The Reverend George C. Wong
The Church of the Saviour
August 27, 2017
Exodus 1:8 -2:10
Call us Midwives
We read in the book of Exodus and perhaps also remember from Charlton Heston’s memorable performance in the “Ten Commandments” that Moses had a way with water.
-He commanded the waters of the Nile to carry several plagues to Egypt while attempting to free his enslaved people from the iron grip of Pharaoh.
-He parted the waters of the Red Sea on the way to bring his people to safety when trapped between the Pharaoh’s army and the sea.
-He tapped a rock in the desert to secure a flow of life giving water for his parched people.
Moses commanded water in miraculous ways through the power of God working through him.
But before Moses could become the towering figure of the Old Testament, the tiny infant Moses would experience some trouble on the water and need five women working behind the scenes to help him escape death.
Pharaoh wanted to nip the perceived threat in the bud from the ever-growing population of Hebrew slaves, whom he feared were breeding far faster than the native Egyptians and threatening to overrun the whole country. After other measures designed to exhaust the Hebrews through non-stop labor fail to lower the birthrate of the Israelites and their families continue to grow robustly, the Pharaoh issues an edict to kill all newborn Israelite males.
Knowing that if she were found to be pregnant that Moses would be killed upon his birth, his Mother hides the pregnancy.
But all her efforts would have been for naught but for two other women. His birth became possible because the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, disobey the orders to kill all male babies. When they are questioned by Pharaoh after he notices that the population seems to be still be growing, they claim that Hebrew women were not like Egyptian women, but were rough and sturdy and thus did not need the services of the midwives. “Sorry, Pharaoh, we can’t keep up with these ladies. There is nothing we can do.” Frustrated, the Pharaoh wants all male babies under the age of one thrown in the Nile.
His Mother ingeniously complies with the order to throw her baby in the river, but gives him a chance placing him in a basket first.
Pharaoh’s daughter spots the basket with Moses floating down the river. Instead of turning a blind eye and letting him drift by to a certain death she defies her Father’s wishes and she has a maid draw Moses out of the water to safety. The maid turns out to be Miriam his sister, who manages to convince Pharaoh’s daughter to give Moses to a nursing woman, who Miriam knows is Moses’ actual mother.
Shiphrah, Puah—the two midwives, Moses’ Mom and Sister, and the Daughter of Pharaoh chose to say no to the death decree of the Pharaoh. But they also act using the gifts and resources at their disposal to keep him alive and well.
-The midwives cleverly use their knowledge of ugly stereotypes about Hebrew women held by the Egyptians to deflect the criticism of the Pharaoh and to keep on delivering baby boys.
-Moses’ Mom hides Moses and constructs a river worthy basket that increases his chances. Then, his sister uses quick thinking to get Moses back into her Mother’s arms so she can nurse Moses.
-Pharaoh’s daughter chose to rescue Moses from the river and use her resources to support his care.
The women form a chain of compassion that is linked by their common refusal to give into the Pharaoh’s fear driven death sentence. The community of women, each who hold limited power, cleverly and effectively frustrating mighty Pharaoh’s crazed demand for the blood of innocents.
And as it turns out, by acting to resist the death edict of the Pharaoh, their actions have an impact far beyond their lives. If Moses did not lead the Israelites out of Egypt and if he did not receive the commandments, the history of the world would be very different.
At times, even the simple act of showing up and offering hope in the face of slim odds can make a difference.
While it is no longer the case, when I was born, survival rates for very low weight babies were almost zero. The technology was not widely available at the time to handle babies as small and frail as I was. The doctors at Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles told my parents that there was zero chance of me living. Perhaps thinking that it would spare my parents further grief, they discouraged them from naming me given the inevitability of my death in the hospital. The priest on duty as chaplain agreed with the doctors.
Nanna, my paternal grandmother arrived at the hospital. A diminutive, woman of few words, she insisted that my parents name me. Even if I lived only a few minutes, I would need a name to be baptized. My exhausted parents agreed naming me after my grandpa George. Within that same day, I slowly turned the corner. Nanna died while I was only six years old so I did not get to hear her tell this story. Perhaps, it was my grandmother’s faith and prayers in the power of life over death that made the difference. I was fast approaching death, but somehow I was snatched from the waters of death; a year later, I was baptized into the waters of life.
Moses was named so because he was drawn out of the water and saved. As an infant, he needed the saving help of the five women, each who acted quietly and without recognition.
Like Moses, I suspect that each of us can name a person in our lives who acted behind the scenes faithfully on our behalf sometimes in dire or even hopeless circumstances. We each likely know someone in our lives who refused to give up on us, even when it looked like there was no hope. My grandmother was just the first of many people to do this for me. It seems that my grandmother and others have acted in the role of midwife, that is as a person who got me past a critical and dangerous passage, and who in that way are responsible for my life.
While the role does not have its traditional prominence and is increasingly a thing of the past, midwives serve to bring life into the world.
Each of us can be midwives of hope by using our gifts and resources to in the face of slim odds, fear and even at times death itself.
May we each in our own ways help birth and nurture hope and compassion in a world hungry for a life giving alternative to hate, mistrust and fear. As today’s processional hymn reminds us, may we offer up a labor of love that defies the waters of death and that will usher in a “new creation by water and the word.”