Standing Firm
by Jack Wald | October 11th, 2015

Exodus 1:6-22

Choosing a name for your baby is not an easy process. Do you name your child-to-be after someone in the family? Do you want an uncommon name? Do you want to name your child-to-be after someone in the Bible? There are pitfalls in all these approaches.

Suppose Helen was your mother’s name and you want to name her after you. That might be wonderful but if you marry William Hywater, your daughter’s name would be Helen Hywater (Hell and High Water). If your father’s name was Warren and you like that name, if you marry Theodore Peece, your son’s name would be Warren Peece (War and Peace). These are real names I found on a website.

You have to pay attention to initials as well. Brenda Lynn Thompson becomes BLT, a shortened form of a bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich. Or Robert Alan Thompson becomes RAT. Frederick Alan Thompson becomes FAT. These are also real names.

The popularity of names is difficult to predict. You can give your child a name and then discover he or she sits in a school classroom surrounded by children with the same name. In the early 1970s Jennifer became the #1 girl’s name in the US and held that position for fourteen years. So for years there have been multiple Jennifers in classrooms, confusing teachers and friends. In 1984 the popularity of Jennifer plummeted and is no longer a common name for newborn babies.

Ananias is a wonderful New Testament name. People think first of Ananias and Saphira who were struck dead for lying about property they sold and donated to the church, but there is also Ananias who God told to go to Saul and heal his eyes and baptize him. Doesn’t he deserve to have people named after him?

Shiphrah and Puah are not common names for baby girls. People like Mary because of the mother of Jesus and other commendable Marys in the Bible. People like Deborah because of the example of a strong leader in the book of Judges. People like Naomi and Ruth because of the strength of those two women. If you want to name a baby girl after a commendable woman in the Bible. Shiphrah and Puah would be great names.

These two women were midwives in Egypt. We know this much but not much else. The fact that they are named is significant and may mean that they traveled with Israel when they left Egypt in the exodus. We don’t know if they were Hebrews or Egyptians. There is speculation that they were Hebrews and some have identified them with the sister and mother of Moses. It may also be that they were Egyptians or that they were of mixed heritage with one Hebrew parent and one Egyptian parent. Joseph married an Egyptian woman and there must have been others who intermarried.

The fact that the two midwives had access to Pharaoh might indicate they had an official role in the bureaucracy of Egypt. Perhaps they were Ministers of Population, in charge of all the midwives of Egypt.

There is a lot of speculation about these women but what we know is they were brave and had more regard for what God thought than what Pharaoh ordered.

The story of the birth of Moses takes place four hundred years after Jacob came to Egypt with his family to live under the protection of Joseph. We finish reading Genesis with the death of Joseph and turn the page to Exodus with the birth of Moses. It takes less than a second to do that but there are four hundred years between those pages. To help us understand that length of time, consider that four hundred years ago was 1615. Is there anything that happened in 1615 that seems relevant to your life today? What happened four hundred years ago is ancient history and almost completely forgotten.

This was the situation for the Hebrews living in Egypt. Even if the story of Joseph was known, it was no longer important to anyone but the Hebrews. Over the course of four hundred years the Hebrews moved from being a small community consisting of Jacob, his children, grandchildren, and perhaps great-grandchildren to a substantial population in Egypt. The current Pharaoh looked at the increasing number of Hebrews and began to worry they would be a threat to his kingdom. He put slave masters over them and forced them to make bricks for his storehouses. The thinking was that if they were worked hard enough, they would have no time or energy to make babies. When that did not work, Pharaoh took harsher steps to control the growth of the Hebrew population.
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “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.”

I think it is in the nature of women who are midwives to have sensitive hearts. They have chosen a career of helping mothers give birth. The birth of a baby is a sacred thing to midwives. Killing a baby about to be born is not what being a midwife is about and I would imagine that Shiphrah and Puah were horrified when Pharaoh told them to kill, not to help give birth.

In addition, the midwives feared God. If they were Egyptians, they had contact with Hebrews and had become influenced by their God. If they came from mixed marriages, they learned about the Hebrews’ God from a parent and other relatives. However it happened, they had seen enough of the faith of the Hebrews in the one God and put their trust in him. So they chose to disobey the order of Pharoah.
17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.

If I disobey an order of the President of the United States, the worst that can happen to me is that I would be put in prison. When I was in university, the US was drafting young men to fight in Vietnam. There was a lottery of dates of birth and if your birthday was picked, you were selected. When I was in university I met a man who refused to be inducted into the army and was put in prison for a few years.

In most countries of the world, to refuse an order of the king, prime minister, or president of a country does not result in anything more severe than imprisonment. But in the ancient world of the Near East, defying an order of the ruler meant death. Pharaoh was the political and religious leader of the Egyptian people, holding the titles: ‘Lord of the Two Lands’ and ‘High Priest of Every Temple’.

In light of the power of Pharaoh, the refusal of Shiphrah and Puah to obey his command is even more amazing. They risked their lives to save the Hebrew baby boys. Eighty years before Moses and Aaron confronted their Pharaoh, these two women defied this Pharaoh.

In addition to being brave, these two women were clever. When Pharaoh asked them why the boys were continuing to live, they played on his prejudices against the Hebrews. He viewed them as lesser beings: unsophisticated, uncultured, more animal-like than Egyptians, and breeding like rabbits. So Shiphrah and Puah told Pharaoh
“Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

Their brave act is viewed as the first act of civil disobedience in the Bible, but there are others.

During the reign of Ahab, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, the prophet Elijah was a thorn in his side. Ahab married Jezebel, daughter of the King of Sidon (modern day Lebanon), and she came to Israel with her worship of Baal and Asherah. Because of their wickedness, Elijah came to Ahab and told him God had sent him to proclaim (1 Kings 17:1)
“As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”

This went on for three years during which time Elijah was not to be found. Elijah and all the other prophets of God were now enemies of the state and Ahab sent out men to search for Elijah and the other prophets. Ahab’s palace administrator was a man named Obadiah and what Ahab did not know was that Obadiah was a devout believer in God. Obadiah took one hundred of the prophets, hid them in two caves, and provided them with food and water.

When Elijah was told by God to appear to Ahab and announce an end to the drought, he met with Obadiah and the Bible has just a short couple sentences to describe the heroic action of Obadiah in protecting the prophets.

Think about what it took to keep these 100 prophets supplied with food and water for three years. Ahab and Jezebel had many eyes watching what happened in the palace and for three years Obadiah continued to come in and out of the palace, continued to gather supplies of food and water, continued to deliver those supplies, continued to hide this operation from Ahab, Jezebel, and their supporters.

This is another great story and his bravery stands with Shiphrah and Puah.

Daniel is another example of bravery and devotion to God. As I mentioned last week, Daniel became prime minister of Babylon and as anyone knows who reads about politics, there is a fierce struggle to take power from those who are in power.

When Darius the Mede took over the kingdom of Babylon, he appointed Daniel as one of three provincial governors. As time passed, he was so impressed with Daniel’s leadership that he planned to raise him to an even greater position.
3 Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.

This, of course, was viewed as a threat to the power of the other provincial governors and officials so they strategized about how they might bring Daniel down.
4 At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. 5 Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”

Daniel had not cheated anyone, defrauded anyone, made any deals to line his own pockets with wealth. He did not get drunk and disgrace himself in orgies. He did not have lusts that could be taken advantage of. The only opportunity for Daniel’s opponents was his Jewish faith and they made this their point of attack.
6 So these administrators and satraps went as a group to the king and said: “May King Darius live forever! 7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den.

They played to the weakness of the king who was so accustomed to his power that he thought there was no being greater than himself. Darius liked the idea of having a month in which he would be adored and worshiped. The administrators and satraps had Darius sign this edict with his official seal so he could not go back on his word and with the trap set waited for Daniel to act. Daniel prayed three times a day, with his window open, facing Jerusalem. The plotters against him knew this and waited.

Daniel heard about the edict being signed and knew the trap for him was set, what should he do? The edict was in effect only for thirty days, surely he could not pray openly for the month and escape the verdict of this edict. But his opponents knew Daniel’s character. They knew he would not take this easy road out and when Daniel prayed, as usual, they confronted him and then told King Darius he now had to carry out his edict. The trap was set, Daniel was caught, and now they waited for his execution in the pit of lions.

We know the rest of the story. Daniel was untouched by the lions and then Darius had his accusers thrown into the pit and they were devoured by the lions. This is one more great act of bravery and devotion to God. I am eager to hear in heaven the stories of Shiphrah, Puah, Obadiah, Daniel and others who defied those in authority because they feared God more than they feared the authorities over them.

I talked last week about coming to a crossroad in life, a point of decision, in which we have to choose life or choose death. Each of these people I have talked about, Shiphrah, Puah, Obadiah, and Daniel had to make a choice and they choose life. The choice each of them made is so clearly the right choice to have made and I wonder if we would also have made the same, good choice. When we put ourselves in their shoes we have to ask if we would have taken the same risks. The choices they made were not easy ones to make.

How can we also make the courageous decisions they made when confronted with difficult choices? Let me share three lessons from these texts.

Beware of incremental drift. Beware of taking tiny little steps away from what God wants you to do.

Pharaoh did not start with ordering the execution of all Hebrew baby boys. This edict started long before that with an Egyptian prejudice against the Hebrews. The Hebrews were sheep-herders which was viewed with disdain. They had strange customs and dressed differently. They were viewed as inferior. The prejudice of the Egyptians against the Hebrews was fostered and developed for four hundred years.  Because they did not fully assimilate into Egyptian culture, it was not clear where their loyalty lay. This led to the fear that they might one day fight against Egypt. So they were forced into slave labor.

How long after this did Pharaoh tell the midwives to kill the baby Hebrew boys? It might have been a year or two or three before it became clear that forced labor was not having the desired effect. When it became clear that forced labor was not reducing their population, Pharaoh took the drastic action to kill the Hebrew baby boys. Pressure on the Hebrews was applied step by step until finally the order to kill the baby boys was given.

The Holocaust in WWII efficiently and methodically murdered 6,000,000 Jews and another 5,000,000 non-Jews. This is a horrific event but it did not happen over night. Anti-Semitism was part of German culture from the Middle Ages on. German philosophers wrote about the inferiority of Jews in the 1800s which fostered this prejudice against Jews in German society. In the early 1900s German Nobel Prize winning scientists wrote about Mendel and his new study of genetics. They applied this to humans and using what had been written about Jewish inferiority in the 1800s, they wrote that Jews carried inferior genes and if they were eliminated, the human race would be strengthened.

When Hitler came to power he used this as a basis for his plan to exterminate the Jewish race. Jews were increasingly restricted in what they were permitted to do. Jews were pushed out of the universities and academia. Jews had to begin wearing yellow stars that identified them as Jews. The 1938 murder of a German diplomat in Paris led to a national raid on Jews and their businesses and synagogues. Over 7,000 businesses and 1,200 synagogues were vandalized and destroyed. Then, when Jews began to be rounded up and taken away to settlement camps, concentration camps, most Germans looked the other way and there was only a very small resistance to what the Nazis were doing.

I have known many men who left their home in sub-Saharan Africa and made the journey across the Sahara Desert to Morocco and then set their eyes on going to Spain. There are some who were crooks in their home country and they continued on being crooks when they arrived in Morocco. But there have been others who were active in their church; some were leaders in their church. They gathered the thousand or more euros they needed to make the journey and left. As they crossed borders they discovered they had to pay bribes they had not expected to have to pay. To get across the desert they needed to pay more than they had thought. They needed more money to continue and so they slowly got pulled into illegal activities as they made their way. Once they were in Morocco they needed to get more money to pay smugglers to get to Spain so once again they were pulled deeper and deeper into illegal activities.

I knew one man who came to Morocco from Nigeria and later died in Rabat. He came regularly to a prayer meeting in our house. When I was helping him in his last week of life, I discovered that he had been earning money by finding men who wanted a prostitute and bringing them to an apartment where the prostitutes worked. He got paid for finding customers. He was what they call in Tanzania a “fly-catcher”. If you had asked this man in Nigeria, before he began his journey, if he would ever be working for a pimp, helping to find customers for prostitutes, he would have said absolutely not. But he took little step after little step until he ended up doing what he once thought he would never do. Women begin their journey hoping to make money as maids in Europe but then have to have sex to get money to get across the desert and end up being prostitutes in Morocco and in Europe.

This incremental drift is what happens to us in so many areas of our lives. We begin clicking on sexy pictures we should be avoiding on our computer. But it is exciting and so we look again and again. In order to keep up the level of excitement we need more explicitly graphic images and we get drawn deeper and deeper into the world of pornography. Soon that is not enough and we need to begin experimenting in the real world with what we see on the internet. We take little step after little step and then, one day, we are stunned to see where we have come.

Adultery does not normally begin with a choice to sleep with someone other than your spouse; it begins with casual friendships that slowly evolve into a sexual relationship. The relational intimacy gradually deepens until there is more sharing in this relationship than there is with your spouse. The attraction grows and grows, intimacy progresses and then, all of a sudden you ask,”How did this happen?”

This is how pre-marital sexual relationships develop. There are tiny little steps that are taken and gradually intimacy increases. There are many lines that are crossed until you ask, just like someone in an adulterous relationship, “How did this happen?”

When do we stand up and say, “No! I will not go there.” We need to say that at the beginning. The time to fight against the Holocaust was in the 1800s, arguing with the philosophers who were talking about the inferiority of the Jewish race. The German church was almost entirely silent. The German church, except for a very small dissenting minority, drifted with the culture and absorbed the cultural prejudices against Jews. How would history be different if the church had stood up and protested against the anti-Semitism of German society?

The time to say no is at the start of the journey, before crossing the Sahara. The time to say no is when you turn on your computer. The time to say no is when an inappropriate relationship is beginning. If we are not obedient to God in the first little steps, we will have great difficulty making the brave choices made by Shiphrah, Puah, Obadiah, and Daniel. Beware of incremental drift.

A second lesson is that we need to fear God more than anyone or anything else.

Exodus tells us that Shiphrah and Puah
feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.

What does this mean? What would have happened if Pharaoh had discovered that they had deliberately defied him? He would have had them killed. Do we fear people who can kill us? If someone comes to us on the street with a knife does that create fear in us? Of course it does. If someone comes to us with a gun and kills us, is that the worst thing that can happen to us?

Jesus taught in Luke 12:4–5
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

This is why it matters more what God thinks of us than what any other person things of us. This is why it is more important to obey God than what anyone else tells us to do.

Shiphrah and Puah feared God and so they did not obey Pharaoh’s order. Obadiah feared God and so he defied Ahab. Daniel feared God and so he continued to pray three times a day, regardless of the consequences.

We know that we are living on earth for just a few short years and that eternity lies in front of us, but this life is so present. Our five senses tells us that this present life is here and it seems more real to us than the eternity we believe by faith is coming. This makes it more difficult to hold on to what God wants us to do when the temptations of this world are so real and so present. They have a power over us that can be difficult for us to resist.

This is why we need to take a firm stand early on. This is why we need to say no before we get dragged farther and deeper into relationships and activities we know are not what God wants for us. It is at the beginning that we need to declare we are sinners rescued by Jesus and heading to our eternal home. In this light we can then make good decisions.

A third lesson is that when we fear God more than anyone or anything else, we need to be prepared to suffer the consequences.

Daniel was an astute politician. He did not become prime minister of Babylon by accident. He was intelligent, talented, and he knew the political scene that surrounded him. When the provincial governors and officials went to King Darius, Daniel heard about it. He knew he had a choice to make and if he prayed as he always did, he would be in violation of this edict.

Daniel feared God more than he did these officials and the edict so he went to his open window, faced Jerusalem, and prayed.

When they came to King Darius to inform him that Daniel had disobeyed his written edict, King Darius was trapped. They had to come to him a second time to remind him that his edict could not be reversed and King Darius reluctantly had Daniel taken to the lion’s den.

All this Daniel knew would happen. But he feared God more than the edict and spent the night in the den of the lions. When morning came King Darius rushed to the den and was delighted to discover that Daniel’s God had kept him safe.

Scripture does not tell us what Daniel told King Darius, but earlier, when Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down in worship to an image of King Nebuchadnezzar, Scripture tells us what they said. They were told they would be thrown into a blazing furnace if they did not bow down to this idol and replied to King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:16–18)
“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Western culture has drifted away from Biblical values over the past few decades. When followers of Jesus stand up to say that sexual relations are meant to be confined to one man and one woman united in the covenant of marriage, they are being increasingly viewed as unhealthy elements of society. As the culture continues to drift, there will be an increasingly severe price to be paid for standing up for what the Bible teaches about sex and marriage. As with Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abdenego we need to fear God more than cultural opposition. This culture will will fade away but our God will dwell with us for eternity.

In what way are you being pulled, step-by-step, toward what you know is not right. In what way are you accommodating to the culture. Are you in a relationship that is headed in the wrong direction? Are you being pulled into activities you know are wrong? If you pay attention to your conscience, you will hear the Holy Spirit warning you about the steps you are taking that will lead you away from your relationship with Jesus and into sin that so easily entangles.

If you say to yourself that you have not gone very far down the wrong path and can come back whenever you want to, you are deceiving yourself. It is at the beginning that it is the right time to say no. It is at the beginning that it is the right time to stand up and speak out against injustice. It is at the beginning that it is the right time to speak out about unhealthy relationships.

We have great examples for us in Scripture. I did not mention Rahab who hid the spies on her roof in Jericho. I did not mention Jesus who confronted the rigid legalism of the Jewish leaders. There is also a long list of followers of Jesus in church history who have stood firm against the abuses of the institutional church and other rulers and authorities. I need to stand with them. You need to stand with them. In whatever way you are being pulled, share with a brother or sister and ask them to help you to stand up and say no to the little steps pulling you away from Jesus.

We are all in this together. May God have mercy on us and help us to be faithful followers.