In “preaching study” posts, I share study & reflection as I prepare the Sunday message . I welcome interaction in this process, so feel free to share your thoughts. All Scripture quotes are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted. Thanks!
This coming Sunday, which happens to be UMW (United Methodist Women) Sunday, I’m preaching the morning services. I’m really looking forward to it, as a member of UMW and all (all pastors are officially members of both UMW and UM Men). The other thing about this Sunday is that the congregation will be one week into The Bible in 90 Days. The challenge is to preach with an eye to both settings. I looked for a text from which to work that was within the first week’s reading for Bible in 90 Days and that featured women as the protagonists.
I will be preaching on Exodus 1:6-22. It’s the story of Shiphrah and Puah, midwives to the Hebrew women in Egypt. This text sets up the beginning of the Moses story, which begins in chapter 2.
Here’s a basic outline of the text:
v6-7 – Death of Joseph, continuing Israelite generations in Egypt
v8-14 – A new king in Egypt, bad news for the Israelites
v15-22 – The midwives defy Pharaoh in service to God
Of course, I’m really dealing with v15-22, but beginning with verse 6 gives a little bit of context. The Israelites have remained in Egypt after Joseph’s death and have become quite populous, much to the chagrin of Pharaoh, who is threatened by their growing numbers. He responds in a typically worldly fashion: employ brute force and try to contain them by violent oppression. As it often happens, this proves surprisingly (to Pharaoh and his court at least) ineffective since they only increased in number and strength. So, rather than reevaluate strategy or ideological commitments that might be suspect, Pharaoh followed the well-worn path of ramping up the violent and brutal oppression in hopes of better results.
This leads us to the principle passage that we’ll deal with on Sunday, vs15-22, about the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah.
I’ll offer just a couple of initial thoughts now; then more after I’ve studied, read, and reflected on this a little more.
1. Shiphrah and Puah are commanded to kill the Hebrew boys at birth but to spare the Hebrew girls. “But the midwives feared God,” (v17) so they disobeyed Pharaoh. This gets me thinking about the old-fashioned notion of fearing God. Also, about Jesus’ exhortation not to fear those who can hurt the body but not the soul, instead fearing the One who can throw body and soul into hell. Not the stuff we preach a heck of a lot about nowadays.
2. I’m entertained by the wit of the women who excuse their disobedience of Pharaoh with a backdoor slam on Egyptian women: “The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.'” (v19)
3. In light of their serving God and his people, God “dealt well with the midwives.” (v20-21)
More to come later. Thoughts so far?