The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 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.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.
– Exodus 1:15-21
One can imagine the midwives saying to Pharaoh, “There are thousands of Hebrew women giving birth, but only two of us.” But they didn’t. They simply disobeyed orders and then, when confronted, told the truth. And, of course, there weren’t just two midwives in all of Egypt; they are emblematic of what to do in the face of imperial authority that demands injustice of its subjects. Refuse.
Shiphrah derives from Hebrew meaning “beautiful,” “fair,” and perhaps “improved.” Puah, depending on who you ask, might be derived from the Hebrew meaning “cry out” or “groan.” These two did a beautiful thing amidst those who were crying out, groaning – both in the national sense of the people crying out under the yoke of slavery, and in the personal sense of those crying out, groaning in childbirth.
So this is, in effect, the Bible’s first story of faith (“But the midwives feared God.”) as civil disobedience. It might also be, by extension, a lesson about how every position, no matter how humble, can be a platform for doing justice. Every person, no matter how insignificant, has the capacity to confront the system, to refuse to go along to get along.