Brave women. The story of Moses, Part 1
To introduce the background of the story of Moses in the bulrushes. To think of those who have no choices about how they are governed.
by Jill Fuller
Suitable for Key Stage 2
To introduce the background of the story of Moses in the bulrushes. To help pupils to reflect on oppression and the courage of the midwives. To think of those who have no means of expressing dissent or of changing their rulers.
Preparation and materials
- Familiarize yourself with the story of the Israelites in Egypt, in Exodus 1. The Good News Bible gives a very readable account.
- It may be helpful to have the names of the midwives, Shiprah and Puah, written up on a card or board.
- Ask the children if they have heard on the news of countries where there are cruel leaders who try to eliminate people of a particular race. Older children may have heard the term 'ethnic cleansing'. Some children may know about the holocaust. Explain that these terrible events happen when there is no true democracy - no possibility of challenging or changing the government.
- Briefly tell the story contained in Exodus 1.1-14. The story is about the Israelites, the descendants of Joseph (the one with the amazing coat!) and all his brothers, who had gone to Egypt to escape famine. They had grown in such numbers that the 'new king who knew nothing about Joseph' (verse 8) became worried about the possible power of the Israelites (verses 9-10), and put in place a rule of terror and slavery. He forced the Israelites to work, in order 'to crush their spirits with hard labour' (verses 11-14).
- With the children, explore the reasons why the Egyptian Pharaoh (king) wanted to get rid of the Israelites.
- Explain that the cruel treatment did not destroy the Israelites and so the Pharaoh decided on a second plan to crush them. This plan involved getting two midwives to help him (ensure that the children understand that a midwife is someone who helps a mother while her baby is being born).
The Pharaoh ordered two Israelite midwives, Shiprah and Puah, to kill any Israelite baby boy as soon as he was born (verses 15-16). The midwives, unwilling to commit murder, disobeyed the Pharaoh. They tricked him by saying that the Israelite women had their babies so quickly that the midwives could not reach them in time to take the infants and kill them (verses 19-21).
- Discuss with the children both Pharaoh's plan and the response of Shiprah and Puah. Do the children think the midwives acted rightly? What risks do they think the midwives were taking in disobeying the Pharaoh? How would the midwives have felt as they told the Pharaoh their story? How would the Israelite mothers have felt about the midwives?
- Since this second plan had not worked, Pharaoh, still determined to get rid of the Israelites, gave a command to the Egyptian people to seize every newborn baby Israelite boy and throw him into the Nile (verse 22).
- Discuss how this would have made both the Egyptians and the Israelites feel. Would some Egyptians perhaps feel sympathy for the Israelites? What they would have done if they were an Egyptian and found an Israelite baby boy? Would the Israelites look at every Egyptian with fear? What they would have done if they were an Israelite and a new baby boy had been born into their family? Explain that the next assembly will tell the story of such a baby and what his mother and sister did.
Time for reflection
It may be appropriate to play the theme music of the film Schindler's List during the time for reflection.
Invite the children to reflect on the actions of Shiprah and Puah. Are there ever times when people should disobey their government?
What do they think had helped Shiprah and Puah to be so brave?
Invite the children to remember those who live in countries where there is violence and oppression and people cannot vote for change, as we can in this country.
We thank you for brave people who do the right thing,
even if it brings them into terrible danger.
Help us always to stand up for what is right.
'I'm gonna lay down' (Come and Praise, 142)
Literacy: Write a persuasive letter to Pharaoh, asking him to change his actions. Write a newspaper report of the treatment of the Israelites by Pharaoh. Pretend you are Shiprah or Puah and write an account of the story from your viewpoint.
PSHE: Use the story as a basis to explore issues of bullying and to discuss why people bully and oppress others. Make a collage of newspaper articles or pictures about parts of the world where slavery or oppression still happens. Ask a speaker from a local branch of Amnesty International to speak to the children.
RE: Explore the life of a leader who has made a stand against oppression, e.g. Archbishop Romero of San Salvador or Archbishop Luwum of Uganda.