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Shoulder to Shoulder

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 23rd of Eighth Month, 2020

Speaker: Katie Breslin

Scripture: Exodus 1:8-2:10

8 Then, a new king, who knew nothing about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. 9 He said to his people, “These Israelites are so numerous and strong that they are a threat to us. 10 In case of war they might join our enemies in order to fight against us, and might escape from[a] the country. We must find some way to keep them from becoming even more numerous.” 11 So the Egyptians put slave drivers over them to crush their spirits with hard labor. The Israelites built the cities of Pithom

and Rameses to serve as supply centers for the king. 12 But the more the

Egyptians oppressed the Israelites, the more they increased in number and the

farther they spread through the land. The Egyptians came to fear the Israelites

13-14 and made their lives miserable by forcing them into cruel slavery. They

made them work on their building projects and in their fields, and they had no pity

on them.15 Then the king of Egypt spoke to Shiphrah and Puah, the two midwives

who helped the Hebrew women. 16 “When you help the Hebrew women give birth,” he said to them, “kill the baby if it is a boy; but if it is a girl, let it live.”

17 But the midwives were God-fearing and so did not obey the king; instead, they

let the boys live. 18 So the king sent for the midwives and asked them, “Why are

you doing this? Why are you letting the boys live?”19 They answered, “The

Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they give birth easily, and their

babies are born before either of us gets there.” 20-21 Because the midwives

were God-fearing, God was good to them and gave them families of their own.

And the Israelites continued to increase and become strong. 22 Finally the king

issued a command to all his people: “Take every newborn Hebrew boy and throw

him into the Nile, but let all the girls live.”

The Birth of Moses

2:1 During this time a man from the tribe of Levi married a woman of his own tribe,

2 and she bore him a son. When she saw what a fine baby he was, she hid him

for three months. 3 But when she could not hide him any longer, she took a basket

made of reeds and covered it with tar to make it watertight. She put the baby in it

and then placed it in the tall grass at the edge of the river. 4 The baby's sister stood

some distance away to see what would happen to him.5 The king's daughter came

down to the river to bathe, while her servants walked along the bank. Suddenly she

noticed the basket in the tall grass and sent a slave woman to get it. 6 The

princess opened it and saw a baby boy. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him.

“This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said. 7 Then his sister asked her, “Shall I

go and call a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby for you?” 8 “Please do,” she

answered. So the girl went and brought the baby's own mother. 9 The princess told

the woman, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So she took

the baby and nursed him. 10 Later, when the child was old enough, she took him

to the king's daughter, who adopted him as her own son. She said to herself, “I pulled him out of the water, and so I name him Moses.”[b]

It is great to be with you again this morning. Thank you to Eden for finding that incredible hymn with suffragette roots. It feels very appropriate, given the 100 year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which started the process in allowing women to vote in the United States. Given the Quaker roots in the suffragette movement, I’m sure Alice Paul and the other Quaker women involved would be humored to know that their protest hymn was included in Quaker worship today. We know now that although the words say “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex”, that many women, in particular black and indigenous women, were denied the right to vote even after the 19th amendment was passed, and that voter suppression continues here in the United States. We are still working on the right to vote for all.

It felt appropriate for our message today to come from this passage of the Bible with the history of women's suffrage fresh on our minds. There are so many incredible women, packed into one passage!

The story of Moses is one that I knew well from childhood because there was a popular movie that came out called The Prince of Egypt. I must have seen this movie a thousand times. I loved the music, the animation, it was one of my favorites. Most of my Bible education came from sources like Veggie Tales and movies like the Prince of Egypt, which might be appropriate for children but aren’t always known for being accurate to the retelling of the stories. As a first year seminary student in Hebrew Bible, I was excited to get to the story of Moses because I could revisit one of my favorite childhood movies with new eyes.

After I read Exodus for the first time, I joined some of my fellow seminary friends for a viewing of what was, in my mind, a critical masterpiece. But the movie didn’t hold up completely to my childhood memory, and what was most disappointing to me was --- that they didn’t include the midwives! I came into Nancy Bowen’s Hebrew Bible class and it was like she read my mind. When I mentioned that we had watched the Prince of Egypt over the weekend, she looked at me and said, “WHY DIDN’T THEY INCLUDE THE MIDWIVES!” She’s right. This is why the book is always better than the movie.