Imagine for a moment that you’re an Old Testament midwife. Not just in any part of the Old Testament, but at a pivotal time in your nation’s history. You are busy—so busy you can barely catch your breath and hold up a newborn for his mother’s proud inspection before your partner calls you to assist another woman in labor. Another Hebrew baby. How blessed are the children of Abraham! The many descendants God promised are here, and you are delivering them.
Midwives have a special calling. Those in our story today—Shiphrah and Puah—must have had a deep love for their work, to sit with a woman as she gave birth to a new human being. They witnessed birth and death, the height of joy and the darkest of moments. They witnessed the miracle of life.
How confused and anguished they must have been when the Pharaoh summoned them, ordering them to kill every male Hebrew baby they deliver! In a jealous, fearful rage, the ruler who held power over their own lives was ordering them to go against everything they believed in—commanding them to become deliverers of death instead of facilitators of life.
Putting ourselves in their situation, we might think, Of course they wouldn’t participate in the murder of a generation of baby boys! I wouldn’t! But what other options did they have? The measure of their obedience was rather obvious: if they obeyed the Pharaoh, infant boys would stop appearing. To even consider finding a way around this would mean, at the least, risking their livelihood and most likely risking their lives.
Shiphrah and Puah had a very clear, very weighty decision to make. Would they fear man and go against their deeply held beliefs, harming countless children and families? Or would they fear God, trusting Him with their own lives and those of the babies they deliver?
You and I might not face such dire circumstances in our daily lives, but we are still met with countless moments in which we, too, have to choose between the fear of God (not just dread of His wrath, but reverence of His holiness and power) and the fear of man. Jesus Himself experienced these moments, faithfully choosing His Father’s law over the religious law of man (Luke 13:10-17, Mark 3:1-6 and John 8:1-11). Whether healing the sick on the Sabbath or saving the adulteress outcast, Christ set the standard for us to follow—God’s love and law trump everything else.
The midwives in our story must have come to the same decision, because they plunged ahead, delivering boys to the mothers of their people. They held up life. And their God—our God— honored their bold obedience by giving them children of their own. Scripture tells us in Proverbs 29:25, “The fear of man is a snare, but the one who trusts in the Lord is protected.” Indeed, when Shiphrah and Puah were faithful in the face of death, they were not only protected but blessed.
Fearing God can seem a difficult decision in a world that doesn’t. We may find ourselves gripped with doubt at the prospect of lost possessions, lost relationships, or a lost reputation. Yet, like those two women— in these weighty moments—we have to choose. Will we fear man? Or will we fear the God who loves us enough to guide us through earthly hardships to the gates of Glory?
May we walk forward in obedience today, seeking our Lord’s approval alone. May His words of affirmation be the only ones we long to hear: “Well done my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
“Fear of the Lord means I don’t have to fear anything else.”
- Jim Thomas