Updated: Oct 23, 2021
Learning from the little-known legacy
of Shiphrah and Puah
Shiphrah and Puah Stand Before the King
Sketch by Tiffany Salerno, coloring by Anthony Salerno
Just a couple of little-known women going against a great big government.
Shiphrah and Puah lived in Egypt, where the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was not honored. They worked in the healthcare industry, which was controlled by a government whose instructions went against their beliefs.
How did they handle the mandate they were given?
Today, let’s examine the story of Shiphrah and Puah, a pair of little-known women who made an indelible mark upon history and saved many lives through their brave decision.
The king of Egypt told them to do something they knew was wrong, so they did not comply.
Instead, they risked the king’s approval — and possibly their own lives — to save the children in their nation.
How similar is that to what we may be called to do today?
As authorities more and more try to force people to comply with mandates that could be harmful to people of all ages, especially children, I believe we are entering an era in which the people of God will need to be braver than ever.
(You can learn more about these topics if you search for statistics and news about masks, lockdowns, vaccines and more on good-hearted search engines like DuckDuckGo, unlike Google, which bowed to the abortion industry’s demands to rid their engines of ads about abortion reversal pills that have saved thousands of lives — https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/google-blocks-ad-for-safe-and-effective-abortion-pill-reversal/).
In the past, we could comply with most things we were told and get by while still being obedient to God, but that era is quickly coming to a close.
We are now in a season where we need bold people of faith who will stand up to the system, and, as a woman myself, I am particularly inspired by these two women — Shiphrah and Puah.
Their story is told in Exodus 1:8-22.
These women weren’t famous and they didn’t have a ton of Instagram followers. They didn’t talk on the radio or get seen on TV. But they made a huge impact.
To summarize what happened — the king of Egypt told them that when they were working as midwives with Hebrew women, whenever a son came out, they should kill the baby, but if a daughter came out, they could let the baby live.
They were literally being told to kill babies. And the person telling them that was the top governmental leader in their nation.
The Word says, though, that the midwives did not do as the king commanded them. Why? Weren’t they afraid?
The midwives weren’t afraid of the king because “the midwives feared God” (Exodus 1:17).
For those unfamiliar with the concept of the “fear of God,” this phrase doesn’t mean that they were afraid of God, per se, but that that they honored and respected Him as the ultimate authority. To “fear God” means to recognize that He is the highest power in the universe and that He will deal justly with each of us someday. He loves us all and wants us to come to Him in repentance, but He will not tolerate evil forever. Eventually, if people do not turn to Him, they reap what they have sown.
Since the midwives had this mindset, they obeyed God instead of complying with the human authorities.
Jewish scholar and activist Francine Klagsbrun wrote in her book, “Voices of Wisdom,” that Shiprah and Puah’s refusal to comply with the mandate “may be the first known incident of civil disobedience in history.”
Understandably, the midwives got in trouble with the king.
He called them in to speak to him (Exodus 1:18).
I wonder if they fasted and prayed before their meeting. When it came time, I wonder if their voices shook as they spoke to the displeased king, or if God just gave them supernatural peace. The Word doesn’t tell us those details. But it does say that they told the king, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them” (Exodus 1:19).
I believe God helped them think of the right thing to say. Apparently, the king accepted their answer and let them go. But more important than the king’s response is the King of Kings’ response.
The Bible says, “Therefore, God dealt well with the midwives. … And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that He provided households for them” (Exodus 1:20-21).
The Hebrew verb written as “dealt well” is also translated as, “to be glad, be joyful, to be pleasing, to go well with,” and “to make a thing good or right or beautiful.” So, the Lord made things glad, joyful, pleasing, well, good, right and/or beautiful for them, and He even gave them households as a reward for their obedience to Him.
The Hebrew word translated as "household" can also refer not only to physical dwellings but also can be translated as "family" or "family of descendants, descendants as organized body" (possibly like a dynasty). Could it be that either or both of them were single or barren before this incident, and then God brought their husband and/or children as a blessing for their God-honoring boldness?
These wordings, as listed in Strong's Outline of Biblical Usage remind me of how young women sometimes ask me for my advice on moving from singleness to marriage. I always tell them that the secret solution to finding a godly man is to FOLLOW JESUS.
The Word doesn't tell us exactly what these women had prior to this incident in terms of families and houses, as compared to exactly what God gave them after that, but we do know that God blessed them as a reward for their God-honoring decision.
Isn’t it better to receive the provision of God than the provision of man?
On this earth, the women’s stance made a powerful impact. Due to their fear of God and dismissal of evil regulations, “the (Hebrew) people multiplied and grew very mighty” (Hebrews 1:20), paving the way for the One who saved us all.
What about you? Does the story of Shiphrah and Puah fire you up like it does me? Would you be bold to defy the government if they asked you to do something that you knew in your heart was wrong, or would you behave like a dead fish and go with the flow, figuring that you just have to comply because, well, you “have to?”
May we live with the selfless boldness of Shiprah and Puah, through the power of Christ.
SIDE NOTE ON SISTERHOOD
Video clip from QueenStatus promo video, produced by Oumie Garba, second from right. You may recognize me on the left 😊
As a side note, I think it’s important to point out the sisterhood aspect of Shiphrah and Puah, as discussed in the Crosswalk article, “5 Courageous Women from the Bible You May Have Forgotten,” by Mary Carver.
The article says,
“Shiprah and Puah’s belief in God and their mission — and the support they received from one another — gave them strength. These women were stronger together, knowing that they could support each other in their task of saving the Hebrew boys. Together, they honored the Lord by their regard for human life. Together, they saved a generation of Israelites and gave hope to a frightened, oppressed people.” (highlighted emphases mine)
The importance of the people of God coming together — especially in tight-knit groups, where men minister to men and women minister to women — is so important to help us stay strong. When the enemy pushes in from every side, we have to help each other.
As Chris August sings in “7x70”:
“The enemy tries to come and divide
Trying to get us to give up the fight
But darkness will always lose out to light
‘Cause we have the power of Christ on our side.”
Together, we can say with the Psalmist,
“The Lord is on my side;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
"The Lord is for me among those who help me;
It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in man.
It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in princes (I add: presidents and their medical advisors, governors, media spokespeople indirectly paid and swayed by pharmaceutical companies, bosses requiring jabs, etc.).
The voice of rejoicing and salvation
is in the tents of the righteous.” (Psalm 118: 6-9, 15)
Who can you call today to encourage one another to speak up for God in this time? The righteous are called to be bold as lions (Psalm 28:1), so let’s help embolden each other.
“... sisters, warn those who are idle, disruptive and lazy; encourage the timid and disheartened; help and take care of those who are weak; and be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14, NIV and NLT).