A tale of two midwives

Signpost for 24 August 2014, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time: Exod 1:8 – 2:10; Ps 124; Rom 12:1-8; Matt 16:13-20

We turn from the Genesis readings of last week to the next book in the Torah, Exodus. We leave behind an Egypt under foreign rule. The Egyptians have regained the throne. The Pharaoh who valued Joseph was probably one of the Hyksos (“Foreign Chiefs”), a bit like today’s Bedouin, who ruled Egypt for a hundred years or so. They had swept in from Palestine or Syria. They were the same stock as the ancestors of Israel. They established their capital in the north east of Egypt, the ‘land of ‘Goshen’ where Joseph said that his family would be safe.

Some time between Genesis and Exodus, the native Egyptian rulers swept back into power. They drove out the Hyksos rulers, perhaps back to the Euphrates river. The lower class remnants, such as the descendants of the Israel tribes, are now either second-class citizens living in a ghetto (Goshen?) or are actual slaves.

One of the problems of slaves is that they tend to reproduce rapidly. And Pharaoh found that to be a problem. So he decided to solve it by killing off the unwanted boys. The main weapon of defence against this ethnic cleansing is the faithfulness of certain women, both Hebrew and Egyptian. The midwives – Shiphrah and Puah – are the first named. They find wonderful excuses for not doing what they were told to do. Their civil disobedience is clandestine, but effective.

[The fact that two midwives are named as sufficient to care for ALL the mothers of the Hebrews is a better indication of the population size than the figures mentioned later in the text. Numbers always tend to grow in legendary matter!]

Then comes the story of Moses. His mother – Jochabed – and his sister – Miriam – and the Princess and her maids all conspire to keep this baby alive. The Princess was probably not a very powerful person, but certainly not as weak as most women; after all, a Princess might become a Pharaoh sometime, by marrying her brother.

Not surprisingly, the Book of Exodus is very popular among slave communities, and among all sorts of oppressed people. Indeed, some call the God of Israel, “The Out-of-Egypt-Bringing God”.

If you want difficult texts this week, consider the Gospel. Here Peter knows something that the Church probably did not come to understand until well after the resurrection experience. And he is given power, or so some claim, to control the afterlife.

The Psalm probably relates to a later event in the narrative of the Exodus, the escape from Egypt across the Sea of Reeds. It is the basis for a very popular (among those of Scots descent) metrical version.

The Epistle is one of several which form the basis for Local Shared Ministry understanding. Those involved in this will know of the English High Anglican Missionary, Roland Allen. His ideas were also seminal in the development of the Amorangi Ministry in the Te Aha Puaho of the Presbyterian Church. And I have just found out that Allen has a second cousin (once removed) among retired New Zealand clergy of that ilk. This is not to say that New Zealand is at the centre of the world, but…

Andrew

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