Thursday, July 9, 2020
Two Amazing Hebrew Women that Faced the King of Egypt
This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. Sandwiched between two giants in the Bible -- Joseph and Moses – is the story of Shiphrah (beautiful) and Puah (groaning). Puah’s name is related to an account of woman giving birth. They are “the Hebrew midwives” in this story.
Exodus opens with a reference the “children of Israel” and Joseph, but in Exodus 1:13, under a king that had not known Joseph, the children of Israel are enslaved and forced to labor in the service of the new king. At that point, the Bible refers to them as the “Hebrews” – meaning aliens and foreigners. Shiphrah and Puah are only referred to as Hebrews, so that means that are to serve the king. Something that makes their story even more remarkable is that the king of Egypt was revered as a semi-divine being by Egyptians.
And the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives,
of whom the name of the one was Shiphrah (beautiful),
and the name of the second Puah (groaning). (v. 15)
What do you think the women thought when they were told the king wanted to speak to them? Usually tribal leaders were called by the king, not women like the midwives. The king intentionally circumvented tribal authorities. By the way, the author of Exodus made an important point by not naming the king and naming the midwives. History would remember their names, but not his!
And the king said:
“When you serve as a midwife to the Hebrew women,
you plural two shall look upon the birth-stool --
if it is a son you plural shall kill him;
but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” (v. 16)
The “birth-stool” was the seat a woman about to give birth was customarily placed on. Therefore, a midwife was the first one to see the baby as it came forth. They were to kill male babies at that critical point before anyone else saw it.
But the midwives feared the unnamed God,
and they did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them –
they preserved the lives of the male children. (v. 17)
Someone, most likely their parents, had taught Shiphrah and Puah the Creation Story of the unnamed God in Genesis 1:1-2:4a. They “feared” the Creator more than they “feared” the king of Egypt. Notice that the king specifically commanded them “to look upon the birth-stool” – but they simply did not look until after the mother, father and probably other relatives saw the baby first! After they saw the baby it would have been impossible to secretly kill it.
And the king of Egypt called the midwives, and said unto them,
“Why have you done this?
Why have you preserved the lives of the male children?” (v.18)
And the midwives said unto Pharaoh:
“Because Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women,
they are more vigorous;
before the midwife comes unto them they have already delivered.” (v. 19)
We now discover that someone else watching what the midwives too!
And the unnamed God did TOV to the midwives;
and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty.
And it came to pass, because the midwives feared the unnamed God,
he made them houses. (vv. 20-21)
The Creator in the story in Genesis 1 looked at the results of the things he had done to see if they were “TOV.” It is translated “good” in our translations, but “good to the Creator” meant that “what had been done protected and preserved lives, made lives more functional and increased them quality of life.” The Creator rewarded the midwives for what they had done by doing something “good” (TOV) for them – and their people! First, the children of Israel continued to be fruitful and multiply – and grew very mighty. Second, the families of Shiphrah and Puah also grew and were blessed.
And Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying:
“Every son that is born (to a Hebrew) you shall cast into the river (Nile),
but let every daughter (born to a Hebrew) you shall let live.” (v. 22)
The author of the story notes an important change in the actions of the king. He is now called “Pharaoh” -- the title of the king’s divine role. A pharaoh was a semi-divine being who mediated between men and gods. He now spoke, “as a semi-divine being” to his people – not to Hebrews. He commanded them to present all Hebrew males that are born as offerings to Hapi, the ancient Egyptian god of the Nile.
Sacrifice them to Hapi would increase your fertility and
ensure that Hapi will nourish our land with the Nile's annual floods.
This story is very similar to Noah’s story for ancient readers.
Because Noah had been taught about
the Creator and his Blessing, his actions saved mankind!
Because Shiphrah and Puah had been taught about
the Creator and his Blessing, their actions saved the children of Israel!
This is the lesson for readers of their story:
Be like Noah, Shiphrah and Puah in your generation --
and teach your children about the Creator and his Blessing too!
I hope you found this informative and thank you for reading it.
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