Exodus begins with the story of two God-fearing women whose actions change the course of Israelite history: the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah.
In Exodus 1, the Writer sets the scene for their story. From the time of Joseph, the Israelites had lived comfortably among the Egyptians for generations. But a new Pharaoh observes that the Israelites have grown in population to exceed that of his own people, and he worries that the Israelites may use their superior numbers to take over the land.
So, he devises a cruel two-part plan.
First, his people force the Israelites to work for Egypt as slaves, building pyramids and working in Egyptian fields (Exodus 1:13-14).
Second, when Pharaoh sees that the Israelite population is still booming, he decides that their newborn baby boys must be killed.
And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. – Exodus 1:15-16
Instead of choosing to obey the leader of their known world (imagine receiving a direct order from the leader of your country!), Shiphrah and Puah decide to do what Jehovah would have them do.
But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. – Exodus 1:17
No conversation between Shiphrah and Puah is recorded, but I imagine that they must have drawn strength from each other as they resigned themselves to the fact that they most likely would be executed for their actions. But God saved their lives, and thus saved the lives of many little Hebrew boys, perhaps even the great future leaders Joshua and Caleb.
When Pharoah realized that his orders were not being obeyed, he had Shiphrah and Puah visit the palace for a little chat.
And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. – Exodus 1:18,19
I see a bit of humor in this situation, as once again God proves that he can and does control the hearts and minds of world leaders (Proverbs 21:1), and he causes Pharaoh to believe this rather lame excuse.
But believe it he does, and there is no mention in Scripture of his bothering the midwives further. Instead, he switches tactics and orders his own people to throw any baby boys born to the Hebrews into the Nile River, where the poor children would most likely be eaten by crocodiles (Exodus 1:22).
In an ironic twist, Exodus 2 tells the story of a child who was placed into the river as ordered, except that he was first laid in a waterproof basket which would float down the Nile into the arms of Pharoah’s own daughter as she bathed (Exodus 2:5-9).
That child was, of course, Moses, future leader of the Exodus.
Perhaps Moses’ mother took courage from the example of Shiphrah and Puah. Who knows how many Israelite children were saved because of their selfless actions? In any case, the lesson is clear: we must not be afraid to do right, even when it could cost us everything—although, in the case of the Hebrew midwives, it did not. God rewarded their faith and fear of him by saving their lives and even providing them houses (Exodus 1:21).
Other verses to consider:
Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this? – Esther 4:14
The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe. – Proverbs 29:25
Once again, the incredible faith and courage of these Bible characters have inspired me to be brave for the Lord. What characters would you like me to feature on Lives That Inspire? Shiphrah and Puah were suggested by BibleBloggerGirl from Teen, Meet God. I so appreciate your comments and suggestions. God bless!