The women of the rest of the Pentateuch
With one exception, we know much less about the women than the men we meet in the five Old Testament books that relate the story of God’s people during the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan. It is not that these women are unimportant. It is simply that Scripture now moves at a faster pace. Rather than taking time to develop character, as Genesis does in the case of men as well as women, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and even Joshua focus on the story of what God is doing for an entire people, not His workings within a single family.
With the exception of Miriam, we will not come to know the women in this period of history in the depth that we came to know Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and the others. We will meet women, however, both named and unnamed, who played significant roles in bringing God’s plan of Old Testament redemption to fulfillment.
PUAH AND SHIPHRAH
Scripture reference: Exodus 1:15–21
Date: About 1525 b.c.
Name: Puah [POO-uh: “splendid”]
Shiphrah [SHIF-ruh: “beauty”]
Main contribution: The two midwives thwarted Pharaoh’s intent to kill the boy babies of Hebrew women at birth.
The Hebrews had been slaves in Egyptfor some time when the Book of Exodus opens, and the slave population was exploding. What seems to have worried Pharaoh was that these slaves were Semites, from the same stock that was exerting pressure on Egypt’s borders. Pharaoh became concerned that in case of war the Hebrews might stage an uprising at home.
The obvious answer seemed to be to reduce the slave population. So Pharaoh commanded the midwives who attended the Hebrew women to see that any male infants the Hebrew women delivered did not survive.
Puah and Shiphrah were not the only two midwives in Egypt. We need to see them as the two women who oversaw the work of all Egypt’s midwives, for Hebrew midwives clearly served the Egyptian as well as the large Hebrew population (Ex. 1:19). While their names are Egyptian, the women were Hebrew. It was not at all unusual for Hebrews serving in an official capacity to be given Egyptian names, as was Joseph, who was given the name Zaphnath-Paaneah (Gen. 41:45).
These two Hebrew women had more respect for God than for Pharaoh, and were rewarded by the Lord with large families for their role in protecting God’s people some eighty years before Moses came out of the Sinai as God’s agent to set His people free.
The two women remind us that, while leaders and the laws of the land may give us the go-ahead on certain behaviors, ultimately, it is God’s Law, written on our hearts, to which we are responsible. Also, these midwives illustrate that God does reward our obedience to Him.
Scripture references: Exodus 2:1–10; 6:20; Numbers 26:59
Date: About 1525 b.c.
Name: Jochebed [JAH-kuh-bed: “Yahweh is glory”]
Major contribution: The mother and nurse of Moses, who taught him to love God and be loyal to his own people.
JOCHEBED’S ROLE IN SCRIPTURE
Jochebed is named only in two genealogies, where she is identified as the mother of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. Undoubtedly her most significant role was in the early shaping of her son Moses, a dominant figure throughout the Old Testament.
Jochebed was a Hebrew woman in Egypt, a member of a slave race. When she bore Moses, Pharaoh had commanded that all boys born to Hebrews should be thrown in the Nile. When Jochebed could no longer hide her child, she made a boat of papyrus reeds and concealed him in the river where Pharaoh intended that such children would meet their doom. Jochebed set her daughter to watch the baby and see that no harm came to him.
We know the familiar story, of how Moses was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter and adopted by her. The princess unknowingly then placed Moses in the charge of his own mother to be nursed.
It was common in Egyptas in most ancient societies for upper-class women to have wet nurses who would nurse their children. This relieved the mothers of a tiresome task and helped them keep their figures. So it was natural for Pharaoh’s daughter to employ a Hebrew wet nurse.
In biblical times children were not weaned until the age of three or even four. We can assume that the first three to four years of Moses’ life, spent with his mother rather than with the princess (Ex. 2:9, 10), were among the most important of his life. Jochebed’s influence during these years was critical in giving Moses a strong sense of identity with the Hebrew people, as well as a basic knowledge of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. The princess “called his name Moses, saying, ‘Because I drew him out of the water’ ” (Ex. 2:10).
Jochebed’s experiences show us that mothers need to be flexible and creative, especially during difficult circumstances. She stands as a reminder to parents never to lose faith that God will work in the lives of their children. Most parents live to see this, but some, like Jochebed don’t. How wonderful it is to understand that even after we aren’t here to pray for our children, God continues to answer our prayers.
Scripture references: Exodus 2:1–10; Acts 7:21-22; Hebrews 11:24
Date: About 1525 b.c.
Major contribution: Her adoption of Moses not only saved his life, but gave him educational and other advantages that equipped Moses for the role he was to play later in life (Acts 7:22).
HER ROLE IN SCRIPTURE
Pharaoh’s daughter discovered Moses, hidden in a reed boat along the river Nile, and adopted him. While many have speculated, it is impossible to identify this daughter with any certainty. Some believe she was in fact the feminist Queen Hatshepsut, the half-sister to Thutmose III, who ruled Egypt in her own right. Others assume that she was one of Rameses II’s fifty-nine daughters. It is interesting that Hebrews 11:24 states that when Moses came of age he refused to be “called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” Some take the phrase, “son of Pharaoh’s daughter,” as a title. As descent from the mother was significant in establishing title to the throne ofEgypt, use of this phrase may imply that Moses was actually in line to become the next king ofEgypt, but he chose instead to identify himself with the Israelites.
There is no doubt that Pharaoh’s daughter, her heart captured by the infant who gazed up at her from a basket-boat floating in the Nile, played a greater role in God’s plan for His people than she could ever have imagined.
Her father had ordered the destruction of Hebrew boy babies, but when she opened the basket containing a baby Hebrew male, the baby wept. “So she had compassion on him, and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children’ ” (Ex. 2:6). This young woman had everything the ancient world could offer, but her heart, unlike her father’s, was not hard. She was so filled with compassion for the beautiful infant that she disregarded her father’s edict and drew the baby from the river to save and protect him.
This young woman showed compassion, not on one of her own, but on the child of an enslaved race, a child condemned to die. We must be reminded that every child is precious to God and deserves our compassion.