“Puah and Siphrah: Surviving Motherhood” Exodus 1:1-22

The following is the transcript from the May 8, 2016 service at Little Brown Church, Nashua, Iowa. 


Before I go any further, let me say I believe motherhood is a God-given institution that is being attacked with a great vengeance in our country.

Let me also say that motherhood as an institution is greater than the motherhood of the past. For instance, there are single dads who are mothers. There are granddads and grandmas who are mothers. There are teachers, pastors, counselors, guardians who often serve as a mother to a child.

In fact, I believe that God, although often referred to as Father in our Scriptures, also has some mothering characteristics. Does the phrase 

"as a hen gathers her chicks..." 

sound familiar? And since we are "created in God’s image" does it not make sense that there’s a bit of motherhood in God as well. I certainly hope so.

This message is about surviving motherhood. You see what scares me is that the importance of the role of motherhood is being questioned. 
Those, whose voices are often given the most credibility in our society, are advocating the relinquishing of child rearing to professionals. Many of these so-called experts are calling for curtailing parental rights, suspending the Biblical basis of parenting, and calling for changes in the American family in the halls of the United Nations as well as in our state and federal legislatures.

Some people ridicule Mother’s Day as a lot of sentimental drivel. They say that it is nothing more than a greeting card holiday that benefits florists and long-distance phone companies. 

And I must admit that there is some truth to their arguments. But I also believe that a little bit of sentiment is healthy now and again. I have to believe that most mothers, a majority of mothers, do the right thing by their children and their families, and deserve this day of recognition more than any other family member.

I can only imagine the stress, the hurt, and the confusion; our mothers might feel as they try to make sense of it all. Today, unfortunately, in many ways motherhood isn’t something to be enjoyed but it’s something to be survived.

If you’re in that predicament, hear these words…

If you love your children, and you’re trying your best to love them as much as God has loved you, then you’re OK, you’re doing good. And you do deserve this day.

In my mind, and I believe in our Bibles, motherhood is needed. Motherhood is important. Motherhood needs to be valued. And Motherhood needs to be more than just survival.
Let’s look back to our text for today to find some ways we can make this happen.
In this first chapter of Exodus, we have two Jewish midwives, who in their own way, became the mothers of the Jewish nation as well as, eventually, their own families.
Puah (Pew-uh) is a personal name of which its meaning is unknown; whereas, Shiphrah (Shiff-rah) means beauty. They were midwives. It would be wrong to assume that Puah and Shiphrah were the only two midwives in Egypt. 

They were most likely high ranking midwives (due to their Egyptian names) who served in Pharaoh’s house and were in charge of all the midwives in the land of Egypt. 
What were the duties of midwives? 

In Biblical times midwives, rather than doctors, assisted women in giving birth. In Egypt, the expectant mother sat on a “birthing stool.” Ezekiel 16:4 describes some of the midwives duties: cutting the umbilical cord, washing the infant in water, rubbing it with salt, and wrapping it in swaddling clothes. These Hebrew wives clearly served the Egyptian as well as the large Hebrew population. 

And the Hebrew population living in Egypt was exploding. It would appear that these numbers worried the new king (vs. 8-9). In addition, Egypt had enemies who bordered them. 

The new king was obviously militarily minded and recognized that a potential alliance with the Hebrews and their bordering enemies. It’s one thing to defend your country from an outside attack, it’s quite another to be attacked from the inside as well. Thus, in verse 11 we learn of his first attempt at preventing such an alliance: 
"So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor." 
Their primary objective was to build these storage cities (Pithom and Raamses), however, the new king had a much more devious, underlying motive. We only read of its failure in verse 12, yet it would appear the plan was to work them so hard leaving the men too tired to father children. It didn’t work!
"But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out…" (vs. 12). 
His next plan is downright hideous! It employed the services of our two women characters — Puah and Shiphrah. 
This new, hideous plan attacked the problem from another angle. Rather than trying to prevent conception, the new king’s plan was one of “unnatural selection!” He would select which newborns lived and which died. 

Puah and Shiphrah were told by Pharaoh to kill the Hebrew boy babies at birth. Refusing to comply would mean their lives. Yet they feared God more than Pharaoh and it would be God they obeyed!

In fact, when Pharaoh realized that the Hebrew babies were being allowed to live, he again called our two midwives in for an explanation (vs. 18). We can only speculate as to the truthfulness of their answer (vs. 19), yet I tend to believe that it perhaps wasn’t simply a bold faced lie. 

In any case, with the king’s Second plan ending in failure, the king went to his Third plan. He then ordered that all the male babies be cast into the river, and in our Scripture, this is where the story of Moses begins.

What can we learn from Puah and Siphrah about surviving motherhood in difficult times? 

First, Puah and Siphrah turned to God and not to human will. 

Listen to Oprah all you want, listen to Dr. Phil all you want, and if you can find a book written by Dr. Spock feel free to read it, but don’t take any of their advice until you compare it to the very Word of God found in the Scriptures. 

In the Bible we are told that:
motherhood can be life-giving “ (Genesis 3:20), 
that a mother is full of wisdom (Exodus 2:1-10), 
that mothers should be honored (Exodus 20:12), 
that prayer is essential in motherhood (I Samuel 1:25-28), 
that teaching children God’s ways is honoring to God (Deuteronomy 6:20-24), 
that children can be a joy to their parents (Proverbs 23:25), 
that obedience is necessary (Jeremiah 35:1-16), 
that the message we give to our children today will be passed down to their children tomorrow (Joel 1:3), 
that parents need to be thoughtful of their children (Luke 1:17), 
that parents need to be supporting children and not vise versa (2 Corinthians 12:14), 
that loved children imitate their parents (Ephesians 5:1)…and 
that only scratches the surface…

God has given us a wonderful “how-to” book, and like Puah and Shiphrah, we can follow God’s will instead of the will that this world offers. And I guarantee you, that God’s advice in much better than theirs.

Second, we can see that these two midwives had a faith that was deeply rooted in their own experience with their God. 
They are recorded in Israelite history as “saviors.” But they were just ordinary women who possessed a courage that could only come through the faith in someone greater. Without concern for themselves they decided to preserve life instead of take it. 
In a male dominated society, these women used not only their initiative, but they used their faith. These unknown women emerge as heroines and rightly so, but it was their belief in something greater and their actions by acting on that belief, that allowed them to safeguard the lives of these infants. 

Moms, you need to have a deeply rooted relationship with Jesus Christ. Find that time to get alone to read, study, and pray. Hebrews 11:6 says that God is a
 “Rewarder of those who seek him” 
Seek Him first, and then be amazed what your faith will help you to sustain.
Third, in order to survive motherhood, these two women must have understood that as affliction seems to intensify, so does God’s blessing in return. 

Like the Israelites, we may experience something beyond affliction. It may seem that we’re on the verge of destruction. It may seem that we have nothing left to give or nothing that anyone would want. 

But it’s a times like these, when the weight of the world seems poised to crush us, God is poised to answer with a midwife. Just like the midwife who brings about physical life, Spiritual midwives bring about Spiritual life.

It could be the friend who offers just enough comfort. It could be the friend who gives us just a little encouragement. It could be the hug, the smile, the well-placed phone call or card, given by someone who cares.

But at each point, God is there. Things may get worse before they get better. Labor pains always intensify. But God, who is deep in the Spiritual womb of our souls, in quiet and unseen ways, is nurturing new life. And in his good time, he will bring about a new birth.
Psalm 126:5-6 says 
“Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shout. Those who go to and fro weeping, carrying their bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing their sheaves with them.” 
So the advice we give to moms is probably advice we can learn from ourselves…
Turn to God’s knowledge, not human knowledge. 
Deeply rooted faith brings its own rewards.
Affliction will eventually bring God’s blessings. 

As quickly as Shiphrah and Puah appear on the Biblical stage, they disappear. Against all odds, these two courageous mothers remained faithful. They survived motherhood and we can learn from their example.
Will you join me in prayer?

Heavenly Father,We give you thanks for our mothers. For those who have given us life and love, help us to show our love and reverence. For those mothers who have lost children through death, help us to show our love, support, and encouragement. 

For those women, though without children of their own, who like mothers have nurtured and cared for us, we pray for your blessings upon them. 
Loving God, as a mother gives life and nourishment to her children, so you watch over your Church.

Bless these women, that they may be strengthened as Christian mothers. Let the example of their faith and love shine in the darkness places; and Lord, grant that we, their sons and daughters, may honor them always in with a spirit of profound respect and love, for all that they have given to us. 
We pray this through Jesus Christ our Lord. 
Amen.