Today’s Monday’s Marinate we finish looking into the lives or our two brave protagonists, Shiphrah and Puah. Let’s revisit our Scripture from last week.
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 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.”
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 1:15-20 NIV
We build upon the story of two midwives called to save Israel from an evil king. You don’t want to miss what we discussed last week.
We established Shiphrah and Puah were radically brave women. Their righteous actions as daughters to the God of Israel demonstrated commitment. Rather than carry out murder, they risked their lives when they disobeyed direct orders from Pharaoh.
Some controversy sets in with this next verse.
The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”—Exodus 1:19 NIV (emphasis mine)
Some of the commentaries discuss whether or not the Hebrew women lied in their response to Pharaoh. There’s an interesting article that discussed this in greater detail. If you would like to see the article, click this link. My personal opinion is we don’t know whether or not the midwives lied. Nowhere in Scripture does it tell us.
The Hebrew women may have in fact been more vigorous than Egyptian women as Shiphrah and Puah proclaimed.
The word “vigorous” used in NIV is translated “lively” in the KJV. That word in Hebrew is châyeh (phonetic khaw-yeh’) and is only used one time in Scriptures’ entirety. It’s in our verse (Exodus 1:19).
The word is an adjective that means strong and vigorous. The word is derived from the Hebrew chayah which is a verb meaning to be alive, to live, to keep alive. It is used in the sense of flourishing or to convey that an object is safe. The word is used when people are kept alive in danger. It employs this word to say God’s Word preserves life.*
What I find interesting is the meaning of the original verb. “The word is used when people are kept alive in danger.” There’s almost nothing as dangerous as a death warrant to annihilate an entire generation of male offspring.
Also, the definition says “it employs this word to say God’s Word preserves life” is telling. Like we discussed last week, these women would have known God’s Word. Shiphrah and Puah would have known they needed to obey God’s commands in order to live, especially if we are talking about living for all eternity. The integrity of their soul would have mattered to them as they avoided committing grievous sin.
Why are commentators so concerned about whether or not Shiphrah and Puah lied? The answer is held in verses 20 & 21.
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
The controversy exists as people debate whether or not God rewarded two women’s actions when they didn’t commit murder but may have commit a different sin, lying. Again, we don’t have proof the midwives lied. Even if we did have proof, the article referenced earlier from Christian Courier makes an interesting point. The women could have been “rewarded for their works not their words.”** Lying wasn’t rewarded (assuming the midwives did lie to Pharaoh). Rather, not committing murder in the face of possible persecution was rewarded.
God was kind to the midwives. Pharaoh’s plan was thwarted. Instead of Israel’s annihilation, they grew more numerous. And don’t let this escape us: the midwives were given families of their own because they feared (reverenced) God. These courageous women whom God used to usher in His children were given children of their own. They were given “families of their own.” For women who likely loved children based on their career choice, this would have been a tremendous blessing for them both. In biblical times women were viewed as blessed based upon the children they birthed as heirs.
Last week we looked at one of the definitions of midwife according to dictionary.com. Here’s another one “a person or thing that produces or aids in producing something new or different.”
These ladies were midwives in both capacities: they delivered children into the world and they produced something new and different.
Without the courageous acts of God’s servants, Shiphrah and Puah, we might not have the legacy of Moses. Moses was someone new and different about to enter the scene. Moses’ impact on God’s kingdom might not have existed if not for the midwives. Imagine no Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt. Imagine no Moses to meet with God on Mt. Sinai on behalf of all Israel. Imagine no Moses to pass the baton onto Joshua and Caleb and usher Israel into the Promised Land. Shiphrah and Puah played a predominant role in God’s plan to produce something new. You bet they did!
I’ve been waiting to share something with you for quite awhile. We know these two women, and their names, drove me to dive into our Scripture in the first place. What I haven’t shared is what their names mean. Here’s what Strong’s says,
Shiphrah’s name means beauty. *
Puah’s name means splendor. *
Beauty and splendor.
And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because of the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign LORD.—Ezekiel 16:14 (emphasis mine)
Chapter 16 of Ezekiel explores Israel’s birth, God’s guidance, blessing, and provision. God later hands down judgment for Israel’s detestable practices when they turn away from God.
But our two protagonists, Shiphrah and Puah acted in the beauty and splendor of the Sovereign LORD. Their “fame” has been spread among the nations as their names are well established in God’s Word for time immemorial.
These midwives point to something else new. I don’t think the coupling of these two women: Beauty and Splendor is accidental. Beauty and Splendor usher our Savior in. Their very names point to the Beauty and the Splendor of Christ. Israel delivered from persecution once and for all as God’s glory rose brighter than the sun through His Son.
To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory (splendor in NIV).—Isaiah 61:3 NLT (emphasis mine)
Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. —1 Chronicles 29:11 NIV (emphasis mine)
QUESTIONS / APPLICATIONS:
- What area of your life is God calling you to exhibit bravery?
- What will God produce as a byproduct of your courage?
- How can you practically display God’s beauty and splendor? At work (as Shiphrah and Puah did)? At home? At church? Your day-to-day activities?
- What blessings can God bestow upon you as a result of your obedience and fear (reverence, respect) of the Lord?
*Strong, James, LL.D., S.T.D. Expanded Edition Strong’s Complete Word Study Concordance. Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2004.
** Christian Courier, Did God Reward Midwives for Lying? https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1224-did-god-reward-midwives-for-lying, accessed 12-07-2013.
Note: I encourage readers to verify what God teaches you through independent research. I am a lay person, not a theologian. As such, I do my best to validate facts and to share where I am presenting opinion. However, I am not a biblical expert. I am a student of Scripture like you. Questions posed are sometimes used to create independent interest and exploration of God’s Word.