God often uses women to thwart the plans of evil. We see it all over the Bible and I’ve seen it plenty of times in my own life. In the early chapters of the book of Exodus, God uses women (Shiphrah, Puah, Jochabed, Miriam, Pharaoh’s daughter) to defeat the most powerful man in the world—Pharaoh—and his evil plans. It is striking that there is no lead male protagonist in the story until Moses grows up and the only reason he is able to grow up and bring salvation to Israel is because of the women who saved him. Indeed, women saving Moses and helping bring about God’s redemption is a theme of Exodus. Even later in his life, Moses is again saved by a woman—his wife Zipporah—in Exodus 4:21-26. Nevertheless, this blog post will focus on only two of these lesser-known women in particular: Shiphrah and Puah.
The book of Exodus begins with a genealogy and the detailing of Israel’s population explosion (fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant). Israel’s multiplication causes Pharaoh to first, increase their labor and then, much more drastically, kill all of Israel’s newborn sons. His plan is to use the Hebrew midwives, who the narrator goes out of the way to name: Shiphrah and Puah (If Moses is the author then he himself is sure to honor the women who saved him and others). Pharaoh tells Shiphrah and Puah to kill all the Hebrew baby boys during the childbirth process. This evil plan cannot be detached from the storyline of the Bible thus far. The purpose of Pharaoh’s plan is not simply to destroy Israel (which is evil enough) but to destroy the world–God’s world–that God is going to redeem. We already know from Genesis that it is through Israel and through one of her sons that God has promised to save the world. So, by taking out Israel, specifically the “sons” of Israel, Pharaoh has teamed up with the serpent of old. (Pharaoh would have had a certain animal set prominently in the middle of his headdress/crown: a serpent.) Far from being a random act of violence, this goes back to Genesis 3:15, ” And I will put hostility between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall strike you on the head, And you shall strike him on the heel.” The seed battle of Genesis continues on into Exodus. Who does God use to thwart the evil plan of Pharaoh and by extension the evil entity behind Pharaoh? Who does God use to save “the seed of the woman”? Women. Two women.
The two midwives—Shiphrah and Puah—refuse to obey the unnamed evil King and his plan. It seems Pharaoh is left unnamed for two reasons: (1) the named women (Shiphrah and Puah) are elevated with honor over the unnamed King and (2) Pharaoh is not simply one man, but representative of all anti-God powers, and ultimately representative of the entity of evil: Satan. These women fear God, not Pharaoh (Ex. 1:21). So, they stand up to this evil and don’t comply—thwarting Pharaoh’s plan of destruction. Subsequently, God gives Shiphrah and Puah—women who refused to kill Hebrew children—their own children (Ex. 1:21).
The story of Exodus is kicked off when God uses two women that the world would have seen as insignificant and powerless to defeat the most powerful man in the world and by extension, defeat the evil entity that Pharaoh is representative of. This, in turn, sets up a series of events that will ultimately lead to the salvation of Israel. We’ll see this play out in upcoming blog posts.