15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
In Eugene Peterson’s excellent book ‘Christ plays in ten thousand places’, he has some important things to say about Shiphrah and Puah. To quote him:
‘…it is significant that the first names that appear in this grounding account of God at work in history are Shiphrah and Puah, two midwives from the lowest social and economic strata of society…The king of Egypt, also referred to as Pharaoh, perhaps the most powerful world ruler at the time, is not even dignified with a personal name. but these two obscure Hebrew women are named and by virtue of being named are not obscure…The command to kill comes from the impersonal anonymity of privilege and power; the will to life comes from the marginal but very personal Shiphrah and Puah, representatives of the oppressed and powerless…World leaders are minor players in the biblical way of writing and participating in history. People like Shiphrah and Puah play decisive roles…If Shiphrah and Puah had done their Pharaoh-commanded work, Moses and Aaron would have been dead on arrival.’ (Pages 150,151).
These are such great observations.
No doubt you will notice that in their defiance of Pharaoh, these brave ladies were not strictly honest (20). At least, that’s my reading of it. But the Bible only commends them and God honours them. It is important to assert that Scripture does not encourage anyone to lie. It stands on the side of honesty and truth. But I wondered if a nuanced approach has to accept that in a fallen world, we may sometimes have to choose the lesser of evils?
In article published by ‘First Baptist Orlando’, I found these balanced comments:
“We must also remember that the midwives may have told Pharaoh the truth. It is possible that the Hebrew women did in fact give birth quickly, or perhaps they chose not to call for their midwives because they feared the king’s command.
Whether or not the midwives lied, they were not rewarded for lying, but were blessed because they feared God and refused to kill the baby boys. Their focus was to obey God rather than man, and—if they did lie—they were justified in their belief that God’s command to preserve life far outweighed the command of human authority to destroy it…
…The Bible does not condone lying for the sake of lying (Exodus 20:16, Colossians 3:9), but God does permit His people to act in a way that preserves His higher purpose, even if it is against the ways of human authority. We might not know whether or not the midwives lied, but if they did, we do know that God used their actions to fulfill His purpose so that He may be glorified.’
PRAYER: Lord please grant me the courage to live bravely in this hostile and, at times, menacing world.