Call the Midwives

For the week of December 25, 2021 / 21 Tevet 5782

Husband and midwives assisting woman in labor

Torah: Shemot/Exodus 1:1-6:1
Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6 – 28:13; 29:22-23

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So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” (Shemot/Exodus 1:18)

The Bible teaches that godly people should respect authority as we read here:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment (Romans 13:1-2).

If this is so, then what’s with the midwives in this week’s parsha (weekly Torah reading portion)? To appreciate what’s going on here, let’s look at more of the context than my brief quote at the beginning:

Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children 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 grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. (Shemot/Exodus 1:15-21)

The Hebrew midwives clearly disobeyed the governing authority in this case. The king’s edict was clear. They were to murder the male babies, but they didn’t. Not only did they not follow the law, they concocted a cover up, claiming the Hebrew women gave birth before they got there.

Disobeying government? Lying to the authorities? How terrible. Since when does the end justify the means? Who would defend such a thing? God would. He blessed the midwives for what they did. And why did they do what they did? They feared God. Because they put God ahead of human authority, they not only saved lives, God favored them.

Then what’s with Romans 13? Is this a case of some sort of superior New Testament morality? I myself would not normally assume such a thing, since the person who wrote Romans, also wrote:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

New Covenant morality and spirituality is built upon a strong Hebrew Scripture foundation. There are some developments that occur due to the coming of the Messiah, but general morality doesn’t change. Even if it did, it would be very difficult to contradict the clear positive assessment of the midwives’ actions.

Which brings us back to Romans 13. Does the injunction to “be subject to the governing authorities” contradict the actions taken by the midwives? Not if you read further in the chapter. First, God-given jurisdiction of governing authority is defined as “God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). But what is the obligation of people to government, when government goes beyond its God-given duties? Note the subtle: “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7). While there is respect and honor due to government, what are we to do when its policies contravene those of God himself? Are we to respect and honor government over God? The midwives certainly didn’t think so.

What the midwives did is reflected well elsewhere in the New Covenant Writings: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:7). Yes, submit to governing authorities, but fear God. The midwives understood correctly that God and his ways must come first. As long as government doesn’t contravene God’s directives, go along.

Some think that the only time to ignore government is when a life is immediately at risk. That normally should be the case. But what do we do when human authority dictates harm in other ways, prevents us from speaking truth, or demands we uphold falsehood? Thankfully this kind of government overreach is historically rare. But when government attempts to take God’s place, it’s time to listen to the midwives.


The Other Side of the Coin

For the week of December 18, 2021 / 14 Tevet 5782

Message information superimposed on the front and back of a 1980 Canadian 25-cent coin

Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 47:28-50:26
Haftarah: 1 Melachim/1 Kings 2:1-12

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But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Bereshit/Genesis 50:19-21)

What I attempt to share here is quite personal and sensitive. So, forgive its cryptic nature. I trust it’s clear enough to effectively communicate this important lesson from the life of Joseph.

I was trying to get perspective after a difficult week. A few days before, I got the shocking news that I was being released from a volunteer position that I absolutely loved. My performance was not in question. It seemed that there may have been some issues between me and leadership, but I was not given the whole story. I was rejected, I couldn’t figure out why, and there was nothing I could do about it.

As I took some focused time to pray about this, my mind turned to the story of Joseph and his words, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Bereshit/Genesis 50:20). These are some of the most profound words in all of Scripture. That a human being could endure the amount of suffering that he did from his own family without resentment overwhelms me. His brothers were so jealous of him, they wanted to kill him. As it turned out, they sold him into slavery instead, which eventually resulted in his spending many years in an Egyptian dungeon after being falsely accused by his master’s wife. Even though it became obvious that God used his painful circumstance for good, few people would be immune to extreme bitterness. Yet somehow Joseph rose above it all. Not that he didn’t see his brothers’ wrong for the evil that it was, but at the same time he accepted God’s higher purpose.

“You meant it for evil; God meant it for good.”  One set of circumstances; two intentions. Like two sides of the same coin.

The image of turning over a coin to see the other side came to me some time before. It happened while I was mulling over another rejection; probably the most painful, I have ever experienced.  Another firing, this time directly related to my faith in Yeshua. Through the years I would often relive the experience. I can’t tell you the number of dreams I have had where I would find myself pleasantly back in that situation, broken relationships restored. Innumerable times I have wondered that if only this or that would have or would not have happened, then perhaps things would have worked out differently.

It was during one of those times that the coin flipped. It was probably thirty years after the event. All of a sudden, I realized how God used that painful event for my good, my best actually. I finally saw the other side of the most bitter coin that I have ever carried.

With that in mind I was trying to process the situation I mentioned at the start. Thinking of “you meant it for evil; God meant it for good,” I decided to go through my life and think of all my past unpleasant events (I’ve had several) and note how God used them for good. Some I had already previously processed. Still, it’s encouraging to remember how God works through painful circumstances, and I needed encouragement that day.

As I started my memory journey, I was not prepared for another coin to flip. I asked God to show me the other side of the coin of my father’s leaving me and my mother when I was fourteen. I had never taken the time to think that through in this way. I simply assumed that I needed God to heal the father-wound that I have carried around almost my entire life. But then the coin flipped! I was hoping to get insight on my latest disappointment, but instead I got clarity on something far more foundational.

Without getting into the details, I realized that my father’s leaving was also for my good. While I saw him for some months after his leaving. It wasn’t long before he was completely out of my life. As I prayed, I realized that a close relationship with him would have not been good for me, especially in regard to my development as a young man.

Have you been carrying a coin of pain and bitterness? Perhaps it’s time to flip it over and see what’s on the other side.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


It’s Alright To Cry

For the week of December 11, 2021 / 7 Tevet 5782

Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 44:18 – 47:27
Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15-28
Originally posted the week of December 15, 2018 / 7 Tevet 5779

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And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. (Bereshit/Genesis 45:2)

Sometime in my late teens I stopped crying. I don’t mean that up until then I was crying nonstop. It was as if I had lost the ability to cry. All children cry. It’s our automatic, God-given survival device. As we get older, most of us learn to control the tears and express our needs and disappointments in other ways. In many cultures, males are often discouraged from crying at all. “Big boys don’t cry,” we’re told; so they stop, but that’s not why I did. My parents didn’t teach me such a thing. I remember seeing my father cry on more than one occasion, and there was no shame in that. Despite that, I distinctly remember by the time I was eighteen years old, I could feel an incessant need to cry lodged in my throat. It was awful.

My life was awful. My father had abandoned me and my mother a few years before. By this time, my mother was not well enough to work, forcing us to turn to government assistance. I had no direction in life, I was very superstitious, I thought success was measured by degrees of pleasure, and I was becoming more and more afraid of dying.

Everything about my life was out of sorts. I had no clear vision of what it should be or could be. Wrapped in a shroud of confusion and fear, I was stuck just like the lump in my throat. Then a few days before my nineteenth birthday, my life was transformed by my first encounter with the truth of Yeshua as Messiah. As I reached out to God that day, I had no idea I was embarking on a truly Great Adventure. Yet, still no tears, just smiles.

In those early months, I experienced a happiness I never dreamt of. I was ecstatic, and people could see it all over me. The next few months were exhilarating even though there were also new tensions and relationship strains due to the unusual path I was on. Still no tears.

A year after coming to faith, I left home for biblical studies. Leaving home brought with it renewed anxiety as I began to face some of my entrenched insecurities and fears. As I woke up one morning in my dorm room, I was fiercely struggling with I don’t really know what. I was not doing well and didn’t know what to do. I was alone since I didn’t have an early morning class that day. My roommate had a small (for those days) stereo and a few Gospel albums. I didn’t listen to a lot of music back then, as music had been one of my gods during my Bad Old Days. I don’t know why I put the album on. Then something happened as the singing started. The faucet finally opened. I was shocked as for the first time in I don’t know how long, I cried and cried. It felt so good! And while the lump would return from time to time, eventually so would the tears as God has allowed me to express myself in this way.

It’s hard to say for sure what it was about that moment that released all that pent-up emotion. I can guess, because I have had similar experiences since. It hasn’t always been with a song, but when I get a glimpse of the essence of life’s reality, it’s as if in that moment I see things as they really are, that amidst the confusion and chaos of life – my life – God really is my security, and everything will be okay after all. When that truth hits me, I am undone as all the tension of the insecurity I feel from the instability and pressures around me is released in an emotional torrent.

Perhaps that is something akin to what Joseph experienced when he was finally reconciled with his brothers. We can’t overestimate the emotional turmoil he must have carried all those years. We shouldn’t assume his rise to power in Egypt completely soothed the confusion, anger, and sadness he carried for so long. The emotions must have built to volcanic proportions during the process of revealing himself. For his own reasons, he shrewdly dealt with them as they travelled back and forth to Egypt for food all the while not knowing he was their brother. Then when he deemed the time was right, all that pent-up emotion flowed so freely that everyone around knew he was weeping.

I am aware that there are many people, men included, who cry like freely flowing fountains. You probably have no trouble relating to Joseph. You might be crying right now. Then there’s the others. Maybe you have an incessant lump in your throat as I had. Perhaps you have buried your emotions for so long that you can’t feel them anymore. I don’t know what it will take to release all you have been carrying inside. I just wanted to tell you: it’s alright to cry.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version