May 12, 2013: Giving Birth

Posted on : May 9th, 2013 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

This Sunday we celebrate three events in our lives:  Mother’s Day, Reception of New Members and our first year anniversary in the UCC.  This is also the last Sunday in the season of Easter.  Since it is Mother’s Day, I thought it would be fun to share the story of two of the most clever, daring and devious mothers in the Bible, Shiphrah (Shiff-ruh) and Puah (Poo – uh) [like Winnie the Pooh].

Shiphrah and Puah were midwives.  Midwives in the ancient world were similar to Obstetricians (Medical Doctors who specialize in delivering babies) today.  In fact, there were no doctors who delivered babies in the ancient world, there were only midwives.

The story goes that Pharaoh (the King of Egypt) was deeply threatened by the numbers and strength of the Hebrew people.  Now this is quite irrational because the story takes place during the time of the enslavement of the Jewish people by Pharaoh in Egypt.  These folks were enslaved and worked to death.  The men were muscular but that’s because they hauled bricks and built pyramids and monuments, but proportionally the Egyptians far outnumbered the Hebrews.  This is kind of like the way some people today create “fear” about those who are “minorities” yet want equal rights.  Right now, undocumented immigrants are getting the brunt of that.  The same thing happens around “terrorists” and “equality for GLBT persons” etc.  So Pharaoh decides the way to solve this “threat” is to kill all male babies as they are born.  That’s called infanticide or gender based genocide.

So, Pharaoh instructs the two Hebrew midwives to kill all infant boys upon their birth.  Girls were allowed to live. (Exodus 1: 15-17 – see below.)  Shiphrah and Puah (the midwives) had no intention of killing their own children, the Hebrew children, so they didn’t.  When Pharaoh finds out about this, he has the women brought to him and furiously asks them why they disobeyed him.  Such noncompliance would surely lead to their death.  But in one of the most clever deceptive tales ever told, the Hebrew midwives simply said, “Well your eminence, you see the Hebrew women are not like your Egyptian women who spend hours and hours trying to give birth.  The Hebrew women are strong women, and they just pop out the kid before we even get there.”  (Full disclosure: my translation of the text.)

The conclusion of the story is that God is so proud of the midwives (pleased with them), that God blesses them and gives them families – and a great and mighty nation.  Pharaoh, unfortunately, went on a rampage and ordered all Hebrew boys aged two and under to be drowned in the Nile river which sets the scene for the baby Moses being rescued from the Nile by Pharaoh’s own daughter.

So how does all this relate to our lives?  The story of Shiphrah and Puah is the first story in the book of Exodus.  The book of Exodus is the story of God setting free the Hebrew people from the tyranny of Pharaoh’s unbearable rule.  For me, this story always reminds me that before we reach that place of new birth, sometimes we have to go through the dark place and pain before new life comes into being.

In 12 step groups they often refer to that as “hitting the bottom.”  For some mothers, it’s the pain of childbirth.  For parents it’s often when your kids enter adolescence.  For “minorities” it’s the struggle you go through before winning equal rights.  In life it is sometimes the nasty and painful stuff we have to go through before we find a new way to live.  For me that is not only a metaphor of birth, it is also our story of faith.  When we have gone through the places of “darkness” and “pain” the joy of new life has much more meaning and value to us.

More on Sunday!

Blessings to each of you,



~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Exodus 1

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy. Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation also died. But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’

Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service making bricks, laying mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them being delivered, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.

So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?’ The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’ So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, God gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.’

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