There is a little-known story of two women in the beginning of the book of Exodus; two little-known women named Shiphrah and Puah who are midwives for the King of Egypt. Their role takes a little-known and very dark turn when they are commanded to kill the very children they bring into the world: all sons born to Hebrew mothers.
Before going further, note two easily passed-over details: 1) This text of women is actually recorded. 2) The women are named.
The Bible is no stranger to patriarchy. It was written mostly if not entirely by men. It was edited by men. It describes a succession of societies over a period of roughly 1200 years whose public life was dominated by men…It talks almost only about men. In the Hebrew Bible as a whole, only 111 of the 1426 people who are given names are women. (Cullen Murphy, “Women and the Bible,” Atlantic Monthly, 8/93)
Two of the 111 are Shiphrah and Puah.
This is stunning. And this is the Sacred Feminine – showing up boldly, provocatively, undeniably.
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dwelt well with the midwives, and the people multipled and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, [God] gave them families. (Exodus 1:15-21)
This tale of two women offers us a wise and winsome template for all womens’ capacity, courage, and profound beauty. The Sacred Feminine – showing up boldly, provocatively, undeniably.
They support one another.
Shiphrah and Puah are not understood separate from one another in this text. Their actions are as one in defiance. Their voices are as one before the king. Their courage, resolve, and ability to act are strengthened because of one another.
This is evidence of the Sacred Feminine’s presence in our midst: our passionate collaboration with and support of one another.
They defy predominant culture and its leading voices of power.
Shiprah and Puah, both Egyptians, are described as “fearing God” (a completely counter-cultural act) which only heightens the level of risk inherent in their actions – as if disobeying the king weren’t enough. In doing so, they name and defy the existing and dangerous system of power.
This is evidence of the Sacred Feminine’s presence in our midst: our passionate voices rising in unity to speak out against injustice.
They say and live their truth.
Truth-telling is a life-or-death matter: their own and those of all Hebrew sons. When confronted they cunningly save their own skin while simultaneously saving that of others as well. Their actions shout the truth about an existing system of power that is violent and out-of-control; they have the capacity to stand up to it and effect change.
This is evidence of the Sacred Feminine’s presence in our midst: our passionate telling of the truth – rife with consequence and risk but compelling our capacity to effect change.
This is the way it has always been with women throughout history. No matter the era or context we find these same truths. And in them all, the Sacred Feminine – showing up boldly, provocatively, undeniably.
May it be so – with Shiprah and Puah by our side.