Shiphrah and Puah Michael Gross September 16, 2018

Exodus 1:8-22 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews[a] you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”


Today we shift back to a story from the Old Testament, one of serious trial and conflict for God’s people. The world was going pretty good for the Israelites after Joseph had moved the family into Egypt after he had been sold as a slave. They were treated well and the people lived in happiness. They were fruitful and multiplied, so much so that a Pharaoh was nervous about the true Egyptian line and wanted to put down the Israelites before they took over. So, Pharaoh enslaved all the Israelites.

But God was with His people, and they kept their population growing. They had babies and they were healthy like never before. Pharaoh comes up with another plan. To eliminate the male children that are born by a couple mid-wives named Shiphrah and Puah. Which leads us to our story. The artist writes, “two gutsy women throw a wrench in his [Pharaoh] plans. Shiphrah and Puah are the only women in this story to be named, which we know is a rarity in scripture, so when it happens, it was as if the author is flashing blinking lights on the page that say, ‘pay attention to them!’ What we see is the first known instance of civil disobedience in recorded history. They say no.”

The determination of these two ladies are pretty incredible. Look at the picture and notice the hands. They are the hands that said no to the power in control of the land of the time—the pharaoh. Now this was not somebody that was elected by a group of people. The ruler of Egypt was thought to be chosen by the god of Re and not just a human but a human with god-like qualities. Yet there is also waters that are swirling in deep colors and light colors. The water swirls because we do not know what may happen because these two are saying no to a god and yes to their God, our God. They said yes to a God of justice and love.

When the world was spinning out of control for one group of people, there was another group that was enjoying prosperity. If you were an Egyptian at this time life was good. There were servants that were plentiful to cook and clean, mow the grass, feed the animals, stoke the fires, you name it and the slaves did it. They enjoyed watching large monuments going up that we know as the great pyramids. The cities were growing and becoming vibrant centers of culture. The levels or hierarchy of modern society were developing with upper- and lower-class people, it would be centuries before the middle class would be developed. Yet even below the lower class there were the slaves, those treated as chattel, and they were the children of God, the Israelites.

In the midst of this chaos for the Israelites God raised up help in the form of two women. He gave them the gift of faith and confidence to find a way to keep the fertility line going by allowing the males to live. They came up with the story when confronted by Pharaoh, which had to be very scary to be called before the god of the day and to lie to his face. Pharaoh wanted to know why they disobeyed him and allowed the male children to live. The women said, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”

These women knew that what they were doing was breaking the law. Anything that Pharaoh said was law. They knew that if they were caught it would be immediate death. They disobeyed the law of the land. That’s what civil disobedience means. The on-line dictionary defines civil disobedience this way: “the refusal to comply with certain laws or to pay taxes and fines, as a peaceful form of political protest.”

The women were refusing to comply with the certain law that said kill all male children when they are born. For the Israelites and the people who are reading this text in the Bible we see the women as heroes. They stood against what was wrong and did God’s will. Yet what do you believe that the Egyptians thought of Shiphrah and Puah? I don’t think that they were too fond of their actions. When they walked by them on the streets they were looked down upon. People pointed fingers, and said look at those two, slapping Pharaoh in the face for not following through with his laws. They made up stories about them and where they came from. They were lied about, and the rumors spread like wild fires. They probably even ended up in some tough situations in which they were threatened by the people gathered on the streets.

The gospel lesson that I paired with this story from Matthew, reminds us about judging. Jesus is preaching the famous sermon on the mount before he feeds the 5,000 and he says don’t try to get the speck out of your neighbor’s eye while the log is still in yours. When we judge others for their actions we are not being fair to the person because we do not know where they are coming from…

India and Ghandi

South Africa and Apartheid

Martin Luther King Jr. and the people of the South

Today we have Nike and Colin Kaepernick

There was a young man who was gunned down in Florida that was wearing a hoodie and had done nothing wrong. That young man was a mother’s baby boy. Just like the baby boys that Pharaoh wanted to have Shiphra and Puah kill. We judge so often before we even think about pulling that log out of our own eye. Civil disobedience is more than just protesting, it is a matter of trying to understand what the protest is all about. It’s about bringing the justice of God to all of God’s children.

When we refuse justice to someone because they are not of like mind, we miss the point of being a part of God’s family. We allow our decisions to be the author of grace and not God. There is no love for neighbors when we do that.

Shiphra and Puah shared God’s justice by allowing the boys to live. We must make sure that justice does not end with us. Amen.

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