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Shemot/Exodus 1:20 And G-d caused good to the midwives and the people increased and they became very strong.
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Who were the midwives being spoken of here? A few verses earlier, the parasha tells us that "the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other was Puah" (Shemot 1:15). But who were they? "Rabbi Samuel ben Nahman said: It was a woman and her daughter, namely Jochebed and Miriam" (Shemot Rabbah 1:13). The midrash then provides a number of possible reasons why Moshe's mother and sister had these names: "Another explanation of Shiphrah: because she made her acts pleasing (shafrah) before G-d. Another explanation of Puah: because she (Miriam) lifted (hofi'ah) Israel up to G-d." Another strand of tradition (Josephus, the Septuagint, the Vulgate and Abravanel) suggest that they were Egyptian proselytes who, having been originally Egyptian, Pharaoh thought would be more pliable when he ordered them to kill the Israelite boys at birth. This latter view runs counter to the biblical text itself which, when moving on to the start of the next scene, says: "A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman" (Shemot 2:1, JPS) of Moshe's parents. It seems impossible for Moshe's mother to be both from the tribe of Levi and an Egyptian proselyte.
The next verse goes on to say, "And because the midwives feared G-d, He established houses for them" (Shemot 1:21). WhileIbn Ezra says that "He gave them many descendants, that is, He made households for them" and Rashbam suggests that the 'he' is Pharaoh, who built houses for them and put them under house-arrest because they had disobeyed him, Rashi claims that this is further evidence that the midwives are indeed Moshe's mother and sister. Rashi says, "He built houses for them: the houses of kehunah, priesthood, and leviyah, the tribe of Levi, and royalty cohen and Levi from Yocheved, Moshe and Aharon; royalty from Miryam who was an ancestor of King David (according to b. Sotah 11a)". Either way, the biblical text, supported by tradition, says that G-d rewarded the midwives because they feared Him, so both failing to carry out Pharaoh's orders to kill all boys at birth and then essentially lying to Pharaoh to cover up what they were doing.
Our verse starts with the word , an apocopated1 Hif'il 3ms prefix form from the root - to be or make good. The causitive voice takes the meaning "to do good to" someone. G-d caused good to come upon the two midwives because they feared Him; He did good to them because they disobeyed Pharaoh. The midwives not only feared G-d and disobeyed Pharaoh, but when asked about their behaviour they gave a disingenuous answer: "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women: they are vigorous. Before the midwife can come to them, they have given birth" (v. 19, JPS). If Pharaoh had known anything about childbirth, he would have seen through that straight away. In a few cases, yes, it could certainly be the case that the midwife wouldn't get there in time, so the child would be born without them, but in the vast majority of cases, there is ample warning of birth with contractions from several hours before delivery takes place. The midwives simply took a chance on Pharaoh being ignorant of both the subject of childbirth and the practical experience of Hebrew women. They were right. But G-d blessed them because they were prepared to take that chance rather than obey Pharaoh or lose their own positions which gave a measure of protection to the Hebrews.
What can we learn from that in our lives today? Rav Sha'ul seems to come down with a rather different ruling: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from G-d, and those that exist have been instituted by G-d. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what G-d has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment" (Romans 13:1-2, ESV). In fact, he seems very keen on the idea: "Remind people to submit to the government and its officials, to obey them, to be ready to do any honorable kind of work" (Titus 3:1, CJB). Peter even stresses the importance of obeying the Roman emperor: "For the sake of the L-rd, submit yourselves to every human authority - whether to the emperor as being supreme, or to governors as being sent by him to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do what is good" (1 Peter 2:13-14, CJB) - a position that would be very difficult for the early believers to carry out around the Roman empire, where is was a requirement to offer sacrifice to the emperor and to the gods on his behalf. How are we to understand such absolute mandates from the apostles to the Gentiles and the Jews?
In Peter's statement, the key phrase is "those who do what is good" (v. 14). While this does not give us license to start a huge debate about what exactly is good, because G-d has made it clear in His word what He considers 'good', it conditions the necessity to obey human authorities upon their compliance with the absolute standards established in the Bible. The apostles had an early show-down with the Temple authorities over speaking about Yeshua. Peter and John had been called in by the Sanhedrin because after the lame man had been healed, people wanted to know how this had happened. "So they called them in again and ordered them under no circumstances to speak or teach in the name of Yeshua. But Kefa and Yochanan answered, 'You must judge whether it is right in the sight of G-d to listen to you rather than G-d'" (Acts 4:18-19, CJB). Only a short time later, after having been miraculously released from jail during the night for teaching in the Temple courts, the apostles were teaching once again and "They conducted them to the Sanhedrin, where the cohen hagadol demanded of them, 'We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name! Look here! you have filled Yerushalayim with your teaching; moreover, you are determined to make us responsible for this man's death!' Kefa and the other emissaries answered, 'We must obey God, not men'" (5:27-29, CJB).
When it comes to a conflict between the rulings of a state and the clear instructions of G-d, it is necessary to obey G-d rather than men. Countless men and women throughout history have found themselves having to place their lives on the line in order to obey G-d instead of the demands or legislation of the country where they live. The persecuted church worldwide is still in that position today. Sharing our faith, meeting together, maintaining biblical standards for relationships, marriage and family, medical ethics and education are all areas where we may be squeezed and find ourselves at variance with both liberal or restrictive legislatures. When we stand firm, we will become a stone in their shoe and a block in their throat: "But the L-rd G-D helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame" (Isaiah 50:7, ESV).
It is, of course, essential that we know exactly what we are doing and are clearly led by the Holy Spirit. G-d has not called us to enter upon organised campaigns of civil disobedience, publicly disobeying particular laws and seeking publicity and public support for our actions. If we are following G-d, we do not need public support and we follow His commands as a matter of conscience and obedience rather than disobedience. Yeshua told the disciples, "Now when they arrest you and bring you to trial, don't worry beforehand about what to say. Rather, say whatever is given you when the time comes; for it will not be just you speaking, but the Ruach HaKodesh" (Mark 13:11, CJB). The Holy Spirit will guide us in what we say - whether verbally or in writing - and do. In all other respects, so far as it is possible, we are to be model citizens. Rav Sha'ul's warning, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (Romans 12:18, ESV), alerts us to the fact that argument and discord will not, in all cases, be achievable, but we must try to find workable solutions if we can. Ultimately, as the Last Days persist, we have to recognise that there will simply be some things that we cannot do and areas where compromise is impossible. We will simply have to stand in the strength that G-d provides so that, "having done all, we stand firm" (Ephesians 6:13).
1 - shortened by the removal - or, in this case, the shortening from hireq-yod to a segol - of the final sound or syllable or the word
Further Study: Matthew 5:11-12; John 15:18-21
Application: Are you being challenged about a key part of your faith? Remember G-d's promises and provision for you at this time: He will provide a way to stand (1 Corinthians 10:13), His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9); we can do all things in Messiah (Philippians 4:13).
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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