The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah. ~ Exodus 1:15
This is it. The beginning of the epic saga that includes Moses’ birth, the famous 10 plagues, and the triumphant exodus from Egypt. In this whole story, we never learn the identity of the king of Egypt. He’s probably the most powerful guy on the face of the planet, but we never learn his name. Historians and Bible scholars all have their theories on which Pharaoh is the one we read about in Exodus, but no one really knows for sure.
In contrast, here are these two women – Shiphrah and Puah – whose names were deemed worthy enough of recording in God’s holy word. Why? Who are they anyway?
16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”
These women are the lowest of the low to Pharaoh. He probably charged them with their mission because he didn’t want to degrade (or bother) Egyptian midwives to do the job. They had more important babies to birth. But he knew these Hebrew women were perfectly positioned to do what he needed, and who would dare to disobey him?
17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.
Their fear of God was greater than their fear of Pharaoh. And despite being women…even worse, Hebrew, slave, women…they took a stand. They didn’t let their position or the pressure put on them keep them from doing what they knew was right.
18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
Can you imagine being in their shoes? They had just defied the most powerful man in the world, were caught red-handed, and are now standing front and center with his anger staring them in the face.
19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
What kind of excuse is that?! And Pharaoh buys it! I can just imagine him, a powerful, pampered, man, suddenly squeamish and disgusted by the subject matter at hand.
This story concludes: 20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
They didn’t just live to tell the tale, they got a happy ending! (And part of me wonders, since it’s mentioned so specifically – were they older women who had trouble having children before this? Or were they single women still wondering when all their puzzle pieces were going to come together? It doesn’t really matter. What matters is God saw their faithfulness and lavished them with his favor. He loved them so much that he gave.)
Their story inspires me. It’s a reminder that greatness isn’t always measured by position or power. Heroes don’t always get chapters and books and epics dedicated to their name. Sometimes they simply sparkle in the context of a single verse. They may seem small, like mustard seeds. But their faith moves mountains.
That’s how God does things. He uses the foolish things to shame the wise and the weak things to shame the strong. He calls us by name and uses us exactly as we are -- with our exact skill set and in our exact position.
Midwives who saved a nation? Sounds unlikely. But it’s totally true.
Who are Shiphrah and Puah? Ordinary women, who had the audacity to stand up to the most powerful man in the world. They are bright beacons of faith who simply did the right thing, and their bravery is the catalyst that sets the stage for the rest of the Exodus story. They stood up in the path of reckless hate and came away the victors.
Who are they? These women are heroes!
Take that Pharaoh.