Midwives of justice

“…chosen as partners, midwives of justice, birthing new systems, lighting new lights.”

From the song “God of the Bible,” Sing the Journey 27

This winter I’ve been a part of a Sunday school class studying the book of Exodus and its many intersections with the African American experience of slavery and freedom.

Exodus begins with the descendants of Jacob (a.k.a. children of Israel, a.k.a. Hebrews) in the land of Egypt.  Pharaoh is threatened by their numeric growth and enslaves them.  He also commands the Hebrew midwives to kill all boys born to Hebrew women.  The midwives, named Shiphrah and Puah, refuse.  They allow the Hebrew boys to live.

I can’t cite a source, but I remember reading that this is the oldest recorded story of civil disobedience (if there’s an older story I’d love to know about it).  It did not take place in the streets or in the courts, but in the personal and intimate setting of childbirth.  Pharaoh was defied by two women who chose to gently receive and honor new life rather than destroy it.

I don’t know if the lyric from “God of the Bible” – “midwives of justice” – was meant to reference this story, but whenever we sing it I think of Shiphrah and Puah in Exodus 1 – the matriarchs of resisting evil and celebrating life in its rich variety.