St. Ephrem on the midwives of Exodus


Because Pharaoh was careful not to pollute the river with corpses, he summoned the midwives in order to make them murderesses.  By his authority he made them the opposite of their titles, since he imagined he would turn physicians into executioners.

ܡܛܠ ܕܝܢ ܕܚܼܣ ܥܠ ܢܗܪܗ ܕܠܐ ܢܛܡܐܝܘܗܝ ܒܫ̈ܠܕܐ ܕܥܘ̈ܠܐ܂ ܩܼܪܐ ܠܚܝ̈ܬܐ ܕܢܥܒܕ ܐܢܝܢ ܩ̈ܛܘܠܝܬܐ܂ ܒܝܕ ܫܘܠܛܢܗ ܓܝܪ ܣܩܘܒܠܐ ܕܟܘܢܝܗܝܢ ܥܒܼܕ ܐܢܝܢ ܕܠܡܐܣ̈ܝܢܝܬܐ ܡܡ̈ܝܬܢܝܬܐ ܐܬܪܥܝ ܕܢܥܒܕ ܐܢܝܢ܂

I was reading Exodus Commentary of St. Ephrem  {by Alison Salvesen} when I ran into this exposition that struck me as an excellent description of what is happening in our medical community with abortion.  Too many physicians, either of their own will or by coercion, are acting as executioners.  The word for midwife in Syriac (haytha) ܚܝܬܐ has the double meaning of life, so the contradictory nature of what Pharaoh was attempting to accomplish would be immediately apparent to the Syriac reader.  Too bad it is not so obvious in today’s world.

What of the midwives?  Exodus says “But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the [Pharaoh] commanded them… So God dealt well with the midwives.” St. Ephrem says “they became good”, in a variation of the Peshitta, which states “and God did good to them.”

I believe this is a good lesson to those in this same medical field today.  As the pro-abortion political groups try by their authority to convert doctors, nurses, pharmacists, caregivers, etc., into murderers, they are in the role of Pharaoh.  The medical caregivers must do the morally right thing in refusing to cooperate with the evil of abortion.  And they will be rewarded by God.

We, who are not directly involved either as Pharaoh or as midwife, cannot allow an evil such as abortion to continue in this society.  We must make our voice heard, and cannot support or vote for any pharaoh who wishes to kill infants.

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7 Responses to “St. Ephrem on the midwives of Exodus”

  1. Joseph Says:

    Thanks for this repurposed for a post on “abortion doulas.”

  2. Ian Climacus Says:

    Thanks from me too; I think it is a very sad indictment of society that we are where we are now… That murder, particularly of the most helpless, is not even seen as such: and barely able to be discussed without howls of protest. And an interesting note on the dual-meaning of midwife.

    With this next comment, I hope you see where I am coming from and do not misinterpret my thoughts through any poor explaining from my side. I’d be interested in your thoughts in terms of voting and such for Pharoahs… And excuse the blog-length comment!

    In some sense things are sadder down here I believe…when it comes to voting for Pharoah there is literally no choice given its entrenched in society and party lines — and it is compulsory to vote here [well, to turn up at least: one can scribble “I do not like any of you” — or something stronger… — on the ballot papers…] Then there is the fact we live in a secular, or at least post-Christian society [things may be different in the US].

    I struggle in a sense with my beliefs and what translates to reasonable action in such a society. I do believe abortion is wrong, and would dearly love it not to happen — but in a pluralistic society, what is my role exactly? And when it comes to voting, to put it crudely, does 1 sin or unChristian [in my view] policy trump another, if party 1 supports sin X but is against sin Y, and party 2 is against sin X but supports sin Z, what to do? How do they rank? [abortion is clearly a large one I as see it…murder; but we have a host of odd/offensive policies here…]

    I make my vote/view known to my local member and to parliament [congress/house of reps in your lingo]? Do I go further? Does such action help? Pray, of course… But it can be rather overwhelming — and confusing.

    Anyway…best stop. I’d be interested in what you, and other commentors, think.

  3. antgaria Says:

    First… I’ll have to apologize for my “blog-length comment” as well… 🙂

  4. antgaria Says:

    I had to really dive into things to start making sense of a lot of things. I think the response will have to be in several steps. And I will use a historical approach rather than a theological/moral/Bible centric one.
    First, let’s look at the political implications of our role in society. As you mentioned, the US can, almost*, be classified as a post-Christian society. This could not really be said of Ephrem who was writing at a time where if not the majority, but still a great portion of the population of his pretty much “city-state” cities would classify themselves as Orthodox Christians. That is why he and many others left Nisibis to Edessa when the Persians were taking it over from the Romans. Writing well into the 4th century, he was at a time that had seen the last of the pagan emperors, “Julian the Apostate”, whose defeat and death {363 AD} was actually the cause of Ephrem’s city Nisibis being ceded to the Persians.
    But we can look to how the Christians had treated abortion and infanticide in earlier centuries, in territories and cultures that accepted both. An early document was the Didache, written in the first century, which clearly prohibits abortion: “do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant.” I can’t seem to get a good copy and paste of the Greek right now, but I wanted to point to the fact that despite what I read about people claiming it is being overused, it actually is a pretty solid lead into how the first Christians felt. The fact that abortion, which was common enough in the Roman empire to have abortion mills in cities associated with maritime trade, disappeared from society, can be linked to the same reason why the passé attitude towards murder in the gladiatorial games, and killing in the Germanic/Scandinavian cultures, and infanticide in the Semitic/Middle Eastern, etc. were eventually replaced. It is the job of the Christian even in a non/anti-Christian society to work towards the righting of moral wrongs.
    This brings us to the weighing of issues against each other. Fortunately, in todays “tolerant” society, one is hard tasked to find an instance of a moral issue that is graver than abortion. Short of the Nazi/Communist {both anti-Christian in the extreme} genocides or the religious genocides {esp. contra-Christians throughout a great portion of the world where they are persecuted}, I cannot think of any other issue that is so destructive… and even these are not in our societies {yet}. Mother Teresa had called abortion the greatest threat to peace. Another quote from her is quite to the point as well: “we must not be surprised when we hear of murders, of killings, of war, of hatred. If a mother can kill her own child, what is left but for us to kill each other?”
    I had a hard time arguing this very point with people when I was young. How about economy/poverty, etc, etc, they would argue… then one day, it hit me real hard. It became a matter of logic and science. Putting aside feelings… and even setting aside faith, at least in the initial consideration, science dictates that the child is a living being, and very early on develops recognizable features, and of this being my faith says that it is in the image of God made, and by God wondrously made at that! So now my faith teaches that every human life is special. Do I believe that every life is precious? If not, I can as easily assent to Nazi’s genocide, the Turkish genocide, or the Communist ones. In fact, the Marxist theology is based on the idea of making a utopia {apart from God obviously}, and what is the life of tens of millions in going towards that goal? The Nazis themselves were instrumental towards reversing Germany and Italy’s economic situations…
    If both parties are pro-abortion and one is better than another, then abortion is not the issue being voted on, so there is no culpability {I would argue, not Church teaching per se as I have not looked this up}, but it is incumbent upon us to change that. Grass roots… first among family and friends. The Church should cry this from the pulpits and shout it from the rooftops. We should pray, demonstrate, volunteer, donate, and all we can to stop this grave and most serious sin in our society.
    A friend of mine, on seeing this post, showed me that in California there is now a bill AB154 that is attempting to increase abortion in the state. The action alert from the local Church diocese states:
    “This bill would allow non-physicians (including nurse practitioners, physician assistants and nurse midwives) to perform first-trimester aspiration abortions. In addition AB 154 would reclassify those first trimester abortions as non-surgical.”
    The friend linked the midwives quote from Mar Ephrem to this bill. And although I along with many others in my situation, have signed petitions and sent letters to our representatives, they are going to try to pass this anyways because they are pro-abortion politicians. I have not voted for them, but such is this society. We must pray… and remember that our Church fathers did not do much of what they were doing by political authority and power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit!

  5. Ian Holder Says:

    Profuse thanks Anthony; I greatly appreciate and value the time you took to respond and the exceptionally helpful nature of the reply. A particularly good point on abortion being the greatest moral issue currently.

    I heard about the AB154 bill a day or 2 ago…the mind boggles at times as to how far people want to take murder, and murder of the innocents. I despair of this world at times; thankfully our hope is somewhere else.

  6. Giliana Says:

    The devil is not i the details here, but in the lack there of. The ambiguity of wording and promotion of abortion is what allows its continuation.

    Have you ever heard a pregnant woman speak of her choice? No, its always what is best for the baby. As long they keep saying freedom of choice, but never being held responsible to define the choice they are promoting abortion will continue to exist in the grays. If the pro-abortion advocates are asked to finish the question “What about the woman’s choice?” they would have a hard time finding the words to define the choices she is “free” to choose from.

    Anyways, in other news Katie (my way better half) shared this article with me that I thought was great on protestants reading Humanae Vitae. Enjoy and comment felow Ab Oriente-ians! (i hope this sticks.)

    Your bother from an eastern mother,

  7. antgaria Says:

    Thank you Ian for the discussion so relevant, and Giliana and Joseph for the links, also so relevant to today’s life. In discussing the issue of abortion with a friend, I brought up “Humanae Vitae”, and the link between contraception and the degradation of society’s morality and increase of abortion. It is an important point worth bringing up again… and in fact, in the Didache, the birth control is the very prohibition right before abortion and infanticide.

    The log about the use of the word doula reminded me again that at the bottom of all these immoralities is found the evil one. It is him and all his schemes that have unleashed this disease into society, a society that has voluntarily turned from God and become “post-Christian”. The quote from the article, “When a patient is nervous or anxious, telling them a little about their sign can take their mind off the abortion—everyone loves to hear about themselves.”, hits home on the problems. People’s self-love, and the demonic.

    This Ab Oriente-ian must pray and go to work. 🙂

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