“And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: And he said, 'when ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it shall be a daughter, then she shall live.’”
Exodus 1: 15, 16
King James Version
“Shiphrah and Puah”
Women of Courage
“In true courage there is always an element of choice, of an ethical choice, and of anguish, and also of action and deed. There is always a flame of spirit in it, a vision of some necessity higher than oneself.”
Have I faced a time in my life when I was called upon to have the courage to stand up to power?
What tactics did I use and what were the results?
”Courage is the price life exacts for granting peace.”
“Without courage, wisdom bears no fruit.”
Yesterday, we finished our study of every named and unnamed woman in the book of Genesis. What a group of strong and interesting women we met. Beginning with Eve the “life-giver,” we tackled the tough stories of Dinah and Tamar. We were provided instructive lessons from Sarah and Rebekah and we dug into the tough family issues faced by Rachel and Leah, Zillah and Adah, Sarah and Hagar. Along the way we uncovered the qualities that were present in unnamed women like Mrs. Noah and daughters-in-law. Sadly, we also learned from the mistakes of Mrs. Lot and her daughters as well as the wily Mrs. Potiphar. But most of all throughout all these stories, the character of a loving God was revealed. A loving Father who expanded His blessings to include the sons of the daughter of a priest of Egypt.
Today we begin a very special study, starting in Exodus 1 which will introduce us to 6 women who changed the world – literally. For without the courage, devotion, compassion, confidence and loyalty of these women, the story of one of the greatest characters in Biblical history, Moses, would be very different.
As we study the lives of Shiphrah, Puah, Pharaoh’s daughter, Jochebed, Miriam and Zipporah, we will identify specific qualities in each of these women that God used to carry out His work on planet earth. What we will find is that there is absolutely no limit to our usefulness when we, as daughters of the King, commit ourselves completely to God’s service as well as to His plan for our lives.
Our study today begins in Exodus 1: 6-8 K.J.V.; “And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation. And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them. Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.”
When Jacob’s family, at the request of his son Joseph, who was the governor of Egypt, arrived in Egypt, the reigning Pharaoh, so grateful that Joseph had saved his country from desolation during the famine, gave this family of 70 the land of Goshen as their home. This fertile region was considered by many historians to be some of the best land in the country. It was in this land of plenty, where Jacob’s ancestors went from being a family to becoming a nation.
After Joseph’s death and a new king came to power, the rapid growth of these foreigners in his country got the immediate attention of the ruler. His thought process went something like this:
1. These foreigners outnumber us.
2. These foreigners are mightier than we.
3. These foreigners might join with an attacking nation to overpower us.
So this Egyptian Pharaoh came up with Plan 1. He would try to break the backs of the children of Israel, by setting “over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens” (Exodus 1: 11, K.J.V.).
But instead of this technique having its desired result, the Bible says, “But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew” (Exodus 1: 12, K.J.V.).
One great idea down! Pharaoh saw that Plan #1 was a flop. So he decided on Plan #2.
Pharaoh called in two women, Shiphrah and Puah, who were Hebrew midwives. These two women were the baby delivery service. The heartless king ordered these women to become wholesale abortionists, with one caveat! If the baby they delivered was a girl, she could live. Every boy was to be slaughtered.
Now let’s go back to some of our previous studies. Remember Pharaoh’s butler and baker?
These two did something Pharaoh didn’t like and boom – they were thrown in prison. Genesis 41 says that these two men “offended” the king and he was “wroth” with them. In the end, the baker was hung.
Now roll time forward. We already know Pharaoh didn’t value women. He would even let useless “baby girls” live. With such devaluation of the lives of women, two midwives standing up to power, could be, and most likely would be an offense so great to Pharaoh it would be grounds for immediate disposal with a snap of his fingers.
However, Exodus 1: 17, K.J.V., holds the key to why these women had the courage to look power in the face, unflinchingly. “But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.”
Author Mary Daly so correctly states that: “You become courageous by doing courageous acts; courage is a habit.” And as Ruth Gordon noted, “Like a muscle, (courage) is strengthened by use.”
For a moment put yourself in these two women’s shoes. The most powerful person in the land has ordered you to do something you don’t believe in. He has commanded you. In fact, he holds the fate of your life in his hands. It’s enough pressure to make your teeth chatter and your knees knock. However, these women left the presence of this ruler with one goal in mind – they weren’t going to kill any innocent children – period!
Think how you would feel at the next delivery you were called to. I know the first thing I would do was check the sex of the baby. What a relief if the child were a girl. But if it was a boy – what were these ladies to do?
The answer to their dilemma was simple. They “feared God.” Not in an “afraid” way, but in an “honoring” way. They respected God over Pharaoh. God’s gift of life meant more to them than Pharaoh’s threat of death!
Soon Pharaoh began to hear that baby boys were still being born, so he ordered the midwives back for a little chat:… “Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive?” (Exodus 1: 18, K.J.V.).
The finger of guilt was pointed directly at the two women. Their response, however, could easily have been those of author Emily Bronte: “No coward soul is mine, no trembler in the world’s storm – troubled sphere.”
Tomorrow, we will study exactly how these women responded to pressure and how they responded to power. What lessons their lives contain for women in the 21st century.
Bishop George Ridding penned a beautiful litany of remembrance in the 1800’s. This second stanza expresses what I pray my response to pressure from power would be if called upon to stand up for truth:
“From moral weakness of spirit; from timidity; from hesitation; from fear of others and dread of responsibility, strengthen us with the courage to speak the truth in love and self-control; and alike from the weakness of hasty violence and weakness of moral cowardice, save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.”
“Give us courage, O Lord, to stand up and be counted, to stand up for others who cannot stand up for themselves. To stand up for ourselves when it is needful to do so. Let us fear nothing more than we fear thee. Let us love nothing more than we love thee, for then we shall fear nothing also. Let us have no other God before thee, whether nation or party or state or church. Let us seek no other peace but the peace which is thine, and make us its instruments, opening our eyes and our ears and our hearts, so that we should know always what work of peace we should do for thee.”
Dorothy Valcarcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus