15 And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah:
16 And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live.
17 But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.
18 And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive?
19 And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them.
In today’s verses the actions of the Pharaoh become even more horrifying. Not only did he subjugate and oppress the Israelites because of an unfounded fear, but now he seeks to commit mass infanticide! Seeing that he spoke to only two women, we must assume that they were overseers for all the other midwives, and it was expected that they would carry out their miserable orders by compelling the many under their care to do the terrible deed for them.
Of course what Pharaoh was asking was morally wrong, and also directly against the chief function of a midwife, which is to safely preserve the life of the child and mother through the birthing process. All that being said, by giving this command the Pharaoh had shown he was willing to kill even the most innocent to achieve his ends, so why not the midwives if they failed to obey him? Thus, Shiphrah and Puah showed great courage in defying his commands. The excuse they bring back to the Pharaoh is obviously false, and I find it hard to believe that he was fooled in the least. If so, these two women had just put their own lives on the line in place of the Hebrew sons.
18 And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.
19 And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.
20 Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.
21 And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him.
Even if it seems unfair that Jacob showed a clear favoritism towards Joseph, or if it seems imprudent of Joseph to have related his dreams to his brothers, there is no earthly justification for what these brothers conspired to do. They were contemplating murder, and their derision that they will then “see what will become of his dreams” is shockingly callous.
I do wonder which of the brothers were the primary instigators of this plot. Simeon and Levi had already shown their willingness to kill, though that was as a retaliation for the rape of their sister. Here they are discussing the death of an innocent. Fortunately, not every brother was as bloodthirsty as the others. Reuben interceded in Joseph’s behalf, which we will get more into with tomorrow’s verses.
8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
9 And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?
10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.
All it took was one generation for mankind to find out the deepest depths of what sin one can do to another. To murder a fellow-person is contrary to our very nature, but Cain had found out how to break that barrier inside of him, and having introduced the idea it would now be repeated many times over.
The first instance of murder, and also the first account of lying. Adam and Eve may have hidden themselves in shame, but when God called for them and asked what had happened they told the truth. Telling the truth is a natural instinct for each of us, and to lie also requires another breaking of something inside. But Cain was able to do that as well, denying knowledge of what he had done, and then following it up with a most damning statement of cold indifference.
I wonder if Cain really thought that God could be deceived. Did he not realize that every soul was in God’s hand, and that “not a single sparrow falls to the ground” without God knowing it? In fact, God’s omniscient awareness and compassion is the one encouraging note in all this story. Cain had opened Pandora’s Box, and this first murder has been followed by an unfathomable number ever since. But while we as a people may have become desensitized to the act of killing, it is good to know that God knows and mourns each and every one.