I have the opportunity and the privilege to teach young people on Wednesday afternoons at our church. This year we are learning about bible stories. Now I thought I was up on all my bible stories, but here’s the thing, the curriculum we are using is telling stories of people you might not even know or circumstances you have just passed over.
For instance, who can tell me who Shiphrah and Puah is? I couldn’t even pronounce the names let alone remember who they were. As I was studying, I now realize, I have read this story several times, but I have missed one of the most important lessons in the Bible. I will remember these names forever. Their story has left an impact on my own life.
We find their story in Exodus. Follow along with me. “The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.” Exodus 1:15-21
These two women were called in to speak to the king of Egypt. They were summoned to be exact. This is not something they requested to do. After being summoned, the King then asks these women to do the unthinkable; to kill baby boys. I am not sure, but I think all women have a mother instinct in them. I can’t imagine being asked to kill babies after losing on myself. They were pretty clever. If they said no, I am thinking the King would take their lives. He would not take kindly to women who refused to obey him. So, I am thinking the women said yes and at the same time began to devise a plan not to take the lives of babies. I am not sure they knew who God was, but I am sure they knew right from wrong and this was wrong in every sense of the word.
These women saved the baby boys that were being born at this time. They refused to obey the King and they did what they knew was right. Now comes the King again. Finding out these babies were being kept alive, he called Shiphrah and Puah back. He asks them why they weren’t killing the babies. They probably have discussed this before the King summons them back in and they have a very reasonable answer to give to the King. Apparently, he was okay with their answer. He didn’t have them killed and he didn’t punish them.
After that something amazing happens. God blesses them with their own families. God sees what good they have done and he rewards and blesses them. Pretty neat story huh?
The lesson for the children that day was that compassion and courage go hand in hand. Showing compassion takes some courage on our part. The other part of this lesson was to make the children understand that sometimes doing the right thing can actually mean breaking the laws.
As I was working on this, I found another unfamiliar name. Read about this lady: Irena Sendler. An unfamiliar name to most people, but this remarkable woman defied the Nazis and saved 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto. As a health worker, she sneaked the children out between 1942 and 1943 to safe hiding places and found non-Jewish families to adopt them. She did the right thing but was breaking the law.
I emphasized to the kids that sometimes we are called on as Christians to do the right thing even though it is against a law or rule. To get it down to the kids level, I used this example. A friend comes to you who is being mistreated or abused at home. They confide in you but tell you not to say anything to anyone. They may even go as far as make you promise or command you not to tell anyone. I told the children in this case they needed to do the right thing for their friend, even if it meant breaking the promise or the command. Showing compassion for their friend and being courageous by telling someone who could help the friend.
I wanted to share this with you because of the many things that are going on right now. We never know when we will be called upon to do the right thing. There may be a law that we might not agree with. This law might be destroying the lives of those who are powerless to do anything about it. It’s up to us as Christians to follow the commands Christ has given us and to step in and help when we can. God will be with us just like he was with Shiphrah and Purah.
The other emphasis I want to add is this: sometimes it is better to do the right thing than to do what the world tells us we ought to be doing. There is so much chatter in the world today about what we should be doing, what we should be protesting or how to live our lives. I think for each of us it’s time we turn to God for those answers. It’s time to be a Shiphrah and Puah and have the courage and the compassion to do what God has called us to do instead of following the world. If this world is ever going to turn around, it’s because we had compassion on those who are powerless. If we turn the world around it will be because we were courageous enough to tell the world I will only do what is right in God’s eyes not because you think I should do this or that.
We do not know what the future holds for each of us. We do not know if someday we will be called in to do the right thing even if it’s against the rules or the laws. As a volunteer, I have a set of guidelines I am to follow when helping people. There are times I have to set aside those guidelines and do what’s best for those clients I am helping with. When we find ourselves in those places I hope you remember the courage and compassion of Shiphrah and Puah and even Irena Sendler.
Dear God: I hope I am given the courage to help people when I am called upon. I hope compassion wins over the world’s view and beliefs. Show me where and how I can make a difference in someone’s life. Teach me to be courageous and compassionate like Shiphrah and Puah and Irena. Thank you for giving me these particular ladies as an example to follow. Thank you for blessing them and watching out for them. Amen