I have never liked playing small parts.
In seventh grade, I was in a gritty Jr. High production of Sweeney Todd, which obviously meant that our musical director should have been fired. Sweeny Todd is the story of a murderous barber who kills his customers, and then gets rid of their bodies by baking them into human pies and selling them. It’s a real tearjerker.
It would have been fun to play the barber, with all the fake murdering and cool indifference. Instead, I played two small parts: a sailor and an inmate in an asylum. I sang and I danced, the way that sailors and inmates do.
That’s me playing the inmate in the spring of 1984. I know, terribly offensive in every way. What am I doing with my arms?
People who play small parts don’t get much glory, and I like glory. So do you, so quit clucking your tongue at me.
Which brings me to Shiphrah and Puah. Admit it, you saw that coming.
“A man and a woman from the tribe of Levi got married. She became pregnant and had a son by him. She saw that her baby was a fine child.” (Exodus 2:1-2).
She saw that her baby was a fine child. I love that phrase. What mother doesn’t think that her baby is a fine child? I actually don’t trust this mother. There are a few genuinely beautiful babies, but most of them are really just small, wrinkly old men dressed up in ribbons and clothes with pictures of dogs flying airplanes on them. Look at him! Isn’t he gorgeous? You must lie in these moments, friends. Because most babies look like Gollum.
The word in Hebrew that is translated as “fine child” is tov, which is also translated “good.”
This mother sees what she has made, and she calls it good. Very good, in fact.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are many winks and nods. When we’re trying to hear the intent of the writer, one of the basic lessons that we learn is to ask, “When was this word used first in Scriptures?” And it turns out tov is first mentioned all the way back in Genesis 1, the story of the beginning of all things.
Remember that? And God saw all that God had made, and behold, it was… tov.
Something pretty special is going to happen in this story.
This fine child was born during a time when the Hebrew people were slaves in Egypt. And this brave mother hid her fine child, because the Egyptian Leader (Pharaoh) had ordered all Hebrew baby boys to be thrown in the river, after noticing how fast the Hebrew people were reproducing. At least he didn’t bake them in pies and sell them. As far as we know.
The Egyptians were smart. They knew the actual parents were going to have a hard time murdering their own children, so they ordered the Hebrew midwives to take the babies immediately after they’re born, and then to kill them right then, before the mother can notice their fine children.
This is a dark time if you are a Hebrew couple who has just given birth to a boy.
But into that darkness, we read that two heroic, revolutionary, badass Hebrew midwives show up, and their names are Shiphrah and Puah. Even though they’re ordered to kill the Hebrew baby boys immediately, they lie to the Egyptians, telling them the Hebrew women are so hardy that they give birth before they have the chance to get there. So this fine child is saved.
You can’t hide a growing Hebrew boy for long, so his mother puts him in the Nile River, strategically placed to flow down to where other women bathed. Rich women. Egyptian women. And one of them notices this Hebrew boy, and draws him out of the water, and the baby cries, and she feels compassion, knowing that it’s one of those Hebrew baby boys.
It was Pharaoh’s daughter that felt this compassion. It was Pharaoh’s daughter than drew him out of the water. It was Pharaoh’s daughter that named him Moses, which means, “drawn out.”
Can you feel the ache of the Hebrew people, longing to be drawn out of Egypt, out of slavery?
Can you feel the tension building?
You know the rest of this story. Moses, who was drawn out of the river, eventually draws the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. He’s kind of a big deal. And he made it to his first birthday only because three very small players (Shiphrah, Puah, and the birth mother of Moses) did a very brave thing.
Did you ever stop and think that Shiphrah and Puah were probably in that herd of people, leaving Egpyt? Did you ever wonder what they might have whispered to each other, maybe with the mother joining them, as they watched Moses leading them out?
“Look at what we did,” they might have whispered, as God smiled down on them. It turns out they were not so very small players after all.
So play your part, no matter how small it seems. You might just be changing the world.