“Whatever breaks down the modest reserve, the domestic virtues, the persuasive gentleness, of woman, is an injury done to the community.” — John Angell James
I forgot to say Merry Christmas. Decades of Christmases have come and gone in my life and every single year I’ve forgotten to say Merry Christmas and thank you to someone who singlehandedly saved the holiday.
No, I’m not talking about the Grinch, Charlie Brown, nor even Santa. The overlooked heroine didn’t found the internet and has never worked for Disney. She isn’t immortalized in a single statue, her name isn’t written in neon on even one billboard, and there’s not a single manger scene with her representation.
Alas, I am as guilty as the rest of our distracted population. Until this year, I didn’t meet or understand the woman who literally risked her life to follow her conscience and in so doing, preserved Christmas for the world.
Her name was Puah. I hope that you’ll write that name on a sticky note and put it inside the cover of your Bible. Promise yourself that before Dec. 25 next year, you’ll read her legacy in Exodus, chapter one. For now, I’ll abbreviate a few main events so that when the wrapping is shredded and the boxes are emptied out at your house, you can pause and ponder Puah.
Puah was an ordinary Jewish woman, a wife, and mother who also worked to help support her family. She trained well for her work and spent years unselfishly giving of herself, every day.
To do good and serve others was all that Puah ever anticipated out of life. She never wanted to be in the spotlight, she didn’t volunteer for controversy, and she even tried to avoid confrontations. Puah was a quiet, principle-centered servant who never asked to make history.
The day that ripped Puah’s life from obscurity began as any other. She brushed her teeth, spent an hour in prayer and Bible study, and went to work. Then, completely unexpectedly, her boss, the king, called her into a meeting. Poor trusting Puah, she supposed that he wanted to envision the future. Visionary leadership was one of Puah’s most developed gifts. She took an administrative timeline into the meeting and projected the construction of a new facility. Alas, the king didn’t want to listen or even discuss ideas or progress. He had collected mispackaged data and came to an unexamined conclusion.
The Jewish families in Egypt were strong and healthy. The children were numerous. The king was threatened by the thriving population. Instead of seeing the increased populous as a broader base of human resources, the king saw it as a liability. He began the terrible “What if?” scenario. “What if” the Jewish people reproduce faster than the Egyptians do? “What if” they begin to question the status quo? “What if” they start to ask questions about inequities? What if they invite labor organizers into Egypt? The king’s own assumptions clouded his reason and so he decided to act upon his postulated assumptions.
He said, “Puah, go in to your office and work as a midwife, as you’ve done for the last 20 years. There is now a new item in your job description. Do not think for yourself. Do not question your superiors, and absolutely do not ask ethical questions. When you deliver the first baby, follow these instructions. If the child is a girl, let her live, but if a boy child is born you shall kill him” (Exodus 1:16). Puah almost dropped her notepad as the gravity of her boss’ words sank deeply. “Does he know what he is asking? Does he really expect me to violate my own values? Can he expect a nurturer to destroy life?”
Hum, can you see Puah leaving the office with her briefcase in her hand? To disobey the king could mean death for herself and her family. To obey the king would mean certain death for her conscience and her core identity. Puah knew she had to do the right thing, regardless of the cost, and that is what she did.
I won’t tell you Puah’s fate. Whether she was hung at sunrise, victorious in employment litigation or cheered in a parade is up to you to find out. What I will tell you is that Puah didn’t even pause to consider killing a single baby. In fact, she kissed each one on the forehead and whispered a prayer as she wrapped him up and handed him to his mother.
Among those babies that weren’t killed was a baby in the lineage of Christ. He was a great-grandson of Judah, son of Jacob. That boy grew up and had sons, and his sons had sons, and somewhere along the way those sons marched victoriously out of Egypt, and one of those sons became King David and sat on the throne in Israel. One of his sons was Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived and the ancestor of Joseph, Christ’s earthly father. Another of David’s son’s was Nathan, the ancestor of Mary, the mother of Christ.
So, Merry Christmas, Puah. Thank you for allowing us all to receive the greatest Christmas gift.
Robin Richmond Mason grew up in the Beaverdale community of Whitfield County. She resides with her husband and four children in Paint Lick, Kentucky, and teaches at Eastern Kentucky University. She can be reached via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.