There was a stillness in the room now. The cries had quietened down and stopped. The pain had eased. The extreme physical exertion of pushing out a baby was at an end. The tiny baby boy now lay quietly snuggled on his mother. His first cry had been loud and clear. His first feed had been satisfying. And now, his first sleep was deep.
Puah gazed at them. She had done it. She had again been present at a healthy natural birth and both mum and baby were doing well. It never ceased to cause her to pause and thank God for the privilege of being involved in such a special moment. In her opinion the advent of a new life was truly miraculous and she never tired of seeing it occur.
However, she now felt a lump of fear in her throat, a knot in her stomach and anxiety began to grow in her chest and grip her. ‘What if ‘He’ finds out?’ she thought. News travels fast. Surely it couldn’t be kept hidden for long that there was a new Hebrew baby boy in town? She had disobeyed the king… and there would surely be consequences.
The memories of ‘That Meeting’ flooded into her mind. Was it really only last week that she and Shiphrah had been summoned to meet Pharaoh, the king of Egypt? Pharaoh had summoned the midwives and made it clear what he expected. He had told them that these were significant times for the nation and then gave the instruction: ‘When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.’ (v16) After the initial shock of hearing those words, a quick look at the face of the king confirmed that he was serious about what he had said. The two midwives had left the meeting not knowing what to think and it had been playing on their minds ever since. Neither of them had uttered a word to anyone else, but they had agreed between them what they would do.
As she tried to stop the recollections Puah focussed again on why she had decided to disobey the king. It was not right to kill anyone. Ever. And helpless newborn babies? She shuddered at the thought. God was the Giver of Life. Only He had the right to decide whether someone lived or died. Although Pharaoh was powerful and ruthless, it was God alone whom she truly feared (v17). She knew in her heart of hearts that the king’s request could never be the right thing to do, however dire the consequences might be for her.
She glanced again at the sleeping baby boy and his peaceful mother. They seemed fine. She would visit again in the morning to see how they were doing. And as she looked she felt a rising conviction that she had done the right thing and that God was pleased with her faith.
* * *
Following this first baby boy being allowed to live, there were others. Both Shiphrah and Puah refused to kill the male children. In due course it was noticed and they were summoned again to appear before Pharaoh. He asked, ‘Why have you done this thing and let the boys live?’ (v18). Their response was, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.’ (v19). It is such a good response as clearly it is well outside of the expertise of the king and he is unable to dispute their claim!
The order for the midwives to kill the male babies was just one in a series of increasingly malicious and evil decisions made by the paranoid Pharaoh regarding the Hebrew people who lived within his borders. It begins back in verse 8 with the ominous introduction: ‘Now a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.’ Joseph, a Hebrew, had helped to save the nation some 350 years before and had been elevated to the position of prime minister of Egypt, being second only to Pharaoh in terms of power. The implication of the new Pharaoh not knowing Joseph is that he didn’t know Joseph’s God either. This meant that the increase in number of the Hebrews was viewed as a cause for concern (v9) in case they decided to rise up, fight the Egyptians and leave the land (v10).
Pharaoh’s first solution, which he terms ‘dealing wisely with them’ (v10) is to subject the Israelites to hard labour (v11). They built some cities and were treated increasingly harshly as time went on (vv12- 14). But this only resulted in the Israelites growing in number and the Egyptians fearing them more and more.
This leads to Pharaoh’s second plan which is described above: asking the Shiphrah and Puah to murder the newborn males upon delivery. When, as we’ve seen, this doesn’t lead to the desired outcome Pharaoh reaches to the very depths of evil and tells his people to engage in genocidal acts by commanding them with, ‘Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive.’ (v22) Let the horror of that sink in for a minute. Here is a king who is mobilising his people to slaughter the male babies of a people group who live as neighbours. It is clear that he wishes to annihilate the Israelites. It is horrific. And it should shock us.
It is into this context we see the courage and faith of Shiphrah and Puah. It was no easy task to refuse to do what the king ordered them to do. If he was prepared to order the killing of as many babies as he deemed necessary, it would not have been a big issue for the uncooperative midwives to have had an unfortunate ‘accident’. God, however, does not allow anything to happen to them. He sees their faith in fearing God and disobeying the king (v17), hears their responses to Pharaoh and ‘is good to them….and established households for them’ (vv20,21). I love this! God uses these midwives to protect and save babies and then He blesses them with families of their own. Isn’t it so typical of the way God works?
In the midst of an unfolding horror the faith of these two women shines like a beacon and challenges each of us to live lives where the priorities of God trump all other considerations. They were prepared to stand up to a heartless and evil king, risking their own lives, in order to preserve the lives of many.
Shiphrah and Puah: Two remarkable women who were God’s midwives!
This post is dedicated to my pregnant sisters-in-law, Lisa & Carrie. May you have faith and courage like Shiphrah and Puah and know God’s blessing as He ‘establishes your households’.