Shiphrah and Puah Have Their Say

With Joseph *finally dying* at the age of one-hundred-and-ten, it was inevitable that his eleven surviving brothers would sooner or later die too. So they did, along with all the others of their generation. The following generation took, then, its place in the sun – the Egyptian sun – which was a harsh and fierce sun, but a sun that nonetheless the new generation of Hebrews – or, if you like, Israelites – thrived in. Well, at least at first.

In their Egyptian refuge of Goshen, the Israelites – or, if you like, Hebrews – conscientiously and innovatingly farmed the land, which eventually became the most prosperous area in all of Egypt. Despite working so hard to achieve this, they still found the time and energy to procreate to the utmost. Thus their numbers grew to an extent that made Egyptians nervous.

A new Pharaoh had ascended the Egyptian throne, and he fanned the flames of these fears. Unfortunately for the Hebrews, this new Pharaoh was not able to put their presence in Egypt into perspective, for he had never heard of Joseph – the Hebrew who had become prime minister of Egypt, and who, through his implementing wise policies, had enabled Egypt to cope successfully with the seven-year famine in the Levant that had devastated Egypt’s neighbours. So, but for Joseph, Egypt would have been devastated too. However, in his ignorance, the new Pharaoh didn’t think about this.

Hence the Pharaoh kept saying at rallies, “My fellow Egyptians, these Hebrews have become too many and too strong for us. We must take precautions to see that they don’t increase any further; or we shall find that, if war breaks out, they will join the enemy and fight against us, and become the masters of Egypt. We just can’t have that.”

***

In order that their spirits be broken and their libidos dampened, the Hebrews were made into slaves, and, ironically, *through the very same laws* that had enabled Joseph to make Egyptian workers into slaves long ago.

Day by day, year by year, from sun-up to sun-down, the Hebrews now toiled in the fields and in the mines and on construction sites, while being lashed with the whips their Egyptian overseers wielded with relish. All this under the unrelenting rays of the fierce Egyptian sun and attendant mugginess.

If the Pharaoh thought this would end Hebrews proliferating he was dead wrong. Through their belief in God, they found meaning in their servitude. So their spirits remained unbroken and their libidos undampened. They continued multiplying.

Eventually realising this, the desperate Pharaoh summoned Shiphrah and Puah, who were the two chief Hebrew midwives. After the usual introductory pleasantries, the Pharaoh said, “You are to instruct the midwives who report to you that they are to kill all the boy-children they deliver. The girl-children, though, may be spared.”

“Please Your Majesty” said Shiphrah, “why are you ordering this? This does sound very odd, and very cruel, and goes against everything we, as midwives, hold dear. May we ask the reason for this order?”

“I normally give orders with no explanations” said the Pharaoh. “But I’ll be nice, and will make an exception for you. I have simply found it necessary for the good of Egypt that the numbers of Hebrews must not increase. And how better to bring this about than by killing all Hebrew boy-babies by throwing them into the Nile?”

The other midwife, Puah, chipped in, “Your Majesty, quite apart from the barbarity of your plan, killing all Hebrew boy babies at birth won’t be possible, not even remotely possible. You see, because Hebrew women have to work so hard and so long each day, they’ve become in such good physical shape that giving birth is quite easy. Also, you can’t most times even tell if a Hebrew woman is with child because she’s in such good physical shape. To give birth, she needs only to squat down somewhere, and the baby comes out, and she goes back to work in the fields the next day. Hence we, as midwives, help deliver only a small percentage of Hebrew babies born.”

“Even given what you say” said the Pharaoh, “you still deliver some boy-babies. Each boy baby you kill will still help stabilise your numbers. Now, I’m finished talking. Do as I order, else you’ll be very sorry.”

Shiphrah and Puah went back to their duties.

Source: Exodus 1

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