Parashat Shemot (Names)
Shemot (Exodus) 1:1–6:1
Our weekly reading takes us to a new book called Shemot (“Exodus”). As I was reading this portion I was touched once again by the heroic act of bravery that Shiphrah and Puah demonstrated by not obeying Pharaoh’s command to kill every newborn boy.
Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah, and the other was named Puah; and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?” And the midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous, and they give birth before the midwife can get to them.” So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. And it came about because the midwives feared God, that He established households for them. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive.”
Egypt was the most powerful empire in the world at this time, and Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, was the most powerful man. The Egyptians actually considered him to be a god, so for the two midwives to refuse to obey that which he commanded meant risking their own lives.
There is some debate among scholars regarding the identity of the two midwives; some say they were Egyptians (who later joined the Israelites as converts) and others say they were Hebrew women. The debate mostly centers around the language of the Scriptures, which I won’t get into here, as well as the notion that Pharaoh would have only trusted fellow Egyptians to carry out such a task. I personally believe they were Egyptian, mostly because in verse 21, it is written that God provided for them a household, which implies they joined with the Israelites.
But I want to point us to the most significant issue, in my opinion, which is that both women feared God. Shiphrah and Puah’s actions were driven by an awe and knowledge of God, of His power, and His sovereignty. They were so convinced of His awesome nature, that they were willing to do whatever it took to save the lives of the newborn sons of the people of Israel. I am always amazed at the fact that, throughout history – in every age, God has placed individuals who have taken a strong stand for Him – people who fear Him more than they fear men.
As I was reading this story I was thinking about us, His followers today. And then I asked myself, “Am I willing to do the same today? Do I fear God more than I fear man?” Perhaps the better question is, “Am I standing for Him today? Is my life a reflection of that?”
For my gentile brothers and sisters in Messiah, a day is coming — or in some cases, is already here — where just like the two midwives, you will need to make a decision: stand for the God of Israel, for the Jewish people, and for the State of Israel, or bow down to pressures to hate Israel and the Jewish people. Zechariah 14:1–2 tells us of a day when all nations will gather against Jerusalem to battle. However, the same chapter in verse 16, speaks of, “those who are left from all of those nations….” I personally believe that these words refer to true God-fearing gentiles, who will fear God more than they fear men, and will take courageous actions just like the midwives from our story!
Are you convinced of God’s sovereignty and of His awesome power? Do you fear God more than you fear men? More importantly, is your life a reflection of this?