Ever heard of Shiphrah and Puah? You should. They get my vote for Christian role models for the new millennium. In case you were sleeping in Sunday School, Shiphrah and Puah were the Hebrew midwives mentioned in Exodus Chapter 1.
Talk about an impossible choice. They were commanded by Pharaoh to kill all male Hebrew children they delivered. This was Pharaoh’s ethnic cleansing programme, born out of an irrational fear that the Israelites might one day turn on him. (This is a fear that afflicts most tyrants.)
What would you do if you were in Shiphrah and Puahs’ situation? On one hand you had a direct order from the ultimate ruler of the day. To disobey meant you risked certain death for you and your family. On the other hand, to obey meant killing hundreds, possibly thousands of innocent babies. To obey meant violating everything you believed in, and the God of your beliefs. What would you do?
Everyday we are faced with difficult choices. Some of them are grey. We genuinely are not sure what we should do. Some are difficult precisely because we know what is required of us. But the price is incredibly high.
I am sure that Shiphrah and Puah didn’t have ambitions of becoming heroes. Or ending up as key players in salvation history. They were just midwives, for God’s sake. They were just bit players in the drama of the day. Pawns in the hands of forces way beyond their understanding or their control.
But one day they went to work. And found that they had a choice to make. Obey a horrendous order. Or do the right thing. And possibly die.
Often, it is in the crucible of impossible choices that our true north is revealed. Which may or may not be the same true north we think we operate by when times are good. In the moment of choice, the two midwives were revealed to be people who “feared the Lord”, people who oriented their lives around trusting and obeying God. Perhaps the revelation came as a surprise to them as well.
In any case they chose to disobey the most powerful man of the day. They chose to obey God. They chose not to kill the male Hebrew babies they delivered. And in what must go down as one of the most audacious replies of all time, they tell Pharaoh when questioned, that the reason that they can’t carry out his orders has something to do with the fact that Hebrew women are more vigorous than their Egyptian counterparts! I am sure they said it with straight faces.
Pharaoh must have thought that the reason was just audacious enough to be true. The midwives were spared. And God shows His favour on them by giving them their own families.
Unfortunately, the midwives courageous act of obedience only served to slow down Pharaoh’s pogrom. As tyrants often do, when all things fail, call in the army. God would raise up his deliverer later. Doing the right thing does not always lead to an obvious victory for the side of the angels. But that is not for us to judge. We are just called to do the right thing.
Why the choice of Shiphrah and Puah as role models for Christians for the new millennium?
Because they disprove two beliefs that hold God’s people back from making a significant difference in the world.
First, there is the belief that nothing we do really makes a difference. We are all in the grip of powerful historical forces way beyond our control. We are like potential road kill caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. We stand paralyzed and let life run us over. At most we stick to the safe and familiar.
Next, there is the belief that significant things are done by heroic people doing heroic things. Since most of us do not qualify as larger than life heroes, we are therefore let off the hook. Yes, God’s people must act significantly in history. But that is the job of the super heroes among us. Not ordinary folks like us.
The testimony of Shiphrah and Puah makes a lie of the above two beliefs. They show that God’s purposes are not dependent on heroic people doing heroic things. But on ordinary people doing the right things.
Shiphrah and Puah show us that the number one qualification needed for God’s people to effectively salt and light the world is a fear of the Lord. It is that simple. And that difficult.
We are at another kairos moment in world history. The world is desperately in need of divine salt and light. That means us. All of us.