Midwifery- By Stuart McAlpine, Sr. Pastor of Christ Our
Shepherd Church, Washington DC
It is an obvious point- but centuries of male commentators seem to have overlooked it. The "exodus" stories of both the Old and New Testaments begin with an almost exclusive attention to women's roles and ministries in the liberating work of God.
In the opening two chapters of exodus, no less than five women get caught up in God's history. Four of these because they fear God more than anything else. The fourth, Pharaoh daughter, is a pagan outsider, who is sovereignly drawn into God's redemptive plan, a move that medieval commentators saw as a wonderful foretaste of God's plan for the Gentiles. The availability, courage, effectiveness and spirituality of these women are stressed.
It's significant that we know the names of two "unknown" midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, and yet this day, scholars cannot be exact about the particular identity of the Pharaoh! The history of the world according to God is very different to that of school textbooks! Pharaoh was a powerful ruler who could command an entire nation and yet he was unable to control two ordinary women who feared God.
The liberation of a nation was rooted in the refusal of no-namers to co-operate with the oppressive measures of the enemy. There were plenty of potential reasons for them to have disqualified themselves from being mighty used of God. What's on your list? They had plenty to be disappointed about. The midwives were usually barren women, sharing a joy with mothers that they could not have. This was not the labor they wanted.
But one description of them qualifies everything, and qualifies them for God's list of historic person-ages. The midwives however, feared God." (Ex.1:17) This happens to be the first mention of God In the text.
Divinity breaks into the story, not through some incredible "ex cathedra" act but through the hallowed characters of these women. The fear of the Lord is essentially a holy reverence for God that leads to obedience. Those that fear the Lord fear nothing else! In the words of Isaiah (51 :7) they didn't fear the reproach or insults of men. In the words of David (Ps.23:4) they feared no evil. In the words of Jesus (ll,lt.1O:26) they did not fear the one who could only kill the body. Though they were made answerable to Pharaoh, they chose to be accountable to God. (Who do you answer to?)
Little did they know how prophetic their obedience would be, in two ways. First, their actions fulfilled a promise given to Jacob hundreds of years earlier, that his descendants would increase "there" (GenA6:3) where "there" was the worst possible environment (Egypt) for any expectation of blessing or growth. (Can you believe God that your present "there" regardless of its discomfort, is the place for God's work of spiritual growth in your life?) Secondly, their actions in saving sons from death prophetically anticipated and prefigured the Passover.
They became crucial agents in God's redemption. The text tells us they got a reward for their labor - their own households and families. They ended up getting what they always wanted, by desiring God's will and truth more than the satisfaction of their own needs.
There is a desperate need for holy midwifery in the kingdom of God. A midwife is someone who "helps to bear". We are not the creators of spiritual life or ministry but there is a vital need for those who will nurture what is conceived by the Spirit of God and see it delivered. There is a need for many believers to move from the place of always needing to be delivered, to becoming delivery agents in the work of God. Like the midwives, this involves a choice to make the fulfillment of God's agenda more important than the agenda of self. It means that our view of what makes for our developing personal history is secondary to our pursuit of God's historic purposes.
We as a church, are pregnant with vision, resourcefulness, nascent life, and spiritual seed. We need more midwives who fear the Lord and will consequently choose rightly what not to do, in order to choose what God wants them to do. For the church to be a maternity ward there is need for spiritual midwives.
There are plenty of things that impede birth. From Pharaoh in Exodus, to Herod in Matthew, to the dragon in Rev. 12 that sits in front of the woman waiting to devour the child, there is a history of demonic attempts to kill the spiritual child, to oppose the revelation of Jesus Christ, to destroy whatever the church is called to give bear.
It's fascinating that in 2 Kings, after his faith in God's deliverance had been ridiculed by the King of Assyria, Hezekiah expresses the anguish of God's people in this image: "This day is a day of distress as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them." Where deliverance is opposed, where ministries are resisted, where new outreaches could die for lack of support and care, there is a need for the holy midwives, not only to share the intercessory travail but to practically engage the delivery process, and the establishment of new life.
What are you "midwiving"? What would you like to "midwife"? What is struggling needlessly without your help and commitment? What are you called to bear at this season of your life? Do you have a passion to assist the labors of the kingdom of God?
Do you see the body of Christ the way those Exodus midwives saw the Hebrew women - as fertile and vigorous? Could we have a similar vision that it would be hard to keep up with the deliveries of God's initiatives. The prophet Hosea (13:13) talks of the tragedy of coming to the neck of the womb and not being born". We need midwives to discern the time of delivery.
Let's exchange the labor of the enemy's oppression for the labor of love of God's midwives. Let's exchange personal need for deliverance for the calling of delivery agents. We can stay home and only look after our own households. But let's not forget the way that God took care of the Hebrew midwives' households as they took care of the family of God. Lord, bless the midwives! Lord, give us more of them.