Shiphrah and Puah were Hebrew midwives during the Israelite enslavement in Egypt. Fearing a revolt, the pharaoh commands these women to kill all the sons who are born, but the Bible records, “But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive” (Exod 1:17). As powerful as pharaoh was, these women knew that God was more powerful; as surely as pharaoh demanded obedience, God required accountability. Despite possible consequences, these women chose to honor God.
Another word for “fear” is “hold in awe.” Although Pharaoh seemed imposing with his claims to divine authority, these Hebrew women held in awe the Creator of life. The same word is used later when the Israelites witness the parting of the Red Sea and their deliverance from the Egyptian army: “So the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Thus Israel saw the great work which the Lord had done in Egypt; so the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord and His servant Moses” (Exodus 14:30,31).
This kind of fear, this acknowledgment of God’s power and mercy, leads to faith and worship. The Israelites burst into praise: “I will sing the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! … The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will exalt Him . . . Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exod 15).
Unlike this holy fear that leads to peace, comfort, trust, and praise, there is a negative fear that motivates many of us. We strive to please our parents, peers, and other persons of authority because we fear the consequences – punishment, disapproval, criticism, rejection . . . this kind of fear leads to anxiety, confusion, competition, and exhaustion.
But Shiphrah and Puah show us a better way; they trusted implicitly in God and obeyed Him rather than men. When their conscience was challenged by earthly authority, they relied on a heavenly authority. They feared God more than they feared pharaoh and his armies.
“And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that He provided households for them” (Exodus 1:21). God blessed their faithfulness by providing families for these women, and He honored their decisions.
Today, what kind of fear motivates you? Is it the holy fear of God, the Creator of life, which brings you to healing and peace? Or is it the fear of men, which leads to brokenness and anxiety?
Jesus invites you to come away and rest awhile with Him: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27); “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Jesus, the overcomer, offers you peace.
Father God, I have been enslaved to the wrong kind of fear – I have let my desire to please others dictate many of my decisions. But today, I want to fear only You – I want to obey solely You – please grant me the courage and wisdom to choose only You. Amen.