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Shiphrah and Puah: Two Biblical Women Who Deserve More Credit

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.

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When I was in seminary, my Old Testament professor shared that two midwives deserve more credit than they are given in modern-day preaching and teaching. He promised that during the semester he was going to give Shiphrah and Puah the credit they should have. By the end of the semester, my classmates and I knew as much about Shiprah and Puah as we know about some of our older aunts.

On Monday's Day and Women's Day, preachers often preach sermons about the most well-known biblical women. I have heard a lot of sermons in my lifetime, and I can't remember ever hearing one about Shiphrah and Puah.

Preachers miss the opportunity to preach about the two midwives. Instead, they skip what the midwives did and begin with Jochebed, Moses' mother who designed a basket so her baby would not drown in the Nile River. Actually, the story of Moses' birth and safety started long before that.

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It is fine to tell how Zochebed saved her baby's life. However, the midwives saved Moses first. Therefore, they should be included in Moses' biopic because they refused to throw him in the river when they delivered him. It was nine months later when Jochebed designed a basket to put him in the Nile River because she could not hide him any longer. The baby was found by Pharaoh's daughter who took him as her own.

Shiphrah and Puah's Story

Let's begin at the beginning with Shiphrah and Puah's story (Exodus 1:15–21) after we find out how the Hebrews got to Egypt in the first place.

At the end of the book of Genesis, Joseph has just rescued Egypt and the surrounding region from seven years of famine. In return, Pharaoh invited Joseph's family of about 70 individuals to move to Egypt to be with Joseph.

After a few hundred years, Joseph’s family had grown to many more than 70 people who initially moved to Egypt. There was a new Pharaoh who made them slaves because he was threatened by their increasing numbers. He did not know that Joseph's family was in Egypt at the invitation of the previous king of Egypt after Joseph saved the kingdom.

Even though the new Pharaoh made them slaves, the Hebrews continued to increase. Therefore, Pharaoh devised a plan to stop their growth. He decreed that all Hebrew boys should be killed. That would ensure him that the Israelites would no longer increase.

In order to accomplish what Pharaoh wanted, he called on the Hebrew midwives, including Shiphrah and Puah, to implement his plan. As midwives, they would be trusted with the delivery of the babies. Because of the mortality rates with births at that time, they were told to claim that the baby boys simply did not survive.

According to Exodus 1:17, “because the midwives feared God, they refused to obey the king’s orders.” When the king questioned the midwives about the birth rates, they told him, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women. They are more vigorous and have their babies so quickly that we cannot get there in time” (Exodus 1:19). They risked their own lives to save the Hebrew babies.

Therefore, the Israelites “continued to multiply, growing more and more powerful” (Exodus 1:20). That's when Pharaoh makes a public decree for his people to kill newborn Hebrew boys by throwing them into the Nile. The girls were allowed to live. This is where the story should begin with Jochebed, Moses' mother. She was not involved at the beginning in the process of saving her baby.

Shiphrah and Puah’s refusal to go along with Pharaoh's plan really is what led to Israel’s deliverance. That happened long before God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and sent him to Egypt as a deliverer (Exodus 3:7-8).

Things to Consider

Shiphrah and Puah were faced with a choice to do what human authority dictated or to do what they thought was right in the sight of God. This was the first case of civil disobedience recorded in the Bible. The two midwives feared God. Therefore, they refused to do what Pharaoh requested.

Also, consider that through Shiphrah and Puah’s courage and boldness to do what was right, Moses and other babies were spared.

Now, don't you think Shiphrah and Puah deserve more recognition for being instrumental in saving the Israelites?

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