And the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah:…
I. NOTICE WHAT WAS PRAISEWORTHY IN THEIR CONDUCT. "They did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men-children alive," and this conduct was made possible because behind it there was a praiseworthy feeling. "The midwives feared God." They saw how real was the power of Pharaoh in enslaving and oppressing the Israelites, but they were not thereby misled into supposing the power of Pharaoh to be greater than the power of God. They had ample opportunity, even more than the rest of Israel, to mark the Hand that was producing this extraordinary increase in the numbers of the people. Their very professional experience was of a kind to impress them deeply with the fact that Israel was increasing at a rate not to be accounted for by the ordinary processes of nature. They could not see God as they saw Pharaoh, but his superior power was made evident by the things he did. Then, on the other hand, with all the manifestations of Pharaoh's power, it was impossible for him to conceal that he was afraid himself. Moreover, as the oppression and affliction of Israel increased, it became still clearer that God was with the people, and the-more confirmed would the midwives be in their fear of him. Hence it would have been a very poor sort of prudence to comply with Pharaoh's order, to avoid his displeasure, perhaps to gain his rewards, and then find themselves face to face with an angry God, from whom there was no escape. What a rebuke, out of these depths of bondage and suffering, and out of a very imperfect moral state, these two women give to us! They feared God, and that fear kept them safe, and made them prosperous. The fear of man ever bringeth a snare; but a real, practical and all-dominating sense of the presence and the power of God takes snares and stumbling-blocks out of our path.
II. NOTICE WHAT WAS CENSURABLE IN THEIR CONDUCT. It must not be supposed that because they feared God, and God dealt well with them, everything therefore which they did was quite as it should be. With all their deep sense of God's presence, these women were living but in the twilight of the revelation, as far as they personally were concerned. They knew enough to fear God, i.e. they knew the reality and greatness of his power, but they did not know enough to love him. With them, conscience was in such a half-enlightened, half-awakened state, that while they felt it wrong to obey Pharaoh's command, and would probably not have obeyed it if the sword had been hanging over their heads, yet they have no scruple as to deceiving Pharaoh. Undoubtedly, women who had been fully instructed in all the will of God, and who were fully alive to all the round of duty, would have faced the king boldly, and said, "We cannot do this thing, come what may." But they were living, as we have already noticed, in a very imperfect moral state. They honestly felt that deceiving Pharaoh was a quite permissible way of showing their obedience to God. Hence, while upon certain considerations we may excuse their deception, we must not slur it over as a matter of no moment; and though it is said that God was pleased with them as it was, this does not prevent us from feeling that he would have been even better pleased if they had said straight out to Pharaoh, "How can we do this great wickedness and sin against God?"
III. CONSIDER THE CONDUCT OF THESE TWO WOMEN AS ILLUSTRATIVE OF A CERTAIN STAGE IN THE PROGRESS OF SINNERS TOWARDS GOD. There are many who have got so far as to fear God, and this is no small attainment. It may be that there is something slavish, terrifying, paralysing even in the fear; but, even so, it is better to have the fear than be as those who are completely destitute of it. For, with a feeling of real fear to lay hold of, God can do great things. He can gradually bring us nearer and nearer, so that we shall love as well as fear him. He can show us his loving spirit, and his power to fill our lives with blessing and surround them with security. He can show us that there is really no more reason to live in restless dread of him than there is for a little bird to fly hastily away at the approach of some kind-hearted human being. But where there is no fear of God, what can be done? When the chief thing you dread is the laughter of fools; or the censure of unsympathising friends and neighbours or threatening superiors; or the fear of temporal loss and pain in general.; what can then be done? Be thankful if you have got so far as to fear God. Fearing him, dreading him, trembling before him, feeling his power more than any other of his attributes - this is a long way short of loving him, but nevertheless it is a stage toward that glorious state of the heart; and it is incomparably better than to have no feeling for God at all, and to let an arrogant world fill his place. It is a great point gained, when once we clearly perceive, and act upon the perception, that to be safe and right with man is a mere trifle to the great necessity of being safe and right with God. One Pharaoh goes and another comes, but the God of Israel, the God who is bringing all these men-children to the birth, abides for ever. Before we begin to pity Shiphrah and Puah for their defective notions with regard to truth, we had better make sure that they do not rise in the judgment against us, on account of our gross indifference to the majesty and authority of God. - Y.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: