As I shared in my message this morning about Shiphrah and Puah from Exodus 1, as we journey in our callings, as we respond with courage in the face of the challenges that come before us, we are reminded by Shiphrah and Puah that we do not journey alone. We have our sisters and brothers in faith with all of us strengthened by the grace of Jesus that lifts us up and gives us the strength to follow. I noted in my message about the narrative written about Shiphrah and Puah written from Shiphrah’s perspective. It was written by Bethany Stedman and is published online here. I have copied it here because her site takes a long time to load and I want to be sure that you have the opportunity to read this marvelous reflection upon the courage of these two women – Shiphrah and Puah.
Ms. Stedman’s Introduction (March 8, 2009)
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.
Shiphrah and Puah
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.
“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. 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 bring life not to take it. 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, and that does terrify me, but it is God that I truly fear and 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 could not guess 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 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 a bit of cunning, when used for good purpose, can sometimes be a very good thing.