Egypt’s new Pharaoh was dealing with what he believed was a national crisis. Years earlier, a race of non-Egyptians — Jews to be precise — had settled in Egypt and had since multiplied so prolifically that they had become a threat to national security (Exodus 1:7). Pharaoh’s fear was that if an enemy nation went to war against Egypt, the Jews would align themselves with the enemy and in so doing make Egypt easy pickings (Exodus 1:9-10). While the Jews had showcased no evidence that they would do such a thing, the freshly minted Pharaoh wasn’t about to take any chances.
His plan was to make the Jews the slaves of Egypt and use them as free labor to build two new supply cities in Egypt. To force the Jews to do the work, Pharaoh appointed cruel taskmasters to oversee the labor (Exodus 1:11). In his way of thinking, this plan would accomplish two important goals. First and foremost, if the Jews worked hard all day they would be too tired at night to have sexual relations, and that would curtail their population increase. Second, it would get a couple of needed cities built.
A funny thing happened, though, with the plan. The more the Egyptians afflicted the Jews and made them work, the more the Jews multiplied (Exodus 1:12). And with each new Jewish baby that was born, the dread of the Jews settled in more heavily upon the Pharaoh and his fellow Egyptians (Exodus 1:13). So, Pharaoh had his taskmasters inflict even more cruelty upon the Jews by forcing them to do all manner of menial jobs, particularly anything having to do with making bricks, making mortar, and laying bricks (Exodus 1:13-14). To the Jews, the work was akin to living inside an iron furnace (Deuteronomy 4:20).
In addition to the increased workload, Pharaoh also met with Shiphrah and Puah, the two Jewish midwives who oversaw the Jewish group of midwives. Pharaoh’s command to Shiphrah and Puah was simple. If a Jewish woman gave birth to a daughter, the child could live, but if the woman gave birth to a son, the son was to be killed (Exodus 1:15-16). Despite the fact that Pharaoh’s plan, if carried out to the letter, would eventually result in no Jewish males for the work force, he figured that was a price worth paying if it capped the population of the Jews.
But did Shiphrah and Puah and all the other Jewish midwives carry out the plan? The answer is found in Exodus 1:17:
But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive. (N.K.J.V.)
As you might expect, it didn’t take Pharaoh long to figure out that there were some new Jewish baby boys in Egypt, and so he summonsed Shiphrah and Puah and demanded an explanation (Exodus 1:18). And how did they answer him? Exodus 1:19 tells us:
And the midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them.” (N.K.J.V.)
Okay, you Bible scholars, does this response from Shiphrah and Puah amount to a lie? Before you answer, perhaps I’d better point out that the next verse, Exodus 1:20, says:
Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty. (N.K.J.V.)
Keep in mind now that we are dealing with the same God who would later strike Ananias and Sapphira dead for lying about their sale of a certain possession and their subsequent donation of the proceeds to the early church (Acts 5:1-11). So what do we do with this answer from Shiphrah and Puah? Well, generally speaking, there are only two possibilities. They are:
- Shiphrah and Puah didn’t lie because God supernaturally saw to it that the Jewish mothers gave quick births that allowed the mothers time to hide their baby boys before the midwives even arrived on the scene.
- Shiphrah and Puah did lie, but God blessed them for their actions (i.e., not killing the male babies) rather than their words. Putting it another way, He blessed them because they obeyed Him rather than Pharaoh (Acts 5:29).
While the temptation is to conservatively err on the side of caution by believing that Shiphrah and Puah didn’t lie, there is another Biblical story that seems to contradict that interpretation. I say this because in that second story God clearly blesses the telling of a definite lie. That’s the story that we will look at in the next post, and so I’ll ask you to please stay tuned until then. Oh, and in the meantime, I’ll also ask you to please forego the telling of any lies. (lol)