I’ve been reading the first chapter of Exodus – it is the beginning of a fascinating story. And like any other masterful storyteller, Moses sets the scene in such a way to captivate our attention. He uses repetitive words to emphasize key ideas. He uses certain words to help us make connections to the Genesis story. And He tells an unusual story about two women. Of course, his story is also rich with irony.
Shiphrah and Puah
Pharaoh is concerned about how the Israelites are multiplying, growing in population, so much so that Pharaoh sees them as a potential threat to Egypt. Even though Pharaoh enslaves and treats the people ruthlessly, the Israelites prosper. So Pharoah calls Shiphrah and Puah, two midwives who deliver the Hebrew babies. He tells them to kill newborn male babies but to let the female babies live. Shiphrah and Puah fear God, quite obviously more than they fear for their lives in Pharaoh’s land, and ignore his command. Then they lie to him. The scripture says God commends them, not specifically for lying, but because they feared Him.
And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.Exodus 1:19
God’s recognition of the midwives echoes the promise given to Abraham when He promised to bless those who blessed this new family He was calling out as His own (Genesis 12:3).
As I read and re-read this story, I was reminded of Rahab – also acting subversively to protect a people not yet her own. She was a harlot, not someone you expect to find in Jesus’s genealogy, but she is there. To protect the Israelite spies, she lied to the King of Jericho. She showed the spies kindness because she feared their God. And God blesses Rahab and even includes her in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11. Her commendation from God included life for her and all her family!
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?James 2:25
The lesson is not about lying in the face of adversity but about honoring the One True God above all others. The great command is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. If He allows us to be in a position of peril, then He equips us with words and actions that please Him!
Interestingly, the only people named in the first 2 chapters of Exodus are the women, Shiphrah, Puah, and Moses. We don’t know the name of this evil Pharaoh, and, ironically, he was not the least concerned about “girl” babies. And yet women are the ones who God used to deliver and raise up God’s man, His representative, the one who would defeat Pharaoh in the end!
Father, You who designed women
Who redeems them, prepares good work
For them to do, teach us to fear You,
Above all other lesser gods, And to give
You the honor and praise You are due!