I had such a hard time finding myself in Scripture.
I attended Christian schools where the resources for learning about the Bible were numerous. We played Bible memorization games and put on plays starring “Psalty the Songbook.” We all possessed illustrated Bibles and every year, we received a Christian religion book intended to help us understand the Bible. Despite all of these tools, something was missing.
It was not uncommon for most of our studies to revolve around men. We even referred to them as the giants of our faith—Abraham and David, Noah and Elijah, Paul and Peter. The number of men we could all learn something from seemed unending. But women embodied stories of disdain. I learned about Eve eating the fruit and bringing damnation to the world. I learned how Delilah used her beauty to take advantage of Samson. I learned that Jezebel was so evil that her murder was justified. And you know we all learned about Sapphira, who dropped dead after lying in church. No one in my world said that women were second-rate images of God, but no one denied it either.
Then came the day my step-mom was ordained and licensed as a minister of the gospel. This process threw our household into a flurry of study, searching the scriptures for complete images of women, as beings created by the hand of the divine. Her step into leadership changed everything for me. The more I read, the more I discovered, and it wasn’t long before I was positively swooning over three women in Exodus—women with moxie.
Incredibly unassuming, their story is embedded in just eight verses in the second chapter of Exodus. The story opens in the midst of politically sanctioned genocide based on an unfounded fear of the “other.” Pharaoh holds so tightly to his position of power and his empire that he feels the only way to secure his future status is through oppression. In a series of increasingly harsh laws, Pharaoh enslaves the Hebrew people. When this is not enough to make him feel secure, he instructs midwives to begin killing all Hebrew, male newborns. They won’t do it. Undeterred, Pharaoh instead makes the people his co-conspirators by giving anyone permission to take the life of a newborn Hebrew boy.
But Jochebed refuses to comply. She won’t submit to Pharaoh’s decree. She hides her newborn for the first three months of his life and then places him in a basket on the bank hoping to save his life.
Her daughter Miriam keeps an eye on the floating basket and watches as a princess looks upon the babe with compassion. The princess immediately recognizes that the child is an enemy of the empire, She could have tipped the basket over and followed her father’s orders, but she doesn’t. Miriam, a slave girl steps into the gulf of invisible social forces between them and asks, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” Between the lines—Miriam asks the princess to defy the orders of the empire, to resist protecting her way of life, to give into her compassion by practicing defiance. Miriam asks the princess to consider a risky alternative. And with one word, the princess agrees, “Go.”
I wonder what the princess was thinking. Did she stare forward with a steely gaze, adding details to the slave girl’s plan? Did she tell all the whispering attendants to hush or did they act as her co-conspirators? Did she stare at the basket, her resolve deepening with every breath?
As Jochebed stands before her, they reach toward one another across ethnicity and class, across social standing and religion. They courageously work out a plan filled with risk and reward.
The baby will be returned to Jochebed and the princess will pay the slave woman to raise her own son. But unspoken, is an agreement that is equally shocking. When the child is old enough, he will be raised in the palace that seeks his life. It is a creative, imaginative, and dangerous plan for all involved. I might have suggested the princess go talk her father into cancelling the decree. I might have hoped the princess would sneak him out of the country. I might have asked if she could use her wealth to move the entire family to safety. I could come up with a lot of game plans, but I never would have suggested placing him in the center of the power structure that desired to kill him. These women have moxie. They don’t run away. They run toward.
The list of things these women weren’t supposed to do is long. Jochebed wasn’t supposed to let the child live. Miriam wasn’t supposed to be offering game plans for resistance. The princess wasn’t supposed to feel compassionate. None of these women did what they were supposed to do and through their defiance, set a nation free.
None of them could have accomplished the plan alone. These three women, in a most unlikely partnership, take the lead. They resist the status quo at every turn. They create the plan:
Own their power.
Save a nation.
And make the empire foot the bill.
I know these women. I see my ancestors in them. I see myself, my community of sisters who are willing to risk it all to resist hatred and fear, to let love live. I know these women who flatten the walls that are supposed to keep us apart. I know these women who create plans and strategies, who speak truth to power, who sacrifice. I know these women who lead. They are women with moxie. And I love them.
More from Austin Channing Brown:
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