Have you ever played the game “Would You Rather?” Just in case you haven’t, it’s basically a conversation starter where a person is presented two options and has to choose which one they’d “rather” do (or eat, or take part in, etc.) The options are usually good fodder for middle school campfires, especially if they’re silly or disgusting. But the idea is elemental — what would you do in the face of a dilemma? Before Moses was even born, two Hebrew midwives were presented with a great dilemma: Would you rather disobey God or the most powerful person in the world?
Shiphrah and Puah (noteworthy that they are remembered by name) are credited with perhaps the first ever recorded moment of civil disobedience. The king of Egypt commanded that they kill newborn boys, forcing them to either disobey him or God, who is the only creator and destroyer of life, and who had created a covenant with their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They chose the latter, of course, and ultimately saved newborn Moses’s life.
One can only wonder what it would have felt like for Shiphrah and Puah in the moment. How much thought did they put into their decision? Did they fully grasp the potential consequences? Whatever their process, the fact is that they chose the hard right instead of the easy wrong. The question is: what would each of us do in their situation?
A popular assumption about God is that God sits far off observing human beings and occasionally “intervenes.” It’s a pervasive assumption which even our prayers often reflect. And to be sure, there are plenty of stories in scripture when God imposes supernatural power into the natural world to enact God’s will. But we should be careful not to let those stories eclipse the more frequent narratives in which God’s will is fulfilled through the obedient actions of ordinary people. During the earliest months of Moses’ life, four ordinary women acted in faith, and through them God set the stage for freedom for his covenant people.
1) Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma? What was it like? What did you choose to do, and why?
2) When we face an ethical dilemma, what are the intrinsic fears that drive our ultimate decision? What can we do to overcome our fears and choose based on truth and wisdom?
3) The midwives were rewarded by God for their obedience. Do you believe God rewards obedience today? Do God’s rewards need to fit our criteria of “reward?”
4) How is God calling you to “faith in action”?