The Story of Puah and Shiprah
The “Ride or Die” Chick ideal is currently an obsession of contemporary culture, and often the subject of urban musings, music, and mythology. Yet, before “Cookie,” the fictional character of Empire fame, or “Bonnie,” the real life gangster boo who assisted her boyfriend, Clyde, in robbing banks in the 1930s; there were the ORIGINAL “Ride or Die” women of the bible for our study and consideration.
Upon a much needed reframe of the notion of “Ride or Die Chick,” the sacrificial, feminine power for the divine cause brings to mind women such as Deborah, Jael, Esther, Rahab, Shiprah and Puah. These “Ride or Die” females sacrificed their lives for a righteous cause, displaying unquestionable obedience and service to God. Their purpose was to uplift humanity; often saving an entire people (Esther, Shiprah and Puah) in the process, with fierce determination, skill, and strategy from the genocidal intent of bigoted rulers filled with hatred for God’s people. These were “take no prisoner” female warriors, such as Deborah and Jael; selfless and sacrificing queens such as Esther and Abigail; and “bad to the bone” babes like Rahab, the cunning and enterprising owner of a brothel in Jericho, who opened the city gate for Joshua’s army to enter and defeat Israel’s enemy.
We find through reading their stories, these women rode hard for God, accepting their “do or die” assignments with unyielding faith, courage, and boldness to get the task accomplished. So, the “Ride or Die” chick is nothing new. In fact, they are as old as the biblical narrative itself. The original “Ride or Die Chicks” of scripture teach us, especially girls and young women, the true “ride or die” cause belongs to God alone. God purposes the authentic “ride or die” initiative, and when the cause is of a divine nature, the end result glorifies God and uplifts humanity.
As we are now witness to so many young women who have decided to blindly follow and support the criminal activities of misguided men, a reframe of the “ride or die” phenomenon becomes a cultural necessity. So many young women sacrifice their own lives and destinies for no-win situations; whereby there is either loss of life or loss of personal freedom for an ungodly and confused cause. Instead, scripture recalls women who affirmed and demonstrated, in their godly actions, they were “more than conquerors,” because of their “ride or die” faith in God and the advancement of God’s will.
For this study, we will focus on two defiant and decisive “Ride or Die” chicks of the Old Testament – the dedicated and God-fearing doulas of the book of Exodus. In the narrative found in the 1st chapter of Exodus, verses 6-21, Shiprah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives, partner with God, and become the life guarantors to the imminent nation of Israel. When we read their story, we discover that Shiprah and Puah were OFFICIAL because of their unrelenting love for God. They rode hard for the Lord!
And Now, THE WORD, from our Sponsor……………………………………………………………………………………….
6 Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, 7 but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.
8 Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.
Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. 18 So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.
The occupation of midwifery in the Near Eastern Semitic traditions, including Egypt, was considered a lowly one. While the women skilled in birthing babies proceeded physicians by centuries, there was little respect for these highly skilled doulas, who ensured that babies were born alive, mothers recovered, and life continued from generation to generation.
In the text for our consideration, the midwives, Shiprah and Puah, are responsible for the assisting the Hebrew mothers in birthing their babies. The king of Egypt, who was Pharoah in the text, orders these two women to commit infanticide; by ordering them to kill the Hebrew boys, and only letting the girls live. Pharaoh was operating out of fear of the Hebrews, who will later become the nation of Israel, and sorely challenge the Egyptian nation. In the proceeding chapters of Exodus, we discover that God blessed the Hebrew people with virility and fertility. Their numbers grew exponentially, and Pharaoh feared the Hebrew slave nation would revolt against the tyranny of his cruel and heartless government.
While Pharaoh believed himself a god, (as did the Egyptians under his rule), the text informs us that Shiprah and Puah “feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded.” The word, “fear” in the text is misleading, when we think of the English definition: to be scared or to be afraid. In this narrative, the word “fear” has a completely different connotation – to cause astonishment and awe, to inspire reverence or godly fear of the Holy Presence. Shiprah and Puah might have feared Pharaoh, because of his position and his cruel intent; but the two midwives loved and reverenced God more.
The great German theologian, Rudolf Otto, (author of “The Idea of the Holy”) is helpful here, as we “unpack” this word (fear) in the text. Otto writes about the majesty and awe of God, which provokes within us, a feeling of inadequate creature hood. God is Creator and we are creature. We understand, in the presence of God, God is “mysterium tremendum.” God is a holy mystery, ***omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. God is beyond our comprehension because our knowledge, as humanity, has certain and numerous limitations; and also because God is the “Holy Other.” God’s kind and character are opposite of our own, in ways that our human understanding cannot even fathom or define.
In the story, in spite of the evil command of the king, Shiprah and Puah completely disregarded Pharaoh’s orders, and trusted in God instead. Theirs was not an easy assignment because in disobeying the king’s wishes, Shiprah and Puah could have easily lost their lives; but, we understand from the narrative, God chose two women who were defiant enough, decisive enough, and determined enough to complete the task for the Lord.
Whom God calls, God equips, and God equipped Shiprah and Puah with boldness, courage, and strategy to think fast on their feet, to derail Pharaoh’s plans. When they stood before Pharaoh, to answer his questions, they were poised and confident in their answer. Together, they achieve a united front; using the king’s own preconceived and prejudice notions of Hebrew women, to present their rationale for disobeying his command. We see here not only strategy; but sisterhood; because Shiprah and Puah work together, as a team to foil Pharaoh’s evil program. They refuse to be intimidated by the perceived power of Pharaoh, as they understood that God is ultimately in control of the circumstances; despite what and how Pharaoh responded.
The seemingly insignificant and inconsequential task of midwifery becomes an act of divine purpose and power – to save the nation of Israel. One of the children whom Shiprah and Puah save, will become the most important figure of the Torah: Moses, the Law-giver. While Shiprah and Puah were not aware of the divine providence of God to this regard; we watch them carry out their assignment, trusting in the mercy and grace of a God who loves them and will protect them through the process. God uses these two midwives, their skills and giftedness in bringing children into the world healthy, to ultimately work the plan of salvation for His people. In saving Moses, and other Hebrew boys, (Aaron, the brother of Moses is another), Shiprah and Puah are an important part of God’s divine intent for the nation of Israel, which will be birthed from the Exodus event.
Ultimately, these “Ride or Die Chicks,” teach us something about offering our lives for a cause. The test is this: “Is God in the initiative, and will God be glorified? In this case, the answer to both of these questions is, “yes.” As the story of Shiprah and Puah closes, we find that God blesses them with families of their own. In the Old Testament, there is no greater blessing than this. Again, we can emphatically declare from another biblical narrative: “If not for a woman………….”
***omnipotent – All Powerful
***omnipresent – Everywhere present at the same time
***omniscient – All knowing, having complete and unlimited knowledge.
QUESTIONS FOR OUR DISCUSSION & CONSIDERATION
How do you think Shiprah and Puah felt, as they stood before Pharaoh, the most powerful man on the planet at this time?
What do you think this story teaches us about the contemporary construct of “Ride or Die Chicks?”
Where do you think Puah and Shiprah’s courage came from?
What can their story teach us about dealing with power, prejudice, and privilege in our own lives? At our jobs? In our relationships?
Puah and Shiprah were viewed as insignificant in their culture; yet, we see God using them in a most powerful and consequential way. What does this tell us about the intentions of God in our lives?
The story of Shiprah and Puah demonstrates that God is no respecter of persons. While the world may devalue our gifts and contributions to the Kingdom, God can and will use those others would degrade or disregard. Their story teaches us that our actions have consequences, and assignments from God will ultimately change the world for the better. It also teaches us our lives have divine meaning and purpose; and, our lives are NOT to be used for purposes which do not glorify God or advance God’s kingdom. Ultimately, as women, we are all Ride or Die chicks. We are created in God’s image, for God’s glory, and for God’s purpose. It is up to us to step forward, accept the assignment, and ride hard for God, wherever and whenever we are called to do so!
Other Famous Ride or Die Chicks
Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Joan of Arc, Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, Zenobia, Angelina and Sarah Grimke – Can you think of any others??
written by Evangelist Angie Garrett