I love a well-crafted story. Some of my favorites include Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and Jane Austen’s Persuasion to name a few. What makes these stories great? For me it’s the character and plot development. There are no unnecessary characters or events. All characters and events have a role to play in the grand narrative. This is something I love about the Bible as well.
In the first chapter of Exodus, we learn of the Israelites’ enslavement in Egypt. But “the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread” (v. 12) making the Egyptians increasingly dread and hate the Israelites. This eventually led to Pharaoh mandating the midwives to kill all Hebrew boys at birth. It is at this point that we meet Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives.
Our record of their story is short and without flourish; however, they play an important role in Exodus. We are told in 1:17 that the midwives feared God and ignored Pharaoh’s command allowing the Hebrew boys to live. They stood firm to Pharaoh’s face a few verses later, and as a result God protected them and blessed them with families. Their actions allowed the Israelites to continue to multiply and strengthen, setting the stage for Moses’ birth and the actions of his mother and sister in chapter two.
I am also struck and challenged by the faith of these two women. Shiphrah and Puah courageously ignored Pharaoh’s commands. They feared God more than humans. If faced with a similar dilemma, would my faith be unwavering? God rewarded them for their faith, but sometimes the outcome is much different. We follow God rather than humans, and we end up in suffering. This is part of the journey and part of life. But through suffering, we learn something about ourselves, our faith, and our God. All this to say, Shiphrah and Puah did not ignore Pharaoh because they hoped God would reward them. Rather, they chose to do the right thing without knowing what would happen to them. And that is what I would call faith that can move mountains.