Women of Hope: Shiphrah, Puah, and Anna

The Midwives

My entire adult life these hands have held Hebrew babies, but now to carry my own child seems too good, too great. How faithful Yahweh is!

When Puah and I went before Pharaoh – afraid for our lives – I didn’t expect to leave his presence with my life, yet we not only lived but God has blessed us with families of our own! It’s all too much to believe.

I thank the Lord Almighty for His faithfulness and pray that my people’s* faith will ignite in light of what He’s done.

Shiphrah, one of two Hebrew midwives* during Israel’s final years of Egyptian enslavement. Two like-minded women of faith, Shiphrah and Puah choose to fear God more than Pharaoh when he commands them to murder each baby boy born to Hebrew women (Exodus 1:16). They choose to put their trust in God instead of pleasing man, giving themselves over to God’s plans instead of their own. 

Fear of God

Enslaved for more than 400 years, the generations of Israelites alive in the midwives’ day have only ever known captivity. Pharaoh’s cruelty knows no bounds (1:11,14), so their fear of Pharaoh is well-founded – and it is deeply rooted.

Scripture tells us less of their fear of God. We have no record if the Israelites heard from God for these four centuries,1 yet they cry out for His deliverance (3:7), demonstrating there remains an element of faith in Yahweh despite the silence, despite the slavery.

It’s easy to imagine how despondent these Hebrew slaves would have been, how hopeless for a future that looked like anything other than what they have known – that is, unless God were to send a deliverer.

There’s a recognizable glimmer of hope in the middle of the despairing description about these Hebrew slaves that hints of God’s presence – “but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers, and became so numerous that the land was filled with them” (1:7) – the familiar language of blessing from Genesis 1:28. In other words, God may seem absent, but the Creator’s hand has never left His people.

This is Shiphrah and Puah’s context. 

Whether alone in their faith or surrounded by a people who stubbornly cling to their belief in God, these two women make a vital choice in the face of legitimate, quake-in-your-boots terror. Their choice to fear God over Pharaoh is a turning point in this centuries-long subjugation – because this brand of ‘fear’ of God exudes more reverence and awe than apprehension, as differentiated by the use of the Hebrew word yare with a particular infinitive.2 

All that to say, our midwives confronted their fear of Pharaoh with faith in God.3 It stands out to me that this decision to go against the king was not one-and-done. The choice to overcome trepidation looked Shiphrah and Puah in the face each time a Hebrew woman went into labor.3 

And that gives me much hope. As a person who too easily falls into people-pleasing patterns, caring too much what people might think or say, I run into my fears more than I’d like to admit. Each time the fear raises its head, I flail – then I get mad at myself, thinking I should have conquered this by now. What Shiphrah and Puah show me is that this choice to put our hope in God instead of other people (or even ourselves) is a. daily. decision. 

They also demonstrate that we can do whatever God calls us to even when we’re afraid. Not because we are so strong but because God is.

The Prophetess

I knew it! This feeling of anticipation that awoke me has buzzed like bees in my belly all morning. And, now I know why. The Messiah! He has come! Immanuel is here!

The moment I laid eyes on that precious babe, my spiritual sight saw Him for who He is. Thank You, Father! Thank You for gifting me with this encounter with Messiah! Thank You for hearing our prayers!

I knew You could not be silent forever.

Now my belly burns with a fire I cannot contain. I’ll share this good news with everyone I meet!

Anna. Decades-long widow. Prophet of God. A woman of eighty-four who has spent her life in the Temple – never leaving, always praying (Luke 2:37). A woman whose heart and mind are not distracted but fully aligned with her Father’s. So, when the Spirit leads her to eight-day-old Jesus one day in the Temple, she is overcome with gratitude and exuberance to share Messiah’s arrival to “all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

Choosing Hope

So little is written about Anna, yet her place on the timeline of biblical history is no coincidence. Like her counterparts in Exodus, Anna steps into a life of faith-filled service during the final years of four centuries of oppression – and God’s apparent silence. 

Known as the “intertestamental period,” the four hundred years between Malachi’s encounters with God and the angel’s visitation of Zechariah (those centuries between the Old and New Testament) have no representation in the Holy Bible (Malachi 4:5-6; Luke 1:11-13). 

But, like the Hebrew enslavement in Egypt, God’s people in this second “silent” era remained fairly faithful to God. Extra biblical resources, namely the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees, suggest that God’s people fought wars with the Greeks (aka: Seleucids) in order to win back the Temple in Jerusalem – and that miracles, though few, demonstrated God’s forever-presence with His people.1 

Even when He appears absent.

Anna, whose world came crashing down when her husband of seven years suddenly died, makes a choice to place her hope in God. Instead of giving into despair or cynicism, Anna turns toward the Temple and finds place and purpose. She gives God her heart and places all her hope in His deliverance from the Romans.4

Bookends of God’s Deliverance Story

Purchased on Canva

Our three women of hope span thousands of years – two on the front end of God’s redemptive plan and one who shows up on the eve of its culmination. They each exist in eras when God’s people cry out for salvation. And their faith in God lays the way for His deliverers.

When Shiphrah and Puah defy Pharaoh, he shifts gears to come up with another awful plan to eliminate baby Hebrew boys – drowning in the Nile (Exodus 1:22) – which sets the stage for a particular baby boy to be put in a miniature ark to float the Nile toward his rescue. A baby boy who grows to become Moses, God’s chosen rescuer of His people (Exodus 3:10).

When Anna gives nearly seventy years of her life to prayer and worship, her heart yearning for another miraculous saving of God’s people, she unknowingly places herself in the very location of the Christ child’s presentation. And God uses her presence and passion to join the shepherd’s voices in announcing Messiah’s arrival (Luke 2:17-18,38).

These bookends – Shiphrah/Puah and Anna – frame a larger narrative within the Bible, that of God’s Redemptive Plan. From the time sin enters the world and separates God from His creation, He has been laying out stepping stones that lead toward the ultimate Day of Redemption (Ephesians 4:30). 

In its early stage, deliverance comes from Moses, who liberates God’s people from Pharaoh and attempts to eliminate slavery in all its forms from within them.5 Of course, Moses is but a type for Christ because there is only one true Messiah – the ultimate Deliverer. Yet, both play a significant role in the grand scheme of redeeming God’s people back to Him.

So, it’s no happenstance that these women full of hope and faith are placed on the timeline of God’s Redemption Story – exactly where they are and when they are – for good reason. When these women of hope step into their stories with the holy fear of God, their faith illuminates the hope of God’s people that has carried them for hundreds of years. And their actions make way for God’s plans to move into the world – plans of redemption and reconnection with Himself.

Shiphrah, Puah, and Anna slip into the ageless accounts of history’s holiest of heroes with no fanfare. Instead, they quietly move forward with faith, finding courage in the hope they have in God. What models they are for us, women whose work often goes unnoticed and unappreciated, whose lives of faith look more like buying groceries than parting seas. We can learn from two midwives and one prophetess that when we’re faithful to put our hope in God, we are assured to become part of a greater redemptive story that will carry into future generations – no matter how small or insignificant we feel. God is always at work. And His plans always have purpose, which is why our hope in Him will always be well-placed.

Father God, You are our hope! You are never absent! In the dailiness of our lives, it’s easy to doubt or forget You – but the stories of these little known women ignite in us a hope that what we do matters. That what You give us to carry will be worth the discipline and devotion for today and for years to come. That what you ask of us – no matter how big or small – always has purpose in the midst of your plans. Praise to You, Father! Lord Jesus, your story begins long before your birth and extends well beyond your ascension to heaven. Thank You for inviting us into your narrative and for including the stories of these three women in Scripture so that we can look to them and mirror the hope and faith they demonstrate, so that we can trust your whole plan – not just the parts we see. Lead us, we pray, each day in the ways we should go, the words we should say, and the steps we should take in order to remain firmly on your path. Holy Spirit, we love seeing your invisible hand in the lives of Shiphrah, Puah, and Anna – the way You held, encouraged, emboldened, led, and blessed them. May we always and forever remember that You are constantly at work in us, through us, and around us so that we, too, can live lives of hope in the One we trust. Be our strength of spirit when our hearts panic and our minds flail. Equip us to fear God, not the people around us. Help us to always return our focus to Jesus so that our faith is the anchoring force in all we think and feel, speak and do. In Jesus’ name, amen.

(inspired by Romans 15:13; Hebrews 13;5; Colossian 3:23-24; Joel 1:2-3; 2 Timothy 1:9-10; Jeremiah 29:11; John 1:1-2; Hebrews 11:1; John 8:12; Proverbs 3:5-6; Philippians 2:13; Exodus 1:20-21; Luke 2:38; John 14:12; 2 Timothy 1:7; Isaiah 40:31; Galatians 1:10; Hebrews 12:1-2)

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

*There is great debate over whether Shiphrah and Puah were Hebrew or Egyptian… Either way, their ‘fear of God’ is duly noted in Exodus and their faithfulness rewarded!

  • I wonder what you think of this week’s featured portrait!? I found the artist, Sara Beth Baca one day while searching for a public domain portrait of another Women of Hope. I fell in love! I promised myself I’d come back and purchase one of her “Women of the Bible” portraits ($25 to download). I’m so glad I happened to see Sara’s Puah-picture as I searched the web this week — because hers is the one with POMEGRANATES!!! You for sure want to check out her site! Here’s the link to her Women of the Bible series (y’all she sells them individually, as a flash card set — I’m so tempted — and as downloadables). She also has other series.
  • 1 – I found this article so interesting about the two biblical eras of 400 years where God seems so silent. Michelle Van Loon makes a great case that the 400 years of enslavement were much more ‘silent’ than the 400 “intertestamental years.”
  • 2 – Biblehub.com to the rescue! I am not trained in biblical languages, but it’s great to have tools like Strong’s Concordance available for clarification and greater understanding!
  • 3 – Lynn Cowell’s book, Make Your Move,^ is the first study that opened the door on these two amazing women for me.
  • 4 – The Women in Christian History Devotional,^ December 26th, emphasizes that Anna waited a long time to see the redemption of God’s people.
  • 5 – This article, “Getting Egypt Out of Us,” captures what I’ve heard taught by several trusted teachers – that too often when we’ve been freed out of some sort of captivity, it takes longer to get its grips and habits out of us
  • The song on our “Women of Hope” playlist that represents Shiphrah and Puah is “Defender” by Francesca Battistelli and Steffany Gretzinger. God was certainly their defender as they went before Pharaoh to “break the news” that the Hebrew baby boys live because the Hebrew women are so strong. 🙂 The songs I chose for Anna reflect her passion for the coming Messiah, “Even Unto Death,” and her unending faithfulness to God — she certainly “Kept the Candle Burning.”
  • Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:
    • This summer we’re continuing the rhythm of meditation. We’re filling our minds with our anchoring passage, Hebrews 11:1. Do you see how our three women lived by the truths of faith — how they were sure of what they hoped for even though they couldn’t see God at work? Until they did! LOL. We’ll continue to soak in the New Century Version translation this week:

      “Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it.”
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured portrait: “Puah” by Sara Beth Baca — purchased from her site. Bits and Pieces photo by Photo by Zrng N Gharib on Unsplash.

^an affiliate link with which I may earn a bit 

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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