Day 5: Civil Disobedience: The Legacy of Shiphrah and Puah

Today’s reading: Exodus 1-11, Psalm 8

Their names are only mentioned once in the Bible. Their story is told in seven short verses. Yet, were it not for the courage and cleverness of these two midwives, an entire generation of young Hebrew men would have been wiped out. The covenant that God had made with Abraham would have been in jeopardy.

Their refusal to obey Pharaoh’s command to kill any Hebrew boy upon birth is perhaps the earliest recorded example in literature of civil disobedience. They even managed to do it with a sense of humor, and with pride in their people. When confronted by Pharaoh about letting the baby boys live, they respond that it was beyond their control–the Hebrew women are so vigorous that they deliver their babies before Shiphrah and Puah can even get there.

Shiphrah and Puah are one example of normal, everyday people across the centuries who have found creative ways to stand up to evil, injustice, and oppression without resorting to violence. These heroes often go unnoticed–they appear on the stage of history for only a moment, and then are gone. Their witness can serve as an inspiration to us today, reminding us that sometimes all it takes to make a difference is to be willing to take courage and stand up to evil.

Because Shiphrah and Puah were willing to stand up, Moses and who knows how many other Hebrew boys were spared. In the first chapter of Exodus, they are acknowledged for their actions this way: “God was pleased with the midwives.”

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