Pharaoh’s plan is a clever one. In an attempt to obliterate the Hebrews, he enlists midwives to pull a quick-handed maneuver by smothering any Hebrew baby boys seconds
after birth so that their mothers will believe they are stillborn. The more this happens, the more the Hebrew people will believe that their fertility—their life-force—is diminished. Progeny was everything, for the ability to procreate determined the survival, legacy, and strength of a tribe. Pharaoh doesn’t just want them dead, he wants to eradicate their identity, their resilience.
But, instead, two gutsy women throw a wrench in his plans. Shiphrah and Puah are the only women in this story to be named, which we know is a rarity in scripture, so when it happens, it’s as if the author is flashing blinking lights on the page that say, “Pay attention to them!” What we see is the first known instance of civil disobedience in recorded history. They say no.
These midwives, these lowest-of-the-low-status-women who likely had no husbands, who were simply glorified servants, who, themselves, may have been deemed infertile and therefore useless to a family system, risk everything to say no.
Through this simple but mighty act, they change the course of history so that, many, many years later, another baby boy born into a dark world of genocide might also survive and flourish and grow up to redeem the world.
In this painting, these hands represent the women’s resistance. They are the hands that said no to a power-hungry ruler but yes to a God of justice—to a God who transforms a story of massacre into one of liberation. The impact of their actions, like the waters of the Nile, ripples out far beyond them.
—Lisle Gwynn Garrity