Only Two Midwives in Egypt?

Nappanee IndianaHave you ever lived in a small town? We raised our kids in Nappanee, IN—population 5,000. Completely surrounded by Amish farms, Nappanee is unlikely to grow larger, and I’m glad. It was the perfect place to raise a family.

There were, however, a few drawbacks. One afternoon, only days after moving into our new home, we were cutting down a large evergreen tree in our backyard. My husband was using a hatchet, and—ooops! You guessed it. He got his hand instead of the tree trunk. We hadn’t had time to choose a doctor yet, so we asked our neighbor to direct us to the nearest emergency room.

Ummmm…thirty minutes north. Ugh.

You see, in a small town the local doctor does it all. That’s how it works. As Roy was standing there, afraid to look at the cut on his hand, our neighbor listed the two doctors in town. Of course, we chose the one our neighbor recommended—because that’s how small towns work. And that doctor remained our doctor for most of the fourteen years we lived there—because again…that’s how small towns work.

Roy’s hand was fixed up with a few stitches, and we arrived at church on Sunday to a myriad of well-wishers and concerned folks who had heard of his hatcheting accident—because, well yes, that’s how small towns work.

In Exodus, when the king of Egypt commands two Hebrew midwives to kill all Hebrew baby boys, it sounds as if there were only two midwives in the entire nation of Egypt. But we must remember how small towns work…

Egypt in 1250 BCE

Sometimes it’s tough for us—sitting in 21st-century Western culture—to imagine Ancient Middle-Eastern lands. Unless you have a fabulous imagination, it’s nearly impossible to see Egypt as it was in 1250 BCE, during the days of The Pharaoh’s Daughterthe life-giving Nile river amid a desolate desert land.

The great folks at Waterbrook/Multnomah have helped by fashioning a map of the important locations mentioned in the book. I hope it gives some perspective on the “small town” where we’ll meet the midwives mentioned in Exodus 1.

WBM map w-Delta circled

Geography Lesson

During the reign of King Tut, Memphis was Egypt’s political capital and Thebes was its religious capital. Pharaoh’s harem palace, which would have housed all the royal women—including noblemen’s wives and Pharaoh’s wives, mother, sisters, and daughters—was located in the Fayum Oasis at Gurob.

The Hebrews (the name possibly originating from Abiru, the stubborn remainders of the Hyksos race—see 5th-wk countdown, When Comfort Becomes Bondage, for more information) lived in an area of Egypt that Scripture refers to as Goshen. If the Children of Israel are indeed the Abiru, their tribes would have been concentrated in a well-defined area of the Nile Delta—most likely the cities of Avaris and Qantir.

Meet the Midwives

Historical research tells us that during the reign of King Tut, the Ramessid family owned estates in the lush green lands of the Nile Delta (circled in red on the map). The Ramessids were a raucous bunch that later became a great dynasty of Pharaohs.

But—as is often the case—my initial research raised more questions than answers:

  • Why was King Tut in the land of the Ramessids thirty-five years before a Ramessid became king?
  • What drew Tut away from his palaces in Memphis, Thebes, and Gurob?
  • What caused Tut to command two Hebrew midwives to kill every male baby—and spare the girls (effectively killing his strongest laborers and sustaining the breeders)?

“The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, ‘When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.’”        Exodus 1:15-16

More Important Matters

Geography and character questions subside as I begin to live with the characters in God’s Word. When I turned my attention to these saucy midwives, their bravery astounded me. I mean, seriously—would you defy a king’s command and then stand before his throne and say Egyptian women were wimpy?

“The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, ‘Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?’ The midwives answered Pharaoh, ‘Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.’ Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: ‘Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.’”   Exodus 1:17-19,22

Shiphrah and Puah were given an explicit command by the most powerful man in the world. They had to choose—not once, but repeatedly—to disobey a king and stay true to God.

  1. They chose God’s way each time they refused to kill a baby boy.
  2. They chose God’s way when they answered Pharaoh truthfully but wisely.
  3. They chose God’s way when they continued to let Hebrew baby boy’s live, thereby inciting Pharaoh to command Egyptians to throw Hebrew babies into the Nile.

The Results of God’s Way

God’s Way doesn’t always mean a happy ending. In this case, we see that the midwives were richly rewarded for choosing God’s way:

“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 1:20-21

But Hebrew babies still died. I wanted to believe they didn’t; in fact, I wrote the first draft of my novel that way—the midwives bravery saved every Hebrew boy. But my critique partners reminded me of all the hieroglyphs on tomb walls recording babies tossed into the Nile.

Babies died. History records in gruesome detail that God’s way doesn’t guarantee a storybook ending.

But the midwives saved countless Hebrew boys by choosing God’s way and experienced personal peace in the process. Our God can use even the most horrific acts of men as a pathway for His blessing.

What is God asking you to do today? Defy a king or maybe just step a little out of your comfort zone? Are you willing to choose God’s way—no matter the cost?

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Today’s Question:

  • At what point is it right for a follower of God to disobey governmental authority?

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Comments

  1. Just reading today of Christian children being murdered in distant lands-how up to date to realize God’s people have indeed gone through horrible times. But God. We would like to have explanations and see rescue but like your story, this doesn’t always happen. Sad. Terrible. But reality. Yet that brings to light God’s mercy and grace. Jesus died that terrible death….so that we can be assured of life forever more. Life and peace. We have to let peace be our Guardian and Comfort. And what we know of Jesus is our strength. Oh thank You, Jesus.

    • Our current-day violence brings these midwives’ bravery into clearer focus, doesn’t it? Exodus 1 isn’t just a fable or children’s bedtime story–it’s fact, a historical recounting of the atrocities God’s people faced…and we see God’s people still enduring terrible things. But, as you say, we do not lose hope. We trust His plan to raise up deliverers, to rescue His people, and to reconcile His people to Himself for eternity. Thanks for bringing these thoughts to our daily experience!

  2. To the answer to your question: At what point is it right for a follower of God to disobey governmental authority?

    I would have to disobey the governmental authority, when they tried to tell me who I can or cannot serve. At that point, I would still have to serve the Lord and not some sovereign power.

    • I hope it never comes to that, Debra, but I agree with you. I hope we never have to make the choice like Daniel did, but by God’s grace–lions or no lions–I agree…as for me and my house, we serve the Lord (to quote Joshua). 😉

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