Thursday Scripture - Exodus 1:18-21 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives [Shiphrah and Puah] and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 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.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.
Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives of the Hebrews, speak a loud and resounding NO! to Pharaoh. Well, ok, so they don't exactly confront the Pharoah quite so bluntly. They are smart about their refusal, leaving the Pharaoh little room to react with anger as a result of insolence. Remember that Pharoah has commanded them to kill any male Hebrew children as soon as they are born. The fact that Shiphrah and Puah are clever in the way they refuse to capitulate to the leader of the Egyptian Empire does not reduce the courage that such a refusal reveals. What good can Shiphrah and Puah do if their resistance is perceived as a threat and they are done away with? Who will protect the infants then? Like a long line of women in the Bible, Shiphrah and Puah must use their wits to negotiate a system that denies them power and uses them to maintain its own cruel and violent power.
Another story of a woman who must use her wits to negotiate power is the story of Esther. She is brought to the court of the king (she had no other choice) along with hundreds of other women so that the king might choose another queen. (The queen he had wasn't compliant enough). The story of Esther begins with a detailed description of the opulence of the king's court and the grandiosity of the king's conspicuous display of power. The furniture is all gold and the parties last for months on end. It is unmistakable to realize that for the king, a queen is just another piece of furniture meant to display his power. Esther will have no power, no influence. She will not even be treated as a person, just a plaything for the amusement of the king and a prop in his power display. The King, who isn't a particularly wise or intelligent ruler, is persuaded by his court to slaughter all the Jews in his kingdom, he puts up no resistance. People don't matter to him unless they are entertaining and serving him or working(fighting) to increase his empire. But Esther is Jewish. And she must make her stand. A stand based on her beauty and her ability to cook. Certainly, there is more to Esther than this. There is the wisdom to realize that she can use the stereotypes that she has been reduced to as a weapon. So once again, we see wit and intelligence. And Esther rescues her people.
In each case, women enact courageous and risky resistance to power. And that resistance makes all the difference. Shiphrah and Puah resist the murderous intent of the Pharaoh, which we know results in the birth of Moses who would represent God to Pharaoh and lead the Hebrews out of slavery. And Esther, a simple country girl, brought against her will to the king's court, with only a pleasing face and an ability to cook, also ensures the safety and security of her people. So once again this week we can wonder at the wit and wisdom of women in the Bible who interrupt and undermine death and in amazingly simple and courageous ways facilitate life.