At the end of Genesis, the Israelites are in Egypt because of a famine in Israel. Despite the harsh conditions that brought Israel to Egypt, it was an Israelite – Joseph – who found a solution for how Egypt could sustain itself in the midst of the same famine. At the end of Genesis, it seemed like Israel and Egypt had found a way to live together. Yet when Exodus begins, a leader has risen to power that does not know or does not care about the nation’s history. Pharaoh, content with expanding his power, demonstrates his ignorance, his hubris, and his determination to create a system of oppression. He commands that innocent Israelite boys be brutally killed at birth.
It seems that in every era there are those who come to power with an intention to compromise the integrity of community and snuff out the life of innocents. In every age there are those who are ordered to build and do more with less, and expected to live in inhumane conditions.
In Exodus 1:8-20, in the face of a command for genocide it is not some superhuman, larger-than-life character that preserves life. Instead Shiphrah and Puah, two midwives, decide that their calling to usher life into the world is greater than pharaoh’s imperative for death. In these difficult times we, too, must remember that God is calling ordinary people to do extraordinary things to counteract the reach of empire. We cannot wait for a messiah to save us from imperial abuse. Some environments simply require individuals to be courageous and prudent in the midst of their everyday lives and trust that God will care for us.
SFTS Assistant Professor of Old Testament