The midwives feared God

13 July 2020

Dave Brennan of Brephos UK, a church project of CBR UK, reflects on Exodus 1:8-21 and what it really means to fear God and protect life.

For all his wealth, power, and worldly significance, the king of Egypt in Exodus 1 is never named. Towards the end of the following chapter, he dies in obscurity. We still don’t really know who this Pharaoh was.

“Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Two lowly members of the slave class, by contrast, were held in very high esteem by God. They are named – Shiphrah and Puah – and their names mean “Beautiful One” and (probably) “Splendid One”. They were certainly beautiful and splendid in God’s sight. He dealt well with them, their people multiplied and grew very strong, and he gave these women families (see verses 20-21). Their names will last forever, and I bet they are famous in heaven.


The answer is given in verse 21: “because the midwives feared God”.

Pharaoh was not a happy man. Despite his great position, he lived in fear of the Hebrews (verse 9). He was terrified of losing them. Outwardly, they may have been the slaves but inwardly he was the slave: a slave to fear and idolatry.

Fear of anything other than God leads to eventual misery and every kind of evil deed.

And, indeed, it drives Pharaoh to extreme, wicked measures. He orders that every Hebrew boy be killed at birth. We can’t be sure, but it seems that what he has in mind here is some kind of partial-birth abortion; otherwise how could we make sense of the explanation in verse 19 that the midwives kept arriving moments too late to kill them? Such is the energy of evil in the human heart that we continually invent new ways of killing one another. We are still doing it today.

What Pharaoh never accounted for, however, was the disruption that can be caused by people who fear nothing but God.

Shiphrah and Puah “feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded” (verse 17). They were slaves on the outside, but inside they were free. Free to disobey wicked earthly commands. Free to do the right thing. Free to take their life in their hands and die if necessary. To fear God is to be free from fear.

This was far more than modern-day ‘conscientious objection’, for which there is still provision in the law of our land today. These women were disobeying specific orders given to them personally by the supreme autocrat. If found out, they would surely be killed.

But the midwives dared not do what Pharaoh commanded. Why? Because they feared God. They dared not do harm to his little ones, his precious image-bearers. They dared not violate his gift of life, no matter what any earthly authority commanded.

They’d rather cross Pharaoh than cross the Living God.

Today, whatever our position, we have our marching orders from God with respect to the infanticide of our day. For most of us it is perhaps the things that we are not doing, rather than the things that we are doing, that run most red:

“Be a voice for the voiceless.” Proverbs 31:8

“Rescue those being led away to death.” Proverbs 24:11

What would it look like today if you and I feared nothing but God?

  • Share

Related articles

All content has been loaded.

Take action

Join our email list to receive the latest updates for prayer and action.

Find out more about the legal support we're giving Christians.

Help us put the hope of Jesus at the heart of society.