Emmanuel Baptist Church

275 State St.  Albany, NY 12210
(518) 465-5161

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A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation

Minister:  Rev. Kathy J. Donley

Five Remarkable Women and the Baby Who Survived

Rev. Kathy Donley



Scripture Lesson:  Exodus 1:8-2:10


It is back to school time and back to Sunday School time, which might mean it’s time for a pop quiz. So here we go:

1)    What are the names of the midwives who defied Pharoah and did not kill Israelite baby boys?

Shiphrah and Puah

2)    Who was the baby rescued by the Pharoah’s daughter from the Nile river? 


3)    What was the name of the Pharoah? 

The Bible does not say.  It was probably Ramses the Great.  More about that in Sunday School.

4)     What was Moses’ mother’s name?


5)    What was Moses’ sister’s name?


Last question:  Moses was the baby rescued from the Nile.  What are some other things we remember him for?  (Leading people out of Egypt, crossing the sea, the 10 Commandments).  For the next 6 weeks, we are going to remember together the story of Moses and the Israelite people.  Today we recognize the five women whose courageous and compassionate actions enabled Moses to survive. Without them, we would not even know his name. 

Pharoah is afraid.  He is afraid of these immigrants who arrived some generations earlier.  He is afraid that they might join forces with some enemy and fight against Egypt and escape.  Isn’t that interesting – his fear is that they will flee, and this supply of cheap labor will no longer be under his control. 

So he doubles down on that control, enslaving them, making their working conditions harsher and harsher, perhaps hoping to reduce their numbers by workplace accidents and death from wearing out at an early age.  His plan does not work.  The more he oppresses, the more the immigrant population expands.

Megan McKenna observes, “The state of world affairs hasn’t altered significantly in hundreds of generations.  The countries and the names of the dictators and the oppressed change, but there is always the reality, the stark, demeaning, and dehumanizing reality of what one people does to another – deliberately – for political and economic self-advantage.” [1]   As my Egyptian tour guide was fond of saying “there is nothing new under the sun.”


Then Pharoah orders the midwives to kill all baby boys.  That’s when we learn of Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives who refuse.  They are remembered for their heroic disobedience to his intended cruelty. 


While the midwives are busy delivering babies in defiance of Pharoah, a woman named Jochebed gets pregnant.  Does she choose to deliver alone, for fear of the midwives?  Or has she heard that Shiphrah and Puah can be trusted?  It is one of the many decisions she must have made for the child she carried.  By this time, Pharoah has ordered Egyptian citizens to throw all Israelite boy babies into the Nile River.  How terrifying that must have been for Jochebed and all the other Israelite parents.  Jochebed gives birth to a healthy baby boy.  For three months, she hides him.  How difficult was it to keep him out of sight, how stressful to keep his crying from attracting attention?  At three months, she enacts a new plan.  She weaves a tight basket and carefully waterproofs it and places it in the reeds at the edge of the river, where it will be protected from the current. 


I imagine that she has been working on this plan for a while.  Probably she has observed that the princess comes here to bathe.  After Jochebed withdraws,  Miriam, Moses’ teenage sister, keeps watch on the baby in the basket in the reeds.


As they had hoped, the Pharoah’s daughter notices the basket and has one of her attendants draw it out of the water.  When she sees inside, she says “Oh, this must be one of the Hebrew’s children.” 


The term Hebrews is less specific than Israelites.  “[Hebrews] refers to any group of marginal people who have no social standing, own no land and endlessly disrupt ordered society.   . . . They are ‘low-class folks’ who are feared, excluded and despised.”[2]


Pharoah’s daughter immediately identifies the baby as one of the Hebrews because no other mothers are so desperate; only the most marginalized, despised people are reduced to putting their healthy babies in waterproof baskets on the river to save them.

For reasons we aren’t told, the Pharoah’s daughter also disobeys her father’s order.  She doesn’t throw the baby into the Nile, but takes pity on him.  That’s when Miriam steps forward to offer to find a wet nurse.  She must have the right blend of confidence and humility to take the initiative with royalty. Maybe Pharoah’s daughter knows that Miriam is brokering a deal  with Moses’ biological mother, but she goes along with the ruse,  and pays Jochebed to care for her own baby.  Moses lives with his mother until he is weaned when he goes to live at the palace with the Pharoah’s daughter who adopts him.   Decades will go by before we will hear from Moses again, but these women have done what was necessary to preserve his life.  Their bold resistance, their courageous hope, their careful planning will ultimately lead to the liberation and freedom of an entire people.


“The future depends on what we do today.  Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”   Those words are often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, but there is some dispute about who actually said them.  Regardless of who said them first, we can see the truth of them.    


I expect that Shiprah, Puah, Jochebed, Miram and the Pharoah’s daughter did sense that what they were doing was significant.  They acted in deliberate ways to save life.  But how could they have had any idea that their actions would lay the foundation for all that came after?  They were acting in the moment, probably without any conscious thought that they were making history.


Which is kind of where we find ourselves.   Today, as a community, we come together after a summer of being scattered.  Today, as a community, we launch our fall educational program.  We do the kinds of things this church has been doing on this Sunday for decades.  Perhaps it seems routine, even insignificant.  On the other hand, maybe it is instructive to heed the warning, “The future depends on what we do today.” 


Today, we are being intentional about nurturing people in the love of God.  We are organizing ourselves to share the stories of the Bible and our faith journeys, to educate ourselves so that we might align with the God who acts through human beings in history.  We do not know who is in our midst. Perhaps Moses or Miriam is in the Preschool class right now.  Shiphrah or Jochebed might be one of our youth.  One of us here in this sanctuary might function as the Pharoah’s daughter for someone whom we have not yet met.


The future depends on what we do today. 


Are we like the midwives – called to acts of civil disobedience, defying governmental authority,  risking arrest or imprisonment because we answer to a higher power? 

Or like Jochebed, fiercely protective, bravely nurturing, but also able to let go,  to relinquish her child into another culture so that he can live?

Perhaps we are more like Miriam, a guardian and shrewd advocate, someone who can broker deals for those on the margins with those who have the power to make a difference.

Or are we most like the Pharoah’s daughter,  who reaches across the boundaries of race and politics and religion and exploits her own privilege and position in order to educate and equip someone whom she should have feared and despised.


For the next few minutes, we are going to peek into classrooms upstairs.  It will be a kind of virtual trip to see our teachers and learners engaged together. As we do that, perhaps your answer will become clear  – with which of these remarkable women do you align?  Shiphrah and Puah, Jochebed, Miriam, or the Pharoah’s daughter?


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Skyping from Preschool Room, Godly Play/Junior Room, Youth Class.

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Today, and every Sunday, we are intentional about nurturing people in God’s love.  Today and every day, we attend to the ways we live out our faith, the things to which we say Yes or No, from serving those in need to advocating for justice to showing up to be part of this community, all will echo down from generation to generation, and we pray will result in freedom and wholeness and peace for all God’s children.     Thanks be to God.




[1] Megan McKenna, Not Counting Women and Children:  Neglected Stories from the Bible, (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 1994 ) p. 37. 

[2] Walter Bruggemann, New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1, (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1994). p. 695.