Most of us would consider ourselves ordinary women doing ordinary things. We are moms repeating the same tedious tasks, day after day. We are college girls with big dreams sitting in boring classes. We are working women, often stuck in thankless jobs. We are retired and aimless. We are married. We wish we were married – or we wish we weren’t.
No matter our differences, we share the facts that we are often unrecognized and we are attempting to be faithful.
We are not unlike two women in the Bible whose story has captivated me since I found it in the book of Exodus. Most of us have never heard of these women, but their actions changed the history of the world. This hidden gem of a story has much to teach us as we pursue a deeper relationship with God.
Allow me to set the stage.
After being sold into Egyptian slavery, Joseph was divinely placed where he could provide food for his people during a time of famine (Genesis 41-50). In the years following, the Israelites settled and flourished in Egypt, which left the new Pharaoh feeling threatened. He dealt with the problematic Israelites by “oppressing them with forced labor” (Exodus 1:11, NIV). However, “the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites” (Exodus 1:12).
Scrambling to gain the upper hand, the Pharaoh came up with a new strategy. This is where we meet our ancient counterparts.
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah,“When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live” (Exodus 1:8-16).
Bless. Shiphrah and Puah. These enslaved women are going about their lives and jobs. The hours were awful and the responsibility was monumental. After all, they are referred to as “the Hebrew midwives” – for a people group multiplying exponentially.
These poor tired working women might have wished someone would notice all their hard work. That is, until the dreadful Pharaoh summoned them by name and gave them an unthinkable command. Can you just imagine how they must have felt?
These are women whose job was to birth life. Now, they’re being told to snuff it out. Perhaps their minds wandered to the heartaches they witnessed when the hope of new life became a moment of great grief. Day in and day out, they held the hands of people whose lives hung in the balance through the difficult task of childbirth.
From that already demanding position, Shiphrah and Puah are now told to intentionally carry out incomprehensible deeds. In light of the direct dictate from a bloodthirsty king, their response is stunning as they are summoned back to face the Pharaoh.
The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them,
“Why have you done this?”
“Why have you let the boys live?”
The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive” (Exodus 1:17-19).
Oh, that I could sit over coffee with these two ladies and hear their version of this courageous stance. I’m intrigued to the point of wanting more details about their private conversations before this standoff with the Pharaoh. While we don’t know the specifics, the Bible concisely tells us that the midwives had a fear and reverence for God that outweighed a fear of the oppressive Pharaoh. In light of their awe for God, the fear of the temporal lost its grip.
This kind of single minded obedience to God is born from a personal history with him. The Hebrew midwives had to know God experiential in such a way that it emboldened them to be daring and brave.
Though enslaved for generations in a foreign land, these women clung firmly to the faith of their fathers. We may not be slaves in a foreign land, but we deal with the captivity of comparison and culture in this world that’s not our home.
In the midst of our own trials, do we trust God to be who he says he will be? Do we preach the gospel of his Sovereignty to our souls, drowning out the voice of the threats against us? As we struggle to do so, are we careful to seek the encouragement of like minded sisters in Christ?
Surely, the bond between the midwives grew as they worked in tandem during emotional and tiring days. This kind of fellowship gives courage in the face of danger.
We, too, must hold each other up with great intention and boldness.
The midwives point us to the truth that in the company of other believers, we find strength for the most terrifying of situations.
While we don’t come eye-to-eye with maniacal dictators, we face the foes of financial struggles, illness, loneliness, and losses. Let’s consider these women who set their gaze on Almighty God. They remind us that where we look determines our course. They refused to operate out of fear for the seen enemy. They chose to look beyond the fearsome Pharaoh to look to the invisible God of their Fathers.
The heavenward gaze of these midwives led to an obedient determination and it allowed them to surrender the results to God. The echo of this story tells us our job is to sow our seeds and leave the harvest and aftermath up to God.
We must keep doing our thing, day after day, despite the obstacles or the monotony or the lack of recognition. Obedience is ours to choose; the results are his to bring. As we strive to surrender, may we be encouraged by how God faithfully moved for Shiphrah and Puah.
“So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own” (Exodus 1:20-21).
How precious that God would honor these women by giving them a family of their own. The midwives learned that obedience to God, motivated by a proper awe of him, is indeed the greatest protection.
According to human logic, they should have been put to death. But God intervened. The God we serve is the same God of Shiphrah and Puah. He still trumps the greatest evil and the wicked threats that come against us.
“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
The story could have ended there. We would all consider it a happy ending for these resilient God-fearing women. But, in the very next chapter, we see the far reaching implications of the midwives’ obedience. In Exodus 2, we read the story of an Israelite woman who gave birth to a baby boy named Moses.
This tells us that in the hands of God, our faithfulness to do our daily tasks can be greatly multiplied to impact history. In fact, it’s all part of a Kingdom plan. Here, in this life, people may never know our name, but the Sovereign God calls us by name to fulfill his purposes.
These midwives beckon us to “Yield to the Story Teller“. Whether our story is easy or hard, we can trust that the Author and Perfecter of our faith is writing paragraphs with eternal value.
I doubt that Shiphrah and Puah ever imagined their story would be included in the Word of God. I’m sure they couldn’t fathom how God would deliver them from Pharaoh. Or that one of the babies they delivered would become the deliverer of God’s people after 430 years in captivity. If we look forward several hundred years, we know that from these Israeli bloodlines, another tiny baby boy was born to become the Deliverer for us all.
Oh, Shiphrah and Puah. I am enamored by these women. I can’t get over their courage and their amazing God. They’ve never been the subject of any sermon I’ve heard. They were just two ordinary women doing their job. They worked together, laughed together, and obeyed God together.
They were the unrecognized faithful. Their story encourages us to keep living out our callings, no matter what comes against us. It reminds us to keep our eyes on God, above all the storms that rage. It informs us that God is worthy of our trust and he is the God who takes all that we surrender to him to weave his beautiful eternal tapestry.
We, as women and daughters of the King of Kings, can be the sisterhood of the unrecognized faithful that dare to take chances like Shiparah and Puah.