Who will provide sanctuary?
a reading from Exodus 1:15-2:10, Common English Bible (CEB)
15 The king of Egypt spoke to two Hebrew midwives named Shiphrah and Puah:16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women give birth and you see the baby being born, if it’s a boy, kill him. But if it’s a girl, you can let her live.” 17 Now the two midwives respected God so they didn’t obey the Egyptian king’s order. Instead, they let the baby boys live.
18 So the king of Egypt called the two midwives and said to them, “Why are you doing this? Why are you letting the baby boys live?”
19 The two midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because Hebrew women aren’t like Egyptian women. They’re much stronger and give birth before any midwives can get to them.” 20 So God treated the midwives well, and the people kept on multiplying and became very strong. 21 And because the midwives respected God, God gave them households of their own.
22 Then Pharaoh gave an order to all his people: “Throw every baby boy born to the Hebrews into the Nile River, but you can let all the girls live.”
2 Now a man from Levi’s household married a Levite woman. 2 The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She saw that the baby was healthy and beautiful, so she hid him for three months. 3 When she couldn’t hide him any longer, she took a reed basket and sealed it up with black tar. She put the child in the basket and set the basket among the reeds at the riverbank. 4 The baby’s older sister stood watch nearby to see what would happen to him.
5 Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe in the river, while her women servants walked along beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds, and she sent one of her servants to bring it to her. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child. The boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him. She said, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children.”
7 Then the baby’s sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Would you like me to go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?”
8 Pharaoh’s daughter agreed, “Yes, do that.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I’ll pay you for your work.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 After the child had grown up, she brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I pulled him out[a] of the water.”
This reflection was prepared as part of a series for the Common English Bible as part of their 2017 Women’s History Month Celebration. Read the entire series, here.
We don’t live under Pharaoh, yet there are powerful and violent forces that shape our lives in ways we cannot control, and power-hungry leaders in positions of power. Decisions are based not on what is best for the people, but in response to powerful corporate interests. Marginalized communities are further pushed to the margins out of sight, while refugees and undocumented immigrants are without asylum.
As modern day Christians, it may be easy to read this passage from Exodus simply as a beautiful story of women taking a stand to save the lives of thousands of baby boys.
But in doing so, we overlook a story with a radical invitation to us: to provide sanctuary for God’s beloved.
The passage opens with a new Pharaoh in Egypt, who decides to unite his empire by setting it against the Israelite people, calling them to forget their history. Hebrews are forced into slave labor, and the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, are instructed to kill all the baby boys. These midwives are among the first of a persistent group of women throughout scripture who resisted and chose not to obey unjust policies.
Then there is the baby’s mother—a Levite woman—who hides her male child away as long as she is able, then places him in a basket among the reeds on the Nile. Soon after, we meet Pharaoh’s daughter, who finds the baby and has him pulled out of the water, while the baby’s sister speaks to Pharaoh’s daughter and arranges for the baby’s mother to be his wet nurse until he is old enough to be adopted, and named…Moses.
Moses, who lived and went on to led his people out of slavery, did so because of the saving actions of many; because of the bold, persistent actions of women in his life. Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives, refused to follow Pharaoh’s orders and provided sanctuary for him: They chose life. The baby’s mother also chose life. Pharaoh’s daughter found the Hebrew baby and still chose life. And the baby’s sister, who lingered near the riverbank to watch over her baby brother, chose life for him.
Stepping into this child’s life required the boldness of many people—named and unnamed. It a story of God’s liberating action in the world.
It is also a story about us: midwives, women and children, and those in power. We are all invited to resist evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves, and work against those powers that destroy human potential.
We cannot opt out of all these systems of power, but we can make choices.
As we witness violence, marginalization and oppression, are we willing to provide sanctuary–safe and welcoming spaces in our homes and lives–to these individuals and communities by being people who show compassion and honor the dignity of all, in the face of unjust and immoral laws? What does providing sanctuary look like today?