Most of us don't prosper under hard circumstances. We think the following. We say the following. We can even think we live the following, which is this: tough times leave us winded, hurt, lost, overwhelmed or confused.
But that's not God's plan for you. It's not God's will.
There are two women you heard about a moment ago who did follow God's plan. Shiphrah and Puah obeyed God's will in the face of life-threatening circumstances.
It is unclear whether Shiphrah and Puah were Hebrew or Egyptian. Some scholars seem all uptight about this, but, said simply, the duo were most likely Hebrew because their names are Semitic, not Egyptian. Here's what we need to know today. It's likely the two attended both Hebrew and Egyptian births because they were able to give the Pharaoh a comparison (Exodus 1:19) and tell him that the "...Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them." Also, the fact that Pharaoh called for them shows that they were held in high respect (as most midwives were) among the Egyptians and the Hebrews, probably because of their great skill and experience.
Given the size of the Hebrew population, it is logical that Puah and Shiphrah were not the only midwives attending births. In fact, Numbers 1:46 shares this fact: 603,550 men over the age of twenty were a part of the captives set free when Israel left Egypt. Many (if not all) of these men were probably saved by midwives who refused to kill them as babies. This large number of men also indicates that the midwives were organized. Perhaps a wide-scale organization helped save and hide male babies, which is remarkable if you think about it. And First Congregational-UCC, let's talk about (and raise up) one of our woman run, wide-scale organizations. The woman led and run organization here at our church helps us and our community beyond measure, and the organization I invite you to salute with me is our Willing Workers. When women who group together see a need to be met and/or an injustice to be corrected, oh yes, look out! If you're a bystander, you may well find yourself jostled or, even better, recruited, so that their goal of making God's love heard, seen, known and tasted is achieved.
Let's be wise and tap into this woman power movement further. Think about these ladies, these midwives, in Egypt. No matter how they did it, they were able to one, save so many babies and two, keep it a secret from the Pharaoh.
Some scholars say that midwives were barren women, who, in order to find their place in a society where family was valued above all else, were given the responsibility of helping other women bring life into the world. If this is true, then it makes the fact that God gave them "houses" or "posterity" as a reward for their faithfulness an even more beautiful blessing.
Here is something to think about. Shiphrah and Puah may have been the two midwives who attended the birth of Moses and consequently saved his life. It is probable that the reason we know their names and so much about them is because Moses was grateful to them for sparing his life as a baby.
There are only ten verses in the whole Bible about these two women, but their actions led to the salvation of the entire nation of Israel. And let's get into their story. One day, Pharaoh called these two women to him and told them, 'When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live' (Exodus 1:16).
Let's pause here for just a second so we understand the next part clearly. At this point in history, Egypt was the largest kingdom and the Egyptian Pharaoh was considered the most powerful ruler in the world. In fact, the Egyptian people regarded Pharaoh as a leader appointed by their gods. Imagine all the leaders in the world today. Now imagine that all of their power was all given to one single leader and that's approximately how powerful Pharaoh was–and this particular Pharaoh wasn't very nice.
Now, the most powerful ruler in the world has just ordered Puah and Shiphrah to kill every baby boy born to a Hebrew woman. What happens next is one of the bravest actions. Here it is. 'But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live (Exodus 1:17).'
What do you think Pharaoh would've done to these women if he found out that they were letting the boys live on purpose? Most likely, he would've killed them.
Shiphrah and Puah had no idea their courageous act would lead to the redemption of Israel from slavery. The only thing these midwives knew was that Pharaoh was asking them to do something that would displease God and they feared and respected God more than Pharaoh. The courage Shiphrah and Puah exemplified the redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt.
What does this mean for us? The first thing is to note that evil exists. Consider fully what Kay read for us in scripture. That Pharaoh did the unimaginable. The genocide of newborn baby Israelites?
I know you think that this day in age is riddled with atrocious, heinous acts. I know you think this because I think this, too. It's everywhere. Our nation experiences gut-wrenching crimes against the heart not monthly, not weekly, but daily. We can feel as if we are in a war zone sometimes because, honestly, we ARE in a war zone sometimes.
This is exactly what the devil wants. This is exactly where the devil succeeds. Now I want to introduce our first of three points today. It's one you know already, but one that many of us don't want to consider. At arm's length, liberal churchgoers espouse to one big, Best Friend God—the God who is our buddy and is no one to fear. God is everywhere. In the trees. At the beach. Any good feeling we have on a good weather day, that's sweet, innocuous God. There is no devil. Okay, too many of us think, there may be evil—somewhere—but we don't want to think about it. That's uncomfortable. That's dark. Thinking about some "fallen angel" we think, please, is that necessary?
Yes, it is.
If we want Christian success, if we want church success—and by church success I mean peace and love in unity around us—we have to understand this: It's POINT ONE. The devil divides.
William Gurnall, a 17th century pastor and author writes this. "The devil has more temptations than an actor has costumes for the stage. And one of his all-time favorite disguises is that of a lying spirit, to abuse your tender heart with the worst news he can deliver—that you do not really love Jesus Christ and that you are only pretending...[that] you are only deceiving yourself [in your love for your Savior].
In The Journey, Billy Graham, shares the following. "Don't think of Satan as a harmless cartoon character with a red suit and a pitchfork. He is very clever and powerful, and his unchanging purpose is to defeat God's plan at every turn—including His plans for your life."
The devil's plans also include the division of this church. Nothing puts a smile on the devil's face faster than we part in our thinking and stay that way.
Weeks ago, I shared from the pulpit that we are a decisive church not a divided one. Why? Because as Congregationalists here in the United Church of Christ, we have to make decisions that affect our present and our future. No one from on high comes down and makes policies or precedents for us. We can and certainly should reach for guidance as we have with the Penn Northeast Conference when it comes to decision making, but our infrastructure, our polity, is that the decisions we have to make are ours alone. It's not a curse; it's a blessing. Our decision making is made so much more effective when we consider and remember 1 Peter 5:8. "... the devil... prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour."
We are not doomed by the devil. We have options. We have choices. Here is Paul in Ephesians 6:11. Paul says, "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil."
Oh no, the devil has no dominion over us. 1 John 5:5 says, "For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And the victory that has overcome the world is our faith."
POINT TWO: Shiphrah and Puah had no idea their faithful acts would lead to the redemption of Israel from slavery. You don't know where your faithful acts will lead, either. But do them.
We are the active agents of God. That can seem striking when we consider God is God. The creator of the ever-expanding universe, the one who continually sets new stars into place while, at the same time, knows the numbers of hairs on your head, must not NEED us, but God certainly and can most effectively USE us as God used Shiphrah and Puah.
Be used. How? Listen to Jesus' words in Matthew 16:24. "Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up his cross and follow me."
Because of these righteous women's decision to put their faith in God and to do what was right, even though they knew there would be serious consequences if the Pharaoh found out what they were doing, God was able to work a mighty miracle for all the children of Israel. Consider what is true. Without them, God's plans would not have been able to move forward. I am sure that they understood God's will and knew that if they put their trust in God then they did not need to fear what one man, the Pharaoh, could do to them.
We think we get squished under challenging circumstances. We can feel used, helpless, and powerless. Shiphrah and Puah certainly felt this way. But maybe God is using those very times to teach you to put your faith in Him.
We can stay small and helpless. Terrible leaders like the Pharaoh in our reading today can destroy.
But this does not have to be. Remember these midwives. Remember their faith, trust and love in the Lord. That's what it takes.
Do not stand idle in the face of the devil. Stand up. Stand out. Remember our Willing Workers. Remember your Jesus, the one who loves you and calls you into discipleship. Said simply, do what you are called to do—bring peace to the painful places in the world.
Pray Psalm 25:4 with me. "Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths."