Captain Kirk and Spock. Napoleon Dynamite and Pedro Sanchez. Thelma and Louise. Marlin and Dory. Forrest Gump and Lieutenant Dan. Han and Chewie. Woody and Buzz. Frodo and Sam.
Shiphrah and Puah.
No, these two women are not featured in a motion picture (at least not yet). However, if they were, it would simply be called, “The Midwives.” Although these two women have not been cast in a summer blockbuster, their story figures prominently as we consider our sermon series about ‘Sharing the Path.’
They share the path, alright. As outlaws.
Go back in time with me to a place when God’s people had made a home for themselves in Egypt. For years, the Hebrews had been revered for their wise son’s stewardship and leadership during a terrible famine. The sons and daughters of Joseph had multiplied exponentially in the years following his death and they filled the land of the Egyptians.
As the story in Exodus details, however, “a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” (Exodus 1:8-10)
Again, it bears repeating: The king dealt shrewdly with them.
As a result, the Egyptians enslaved the Hebrews. They forced them to build cities and to do their bidding. “But, the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly.” (Exodus 1:12-13).
Enter Shiphrah and Puah.
Ever-frustrated by the over-abundant Hebrews, the King sent for these two Hebrew midwives. He told them, “When you help the Hebrew women in child birth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” (Exodus 1:15-16)
Infanticide, horrifically, makes frequent appearances in history. We may recall that Herod once ordered the deaths of all the boys in Bethlehem, two years of age and younger. Jesus narrowly escaped (ironically) to Egypt with Mary and Joseph.
Herod's shrewd thinking is truly cunning. Children are vulnerable and won’t fight back. Easier to nip them in the bud before they blossom into legitimate threats--or so the thinking went among the Pharaohs and the Herods of the world.
“The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.” (Exodus 1:8).
The women feared God. They feared their Maker and did not do what the king had directed. In words later echoed by Peter in Acts 5:29, these women concluded that they “must obey God rather than men.”
What courage this must have required! What pluck! These two women had conspired together, at the risk of their lives, to disobey the king in order to save the Hebrew boys.
The king was none too pleased to learn that his plan had been thwarted. “Why have you done this?” he demanded to know. “Why have you let the boys live?”
The midwives answered, and I quote their clever scheming: “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before we (the midwives) arrive.” (Exodus 1:19)
Ah, Shiphrah and Puah. Not only are they faithful and brave, they too are wickedly clever, as well. “Hebrew women are strong. They give birth before we can get there. Thus, we cannot kill their children before they take their first breaths.”
“So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God (it’s mentioned twice in the text!), he gave them families of their own.” (Exodus 1:21)
Do you have a friend like Shiphrah and Puah? If not, you’d best find one. Each of us needs a friend who will help us to be brave and to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. We need friends to help us remember that we should be fearful of God and not man.
Thank God for the Shiphrah and Puahs of the world. May we be found to be as shrewd and courageous as they.