But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. (Exodus 1:17)
God always honours those who fear him, although this may not always be immediately evident in this world. As believers, we get foretastes of his honour in the here and now, but are often called to wait for the Lord’s full vindication in the future. Such was the case with two Hebrew midwives, named Shiphrah and Puah.
As the book of Exodus opens we learn that “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (v 8). That the new king is not acquainted with Joseph (who had risen to power and experienced favour under the reign of the previous king) is an ominous sign for the Israelites. At this time God’s people were “fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (v 7).
The new Pharaoh clearly feels threatened and not a little paranoid: “Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land” (verse 10). His initial strategy for population control is to set taskmasters over them and inflict them with heavy burdens (v 11), but this fails miserably as “the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad” (v 12).
Phase two of the king’s strategy is even more ruthless. Infanticide. He calls in the two Hebrew midwives and orders them to immediately kill any boys that are born; they’re not even to make it out of the delivery room alive. The midwives, however, fear God and don’t do what the king commands. Clearly they conclude that it’s better to obey God rather than man.
The Lord honours Shiphrah and Puah in a number of ways. First “he dealt well” with them (verse 20) and not least by ensuring that they don’t lose their lives for flagrantly disobeying Pharaoh. And secondly, verse 21, “because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.”
There is, however, a third way in which the midwives are honoured long after their death. But it’s somewhat more subtle. The king of Egypt is one of the key characters in the first fourteen chapters of Exodus, he permeates much of the narrative. Not once, however, are we told his name. He’s simply referred to as ‘Pharaoh’ or ‘the king of Egypt.’
By contrast, the two midwives are named. Long after their brave act of defying the wicked orders of Pharaoh because they feared God, God is pleased to have it recorded in scripture that one was named Shiphrah and the other Puah (v 15). God continues to honour them, by ensuring that countless millions of Jews and Christians, long after their death, have read and continue to read their names.
I can’t promise if you choose to fear and obey God rather than man this week – at work, or in a family situation, or when you’re out with friends – that God will vindicate you in this life. He may do so. Or he may not. But of one thing we can be completely sure: “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Psalm 147:11). And a day is coming when, just as God fully vindicated our crucified Lord and Saviour by raising him from the dead, so our trust in Jesus will also be fully vindicated.