The Midwives Ponder

by Rosanne Osborne

Shiphrah and Puah played a decisive role
in the history of the Hebrew nation.
Because they had the courage, the will,
to listen to the dictates of the soul,
they rejected the Pharaoh’s command
and refused to kill babies at birth.

Imagine the conversation before that first birth.
Shiphrah favored following the ruler’s command,
but Puah wasn’t so certain. Her stronger will
resisted the dictates of an enslaving nation.
As far as she was concerned, she had no role
in the genocide of a ruler with no soul.

Shiphrah was forced to examine her soul,
to think deeply about the nature of nation,
to struggle with her own sense of command.
Certainly, she was not an Egyptian by birth,
but she had lived there all her life and her role
had been shaped by culture rather than will.

Neither woman had reckoned a decision of will
to be their personal responsibility in birth.
Theirs was the utilitarian response to command.
When the call came, they fulfilled their role,
grabbed their bag and added another soul
to the workforce of a growing nation.

It had never occurred to them that the nation
might actually ask them to deliver death at birth
rather than life, a travesty to say, “I will.”
The dignity of their calling was the divine role
of ushering into this world a new-born  soul.
They had always heard this higher command.

What a predicament Pharaoh’s command
presented these two women of Hebrew birth.
Puah thought about the heritage of will.
Shiphrah saw the compromise of her soul.
Both considered treason to their own nation.
To be a midwife was a holy, divine role.

The first male birth challenged this role,
but their will responded to the soul
of the Hebrew nation, not the command.

An English professor, Methodist pastor, clarinetist, and poet, Rosanne Osborne holds the Ph.D. in English from the University of Alabama, the MFA from Spalding University, and the MRE and MDiv from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. She grew up in Missouri but has lived most of her adult life in Louisiana. Her work has appeared in Tar River Poetry, Alabama Review, Christian Century, Ruminate, Thema, Penwood Review, and The Village Pariah.

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