Shiphrah and Puah
“And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses. And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.”
In the Scriptures there are several examples showing us that faith in Christ, obedience to our God, and love for his people have often required that those who feared God deceive men. And the act of deception is set before us in such cases as an act of faith. One such act of faith is well known. When the spies came into Jericho, Rahab the harlot hid them. When the king of Jericho sent his men to Rahab’s inn to get the spies, she said, “Those men did come into the inn; but I didn’t know who they were. They left just a little while ago. If you hurry, I am sure you can catch them.” Then she secretly let the spies down by a rope and sent them away (Jos. 2). Trusting the crucified Son of God to save her, she saved the Hebrew spies and her own house.
I realize that some reprobate men seek to use Rahab’s behavior as an excuse for their own self-serving dishonesty. Others, self-righteous moralists, look upon what Rahab did as an enigma, and pass it off as something that cannot be explained, but that her behavior can never be justified. They tell us that, though she may have acted in faith, Rahab should not have lied. She should have told the truth and trusted God to work things out as he would. But God the Holy Spirit tells us that what Rahab did was an act of faith in Christ, exactly the same as that faith by which Abel worshipped God, Noah built the ark, Abraham received Isaac as one raised from the dead, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and led Israel across the Red Sea, and David slew Goliath (Heb. 11:31).
Just as Rahab believed God, and by her act of faith delivered Jericho, and ultimately the land of Canaan, into the hands of Israel, Moses tells us about two women God graciously used, who by their faith in Christ saved his life, brought Israel out of Egypt, and were instruments by which he brought our Savior into this world. Like Rahab, these two women were instruments in the hands of God, whose faith and faithfulness God used to accomplish our salvation in Christ. We who now know Christ in the blessed experience of his saving grace owe them much. Were it not for these two women and their acts of faith, we could never have been redeemed. Let their names forever be honored. — “The name of the one was Shiphrah (Fair - Beautiful), and the name of the other Puah (Splendid - Glittering).” Let’s look at these two women, singularly honored of God, and see what we can learn from them about faith in Christ.
Pharaoh was determined to destroy Israel; and Pharaoh was no ordinary man, or even ordinary king. Pharaoh considered himself a god, and was looked upon by his people as a god. He was a little tyrant, who thought he was a god, and treated his subjects with such cruelty that, whether they wanted to or not, they obeyed him as their god. When he gave an order, he expected it to be obeyed; and it was. His orders to Shiphrah and Puah were crystal clear (vv. 15-16).
“And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live.”
Pharaoh did not just represent the law, he was the law. To defy him was to court the full force of his fury. When he told these Hebrew midwives to murder every male baby born among the children of Israel, they understood that his intent was to destroy the nation God had chosen. And they understood that if they did not do as he commanded them, they would suffer the consequences.
I have no doubt that there were many other midwives who served the women of Israel. It would take more than two to deliver all the babies of several million women. So, I presume, Shiphrah and Puah were the two women who ran the business of delivering babies. So Pharaoh gave his orders to the two women responsible for the work.
But there is more here than Pharaoh’s rage against a people he feared might destroy him. Pharaoh was but an instrument by which Satan hoped to prevent the Son of God, the Seed of woman, our Lord Jesus Christ, from coming to redeem us. What we have here is a vivid picture of Satan’s rage against Christ and his people, Satan’s rage against the woman’s Seed, by whom God Almighty has purposed to destroy him (Gen. 3:15). If he could, Satan would destroy God himself. He tried to destroy Christ when he inspired Cain to murder his brother Abel, and again when he inspired Pharaoh to order the murder of the male children of Israel, and again when he inspired Herod to give the same order hundreds of years later (Matt. 2:16). Were it possible for him to do so, the fiend of hell would destroy every one of God’s elect as soon as they are born (Rev. 12:4-5).
Let us never imagine that Satan’s rage has ended. It has not. He still uses men, often people in powerful places, ever seeking to destroy the church of God. He stalks the earth as a roaring lion, ever seeking to devour the spiritual seed of Christ. Therefore, the Holy Spirit teaches us to ever cast our care upon God our Savior, who is able and will deliver us from the enemy (1 Pet. 5:6-11).
Have you ever thought about what the result would have been had Pharaoh succeeded in murdering all the male babies born to the Israelites in Egypt? The chosen line through which the promised Redeemer was to come would have been destroyed. If all the male children of the Hebrews were destroyed, Boaz would never have appeared, Jesse would never have been born, David could never have drawn a breath, David’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, would never have come into the world, and redemption could never have been accomplished. But such a supposition could never be more than that — just a supposition. When Satan, Pharaoh, Herod, and all the nations of the earth combine in opposition to the purpose of God, the Lord God, “he that sitteth in the heavens,” roars with laughter and says, “the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand!” He declares, “Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand!”
Satan’s schemes were once more foiled and Egypt’s god, like all the gods of men, was frustrated. How? By what means could the most powerful forces in the world be defeated? How could the plans of the mightiest king in the world be overturned? How could a people so hated as the Hebrews were by the Egyptians be delivered from such cruel hatred? Read verse 17, and you will see. — “But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.”
The fear of God delivered those two women from the fear of man. Because they believed God, they could not and would not obey the king’s command, regardless of cost. “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom” (Job. 28:28). “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Pro. 1:7). Charles Buck defined the fear of God as…
“That holy disposition or gracious habit formed in the soul by the Holy Spirit, whereby we are inclined to obey all God’s commands, and evidences itself: 1. By a dread of his displeasure. ¾2. Desire of his favor.—3. Regard for his excellencies.—4. Submission to his will.—5. Gratitude for his benefits.—6. Sincerity in his worship.—7. Conscientious obedience to his commands (Prov. 8:13; Job 28:28).”
When God the Holy Spirit here tells us that these women “feared God,” he is not telling us that they were afraid of God. They might well be afraid of Pharaoh; but they “feared God.” That is simply another way of saying that they worshipped God, that they believed God (Ps. 31:19; 115:11; Job 1:1; 13:15; 19:25).
Read verse 17 again, and read verses 18 and 19 with it. I want you to see, and see clearly, that these two great women acted according to their fear of God.
“But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them.”
Faith is not merely believing facts about God. Faith is not merely believing facts revealed by God. Faith involves life. Faith is the fear of God by which we live. Faith involves acting upon God’s revelation, acting upon what we believe. Here, the Holy Spirit tells us that these Hebrew midwives performed three great acts of faith.
Because they believed God, Shiphrah and Puah lied to Pharaoh. They did not lie to protect themselves. They did not lie for personal gain. They did not lie from any self, or personal interest. Shiphrah and Puah lied to Pharaoh as Abraham did to Abimelech and Rahab did to the king of Jericho, because they believed God. They trusted Christ as their Savior and Redeemer, believing that he would and must come as Abraham’s promised Seed (Gal. 3:13-14). They believed that God would fulfill his covenant promise, deliver his people, and send his Son to redeem them, and that he would do it through Abraham’s Seed. They believed that all the blessedness and all the blessings of grace, salvation, eternal life, and everlasting glory are to be found only in that Blessed One God had promised (1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:3-6). Their faith in Christ and their love for him delivered them from the fear of the king and enabled them to overcome the world (1 John 4:4, 18-19; 1 John 5:4-5).
It is written, “Faith worketh by love.” And these two women lied to Pharaoh, hazarding their own lives, because their faith in Christ caused them to love his people (1 John 5:1). Shiphrah and Puah risked their lives for you and me. They lied to Pharaoh because, loving Christ, they loved us, the members of his body, their brothers and sister in Christ, looking upon us as one with Christ. Let us never forget their names! — “The name of the one was Shiphrah (Fair - Beautiful), and the name of the other Puah (Splendid - Glittering).”
I think it is significant that the first time that the name of God is mentioned in the book of Exodus is here in verse 17. His sovereignty is evident in every verse and every event. But Moses does not mention his name until he tells us about these two Hebrew midwives who “feared God.” Why? Because the Holy Spirit here holds them before us as examples of faith, calling upon you and me to believe God. Whom will we serve, God or Pharaoh? Where is our confidence, in God or in Pharaoh? Whom do we fear, God or Pharaoh? Who is sovereign, God or Pharaoh? Shiphrah and Puah said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!”
Just in case you are wondering whether I have accurately interpreted what these women did, read verses 20 and 21. Here we are specifically told that God highly honored Shiphrah and Puah for their great deeds of faith. He promises, “Him that honoureth me I will honor,” and he always does.
“Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses.”
The Lord honored them in two ways. First, he used these two believing women to increase his kingdom. “The people multiplied, and waxed very mighty.” What an honor that is (1 Cor. 1:26-29; 2 Cor. 4:7). And, because they feared God, “he made them houses.” As Rachel and Leah are said to have built the house of Israel by their fruitful wombs (Ruth 4:11), God caused the midwives wombs to be fruitful. Our God is not unrighteous to forget any work and labor of love performed in his name and for his people (Heb. 6:10). John Trapp wrote, “God is a liberal paymaster: and his retributions are more than bountiful.” “Be ye therefore steadfast and unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
What a blessed source of consolation this whole chapter should be to our souls! God’s purpose is sure. All the forces of earth and hell combined shall neither alter it, nor thwart it, nor hinder it! — “Hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Num. 23:19). The creature shall never resist or hinder the will of the Creator! “If God be for us, who can be against us?” It is written, “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord” (Pro. 21:30).
All that is recorded in this chapter is designed to teach us to patiently wait upon the Lord in all things. His promises are sure, though he appears (to our feeble apprehensions) to perform them ever so slowly. Abraham’s seed did not seem to increase for a long, long time. God did not bring Israel out of Egypt for 430 years. But he brought them out, and brought them out at the best time and in the best way.
“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread,
Are big with mercy and shall break,
With blessings on your head!”
The promises of our God are “all yea and amen in Christ Jesus.” And “the Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness.” The “vision is for an appointed time; it shall come, it will not tarry.”
Let me show you one more thing. Though the Lord God had foiled his plans by the faith of two insignificant midwives, Pharaoh hardened his heart still more against the children of Israel, commanding all his people to drown every male child born in Israel in the Nile River. — “And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive” (v. 22).
The enmity God put between the seed of the serpent and the woman’s Seed will never cease, or even diminish, but only increases, so long as the world shall stand. The offense of the cross has not ceased and will not cease until Christ comes again. We must never expect it. And we must never be deluded into thinking that it has. Just as Pharaoh, representing the political powers of the world, wanted nothing less than the destruction of God’s church in Egypt, the political powers of this world are now, always have been, and always will be bent upon the destruction of God’s church in their midst. Just as Pharaoh, representing the gods and religion of this world, wanted nothing less than the total destruction of Israel, the religion of this world (all freewill, legalistic, works religion) wants nothing less than the total destruction of Christ and his kingdom. And just as surely as the Lord God caused Israel to triumph over Egypt, saving all the elect nation by his mighty hand and stretched out arm, the Lord our God always “giveth” us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, and shall cause us to triumph over all our foes, saving all his elect by his mighty hand and stretched out arm, to the praise of the glory of his matchless grace!