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Archive for May, 2011

But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live.” (Exodus 1:17)

No history of courageous women would be complete without talking about the two brave midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who confronted Pharaoh in Egypt when the Israelites were in exile there.

The story is a familiar one. Jacob, or Israel, had twelve sons. One of them, Joseph, was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. He was living as an exile and a slave in Egypt for many years. God helped him to rise to power during a time of famine. Because there was famine back home in Canaan, too, Joseph’s father and eleven brothers eventually moved to Egypt so that they could have plenty to eat. The amazing details of how God took care of His people during the lifetime of Joseph can be found in the book of Genesis, chapters 37 – 50.

After Joseph died, the Israelites stayed on in Egypt and increased in numbers greatly. After many generations went by, it is estimated that there were about two million Israelites in Egypt. When a new king came to the throne, he was worried about how many of them there were and felt that they were a threat to the security of his nation. So he began to oppress them. We all learned these stories in our Sunday School classes as kids. The Israelites had to make bricks for the cities that the king was building. They were virtually treated like slaves, but it seems the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied. Their taskmasters laid so many burdens on them that they labored continuously making bricks and working in the fields. Still God blessed them and they increased in number and began to spread out throughout the land.

Now Pharaoh came up with a plan to reduce their numbers. He spoke to two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, and told them to kill the baby boys. He said that the girls could live, but not the boys. It was common practice in Egypt’s history to place the daughters of slaves in Egyptian harems and thus absorb their progeny into Egypt. Pharaoh thought he had a good plan, but he did not reckon with integrity of the midwives.

These brave women did not do as the king commanded them. They let the babies live. They violated his law and then when he questioned them, they gave him an evasive answer. They told him that the Hebrew women were not like Egyptian women. Hebrew women were “vigorous” and gave birth before the midwife could get there.

Some people have said that this answer was just a lie. It is actually possible, however, that in the main what they said was true. It is well known that in cultures where women work in the fields all day, they are able to stop their work, have their baby, bundle it up, and go back to work. We must also remember that at this time God was especially blessing the Israelites and helping them to multiply in number. He would have given the women extra strength to have healthy babies. As an aside, this would also explain why there were only two midwives for several hundred thousand women. The Hebrew women were mainly healthy and just didn’t need many midwives.

In any event, the midwives put their lives on the line by disobeying Pharaoh. But these women were focused on God and His righteousness and knew that they could have no part in killing babies. As they went about their work, Shiphrah and Puah alerted the Israelites to the wicked plans of Pharaoh. The mothers then hid their children from the soldiers. Because the midwives spared the babies, God blessed them and gave them large households of their own.

Many people wonder how God could bless the midwives when they lied. Isn’t lying a sin? Theologians talk about this “moral dilemma” and take sides on the issue. On one side, some say that lying is always a sin and no one should ever tell a lie no matter what the circumstances. They believe that it is better to take whatever punishment is coming your way, or the way of the person you are trying to protect. These are the moralists.

On the other side are the “situational ethics” scholars, who say that there are degrees of bad things, and we must weigh up the options and choose the lesser of the two evils. It is true that sometimes, as seen in our story for example, a choice must be made. The problem with this view is that the person making the choice has her own set of values and may not know which choice would be the one that God wants. We must be very careful.

It is a dilemma, and many others have faced it – Corrie ten Boom protecting the Jews who were hiding from the Nazis, Rahab protecting the Israelites from the king of Jericho, and Jonathan protecting David from Saul, to name only a few.
All of these seem to have one thing in common, as with the midwives, they were protecting the lives of others. God blessed all of these people for “lying”.

It is also interesting to note however that they did not break the ninth commandment. “What is that?” you ask. “I thought the ninth commandment says, ‘you shall not lie’.” Actually, the ninth commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” The purpose of the ninth commandment is justice. To aid Pharaoh, the Nazis, or other wicked rulers in their murderous schemes is assisting evil. That is the opposite of justice. We are not to be accessories to their crimes. And I do not believe that we owe the truth to a man who plans to use it for evil. I must disagree with the moralists who prefer to see evil done rather than to tell a lie. I’m thinking that God must agree, since he blessed Corrie ten Boom by protecting her, Rahab by protecting her and even giving her the privilege of being an ancestress of Jesus, and Jonathan by protecting him from Saul. I am not justifying lying; I am only saying that we must be careful not to correct God on His moral behavior.

Shiphrah and Puah were very special women. I don’t think they knew that they were at the time. They were only midwives doing their job for a hated group of people. But those who put God first, and are faithful to do His will, may be used mightily by Him. Pharaoh expected to be obeyed. He had the power of an absolute ruler, but he was thwarted by two humble, courageous women. Because these women feared God more than the king, the baby Moses was saved. This baby would grow up and lead the people away from Egypt.

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Ida Scudder vowed that she would never go back to India as a missionary like her parents and grandparents! She was attending college in America when she got word from her father, who was serving as a doctor in India, that her mother was unwell. Ida had been born in India on December 9, 1870, and lived there until about age five. Her parents had brought her back to the United States to finish her education and then left her there when they returned to India. Ida was happy. She did not wish to return to India. She wanted to get married and have a nice home and all the things that other girls in America had. In India, she had seen too many starving and sick people. The misery was more that she wanted to think about. She told her college friends that as soon as her mother was well, she would return to America.

She went to India, and was helping her father and mother at a mission bungalow in 1892. On one night, God changed her mind about being a medical missionary in India. This story is incredible and shows how Ida received her extraordinary call to serve helpless women in India for the rest of her life.

She had been sitting in her room reading, when a high-caste Brahmin stepped onto their veranda. His young wife, only fourteen, was in labor and having a terrible struggle to stay alive. He begged Ida to come and help him. The barber women – India’s midwives – had done as much as they could. Without more help, his wife would die.

Ida replied that she knew nothing about childbirth. She told him that her father was a doctor and as soon as he returned home, she would bring him to help. The Brahmin replied that that would not be possible. No foreign man had ever entered the house. His wife would just have to die if Ida could not help her. Ida told him she was sorry, but could do nothing. She went back to reading her book.

In a little while, she heard footsteps on her veranda again. She thought maybe the Brahmin had come back, but no, it was a Mohammedan. “Please,” he pleaded with her, “come help my wife.” She was dying in labor. Ida’s father, Dr. John Scudder, had returned home by then. He offered to go, but the Mohammedan refused. No man outside of his family had ever looked on his wife’s face. Ida and her father offered to go and help as best as they could, but the Mohammedan refused.

Ida returned to her room, but was restless and could not read her book. In only a little while, she heard footsteps for the third time. This time the man was a high-caste Hindu, and he also had a young wife that was dying in labor. Would Ida please come? Only a woman may look on his wife. Ida could only reply as she had to the others. Without her father’s help she could do nothing.

Ida was restless all night and could not sleep. She spent the entire time in anguish and prayer. She did not want to work in India. She wanted the good life with her friends in America. But she could not stand the thought of all of the young women who would die without help. She prayed for guidance. Later she wrote, “I think that was the first time I ever met God face to face, and all that time it seemed that He was calling me into this work. Early in the morning I heard the “tom-tom” beating in the village and it struck terror in my heart, for it was a death message. I sent our servant, who had come up early, to the village to find out the fate of these three women, and he came back saying that all of them had died during the night . . . Again I shut myself in my room and thought very seriously about the condition of the Indian women and, after much thought and prayer, I went to my father and mother and told them that I must go home and study medicine, and come back to India to help such women.”

Ida did give up all thoughts of marriage. She went back to the United States and studied medicine at Cornell Medical College in New York City. She graduated in 1899 as part of the first class at that school that accepted women as medical students.

Ida returned to India in 1900. She was a well-trained doctor, and she had in hand a gift of $10,000 from Mr. Schell, a Manhattan banker, to build a hospital. The mission leaders had told her to raise the money before she left. She knew that she would be leaving in only a week, but trusted God. He did indeed perform a miracle for the mission. The head of a missionary society had given Ida Mr. Schell’s name and asked her to call on him. Mr. Schell was known as a tightwad, but Ida was hopeful for at least a $500 donation. Ida did not know that Mr. Schell had heard about the work in India and was willing to help. He wrote a check for $10,000 and gave it to her and asked only that the hospital be named after his wife, Mary Taber Schell.

Ida was ecstatic. She returned to India and eventually founded not only the hospital (built in 1902), but also a medical school at Vellore, 75 miles from Madras, to train other nurses and doctors. The need in India was great. In 1900 there was only one trained doctor for every 10,000 people.

There are so many good resources about Ida Scudder, and indeed her whole family. She was a third generation medical missionary. The tradition in their family continues to this day even to a fifth generation. I will not go into more details here. I would like to mention that on this particular blog, you can have a special treat that has not been available for many of the women that I have written about. You can listen to Ida’s own voice, recorded in the 1950’s, telling her story. Here is the web address:

In 1953, when Ida was 82 years old, she was presented with the Elizabeth Blackwell Citation of the New York Infirmary as one of five outstanding women doctors of 1952. Ida died at her home on Hilltop, a bungalow at Kodaikanal, overlooking the Vellore Christian Medical College and hospital, at age 89. The girl who promised she would never set foot in India again, served there until the day she died.

By 2003, the Vellore Christian Medical Center was the largest Christian hospital in the world, with 2000 beds, and its medical school is one of the premier medical schools in India.

Ida Scudder is a wonderful example to us of compassion and courage. She had her mind made up to a normal life of marriage and children, but was faithful to respond to God when He impressed her with the need of the women in India. How many of us will give up even a couple of cups of coffee each month and send some money to a mission, let alone travel to a place where there is only hardship and suffering and dying. She is an encouragement to us to think of others. We might feel that we can’t do much in our own small corner in our world, but with a vision to help others, and God’s help, we can really do much to brighten the lives of others around us.

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On humility: Thus beware lest you attribute to yourself alone those good qualities which are yours in both your spirit and your works. Rather, attribute them to God, from whom all virtues proceed like sparks from a fire. . . For whoever is aware that he has good qualities, but ascribes them to himself alone, that person is like an infidel who worships only the works of his own hands.” Hildegard of Bingen.

These wise words are taken from a letter written by one of the most influential women of the Medieval era – Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard is best known as a twelfth-century abbess with an extraordinary mind but especially she is known for her visions. Whatever one thinks about the subject of visions and dreams, certainly Hildegard was a wise, talented, intelligent, dedicated, and devout Christian woman who rose above her circumstances to serve God in extraordinary ways.

Hildegard was born around 1098 in Bemersheim, Germany, the daughter of a nobleman. She was a frail child and had a mystical disposition. She perhaps had the first of her famous visions before the age of five. It may have been this ability to see visions that led her parents to “tithe” her to God. When she was only eight years old, she went to a convent to stay with her Aunt Jutta. Jutta was living as a recluse, walled up in a cell, for she had dedicated her whole life to Christ.

Many recluses expected to stay this way for life, but Jutta attracted other women to join her. When the cell became too small, a Benedictine convent was built for them at Disibodenberg. When Hildegard was fourteen years old she became one of the nuns. We do not know much about her next few years, except that she must have been a good assistant to Jutta. When her aunt died in 1136, Hildegard was chosen to be the abbess in her place. Hildegard was thirty-eight years old.

Now that Hildegard was the superior at the convent, she began to make decisions of her own. She had many talents and it was not until this time that she had an opportunity to display them.

She began by recruiting many nuns. When their numbers were too large for their present convent, she asked to have a bigger facility in a different location built. This was very important because at the convent where she was, she had to get permission from male supervisors before she could do anything. She personally oversaw the construction of the new convent at Rupertsberg, near Bingen, Germany. They moved into the new convent in 1150, and she became known as Hildegard of Bingen.

One of her many talents was writing. Around 1141, she had begun to write a book, Scivias, (or Sciens Vias, “Know the Way”), which eventually took her ten years to complete. This book included 26 drawings of things that she had seen in her visions. She claimed that these visions helped her to understand the Old and New Testaments. Men and women of her day, including the well-known Bernard of Clairvaux, endorsed her visions. Many believed that she could understand the past, present, and future. She astonished people by claiming things which later came true.

After Scivias, Hildegard wrote other books, including the Book of Life’s Merits, and the Book of the Divine Works. She wrote these in Latin, the language of educated men, even though she had not been formally trained in it.

Many people sought Hildegard’s wisdom. Archbishop Philip of Cologne was repeating what many Christians thought when he said that Hildegard had divine gifts including the gift of prophecy.

She wrote hundreds of letters to both lowborn and highborn. Some of the leading lights to whom she wrote included the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, and King Henry II of England, who you might recall was the husband of the famous Eleanor of Aquitaine – mother of King Richard the Lionhearted. Hildegard’s letters covered many subjects from advice to prophecies and even warnings. One example comes from a letter she wrote to the church community at Mainz. They were tolerating heretics and her advice was, “The church mourns and wails over their wickedness while her sons are polluted by their iniquity. Therefore cast them from yourselves, lest your community and city perish.”

Hildegard was interested in science and medicine. She collected medical lore and compiled it into a book, Causae et Curae, which contained many descriptions of illnesses and their cures. Sounding more like modern times, she also identified mental illnesses such as despair, dread, insanity, and obsession.

Because of her love of nature, she also studied physical phenomena and she gathered many details into an encyclopedia, Physica (“Natural History”). According to historians, what she wrote was on par with the top naturalists of her day.

Besides an amazing scientific mind, Hildegard also possessed a very creative side. In the twelfth century, Bibles were rare. The Church used visual and musical aids to help people memorize Scripture. Hildegard knew that it would be easier to teach her students about the Christian life with imaginative and interesting oral instruction. She set about creating her own teaching aids. She wrote hymns and responses to be used in worship services.

Some time around 1150 in honor of the dedication of the new abbey, Hildegard wrote the first morality play, Play of the Virtues, in which people are given the names of the virtues and then they contend with the devil. In Hildegard’s play the usual order of assigning parts for that day were reversed – women played the parts of the virtues and a man played the part of the devil.

During her lifetime, Hildegard composed seventy vocal works. In the 1980’s they were rediscovered and many have now been recorded. She had composed the music and the lyrics. Her works show her love and her longing for Christ.

When she was about sixty years old, retirement age for many people today, Hildegard undertook several preaching tours. As she traveled around, she even preached to men, a fact which shows how much respect she had gained by this time. Her sermons sound much like many we hear today; she taught on the corruption of the Church and how it needed cleansing. She gave a tongue lashing to those who were “lukewarm and sluggish” in living the Christian life. She berated those who were slow in justice for the poor.

Hildegard died at age eighty-two on September 17, 1179. With her lifelong learning and perseverance she overcame many obstacles for women in her day. She had seized the opportunities placed before her and worked to her limits. She became one of the most influential women of the Middle Ages. She is a fine example to women to not give up. In our day, women complain of not having the same rights as men, but we have way more than Hildegard did. She did not let that stop her; she was an over-comer.

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This week’s Book Reviews will feature some books about amazing women that you can share with your daughters or other young women. They are a little easier to read, but I enjoyed them tremendously. Sometimes it is nice to read a story in only a couple of sittings, especially if they are well written, as these are. These are stories of godly role models for young women.

Mackenzie, Catherine  –  Christian Heroines Just Like You, (Christian Focus Publications, Scotland, UK, 2009)
    The stories in this book are all only a few pages long. It is an excellent “snapshot” of so many courageous women, many of whom I have written about on this blog. Catherine Mackenzie covers the Early Church period with three famous martyrs – Blandina, Perpetua, and Felicity. She covers the Reformation period with stories of seven brave women, including the martyr, Anne Askew. Next she tells the stories of seven courageous “Covenanters.” These women lived in Scotland and England during the period after the Reformation, but before the king in England would allow the Protestants to read the Bible in their own language and worship God freely. You can read about one of them, Margaret Wilson, elsewhere on this blog. Lastly, there are the stories of four modern women, including Corrie ten Boom.

Persecution and suffering happened to all of these women in history. They were brave and all had a common characteristic – faith in God. They trusted Him to take care of them. But they were also ordinary women like us. Their stories will encourage your heart. In a day when there are too many bad examples of role models for our daughters, here are stories of Christian heroines that we can emulate.

—  There is a group of five books which you can obtain from “Reformation Heritage Books” entitled the “Chosen Daughters” series. These stories are written in an interesting way much like a good fiction book, but of course the women in them really lived and did amazing things for God. Though written for young girls, I enjoyed them very much. The women in the stories are presented in a way that we can identify with. This is also a fun way to learn more about church history, as the essential details are historically accurate. Only the everyday details are filled in with the author’s imagination.

Farenhorst, Christine  –  Wings Like a Dove – The Courage of Queen Jeanne D’Albret, (P & R Publishing, New Jersey, 2006).
Queen Jeanne bravely hid the persecuted Huguenots during the 16th century. In spite of pressure to remain in the “old faith” she stood firm in her convictions. Her son, Henri, would eventually become Henri IV of France.

Herr, Ethel,  –  Dr. Oma – The Healing Wisdom of Countess Juliana von Stolberg, (P & R Publishing, New Jersey, 2006).

Juliana von Stolberg was the Queen Mother of the Netherlands. Her son was the famous, William of Orange, who fought to free the Dutch people from the cruel Spanish rulers. William was one of seventeen children raised by Juliana.

Marston, Hope Irvin  –  Against the Tide – The Valor of Margaret Wilson, (P & R Publishing, New Jersey, 2007).
This is the story of the “Covenanter” Margaret Wilson, who with her 63 year old friend, Agnes M’Lauchlan, was drowned as a martyr rather than deny her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the head of the church. Check out the wonderful bibliography in the back of the book for more great reading on church heroes and heroines.

Farenhorst, ChristineA Cup of Cold Water – the Compassion of Nurse Edith Cavell, (P & R Publishing, New Jersey, 2007).
“The Chosen Daughters series highlights the lives of ordinary women who by God’s grace accomplish extraordinary things.” Nurse Edith Cavell was one of those extraordinary women. Elsewhere on this blog is a summary of her story. There have been several good movies made about her as well. The 1939 film, “Nurse Edith Cavell,” starring Anna Neagle, is fairly historically accurate. It does not tell as much about her Christian upbringing as I would have liked to have seen, but her faith is made plain at the end when she is in prison.  This movie is well worth watching, anyway. For more on her strong Christian faith, read the book.

Carr, Simonetta  –  Weight of a Flame – The Passion of Olympia Morata, (P&R Publishing, New Jersey, 2011). This story takes place in the sixteenth century. It is about a young lady who is very intelligent and her father recognizes that. He sees to it that she is well educated during a time when women were supposed to stay at home. Fortunately for posterity, her father, a professor of literature and history, went against the wisdom of the times and his daughter, Olympia became his best student. She became a famous writer even in her own day. This is a wonderful story of courage and faithfulness to the Gospel.

—   There has been lots of interest in two other Reformation heroines in recent times. I will list next two books which give a good overview of their lives.

Hamer, Colin  –  Anne Boleyn – One Short Life That Changed the English-speaking World, (Day One Publications, Leominster, 2007).
Most people remember Anne Boleyn only as the women who usurped the real Queen of England, Catherine of Aragon. Anne was the second wife of Henry VIII, and the first of the two wives to be beheaded. I believe she was innocent of all charges of treason. This book will tell the other side of her story – one of great religious faith and courage. Her influence on Henry VIII caused changes that literally changed the world. This book is an exciting story that reveals a woman that was not the shallow person you usually read about in other works.

Withrow, Brandon G.  –  Katherine Parr – A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Reformation Queen, (P & R Publishing, New Jersey, 2009).
There are a number of books out about Katherine Parr, but this one tells of her contributions to the Reformation. Like Anne Boleyn, she had an influence on Henry VIII that was good. I love the book because it has the texts of her writings included. Katherine’s works are wonderful to read.

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