At one point in history, a Hebrew named Joseph was magnified within the Egyptian culture, creating the space for the Hebrews to move into Egypt and alliances to be made. But in due time, a new Pharaoh rose to power who had no idea who Joseph was. He saw the large number of Hebrews in Egypt as a threat, leaned hard into his racism, and oppressed the Hebrews in his country by turning them into slaves. He also commanded the Egyptian midwives to kill any Hebrew baby boys that were to be born.
A word study here shows us that these Egyptian abortion techniques likely still happened while the children were in the womb. Pharaoh commanded the midwives to gaze upon the baby on the ʾāḇnǎyim. This Hebrew word is translated “birthstool” in the Egyptian story, but in the only other place this Hebrew word comes up in the Bible, it’s translated “potter’s wheel.”
This word connection makes sense, since in Egyptian belief, the creator-god, Khnum, would artistically mold humans upon a potter’s wheel. Putting this together, we begin to realize that the Egyptian midwives had been commanded by Pharaoh to determine if the child was male or female while still in the womb (something that ancient Egyptian medical texts have techniques for). If they deduced that the fetus was male, they would likely then use potions to drug the mother’s body until it was no longer a habitable place for the child—a technique that belonged with witchcraft.
Abortion isn’t a new topic today. It’s been around since the beginning. And just as God delivered humanity through the flood via a tebah (that is, an “ark”), he would now deliver Israel by raising up a baby boy that survived the threat of abortion as his mother put him in a river in a tebah (this time translated as “basket”). That baby would grow up to be Moses, who served as a tebah for others. God is a God of life abundant.
*This devotional was created out of the themes of Acts 7:17-29 found in today’s reading at CommonPrayer.net. Learn more about today’s topic from Scott Morschauser’s JBL article, “Potters Wheels and Pregnancies.”