commands of the authorities (president, prime minister, police, etc.) when obeying their orders would be contrary to what you and I believe are God’s laws regarding life or anything else?  Would you and I be willing to take a stand and make a difference in the lives of others, for God?  I do not want to be a herald of bad news, but I strongly believe that in the years to come, maybe as few as twenty or thirty years from now, should some of us live that long, many of us will have to be making just those kinds of decisions.

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  1. It would seem to me, Ken, that Holy Spirit's commands in the New Covenant that clearly require Jesus Followers to obey those in authority over them in the world e.g., Romans 13:1-7 are over-ridden by the numerous commands there for us to obey God ...the ultimate authority.

    This assumes, of course, that we make our choice to refuse and subject ourselves to the state's consequences for violating their authority on the basis of a clear Scriptural command and not just our opinion of what God wants. (It would be nice if He did. But, God doesn't seem to honour Christian arrogance or stupidity when we break state laws! I attach no 'smiley face' to this comment because I watch Believers using/quoting Opinions 1, regularly in TO where you and I live.)

    Your question is a good one, Ken. Each Jesus Follower needs to prayerfully get ready for a rough ride because I feel your 20-30 years is overly optimistic before the "rubber hits the road" for many Christians. The end of a relatively non-peresecutorial Canada is is nearer than 20 years, in my opinion.

    And by "near, I mean the extreme of dying for what we say we believe as is happening RIGHT NOW to our co-believers around the world in Muslim & Hindu countries, e.g., especially in the entire Middle East and North Africa, except for Israel, and even there in Gaza & Judea & Samaria, with "Arab Spring" over and "Christian Winter" settling in for the foreseeable future ...given the re-birth of Islamo-Fascism worldwide.

    Blessings all! And don't worry. Jesus IS risen!!

  2. Thanks Gary. Good points. Yes, God would not have us be ignorant in the sense that we disobey human authorities falsely believing that God is for something that we have no clear Scriptural basis for. And yes, when we do disobey human authority, there are consequences, that with God's help, we need to face, even unto death.

    I only hope you're wrong about the over-optimism on my timeline. But then again, we need to be ready in case you're right. Blessings and thanks. Ken.