There’s an old Exodus story about some mighty women who defied a king and discovered the power in their hands. Today I honor their memory and sing their praises with a simple retelling. I also want to reclaim their story – which might prove much more challenging but deeply worthwhile for the sake of our world.
The Hebrews moved into Egypt many years ago when food was scarce and Pharaoh’s granaries were full. They lived a good life – until a new Pharaoh came to power, a man who did not know them or have any connection to them. He surveyed their double strength (‘more numerous and more powerful’) as a potential threat to his people, his throne and his power. So he enslaved them.
But the Hebrews still grew in number and strength despite the hard labor.
So Pharaoh approached the Hebrew midwives and forced them into a covert operation. His instructions were clear enough – when delivering babies look to see the gender. If it’s a boy, kill him, if it’s a girl she can live. He commanded infanticide and expected the midwives to do it secretly, under the noses of the laboring mothers.
What he demanded went against everything in the midwife code – which is all about healthy live births complete with wiggling, wet babies and weepy mothers.
But these two midwives were named otherwise. Shiphra for beauty; Puah for the essence of childbirth – they were meant to be bearers of beautiful childbirth, as the Hebrew language reveals.
So they conspired. They decided to subvert the power of Pharaoh with their own two hands. When the Hebrew women labored and babies crowned, the midwives refused to look at the babies gender. Boy or girl, they delivered healthy infants into the hands of waiting mothers. The story says ‘they let the boys live!’ In the end, deliverance was in the hands of two women.