Lent Devotions: Shiphrah and Puah

Design by Doug Puller/Bread for the World.

Editor’s note: This Lent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).   

By Rev. Scott Clark

Exodus 1:1-21

At my friend Rabbi Meredith’s Passover dinner, we always begin the telling of the Passover story — the story of escape from slavery — with the story of Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives who said “no” to Pharaoh’s death-dealing commands. I once asked Rabbi Meredith why she loves that story so much. She smiled broadly and said, “Because it is the story of the women who started the revolution.”


As Exodus begins, there’s a new Pharaoh in town. He does not remember all that Joseph had done for Egypt (see the end of Genesis), and this Pharaoh views the increasing number of Israelites as a threat. First, he enslaves them and “makes their lives bitter with hard labor.” Then, Pharaoh orders that their boy-children be killed at birth.

Shiphrah and Puah are the Hebrew midwives who deliver the Hebrew children. They receive Pharaoh’s command, and they are faced with a moment of decision — a moment of turning: Will they say “yes” and turn toward Pharaoh, or will they say “no,” turn toward freedom, and risk their very lives? In that moment, they remember God, and something wells up within Shiphrah and Puah. It is a steely resolve, and a deep abiding “no” — no to Pharaoh, no to death, no to genocide. And in that moment, Shiphrah and Puah not only start a revolution, they save a people.

Standing in this story with Shiphrah and Puah, here are some questions for our prayer today:

Where are we/you being asked to turn toward freedom in the issues of our day — refugees on the move seeking shelter and sanctuary; the persistence of American racism; continued abuse of creation (to name but a few)?

In the ordinary moments of every day, where are we/you being asked to turn toward freedom?

What is one thing that we/you can do today?

Rev. Scott Clark is a chaplain and associate dean of student at San Francisco Theological Seminary. 

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