Shiphrah and Puah: Courageous Midwives

We’ve all heard the story of how Moses was saved by his mother who hid him from Pharaoh’s soldier’s and then set him in a basket of reeds along the bank of the Nile, but it recently came to my attention that if it hadn’t been for the courage of two midwives who “feared God” Moses’ mother may never have even had the chance to try and save her son. It’s a story I had never heard or noticed until recently, but one that I think is worth telling. Here is my retelling of the story of Shiphrah and Puah in honor of International Women’s Day. This post is also part of the International Women’s Day synchroblog, so please also visit the links below to see what others have to say in honor of women today.

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I could feel Puah trembling next to me as we waited in the great hall. We had been summoned by Pharaoh himself. What could he want with us? It’s true we had gained quite a lot of recognition… there had been so many successful births that the Hebrew people were growing as quickly as wild grass by the Nile. Many attributed that to our skill, but we knew better – God was blessing His people. Perhaps Pharaoh had heard of us and wanted to learn our tricks and see the midwives who were at the heart of the Hebrew’s growth. But, something in my gut didn’t believe that was the case. I had heard stories of those who were summoned before Pharaoh and they did nothing to put my worries at ease. I was lost in my own contemplations, when we heard the door at the end of the hall swing loudly open and Pharaoh and his many attendants and guards entered the room. He sat down on a large chair directly in front of us and called us forward. I could see why the people called him a son of the gods, he had a strength and regality to him that I had never seen before. Here was a man who was accustomed to having people do whatever he commanded and who could give and take life at whim without a second thought.

“You are the midwives of the Hebrew people, is that right?” He asked us.

“Yes.” I replied, suddenly very aware that everyone in the room was staring at us as if they were weighing us on a measure.

“Then hear this, the word of Pharaoh, the word of the gods: The Hebrew slaves are growing too strong and must be subjugated. Therefore I lay down this command to you, midwives of the Hebrew people, when you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl let her live. This is my command. Do you understand?”

I stood there in shock for a minute before answering hesitantly, “I understand.”

“Good. And you understand the penelty if you fail to follow my command?” I trembled, but did not need to answer, everyone knew well what happened to those who disobeyed Pharaoh.

“You are dismissed.” And with a wave of his hands his guards quickly ushered us from the room.

We walked slowly as we left Pharaoh’s palace, both lost in our own thoughts.

After a while Puah spoke softly at first but with growing strength, “We cannot do it… We cannot kill these precious little lives that have the hand of God so strongly upon them. Our purpose and calling is to aide in bringing forth life not to take it away. There is one God and he is the God of the living, we cannot rightly stand before him with the blood of his people on our hands. Pharaoh may kill us… but… I cannot take the life that He has given.” A shiver ran up my spine as I heard her speak. I knew she was right, but I knew the consequences of the decision we were making. I took her hand and smiled and said, “Well, at least we will face what is to come together, my friend.” I tried to shake off the fear that hung so tangibly in the air.

We hadn’t gone more than a few steps farther when a young girl came running up to call us to her mother who was in the last stage of labor. The poor girl had been searching for us for hours as her mother labored alone. We ran with her to the house and found that the woman had just given birth to a beautiful baby boy. It was the first test of our decision. I cleaned the baby and handed him to his mother to feed. She smiled at him and they looked at each other with the look of love that can only be exchanged between mother and child after the difficult passage of birth. As Puah and I looked on an idea came to me, “Puah, we will not obey Pharaoh, but if we are called back to him to give an account for our disobedience we will tell him that all Hebrew women give birth like this women, quickly and vigorously, giving birth before the midwives arrive.” She looked at me with a bit of wonder, for it was not normally in my nature to be untruthful, but she knew as I did that it was a good plan. Pharaoh could not fault us for our disobedience if we were not present at the birth to obey or disobey.

And so that is exactly what we did. We continued to deliver babies and did all we could to keep each alive as we had always done, and when we were called to Pharaoh we told him what we had to and he let us go. God looked kindly on us and today I can sit and tell you this story, child, for it was not long after this that God gave us families of our own. I want you to remember, my daughter, that Pharaoh may be powerful and his slave drivers may be fierce but God is more powerful than he is, and God will deliver us from his hand. But, in the mean time you must act bravely and do what you know you must for we do not belong to Pharaoh, but to God… Oh, and remember a little bit of cunning, when used for good purpose, can sometimes be a very good thing.

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Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany

Julie Clawson on the God who sees
Steve Hayes on St. Theodora the Iconodule
Sonja Andrews on Aunt Jemima
Sensuous Wife on a single mom in the Bible
Minnowspeaks on celebrating women
Michelle Van Loon on the persistant widow
Lyn Hallewell on the strength of biblical women
Shawna Atteberry on the Daughter of Mary Magdalene
Christine Sine on women who impacted her life
Susan Barnes on Tamar, Ruth, and Mary
Kathy Escobar on standing up for nameless and voiceless women
Ellen Haroutunian on out from under the veil
Liz Dyer on Mary and Martha
Bethany Stedman on Shiphrah and Puah
Dan Brennan on Mary Magdalene
Jessica Schafer on Bathsheba
Eugene Cho on Lydia
Laura sorts through what she knows about women in the Bible
Miz Melly preached on the woman at the well
AJ Schwanz on women’s work
Pam Hogeweide on
teenage girls changing the world
Teresa on the women Paul didn’t hate
Helen on Esther
Happy on Abigail
Mark Baker-Wright on telling stories
Robin M. on Eve
Alan Knox is thankful for the women who served God
Lainie Peterson on the unnamed concubine
Mike Clawson on cultural norms in the early church
Krista on serving God
Bob Carlton on Barbie as Icon
Jan Edmiston preached on the unnamed concubine
Deb on her namesake – Deborah
Makeesha on empowering women
Beth Patterson on The whole megilah revisited

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20 thoughts on “Shiphrah and Puah: Courageous Midwives

  1. Thanks for bringing this story to life. It reminds me that even the least of us can join in the work that God is doing to bring justice to the world we live in if we are willing to take the risks.

  2. Dear Bethany–
    I love your telling of this powerful story in first person, embodied, language! Always makes it more real to me–

    Great post, and thanks for stopping by the Virtual Tea House. Still want to do something together, sometime soon…just swamped right now!

    Peace–

  3. hey bethany, i loved your re-telling of the story. it is such a beautiful way to flesh out this tale of courage and risk and integrity-in-action. thanks for sharing it with us!

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