Puah and Shiphrah

Puah and Shiphrah were midwives in ancient Egypt who refused to comply with the pharaoh's order to kill all male babies born to Hebrew women (Exodus 1:15–17). While the Jews chafed under enslavement and were forced to do backbreaking labor for untold hours each day, their numbers continued to increase through live births. The pharaoh told the midwives if they saw a Hebrew woman on a birthing stool and she gave birth to girl, let her live; but if the baby was a boy, they should kill him. Puah and Shiphrah, who were God-fearing Hebrew women, dared not tell the pharaoh no, for that would ensure their own quick deaths. They kept quiet and continued to help women deliver their babies — girls and boys. In time, however, the pharaoh discovered what they were doing and called them before him.

The women explained to the pharaoh that by the time they got to the Jewish women, their babies were already born, and to kill them after the birth would reveal that they were agents of the pharaoh. The pregnant Jewish women would then give the midwives a later due date and conceal the birth. They told the pharaoh that if the women did that, they would never know when a birth had taken place. Thus, they couldn't get a true accounting of the numbers of new Jewish babies. The pharaoh followed their reasoning and released them. The pharaoh still trusted them, and the first chapter of Exodus says that because the women feared God, the pharaoh made them houses.

And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. (Exodus 1:18–19)

The ancient Hebrews desired many children. Couples understood even before they were married that the woman was expected to bear children and expand the family. In fact, it was a great honor for women to bear children. Puah and Shiphrah did not have to explain to the Hebrew women, although they may have, that pregnancy involved a growth process of not only the child inside of them, but also their own bodies. Most believed that the process was overseen by God. When labor pains started and it was time to give birth, pregnant women, assisted by midwives, crouched to push out their babies. The Bible mentions a birthstool (Exodus 1:16) that was also used, but doesn't elaborate, and information about it is scant. Because a woman's labor could last for hours, it seems reasonable to think it was some type of low stool that the woman could sit on during her labor. Puah and Shiphrah became heroines in Jewish history as instruments of God to ensure the survival of the Lord's children. The population of the Hebrews increased and the people prospered.

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