Fear of God as Political Resistance

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>The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. – Exodus 1: 15-17

Meet two of the first conscientious objectors recorded in scripture, Shiphrah and Puah. These midwives were given a direct command by the ruling authorities to kill all the male Hebrew children as soon as they were born. It was not their place to question Pharaoh. It was not their place to object. It was not their place to “play politics” or “grapple with moral dilemmas.” They were bound to simply obey the law, and the king of Egypt was the law – period – end of story – no further discussion necessary. The repercussions for disobedience would no doubt be swift and uncompromising. “But the midwives feared God.” So much is present in those five simple words: “but the midwives feared God.” And because they did, we now know the rest of the story.

Meager beginnings would give way to extraordinary liberation and deliverance. Who would have thought that two God-fearing women could change the course of salvation history? That these two small seeds, planted faithfully would bear fruit for generations to come? Shiphrah and Puah are names we must learn to remember. We must remember that it was these two women who first delivered Moses, the future Deliverer of Israel. It was these two women who started a chain reaction of conscientious objection, starting with a Levite mother (who would give birth to Moses) and culminating in Pharaoh’s own household with the traitorous resistance of his own daughter. All this took place because two women “feared God.”

It is good to know that there are still a few God-fearing people around, evidenced by a headline that is now almost three years old: “Israeli Pilots Refuse Strikes.” The 2003 story that followed sounded vaguely familiar. Twenty-seven pilots were refusing to carry out direct orders from the ruling authorities. In a letter of objection they stated: “We…are opposed to carrying out illegal and immoral orders to attack, of the type Israel carries out in the territories …we…refuse to continue to hit innocent civilians.” The ensuing criticism was swift and harsh. Maj. Gen. Dan Halutz grounded nine of the pilots still on active duty and said the signatories of the letter would be “punished and possibility jailed.” He went on to accuse them of “playing politics, rather than grappling with genuine moral dilemmas.” Other critics accused the pilots of being “immature, naïve, or having a secret political agenda.” Some labeled the stance as immoral and disgraceful. Still others dismissed the pilots as representatives of a small minority opinion – insignificant and irrelevant.

I would like to think that those twenty-seven seeds, planted faithfully, could indeed bear fruit for generations of Israelis and Palestinians to come. That may seem more like a pipe dream now considering the latest news from Israel and Lebanon, but I am not so sure. Maybe it is time retell this story of resistance and others like it. Maybe such stories still have something to say to Americans, to Israelis, to members of Hezbollah, to Iraqis, and to the rest of the world that continues to deem violence as the primary means of achieving results. Maybe these witnesses can point a way out of the devastating cycle of violence, distrust, and hopelessness that now holds so many regions of the world in a death grip. No doubt those twenty-seven pilots were naïve by the world’s standards and perhaps they did have a secret political agenda. All persons who have the audacity to “fear God” and let the political chips fall where they may can be justly accused of both charges. Why? Primarily because their political agenda is “in” this world, but not “of” it.

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