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If Shiphrah and Puah Had Told the Truth

If Shiphrah and Puah Had Told the Truth

In most of the articles, blog posts, and sermons I’ve read, Shiphrah and Puah have been lauded for their faith in God, but it was their fear (or awe) of Him that led to their actions. Certainly, Shiphrah and Puah, along with all of the Hebrew midwives they represent, had heard about Abraham, Isaac, and Lot. When they were little girls, they must have learned about the wrath of God during the time of Noah. And they had likely heard about the Tower of Babel and the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. These women understood that the God of their forefathers possessed an unimaginable arsenal of power. He was a judge and jury, dispensing justice on wayward humans. It was through the telling of their ancestor’s history that they learned to fear God. So, they dared not anger Him.
           From a personal perspective, the Hebrew midwives witnessed God’s power and passion in the miracle of birth. With the cries of each newborn, a deep appreciation for the sanctity of life must have flooded their hearts. They understood that the God who punished people also created them.
           In a patriarchal society where women were not counted, were bought and sold with a dowry, were valued according to their ability to give birth to a son, and were dependent on the men in their lives for survival, the Hebrew midwives found themselves in a precarious situation.
They were members of a race of people who multiplied from seventy of Joseph’s family members (Gen. 46:26-27) who relocated to Egypt during the great famine (Gen. 41:53-57). In Exodus 1:9, the Pharaoh exclaimed they were “more and mightier than we.” The Pharaoh knew nothing of their God or Joseph and his brothers. So, he decided to reduce their numbers. He summoned the Hebrew midwives (Shiphrah and Puah) and commanded them to kill the Hebrew baby boys at birth (Ex.1:16). Verse 17 says, “but the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive.”
They had been ordered by the most powerful man in the land to destroy what they knew was the work of God. They found themselves standing between two opposing powers, that of a mighty God they feared and a powerful man they feared. So they devised a plan to save the male babies and themselves. They lied. Saving the babies took courage. But lying to the Pharaoh was cowardly.
           I have often wondered what might have happened if the midwives had trusted God with their lives and admitted to the Pharaoh that they had purposely disobeyed him. Like Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego who stood before King Nebuchadnezzar and declared, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” The result of their profession of faith provided God with an opportunity to demonstrate His faithfulness and power. In Daniel 3:28-29, an astonished heathen King proclaimed, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! Therefore, I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.”
           There are several times in scripture when God strategically placed his people on the dividing line between faithlessness and faithfulness and then waited to see what they would choose. Every time they trusted Him, God came through miraculously. Look at Moses and the Israelites when they had the Red Sea at their backs and Pharaoh’s army in hot pursuit (Gen. 14). No one expected God to open the Red Sea so His people could cross on dry land. But because they obediently followed God to that spot, He delivered them and shamed the Pharaoh. Remember Daniel, who emerged from a den of lions unscathed because of his faithfulness to his God. And once again, a heathen king made a declaration of faith. King Darius said, “I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom, men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God, and steadfast forever; His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall endure to the end (Dan. 6:26).”
  Shiphrah and Puah did not have the benefit of the stories I mentioned above to stir their confidence in the saving power of God. The women preceded them by hundreds of years. And nothing in their life experiences gave them any reason to believe God would take their side against a man, primarily because they had been taught that God had established their station in life. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that God had handed them the unique opportunity to be the first women through whom He could demonstrate His saving grace.
We can only speculate, of course, but if God had been given the chance to come to their rescue, the Israelites may not have suffered so long in bondage, and the Egyptians may not have had to endure ten plagues. Perhaps a more amicable separation could have taken place. Of greater significance, however, is the possibility that Hebrew women might have been held in higher esteem by their male counterparts once they saw God’s impartial treatment of them.
           Look, for example, at Zelophehad’s five daughters. Their father “died in the wilderness…and he had no sons (Num. 27:3).” Because they were women, they were not counted in the census and, therefore, not eligible to inherit the land. Zelophehad’s daughters wisely interpreted the laws of their day regarding inheritances and then bravely “stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting (Num. 27:2)” to argue their case. They said, “Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen! (Num. 27:4).” Moses brought their case before the Lord, and the Lord spoke to Moses saying, “The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance (Num. 27:7).” Had these women remained silent, they would not have become land owners.
           Even though Shiphrah and Puah could not muster the courage to admit their actions to the Pharaoh, Exodus 1:20-21 tells us, “Therefore, God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty. And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that He provided households for them.” It is safe to conclude that God provided households for all Hebrew women. That is what led to their ballooning population in the first place. The point of verses 20-21, therefore, is to assure us that the midwives suffered no repercussions from the Pharaoh or the Lord.
           There is a lot we can learn from Shiphrah and Puah. They were aware of God’s power and knew He could create life and destroy it. For them, it appears, these truths were not up for debate. They were certain of God’s ability and willingness to condemn and destroy. But it never occurred to them that their God was as willing to save and deliver. So, their knowledge of God was incomplete, and as far as we know, it remained that way.
           What Shiphrah and Puah show us is that there is a vast expanse between fearing God and trusting Him. Anyone who has been oppressed knows that those who are powerful may use that power against them. So, for them, trust is more challenging to achieve. Fearing God is an excellent place to start (Prov. 9:10), but if you want to experience His power at work in your life, you must trust Him. While the journey from fearing God to trusting Him may be a lifelong endeavor for some, depending on their circumstances, it is worth taking. Only after you have reached the milestone of trust can you truly come to know God.
Tiyrenä – the primitive root, to fear. Morally, to revere. Causatively to frighten.
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