LIFE GIVING DISOBEDIENCE
EXODUS 1 & 2
August 25, 1996 by Tad Mitsui
Moses was one of the most important figures not only in Jewish history but also in the whole of human history. He helped the Hebrew people to become a free nation. But also he brought to all of us, for the first time in history, a list of basic moral principles, in the form of Ten Commandments. However, we must not forget the fact that there were six women who helped Moses to come into the world, without whom he would never have been born nor survived as an infant. Four of them were Egyptians and two were Hebrews. But what is most intriguing is the fact that all six of them cheated and disobeyed laws in order to bring Moses into this world. For them, respect for life took precedent over any law written by humans.
The first two women were Egyptian midwives. When the king of Egypt – the Pharaoh, ordered the midwives to quietly kill all Jewish baby boys, they disobeyed him. When it became evident that Jewish babies still continued to increase in number, these women lied. What is most interesting in this part of the story is that the king and his advisers assumed that foreign men were a threat to the country, and thus their boys needed to be killed, while in fact it was their own women who sabotaged the king”s order.
The Hebrew people provided very useful cheap labour to Egypt at the time. They were clever, and worked hard. But they proliferated fast. People usually do in poverty. The Egyptian king was afraid that those Jewish slaves would take over the country. For people with means, cash and equity provide security. But for the poor, it is children who provide security through their free labour. The best family planning method, if we are worried about the population explosion, is to help abolish poverty. As soon as people attain a certain level of income, they choose themselves to have fewer children. So the Egyptians took the wrong tack. They tried to diminish the size of the Jewish population without guaranteeing their security. It did not work. Population control without security never works. This is why teaching birth control methods in poor countries do not work even today. From the perspective of the poor, it does not make sense.
The Egyptian midwives, Shiphrah and Puah respected life. It was their vocation to look after new lives. These women knew that the babies” lives were more important than protection of an empire. Unconsciously they knew that the security of a nation comes from the respect for life. The king was wrong in hoping to protect his country by killing babies. So they had no problem with cheating on the king and lying to him to save babies” lives. The principle they held is still valid today; the best way to solve the problem of over population is to look after people.
Finally the king realized that to trust women to kill children was not a good idea. So he told the soldiers to throw the Hebrew baby boys into the river. Soldiers were trained to obey orders blindly and to kill. But here again, some women cheated the new law. Jochebed gave birth to a baby boy, but hid him from the soldiers” eyes for a while. When the baby”s cry became too loud, it was no longer possible to hide the child. Then another woman came up with a scheme to save the boy”s life. The child”s sister, Miriam, suggested that they built a basket with dry reeds and float the baby among the reeds by the river bank. She thought that someone might find it and adopt the child. It was a risky scheme. But it was better than being found by the soldiers. At least there was a slim chance of survival. The king and the soldiers had made water into an instrument of death. But those two Jewish women turned water into an instrument to save lives.
The British broadcaster, Pauline Webb, once spoke about woman”s ability to perceive some elements men fear as life-giving rather than life-denying. Jochebed and Miriam saw water as life-supporting, while the king and the soldiers made it an instrument of death. For another example, woman”s monthly cycles, said Webb, make women see blood as a symbol of life, as they prove women”s ability to give birth. Men on the other hand see blood as the result of violence and a symbol of death. It must have been his mother Mary who influenced Jesus to see blood as life. He turned his blood into a symbol of life and told the disciples to remember his blood whenever they drank red juice from grapes.
Finally, again two Egyptian women took part in the scheme to save the life of the Hebrew baby boy. The amazing thing is that one of them was a daughter of the king himself. At that moment, she could not see anything wrong in saving the life of a Jewish child, even though it was against her father”s wish. The Bible does not say whether the Princess had initially agreed with the king”s idea of saving her nation by killing foreign babies. She might have, in theory. But even if she had, as soon as she saw a child in flesh, she forgot her father”s order and decided to save him. Her woman servant, took part in the scheme too. For a servant, the risk of being caught and punished for breaking a law must have been much greater than it might have been for a princess.
So Moses became an adopted son of the Egyptian princess and grew up as a prince in the Pharaoh”s court. And the rest is history. But after hearing about those six women who disobeyed the laws to save a life of a baby, we are obliged to deal with the conflict between the laws and the rights to life, lest we go out of here thinking that we can break the laws whenever we like. A fundamental question is: what is the law anyway? Jesus Christ answered it quite simply that the most fundamental law is LOVE. Love God, and love people you encounter, he said. All the other laws will follow when this foundation is recognized. In other words, all the laws, rules and regulations must help us to love. When the laws fail to achieve the goal of love, we must change them.
This is a very important question: when our laws do not protect innocent children and the poor, but protect those who could afford expensive lawyers, there is something very wrong in our legal system. But taking the law into our own hands by carrying guns and throwing bombs is worse. You noticed that those six women who sensed that the king was wrong practised the laws of love by quietly resisting the bad laws in order to respect the life they held in their hands. They did not harm any other people. They obeyed the fundamental law. The only person they put at risk was themselves.
It is ironical that the person who set down in writing the most basic moral rules, namely Moses, was brought into the world by women who disobeyed a king”s laws for the love of life. They gave us a foretaste of what Jesus Christ ultimately taught us. That is to say: the most basic and fundamental law against which all other laws must be judged is love.