No…this is not a promo for the 2012 BBC Television series about the midwives of 1950s London. Yet I am willing to publicly confess right here, right now, that I actually watched several episodes—but only because dear Ruthie, our mother-child nurse specialist daughter made me do it!
I am inspired, though, to honor our midwives. Why the midwives, you wonder?
As I begin to write, it is Sanctity of Life Sunday. Today and every day, each one of us is indebted to those who loved life, sanctified it, and brought it forth: our Moms. And a close second to those heroes: the Midwives.
Offering more suspense than even the TV drama, an Exodus account in the Bible tells us the story of the Hebrew midwives who faced down the great Pharaoh of Egypt. We can be certain that what Pharaoh wants, Pharaoh gets—but not this time—he was bested by a couple of lowly midwives.
In Exodus 1, the stage is set for the Israelites’ tumultuous exit from Egypt. The plot thickens as Pharaoh puts a lid on the power and influence of the Israelites through tyranny, enslavement, and infanticide.
Pompous Pharaoh felt insecure though: “Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; come, let us deal shrewdly with them…” (Exodus 1:9-10, NKJV). The Egyptian taskmasters worked their slaves excessively, yet the more afflicted the Hebrews were, the more they multiplied. No matter Pharaoh’s efforts, God was enlarging His people in preparation for their finest hour.
Then, Pharaoh hatched his plan for the secret destruction of the Jewish baby boys:
“CALL THE MIDWIFE!”
But, rather than empowering them to bring forth and nurture life, the monarch of Egypt called his midwives to murder.
Fun Side Note (we need one at this point):
Look who got their given names in the sacred text—was it the exalted king of Egypt? No way! It was the humble midwives: Shiphrah has a Semitic root meaning beauty, and Puah means young girl. The passage calls them “the Hebrew midwives,” yet the phrase can also be rendered “midwives to the Hebrews” making these brave young women what Jewish tradition calls “Righteous Gentiles.” Hence, their motive could be more the love of God and His people than even loyalty to their own.
“The midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive” (v.17). As fearsome as the self-proclaimed, god-man was, the courageous midwives, whether Jewish or Gentile, honored the living God more than him. Behold, the first recorded case of civil disobedience—challenging government in the name of a higher authority. It would find echo in the Righteous Gentiles who risked their lives to protect Jews from Nazis.
The midwives had begun a pattern in the narrative of Moses, whose life was repeatedly threatened by men but repeatedly rescued by women like Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses’ mother, his wife, and his sister.
Way to be, God-fearing women!
The midwives showed some powerful creativity in the excuse they fabricated to tell Pharaoh why they weren’t able to kill the baby boys as ordered: “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women: they are vigorous. Before the midwife comes to them, they have given birth!” (v.19). The passage goes on to tell us that God dealt favorably with the midwives, and the people kept on multiplying.
Score a big win for the midwives!
Midwives still serve us today in the spirit of Shiphrah and Puah. Our daughter-in-law, Katelyn, was expecting her fourth child a few years ago when diagnosed with an aggressive skin cancer that needed to be surgically, and speedily, removed. Since any anesthesia would put the baby at risk of a dangerous premature birth, the prospect of surgery put Katy and her husband Noah into a tortuous process of determining what medical approach was best for both mother and child. Who could Katy call for expert counsel? Can we wonder?
“CALL THE MIDWIFE!”
Katy’s midwife reviewed the doctor’s approach and spoke these reassuring words:
“This is a good plan.”
That gave them clarity to proceed with the surgery. The midwife was with them in the OR, standing by in case Katy went into premature labor. Praise God, all went well. The midwife checked on them in recovery, faithfully supporting mother and child all the way through, ultimately to a safe, on-time, home delivery of Luke Zion Levi Adams!
In Katy’s rating system, her midwife earned four “C’s”: Calm, Competent, Confident, and Comforting. In other words, A+.
One last thought…
Midwives only deliver; they don’t terminate pregnancies through abortive procedures. While some in the medical profession have violated the Hippocratic Oath to use techniques that directly end the life of the innocent, midwives stay focused on helping both mother and child proceed in health, well-being, and maternal fulfillment.
It’s a wonder to consider that this contemporary profile also describes Pharaoh’s midwives of 35 centuries ago who committed themselves to the sacredness of life which is born out of the fear of God.
As a profession, midwifery has held the line through the millennia. And so, many of us are alive today and able to say, “THANK YOU, brave ones. We’re really glad our forbearers knew to…
“CALL THE MIDWIFE!”
As a Chaplain on the CCM Spiritual Development team, Bill Adams helps to strengthen employees in their faith through rich Biblical teaching and compassionate care. Bill is also known as a bridge-builder within the Jewish community and an advocate for Israel among the church. He and his wife, Lizzie have 7 grown children and soon to be 15 grandchildren.