March is Women’s History Month (WHM), so it’s a great opportunity to commemorate the contributions of women to American history. The most influential book in the United States—even the world—is the Bible; it not only shapes the way we Christians live, it also helped set the foundations for the way our nation is governed. Thus, women featured in the Bible, despite never having lived in America, have contributed greatly to the spiritual heritage of our nation. Periodically throughout the month, we will be sharing their inspiring stories.
Shiphrah and Puah are two women written about in the Book of Exodus:
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “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.” The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
- Exodus 1:15-22 (NIV)
Shiphrah and Puah defied Pharaoh’s order—risking their lives in the process—because they revered God more than man. In the New Testament’s Book of Acts, Peter and the apostles found themselves in a similar predicament. They had to choose between obeying the high priest, who ordered them not to preach the Gospel, or obeying God, who had commanded them to preach the Gospel to all nations. For Peter and the other apostles, the choice was clear: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29). They undoubtedly remembered Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Understanding God’s infinite authority and power—and humanity’s finiteness in comparison—will put things in perspective rather quickly. It gives us the courage to do what is right, even if it might cost us everything. Shiphrah and Puah understood and believed that God is the ultimate rewarder of righteousness and the ultimate punisher of evil. The faith of these two women saved many lives as a result. But that wasn’t the end of their story: God noticed Shiphrah and Puah’s faith and blessed them with children of their own. God takes notice of our obedience and love for him.
History could have easily forgotten these two midwives. Instead, Scripture mentions Shiphrah and Puah by name, ensuring that they and their fear of God would be remembered forever. While their story is brief—only eight verses in the book of Exodus—it has nevertheless been sovereignly preserved for all of us to learn from and emulate. Christians are exhorted to obey those in authority (Romans 13), but when their commands are in direct conflict with the commands of God, we should do as Shiphrah and Puah did and fear God rather than man.