Remember Miriam Part 1 – God Uses Courageous Women by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: The growth of the church, and I don’t just mean the numerical growth, but the spiritual growth, the expansion of God’s kingdom and the adding of new believers to the family of God, this is the grief of the world. The world hates it, and Satan hates it. He levels all his policies and his programs and his powers against the growth of God’s kingdom. There’s a battle.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, August 20. Yesterday, Nancy ended the program in Psalm 90. We’re told this Psalm was written by the man of God, Moses. Today we’ll begin a study of a young woman who served Moses and helped him become a hero of the faith. Nancy begins a new series called Remember Miriam.
Nancy: Well, all this year we’re celebrating on Revive Our Hearts the year of the true woman. We have the True Woman conference coming up not long from now in October in Chicago. We’ve been looking at different women from God’s Word throughout the year and just seeing what God has to say to our lives through the lives of these women.
I’ve wanted for a long time to develop a study on the life of Miriam, an Old Testament character. So as I started to study this preparing for this series, I came to the first incident that is recorded about her life in the book of Exodus. You may want to be turning there as I’m setting this up. Exodus chapter 1.
This first incident, which actually takes place in Exodus 2, is when Miriam was a young girl, and it’s in the events that surrounded the birth of her little brother, Moses. You remember how his life was threatened as a newborn and how God supernaturally spared him. As I got into this study starting to think about Miriam, I realized that Miriam is one of just five women who are part of this scene so I expanded the study.
Before we get into Miriam’s life, I want us to look at these other women as part of our study on Miriam and look at them not just to see what we can learn from their example, but also to understand and see their role and ours in the whole drama of redemption, which is the story of God’s great plan of salvation through all of the Scripture from Old Testament to New Testament.
I want to give us some background and some context for this whole account. Then today we’ll be introduced to the first two of these five women. Over the next few days we’ll look at the other three. So by way of background, looking at Exodus chapter 1, let’s start back at verse 6. “Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation.”
Joseph had been sent into Egypt by his brothers, and his brothers and dad had ultimately joined him there. Joseph and his family had died, but their family had ended up growing up in Egypt. That wasn’t where God intended them to live. Ultimately they were going to be in the Promised Land, but for the time being the people of God are strangers in the land of Egypt.
Verse 7: “The people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.” Now this was an evidence of God’s blessing. God was blessing and multiplying His people. He was building a nation through whom He would bless the world by sending a Savior, Jesus Christ. So God blessed them by multiplying them so that they could be a blessing to others.
Verse 8: “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Joseph had been a leader in the land of Egypt. He had risen to a place of fame and prominence, but now a new king comes in. He doesn’t know Joseph. He doesn’t appreciate where these people came from or how they got there.
Verses 9-10: “And he said to his people, ‘Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’”
Now Pharaoh, as the king was known in Egypt, has two concerns here. First of all, he perceives the Hebrews to be a national security threat. There are so many of them, if they decide they don’t like us when our enemies come against us, they’ll ally with our enemies and we’ll be in trouble. So we need to narrow down their forces. We need to make sure they don’t become too powerful a force in this land. Furthermore, we don’t want them to escape from the land because they’re a workforce in the land and we can’t afford to be without them.
So Pharaoh decides he’s going to control the population growth of the Hebrews. He institutes a national program to deal with this threat. The program, as we’ll see in just a moment, goes through several phases and each is progressively more aggressive than the first. We see the first phase beginning in verse 11.
Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel (verses11-12).
So Pharaoh sent them into forced labor. Then we see in verse 13 he intensifies the labor. Verses 13-14:
So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.
So they continued to increase the workload. They intensified the oppression, butPharaoh’s program didn’t work because God was superintending His people. He was providentially caring for them and He was the One building this nation. No Pharaoh or number of Pharaohs in the whole world could stop that. The Hebrews kept multiplying in numbers.
So then we see a more aggressive policy beginning in verse 15.
Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live” (verses 15-16).
Now what was the thinking here? Girls who were born could grow up and become domestic slaves and that would not be a problem. Pharaoh could use a lot of those in Egypt. But the boys, if they were allowed to live, could grow up and become what? Warriors. Soldiers. They could become a threat to Egypt. So Pharaoh institutes this policy of systematic male infanticide. Kill the baby boys. It’s a horrible program. It’s an insidious plan, and he instructs that it’s to be carried out by these midwives.
Now we’re told their names, Shiphrah and Puah. It’s not clear which nationality they were. Some think that they may have been Hebrews because why would the Egyptian midwives have spared the lives of these Hebrew children? We don’t know. They were probably not the only two midwives in Egypt. There were millions of people in Egypt and two midwives would not have been sufficient especially for this burgeoning Hebrew population. It’s likely that these two women were in charge of a national network of midwives throughout the land of Egypt.
Now these midwives were likely slaves themselves. This king who gave them this directive held absolute authority over their lives. But look at what verse 17 tells us about these midwives. “But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” That’s an incredible verse.
Here’s Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world, and he issues this edict. He says, “Kill the boys.” These two midwives say, “We won’t do it.” You see these women feared God more than they feared what Pharaoh could do to them. But they were more concerned about God’s wrath, which will last for eternity, than they were about Pharaoh’s, which what could Pharaoh do more than kill them? He couldn’t do anything else to them other than kill their bodies. They feared God more than they feared the king.
These two women I’ve come to really admire as I’ve been pondering this passage. They stand in a long line of men and women who reverenced God and had said we will not bow. If the word of the king contradicts the Word of God, we ought to obey God rather than men. The fear of God is what delivered these women from the fear of man.
The fear of God is what delivers us from the fear of man. What can man do to me? If God is for me, who can be against me? It’s a far more serious thing to incur God’s wrath than to incur the wrath of any human being. It’s the fear of God that caused them to disobey the king’s unrighteous law. There are laws that are unrighteous. When the law of man conflicts with the law of God, the fear of God will cause us to obey God rather than man.
Now God had not yet given His law to His people. The Ten Commandments were given in Exodus chapter 20, and we’re back in Exodus chapter 1. So they didn’t have the official written law of God yet. But these women knew that God had forbidden murder. How did they know that? Well, Romans tells us that the law of God is written in our hearts. We have a conscience. These women had a conscience. They knew that it was wrong.
I hear today about people doing certain kinds of things or certain kinds of behavior—nonbelievers—and saying, “I had no idea it was wrong.” The only way you could have no idea it was wrong is if your conscience has become seared. If you have so resisted the light that you have that you end up walking in darkness.
These women knew in their hearts, but it was also possible that they knew because God had revealed from the earliest days that murder was wrong. Remember back in the days of Noah after the flood? God said, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” Genesis 9:6.
These women knew that it was the law of God, one of the very first laws of God, that human life is sacred. It’s to be protected. These were helpless babies—the least of these. But somehow they knew that life is precious, and it’s to be preserved. So they refused to do what the king commanded and they let the male children live.
In verse 18, they are called to account for this. “So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and let the male children 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’” (verses 18-19).
Now there’s been a lot of discussion by a lot of theologians, a lot of ink spilled over this question. Did the midwives lie to Pharaoh? If so, were they justified in doing that? Well, I’m not going to get into all that except to say as I’ve read a number of commentators on this passage. It’s very possible that what they said was true. This could have been so on various accounts.
First of all, knowing of Pharaoh’s edict:
- The Hebrew women in labor may have delayed calling the midwives until after they had given birth.
- The midwives may have delayed responding to calls to give the women time to deliver the babies and hide them.
Then I’ve seen this suggested: The Hebrew women were used to hard work. They had been treated as slaves. They were working for Pharaoh. They were part of his manual labor force. They did not live the delicate, refined lives that the Egyptian women did. Probably the Hebrew women as a result were in better physical condition. Anybody who’s had a baby knows that if you’re in better physical condition, it can help you have a quicker, easier labor.
Some of you say, “It doesn’t always work that way.”
- It’s very possible that these women just were in such good physical condition that they did have faster labor and that their babies came more easily.
- Above all of that, it’s very possible that God may have supernaturally made their labor quick and easy so that they didn’t need the help of the midwives.
Regardless of whether it was a miracle or it was God just strengthening these women,there’s no question that God was involved, that God was protecting His people.Regardless, it’s clear that the reason for God’s commendation of these midwives is that they let the male children live. The commendation was not because they lied if in fact they did lie.
Now there are two outcomes of the women letting the children live and the male babies being born. Verse 20 tells us both of these outcomes. First of all, you read in the middle of verse 20, “And the people multiplied and grew very strong.”
It’s like whatever Pharaoh did, it could not keep these children from being born. He could not keep the nation of Israel from growing and becoming strong and expanding. In spite of all of Pharaoh’s concentrated efforts to limit their growth, God kept blessing. God kept giving them children. God kept increasing their number.
I’m reminded as I think about this phenomenon that when God wants to bless His people, there is nothing and no one that can stop Him. There is no law. There is no king. There is no ruler. There is no husband. There is no congressman. There is no parent.There is nothing that can stop God’s plan when He wants to build His kingdom and bless His people.
That should encourage our hearts, that in the midst of terrifying days, God’s people can multiply and grow strong. In fact, sometimes the church has multiplied and become strong more so in times of persecution. We’ve seen this in the church in China. During the years of communist oppression when the West was not permitted in, the church grew more in those years of terrible persecution than it has in other parts of the world where there is no such persecution.
God can bless His people and cause them to grow strong. God can bless and cause you to grow strong in the midst of very difficult circumstances where everything and everyone seems to be set against that happening.
Then we also read in verse 20, “So God dealt well with the midwives.” “And because the midwives feared God,” verse 21, “he gave them families.” They were rewarded. That’s what Proverbs 31:30 tells us. “A woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” These women feared the Lord and God blessed them. He gave them families.
Now often in that culture women were midwives because they had no children of their own. They would help other women in giving birth. They cared for other people’s children, and in this case, because they did, God blessed them with their own children.
Now at the same time the pressure didn’t stop. In fact, it actually intensified. We see in verse 22 the next stage of Pharaoh’s program of population control. It’s actually a program of ethnic cleansing. He’s trying to get rid of the Jews. This stage is the most aggressive yet. It’s incomprehensibly cruel.
As if what he had already done wasn’t enough, look at verse 22, “Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.’” The Egyptians considered the Nile a sacred river. It may have been that they intended to offer the Hebrew children as sacrifices to the gods of Egypt.
The first directive had been to the midwives. Now Pharaoh commands all His people, verse 22. This is a general public order. It was likely that everybody was responsible to tell if a woman wasn’t following these orders. Or those who didn’t tell might face reprisals themselves for not doing so.
Now according to the commentators I’ve read, it appears that this edict was made after the birth of Aaron, who was Moses’ older brother by three years, and that the edict was probably revoked soon after the birth of Moses. So it wasn’t an edict that went a long time. If it had, there probably would not have been 600,000 Jewish men of adult age 80+ years later when they were delivered out of Egypt.
So he didn’t succeed in wiping out a whole generation of men as he had hoped to do. There was this narrow window likely where this edict was in effect. It’s just a reminder that God’s sovereignty overrules kings and rulers and laws. We can beat our heads against the wall about evil rulers, evil leaders, evil laws, and we ought to do what we can to see them changed, but there are times when we can’t do anything except appeal to God who is the One who rules over all these kings and edicts.
Now that’s just a quick view of the story—the what. I want us to take a couple moments here to say something about the so what. What does all this have to do with us? Well, one it reminds us that there’s a battle going on. The kingdom of God versus the kingdom of Satan. Light versus darkness. Life versus death.
Matthew Henry says in his commentary on this passage: “The growth of Israel is the grief of Egypt and that against which the powers and policies of hell are leveled.” He’s saying with Israel growing Egypt is infuriated so all the powers and policies of hell are leveled against Israel.
What was true of Israel in that day I would say is true of the church in our day. The growth of the church, and I don’t just mean the numerical growth, but the spiritual growth, the expansion of God’s kingdom and the adding of new believers to the family of God, this is the grief of the world. The world hates it. Satan hates it and he levels all his policies and his programs and his powers against the growth of God’s kingdom. There’s a battle.
This is not a day that is a friend to grace or to Christ. We see that if you’re going to proclaim the name of Christ today, you got to have thick skin. You got to be willing to take abuse and misunderstanding. But in the midst of that, we see that Satan is always determined to take life, especially the lives of those who might further God’s kingdom and God’s reign and God’s rule in this world.
How does he do that?
- He does it physically, by various means of taking physical life.
- In some parts of the world it’s means of famine and AIDS and children of AIDS victims.
- Abortion in our country and around the world.
- Infanticide in some parts of the world. Ultimately, it’s Satan who’s wanting to take life.
- He does it not only physically. He does it spiritually.
- Spiritual destruction, deception, the attack on the soul of the next generation.
If Pharaoh’s sinister plot had succeeded, God’s plan to redeem the world would have been aborted. But God used these midwives as part of his unfolding salvation story to counter the evil plans of Satan and men.
We see here two midwives who were courageous women. They stood against evil. You think about it. What power did these women have against the Egyptian king and all his forces? And they were puny. But God used these two women—these two courageous women—to thwart the king’s evil plot.
A godly, courageous minority in God’s hands can be used to defeat an evil majority. Don’t forget that when you’re feeling swallowed up, overwhelmed by the majority position, by the laws and rulers and people and leaders and influencers in our nation who are set on evil, don’t forget that God uses courageous women. And women like that can be used to overthrow entire evil empires by God’s grace and His power, not so that we can reign and rule, but for the reign and rule of God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
Used with Permission. Revive Our Hearts.