“The midwives, however, feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live…So God was good to the midwives…he gave them families." (Exodus 1: 17, 20, CSB)
The fact that we are alive means we have a purpose. This purpose falls under the general purpose of mankind, which is to be fruitful, multiply and fill the Earth; to give and maintain the order and beauty of the world God has made; to rule and take care of the animals and our environment so that they flourish; and to worship God alone and love each other. (Genesis 1: 26. -28, CSB). Apart from this general purpose, we also have very specific and individual God- given purposes, which are woven into God’s great story of love and redemption.
The fact of our place in God’s great story may be hard for us to grasp because we lack God’s full perspective, but it is certainly true. I am certain that when God accomplishes His full restoration, we will be able to clearly see how our individual threads fit in. The Bible has many stories of women who, though likely unaware at the time, were an integral thread in the golden cord running from Genesis through to Revelation.
The Bible tells the story of two such women in the first chapter of Exodus. They are mentioned nowhere else in the Bible, but the writer takes the time to clearly name them. Shiphrah means “to be beautiful” and “Puah” means “lass” or “little girl”. These women served under the command of the King of Egypt as midwives, specifically assigned to assist Hebrew women in labour.
The Bible records that the King wanted to engage in sex-selective infanticide so he could reduce the strength of the Hebrews, who were growing great in number. He perceived that he could accomplish this by killing their male babies. To accomplish his purposes, he enlisted the service of the midwives Shiphrah and Puah. They were to observe the Hebrew women as they gave birth, and kill any baby boy delivered. However because the women feared God, seeking to please Him and not man, they did not do as commanded, letting the boys live. Here we see a Scriptural example of civil disobedience. Their story is a powerful example of godly resistance to an evil regime.
Their love of God resulted in the salvation of many lives. In fact, we are told that because of the actions of the midwives, “[The Hebrews] multiplied and became very numerous.” (Exodus 1:20, CSB). It is true that later the King was successful in killing Hebrew baby boys, but he could not use those midwives to do so because they were worshippers of God, i.e. God pleasers. They didn’t know it, but their actions were instrumental in ensuring the birth of Moses, whom God would raise up to deliver His people from bondage in Egypt.
In preparation for writing this devotional I consulted with my retired Aunt, who practiced midwifery for several years. She explained that for every birth, two lives were in her hands; the mother’s and the baby’s. She explained that her mind-set, and that of her colleagues, was to do everything in their power to ensure that both were kept alive, no matter the creed, race or background of the parents. These efforts were doubled for the vulnerable, or in instances where something went wrong. For them, it was a privilege to participate in the miracle of life. She recounted how precious the first breath of a baby is to all involved. It is what they waited for.
My Aunt’s work as a midwife was divinely purposed, and so reflected God’s image. Through her labor she re-enacted God’s work as the great midwife: “It was you who brought me out of the womb, making me secure at my mother’s breast.” (Psalm 22:9, CSB). Again, “You took me from my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 71:6, CSB). And through her labor she was invited to learn more of what it meant for God to do this for her and others-she came to know God more fully.
Shiphrah and Puah’s civil disobedience risked their lives, but it was a risk they were willing to take to please God. And God took note of their worship, rewarding them with families and a key role in God’s great story.
Let us be inspired by the story of Shiphrah and Puah. Let them remind us that we women are all beautiful lasses in God’s sight. If we live our lives with reverence to God, honouring and respecting Him over everyone and everything else, our stories will be greatly woven into God’s great story of love and redemption, in a way that will cause us to marvel.