I’m guessing Shiphrah and Puah may not be names you recognize, but—trust me—they matter! Their story is astounding.
These two middle-eastern women were famine refugees in a forced labor camp. Among the refugees, they were the lowest of the low. Status in their culture had to do with having sons and neither of them could have children. As if to highlight their infertility, they were assigned to help with labor and delivery in the refugee camp.
As happens in many countries, the citizens became nervous about the growing population of refugees. The leaders began requiring those who worked in refugee neonatal care to administer post-birth abortions.
For Shiphrah and Puah—safety came in doing what they were told. Submission had been drilled into them. However—at risk of their careers and lives—these two chose to lead a neonatal revolution! The policymakers realized they would have to find another way to curb the refugee
population because they continued to deliver babies and kept those babies alive.
How interesting that Shiphrah and Puah are named in the Bible. In the backdrop of a culture where men had the value, why mention two midwives? Is it possible they were both on hand to help deliver the baby who would one day deliver them from slavery?
Kingdom work often includes acts of defiance.
Don’t get me wrong—Shiphrah and Puah were not defying authority as a feminist uprising. No. It was because “the midwives had far too much respect for God” that they “didn’t do what the king of Egypt ordered” (Exodus 1 The Message).
When doing justice in submission to God meant defying the most powerful leader in the land, these women were not indecisive, passive, or compliant. They were brave and capable. Faith in God always makes us defiant against the darkness.
I wonder if the bravery of Shiphrah and Puah was what influenced Moses’ mom to also defy orders. Like them, at risk of her own life, she used her skills and ingenuity to save life. Perhaps they influenced Miriam as well. Although she was a young slave girl, she stood guard and then negotiated with the most powerful woman in the nation for her baby brother’s protection and provision.
God’s story is not ultimately about Moses, his mom, the midwives, or Miriam. God’s story is about God who plays by a radically different value system. “Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’?” (1 Corinthians 1:27 The Message).
Perhaps Moses used his influence to make sure these 4 women were mentioned in the account he recorded because of what he personally learned from their willingness to risk it all to kept God’s rescue mission from literally being aborted. God certainly took note and honored them. May God open our eyes to how the powerful are crushing the vulnerable near us. May God empower us to side with the marginalized. May each of us—even at the expense of our jobs and lives—be holy defiant in our fear of God.