Shiphrah and Puah: Deliverers and Liberators for God

The metaphor of midwife is used of God to help better understand God as a deliverer when the people of Israel are in Babylonian exile (Ps. 22, 71). L. Juliana M. Claassens writes, “The image of the midwife powerfully communicates the commitment to preserve life in life-and-death situations.”[1] Just as the metaphor of God as a midwife comforts the people in dire circumstances by communicating God’s desire to deliver them and offer new life, so too the midwives Shiphrah and Puah act as deliverers and liberators to a people oppressed, offering hope for a future.

Midwives are signs of hope and life. They are trained to help guide new life into the world, soothe the laboring mother, and handle crisis situations that arise during the birthing process. Midwives were professionals even in the ancient world. Midwives are present during an extremely painful and stressful time in a woman’s life; they are a presence offering hope and comfort when a woman is consumed in anguish and worry.

Shiphrah and Puah were women responsible for the lives of birthing women and their babies. They were trained to do all that they could to save lives. Yet, Pharoah asks them to violate the sacredness of their profession.

Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was Puah; and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?” The midwives said to Pharoah, “Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.” So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them (Exod. 1:15-21 NASB).

Shiphrah and Puah choose to defy Pharaoh and risk the consequences of doing so because they fear God. They were not willing to purposely end life, they were determined to preserve life and protect those who were vulnerable. Claassens writes, “The decision of the midwives (and the other women in Exod. 1-2) to protect those who are vulnerable foreshadows God’s deliverance.”[2] We see the heart of God in Shiphrah and Puah. They knew God would want them to protect these babies as they delivered them and liberate the parents from the cruelty and injustice of Pharoah’s order. New life is preserved through the faith and actions of Shiphrah and Puah. Hope for a future is born.

As Christians, we too are called to be midwives. We are to protect those who are vulnerable, comfort those who are in pain, and stand up to injustice. We are to be instruments of God through which hope of new life is exhibited through our actions of faith. We, too, can be deliverers and liberators for God as we emulate the metaphor of God as midwife to those who are suffering and oppressed.


[1] L. Juliana M. Claassens, Mourner, Mother, Midwife: Reimagining God’s Delivering Presence in the Old Testament (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 70. Kindle.

[2] Ibid.

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