Emmanuel Baptist Church
275 State St. Albany, NY 12210
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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.”  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.”
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.
 Megan McKenna, Not Counting Women and Children: Neglected Stories from the Bible, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994 ) p. 37.
 Walter Bruggemann, New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994). p. 695.