Forty women: 12. Shiphrah and Puah

I’m a rule-keeper by nature. I just think rules are basically a good thing. Rules set a level playing-field, they tell us how to get where we want, they keep us all safe. But not all rules are a good thing. Even natural rule-keepers know that sometimes the right thing to do is break the rule.

Like when the king of Egypt comes up with a new rule for the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah. When they are assisting the Hebrew women giving birth, he tells them to kill all the male babies. The girls don’t matter, obviously. The girls can live.

Shiphrah and Puah aren’t in the business of killing babies. They are midwives. Their job is to save babies. It’s more than that, though. They may be Israelites, enslaved in Egypt, but they know that the king of Egypt is not their ultimate authority: “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.” (Exodus 1:17).

They won’t kill the boys. They won’t do it because it’s wrong. They won’t do it because they care more about what God thinks than what the king of Egypt says.

They’ll even lie about it. They tell Pharaoh it’s impossible, rather than just telling him they refuse. Their lie is not just, I think, to protect themselves, but to prevent other midwives being sent to do the same gruesome job.

“So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.” (Exodus 1:21-22).

I don’t know how many baby boys’ lives were saved by Shiphrah and Puah, but even if it had only been one, their actions would have been heroic. They risked themselves, their freedom, even perhaps their own lives. They – foreign women, enslaved women – stood up to the king, disobeyed him and deceived him. And because of them, those babies lived.

Rules are good, except when they aren’t.

Obey the law, except when it’s wicked.

Honour the authorities, but not more than you honour God himself.

Forty women: 13. A Levite woman