Exodus 1:15-22 ~ 20100425 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
4/25 Exodus 1:15-22 The Hebrew Midwives and The Fear of the Lord
We've seen that God has made promises to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; promises to bless them and cause them to be fruitful and multiply and through them to bless all the peoples of the earth. We've seen the faith of God's people tested as they have had to wait for what seems like inordinately long periods of time and endure painful adversity and trials as they waited for the fulfillment of God's promises. God promised to make Abraham into an innumerable multitude and he was childless until he was almost a hundred years old. When he attempted to help God keep his promise by having a son with his servant girl, God said no, his barren wife would be the one to give him the promised son. After Isaac was born, God told Abraham to kill him as a sacrifice on the mountain. Abraham learned that nothing could prevent God from keeping his promise, so he set out in faith to obey, but God prevented him. God chose Isaac's younger twin Jacob to be the heir of his promises. Jacob was a schemer and bargained for the birthright and stole his father's blessing, so God kept his promises to Jacob through the scheming trickery of his wily uncle Laban, who swapped the older ugly sister for the younger one that Jacob loved on his wedding night. Jacob was in hard service to Laban for many years, but it was during this time that God increased his family. Jacob's sons hated Joseph and sold him into Egypt, but it was through this hardship that God intended to save the family of Israel. God put Joseph in charge of Egypt, and brought the family together in Egypt. Now, 400 years later, they are increasing in number as God had promised, but they are slaves in Egypt under a cruel Pharaoh who wanted to reduce their population.
God was blessing his people. The Pharaoh had tried plan A and it had failed. He ruthlessly oppressed the nation of Israel and made them work as slaves. He made their lives bitter with hard service, but the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied. Now the Pharaoh is moving to plan B. He calls the Hebrew midwives into his confidence. If ruthless oppression was not effective in controlling the population, he would add to their affliction the selective secret murder of all the male infants. The picture we have here of Pharaoh is desperate – desperate because in that culture, the monarch of the most powerful country of his day would never hold audience with women, especially women of an inferior race.
We see how depraved and black the heart of this Pharaoh was. Pharaoh's command is completely contrary to nature. Women are the carriers and givers of life, and he was calling on them to become destroyers of life. The role of a midwife was to assist in the life giving process of birth. And he is asking them to slaughter the ones they are bringing into the world.
It is not hard to make application of this today. Doctors and nurses, who have taken an oath to preserve life are called on to become executioners and mercenaries to kill the elderly and the unborn. Brothers and sisters, this ought not to be. We each must do what we can to protect the lives of those who cannot protect themselves.
It is interesting that we have the names of these two midwives. Shiphrah and Puah. Shiphrah means something like 'Dawn' or 'Fair'; Puah means 'Fragrant' or 'Splendid' [Stewart, p.75, cf. Strongs]. They are introduced in a way that carefully identifies them as prominent characters in the events that unfold. This is a striking contrast to the Pharaoh. Pharaoh is not a name but a title, like 'king', and good scholars continue to debate and work hard to identify which Pharaoh this refers to. There have been some good guesses, and some seem to make more sense than others, but the bottom line is that although we know much about ancient Egypt and we know the names and history of many of the Pharaohs, we don't know for sure which Pharaoh this was. Moses could have given his name, but he didn't. It is deep irony that we have carefully preserved for us the names of these two Hebrew midwives, but we don't know the name of the most important and powerful monarch of his day. To cause someone's name to be forgotten is the utmost dishonor. To remember someone's name forever is extreme honor. God tells Moses how his own name is to be remembered:
All those who seek to make a name for themselves will not be remembered:
This is a principle we see in scripture:
In the context of another birth – the birth of the promised deliverer:
God moved the mighty Pharaoh off his throne and caused him to not be remembered, but the names of two humble midwives have been remembered for almost 4000 years! Why? Look at what is written of them:
This is the first time God is explicitly mentioned in the book of Exodus. Genesis opens with 'In the beginning God', but in Exodus, God is strangely absent in the opening chapters. God is certainly there and certainly at work, as we have seen, keeping his promises and moving sovereignly and providentially in the lives of his people, but he is unmentioned, behind the scenes. This is the first thing said directly about God, and the fear of God is commended. As the Psalms and Proverb says:
Lest we think that this is merely an obsolete Old Testament principle, we see it again as foundational in the New Testament:
If we're looking for a biblical New Testament church growth model, here it is: walk in the fear of the Lord. The result: the church multiplied.
In the Proverbs, there is a promise connected to fear of the Lord:
The fear of the Lord results in life. Life, satisfaction, rescue. But what is the fear of the Lord?
The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil, learning to hate what God hates. The fear of the Lord is knowing that God rules all things and will bring a just reward to each person. The fear of the Lord presupposes life after death. The implied threat if the midwives disobeyed the Pharaoh would be physical death. But instead of fearing the king of Egypt, Shiphrah and Puah feared God. They knew that one day they would stand before the God of the universe and give an account. It was more important to them what God thought of their action than what any man thought, no matter how powerful he was. Their chief aim was to please God, even if it had severe temporary consequences.
The fear of the Lord is not theoretical. It has direct practical implications on life. The text doesn't say that they feared the Lord so they did not fear Pharaoh. That is implied, but what it says is that they feared the Lord so they did not do as the King of Egypt had commanded them. Their fear led to action, and their action had consequences. In their case, fear of the Lord meant direct disobedience to the dictator of the land. Rather than killing the male Israelite infants, they helped them to thrive. As this was an undercover plan with the midwives, it would have taken some time for their obedience or disobedience to his command to become evident. But it would inevitably be known.
This is the interrogation that precedes execution. When the sovereign king of all the land summons you before his royal court and says 'why have you done this? Why have you disobeyed my command?' there is good reason to believe that your life is quickly coming to a close. This would be akin to asking for any last words.
This sounds like a bold slap in the face to the king and his culture. This is like saying 'your women are weak. The Hebrew women are strong'. This may have been similar to the prevailing opinion in our culture that you can't have a baby without a doctor, an anesthesiologist and an epidural. The high society Egyptian women have to be pampered and babied and they were so out of it that they wouldn't know if their babies were stillborn. These Hebrew women are tough – they deliver their own babies without any help.
Even if these two women hadn't been habitually and consistently disobeying the king's command, saying this sort of thing would be the kind of thing that would get you killed for sure. But with the Pharaoh's plan being an undercover one, this story may have had just enough reality to it that the Pharaoh couldn't rightly condemn them. Apparently, his plan was for them to deliver the baby, check the gender, and strangle it if it was a boy before he had the chance to cry, so the mother would think it was stillborn. The Pharaoh couldn't expect these midwives to show up after the mother was holding her baby, take it out of her arms and kill it without blowing the secrecy of the whole operation. Remember, the Pharaoh had said 'the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them...' (v.9-10)
This is the first action God takes in the story of Exodus, action on behalf of Shiphrah and Puah. Because of their fear of the Lord as the giver of life, God dealt well with them. Again it is re-affirmed that God was keeping his covenant promises. The people multiplied and grew very strong. Pharaoh's plan B had also failed. In fact, even the Hebrew midwives, who were probably midwives because they couldn't have any children, now had families of their own. So rather than a successful reduction of the Israelite population, now even the barren women are bearing their own children and the population is exploding. But the story does not end here with 'and they all lived happily ever after'. Pharaoh moved on to plan C. As I said before, God's blessing is not always sweet to the taste. God's blessing does not make everything pleasant. God's blessing is fruitfulness in the midst of affliction with the hope of future redemption. God's blessing was on the Hebrew midwives and God was multiplying his people and making them strong, but opposition intensified.
Pharaoh moves here from undercover operations to overt hostility. He calls on all the Egyptians to take action against the Israelites. First taskmasters, then God-fearing Hebrew midwives, now all his people. In the midst of God's blessing, persecution intensifies.
This is but another chapter in the drama of redemption. Ever since Genesis 3:15, when God said:
Satan has been seeking to destroy the promised offspring of the woman. From Cain and Abel, to Pharaoh and the male children, to Herod and all boys under 2, culminating at the cross of our Lord Jesus.
Satan continues today to try to swallow up God's people:
But we have the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
We can persevere under affliction because this is not all there is! We have been called to his eternal glory in Christ!
The fear of the Lord for us today is humbly recognizing what we justly deserve from a holy and righteous God:
And embracing with joy what we have been given in Jesus Christ!