Two Women Beat Pharaoh (Exodus 1:15-20)

Shiphrah and Puah are not household names these days, but at least twice in human history they were dangerous revolutionaries.  Their story occurs in Exodus 1:15-20. Shiphrah and Puah were Hebrew midwifes. An order went out from Pharaoh that the midwives should kill the Hebrew male children, saving the females. The midwives disobey the order. When Pharaoh finds out about it, he summons Shiphrah and Puah, asking why they are not following his orders. Their answer:  “Because Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are lively and deliver their babies before midwives arrive.”

The resulting population explosion contributes to the escape of the Hebrew slaves to freedom. The message is clear: the “rightful” civil authority, in this case Pharaoh, should be disobeyed when the law contradicts sacred law. Shiphrah and Puah, two brave women, stage the first instance of civil disobedience recorded in what became the Bible: when the law of God and the law of man conflict, the choice is clear.

The story of the brave women who would not cooperate with an unjust king came up again in Puritan England. The text was used as justification for opposing the king. This is why the King James Version of the Bible has no footnotes: King James knew that his predecessor had found himself dead based on Puritan readings of certain verses, Exodus 1:15-20 chief among them. No commentary allowed. No discussion allowed concerning divine agreement with civil disobedience.

May the story of two brave women always make the powerful quake. May their bravery and humor continue down the years.



The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one named Shiphrah and the other  Puah, saying, “When you served as midwives to the Hebrew women and see them upon the birth stools, if they deliver a son, kill him. But if it is a daughter, let her live.”

But the midwives served God, and so did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, saving the lives of the males as well.

So the king of Egypt called for the midwives to him and said, “Why have you done this, saving the lives of the male children?”

The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are lively and deliver their babies before midwives arrive.”

For this, God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty.


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