Exodus 1:8-21 – Midwives Serve God

But the midwives feared God, and didn’t do what the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the baby boys alive. – Exodus 1:17, World English translation.

This lesson focuses on the midwives of Israel, at the time that children of Israel were living in the land of Egypt. The Israelites had become very strong in Israel, and we are told in Exodus 1:8 that eventually there was a king over Egypt who did not know Joseph. This was evidently some time after Joseph died. (Exodus 1:8) It appears that this king, fearing the growth in population of the children of Israel, was thinking that perhaps the Israelites might join with Egypt’s enemies so as to fight against Egypt. (Exodus 1:9,10) Thus he sought ways to stop the growth of the Israelites, and possible to reduce their population.

We read that this king thought to deal with “wisely” in this matter. (Exodus 1:10) This king was not seeking the wisdom of the true God in this matter, but he was one who “wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 3:7) Thus, his “wise” order was that  heavy burdens of labor were to be placed upon the children of Israel, evidently thinking that the more they worked, the less time they would have to bring forth more children, less time to be involved in any kind of rebellion against Egypt, and his own power would become even stronger. (Exodus 1:10,11) Did his wisdom work?

The record states that “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out.” Surely, the hand of the true God was in this! As a result, we read of the Egyptians: “They were grieved because of the children of Israel.” — Exodus 1:12.

The record continues to show how the Egyptians responded by laying even heavier burdens upon the children of Israel, even being ruthless in doing so. — Exodus 1:13,14.

Then, the king of Egypt thought of an even more ruthless way to reduce the population of the children of Israel. He ordered the Hebrew midwives to murder any newborn male baby amongst the children of Israel. Possibly the king thought that by allowing only female babies to live the Hebrew daughters would be forced into marriage with the Egyptians, thus eventually the Hebrew population would all be blended with the Egyptian population.

However, the scripture says that “the midwives feared [held reverence for] God,” so that they did not obey the king. We should note that the scripture does not say that they did not obey the king for Israel’s sake, but rather it was because they “feared God.” It was because of God, not because of man, that they refused to obey the king in such a scheme. They probably knew of Yahweh’s command: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man will his blood be shed, for in the image of God made he man.” (Genesis 9:6) Thus, they refused to disobey their God, and thus did not obey the king of Egypt, and thus, they saved the babies alive. — Exodus 1:18.

The midwives indeed, by their obedience, showed forth their faith in God over man. (James 2:18) They certainly should be remembered for their faith and courage, and they do provide for us a example of faith. As Christians, we should seek to be obedient the laws and decrees of whatever nation we live in (Romans 13:1), even if such works an injustice toward us. (Romans 5:3; 1 Peter 2:19; 4:16) However, like these midwives of old, we should “fear God” when it comes to matters concerning God’s commands for us, so we would “obey God rather than men.” — Acts 5:29.

Nevertheless, the king of Egypt realized that the midwives were not following his order, and thus asked them concerning this. (Exodus 1:18) The midwives answer that it was because the Hebrew women were vigorous, and gave birth before the midwife could come to them. (Exodus 1:19) Some object that this was a lie, and thus God should have been angry with them for this lie. The fact is that Yahweh had not yet given his law to the Israelites his commands concerning such. Regardless, the record shows that God was pleased with their reverential fear toward him, so they were blessed with families. — Exodus 1:20.

This lesson’s scriptural reading from the World English translation:

Exodus 1:8 – Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who didn’t know Joseph.
Exodus 1:9 – He said to his people, “Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we.
Exodus 1:10 – Come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it happen that when any war breaks out, they also join themselves to our enemies, and fight against us, and escape out of the land.”
Exodus 1:11 – Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens. They built storage cities for Pharaoh: Pithom and Raamses.
Exodus 1:12 – But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out. They were grieved because of the children of Israel.
Exodus 1:13 – The Egyptians ruthlessly made the children of Israel serve,
Exodus 1:14 – and they made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field, all their service, in which they ruthlessly made them serve.
Exodus 1:15 – The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah,
Exodus 1:16 – and he said, “When you perform the duty of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birth stool; if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.”
Exodus 1:17 – But the midwives feared God, and didn’t do what the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the baby boys alive.
Exodus 1:18 – The king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and have saved the men-children alive?”
Exodus 1:19 – The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women aren’t like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous, and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”
Exodus 1:20 – God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied, and grew very mighty.
Exodus 1:21 – It happened, because the midwives feared God, that he gave them families.

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Exodus 2:23-25; 35:1-11 – Yahweh Sends Moses

Key Verse: Come now therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring forth my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt. — Exodus 3:10.

Background Reading:

Exodus 2:23 It happened in the course of those many days, that the king of Egypt died, and the children of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up to God because of the bondage.
Exodus 2:24 God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
Exodus 2:25 God saw the children of Israel, and God was concerned about them.

Exodus 3:1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the back of the wilderness, and came to God’s mountain, to Horeb.
Exodus 3:2 The angel of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
Exodus 3:3 Moses said, I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
Exodus 3:4 When Yahweh saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said, “Moses! Moses!” He said, “Here I am.”
Exodus 3:5 He said, “Don’t come close. Take off your sandals from off your feet, for the place you are standing on is holy ground.”
Exodus 3:6 Moreover he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look at God.

Exodus 3:7 Yahweh said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.
Exodus 3:8 I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey; to the place of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.
Exodus 3:9 Now, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to me. Moreover I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.
Exodus 3:10 Come now therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring forth my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

Exodus 3:11 Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
Exodus 3:12 He said, “Certainly I will be with you. This will be the token to you, that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

UNDOUBTEDLY God’s providences had to do with the general character of Moses, even before his birth, as well as with his educational training for the great work he was intended to perform. Nevertheless we see it would be quite contrary to all divine usages for the Almighty to have coerced his free moral agency. The natural trend of character being developed, it was necessary for Moses himself to decide respecting its use. The central feature of this lesson is that, with all the preparation and all the fitness of the man Moses for the great work of delivering Israel from Egypt, the secret of his success lay in the fact that Yahweh was with him — Yahweh was the Deliverer, Savior, of Israel; Moses was merely his servant and representative in connection with the work, as the Yahweh himself declared: “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” — Exodus 20:2.


(2) When we consider the eighty years of Moses’ life, in which he was in preparation for the great work of Yahweh, it helps us to appreciate better the fact that our God is never in haste — “Known from the ages to God are all His works.” (Acts 15:18, Young’s Literal)  He has no need for haste; He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), and every feature of the divine plan is properly timed. (Daniel 8:19; 11:27,29,35; Habakkuk 2:3; Acts 17:31; Romans 5:6; Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:10; 1 Timothy 2:5,6; Titus 1:3) Thus 4000 years and more passed before Jesus was born, and yet the Scriptures assure us that it was in due time that God sent forth his Son, born of a woman. (Galatians 4:4) This thought should give us great confidence in the certainty of the development of Yahweh’s plans at the proper time. He is not a human being (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Job 9:32) that he should err in judgment (Deuteronomy 32:4; Isaiah 28:7); he is working all things according to the counsel of his own will. (Ephesians 1:11) In this thought all his true people may rest in confidence (Psalm 9:10; 20:7; 37:5); whether matters seem to culminate rapidly or slowly, each feature will be in its “due time.” (Habakkuk 2:3; 1 Peter 5:6) Although so much time was consumed in preparation for the deliverance of Israel, yet when the appropriate hour was come, in that one morning the whole nation started to move. Let us all learn the lesson more and more to wait on Yahweh, and then to be ready to move promptly when He indicates that His appointed time has arrived.


(3) The life of Moses is divided into three parts of equal length. The first forty years brought him to ripe manhood and made him familiar with all the learning of the Egyptians. The second forty years began when he fled after killing the Egyptian and had found that his brethren were not prepared for deliverance nor willing to accept his assistance as their friend and brother, and ended when he returned to Israel, under the divine direction, and successfully led them forth from Egypt. The third forty-year period of his life, beginning with the exodus, terminated with his death at the end of the forty years in the wilderness, just as the people of Israel were about to cross over into Canaan. The period of Moses’ life from forty to eighty years of age was spent as a shepherd in the service of his father-in-law Jethro, otherwise called Ruel. We may be sure that in that long period of time this meek man, who was ready to do with his might whatever his hands found to do, had large opportunities for learning lessons of patience.

(4) Doubtless like David, the shepherd, Moses learned to think of the sheep and his care over them, and to consider God the great Shepherd of his flock, and probably often wondered why, after giving the gracious promise to Abraham, God had left his flock, the children of Abraham, in apparently hopeless bondage. Doubtless, too, he thought of his own endeavor to help the people, and how they had shown such a spirit of discord as made it impossible for him to aid  them as he would. Possibly, he had thought many times of how it would have advantaged his own earthly interests had he followed the course marked out for him by his foster-mother, Pharaoh’s daughter, and remained a member of the royal family of Egypt and a sharer in the honor and dignity of those who oppressed his people. Likewise, he could have thought of how he had apparently blighted his entire life and spoiled all of his earthly prospects by his desire to do good to his brethren — his desire to serve their best interests. He further could have thought of their ingratitude and failure to appreciate him, their resentment of his kindly-meant assistance, saying, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us?” — Exodus 2:14.

(5) Probably in the mind of Moses the matter resolved itself in the thought that he had done his duty, the best he knew how to do, although the entire matter had resulted in failure; and it is probable he was more or less despondent respecting the future, as a meek, humble-minded man would be apt to feel. Meantime under Yahweh’s providence he went here and there with his flocks and herds to the very land in which later on he was to lead the people of Israel. In those forty years he must have become very familiar with the vicinity of Sinai and lower Palestine. Little did he know the value of the teachings he was then learning. The lesson in all this for us is faithfulness to God and to duty as he gives us to see it, leaving all the results with him. Another lesson is that present experiences, trials and difficulties may be fitting and preparing us for a future useful service for Yahweh and his people, even though at the time we see no relationship or connection between the two.


(6) Here our lesson opens, showing Moses at eighty years of age shepherding his flock on the rearward side of Mount Horeb, called Mount Sinai, where subsequently the law was given. As Moses looked, behold a bush burned near him, supposedly a thorn-bush, which sometimes grows to quite a height and quite a thickness in that country, and is known as shittim wood — the kind of wood used in the construction of the Tabernacle. As Moses looked at the flame he perceived that the bush was not consumed, and considering this a most remarkable phenomenon he turned aside and drew near to it to observe the matter. It was then that Yahweh spoke to him from the midst of the burning bush, and Moses at once knew that what he had witnessed was a miracle by which Yahweh would attract his attention with a view to communicating some important lesson.

(7) God usually has a symbolical meaning in every miracle, and in this one the representation is supposed to be Israel in the midst of tribulation, yet not consumed. Later on, in “Reformation” times, the Church of Scotland appropriated this burning bush as its emblem on its banner, because its experience had been similar in that it had passed through severe afflictions and distresses and trials, yet had not been consumed. And is not the burning bush a good illustration of the experience of Christ and all of his members? Are they not indeed surrounded by fiery trials? and do they not emerge from these unscathed, uninjured? — on the contrary, blessed, developed, strengthened, made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light?

(8) Well do the Scriptures declare that the fear, reverence, of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 110:10; Proverbs 9:10; 15:33) We greatly deplore the growth of irreverence in our day, and urge upon all of our readers for themselves and for their families the cultivation of this proper attitude of mind, so helpful to our preparation for the life that now is and that which is to come. Liberty and independence, while excellent qualities, are always to be valued and conserved and protected, are never to become license, never to lead in any degree to irreverence. This is the more necessary to us for two reasons: (1) Because of the growing irreverence of the world about us, born of a declining faith in God and everything supernatural; (2) because of our growing enlightenment in the truth, by which we see that the fears of an eternity of torture were groundless, there is a danger of losing that proper reverence for God which belongs to and is an integral part of love. — Ephesians 1:13; 4:15,24; 5:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 John 1:3.

(9) King Solomon wrote, “Guard your steps when you go to God’s house” (Ecclesiastes 5:1) — take heed to your standing, take heed to your walk, take heed to your conduct. Whether the house of God be a great temple, as in past times, under divine direction, or whether it be the temple of God, which is the Church of Christ (Ephesians 2:19-22), we should realize that reverence is befitting to us in connection with everything that is holy and consecrated. We should realize that whoever neglects the cultivation of reverence in respect to these matters is making his own pathway slippery and dangerous. He who reverences little and is careless is much more likely to stumble, to fall, and be utterly cast down. (Proverbs 1:32) If even Moses, who was humble, “above all men who were on the surface of the earth” (Numbers 12:3), needed from Yahweh as his first instruction a lesson of humility, shall we not suppose that such a lesson is necessary to us?

(10) Let us honor Yahweh in our hearts, and our outward demeanor will reflect what is our hearts. (Luke 6:45) Whether we bow to give thanks for our daily bread, whether we bow our knee night and morning in acknowledgment of divine care and providences, or whether we meet with those of like precious faith, let us see to it that reverence marks our conduct and our words as well as rules in our hearts. Let us, too, take off our shoes, let us lay aside the ordinary conduct of life by which we are in contact with the world, and in all our ways acknowledge him, especially when we hearken to his voice in the study of his Word as His people.

(11) Yahweh said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.” (Exodus 3:7) With these words Yahweh informed Moses briefly that he had not been negligent of the interests of Israel. By these words he allows him to understand that not until this time had the appropriate moment come for interference on behalf of Israel. And this thought of the divine knowledge, sympathy and care, and waiting for a due time, would give Moses all the more confidence in Yahweh’s ability to do according to his own good purposes when his time had come. And so it is with us: If we look back over the 1900 years and more of this Gospel dispensation, and perceive how Yahweh’s cause has been permitted to be overwhelmed by the forces of evil during the “dark ages” and even yet, we stand amazed, and might be inclined to say, “Does God not know? does God not care? that he allows his own name to be dishonored and his Truth to be trampled under foot and his faithful people to suffer?”

(12) Yahweh assures us, too, that He knows all about these matters and is very sympathetic, far more so than we, and he is both able and willing to grant the deliverance needed at the appropriate time. What confidence it gives us now when we look back and behold that spiritual Israel has been preserved through all these centuries! that notwithstanding the fiery affliction and adversity that burned against them, they have not been consumed! How it comforts and cheers us now to hear Yahweh’s voice telling us of the deliverance that is just at hand, and sending by us his messages of love and power to all those who have and are to hear, and who are desirous of having liberty from the power of the world, the flesh and the adversary. O, yes! we occupy holy ground, we hear the holy voice, our eyes are opened to see the wonderful things. Let Yahweh be praised! Let us give heed to his Word.

Exodus 3:10

(13) First of all Yahweh informed Moses, “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians,” etc.; then He adds, “Come now therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring forth my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” It is to be noted that God expressly declares himself to be the Deliverer, and had Moses been then disposed to boast of his own powers and doings we presume that Yahweh would not have used him, but would have found some one else for the work. Whenever Yahweh sends us on any special mission, we may be sure that He does not wish us to undertake it as our own mission, nor to claim the honor of the success attending it. He merely deigns to use us as his instrumentalities, whereas He could do the entire work much easier, we might say, without us. How wonderful it seems that God throughout all his dealings, past and present, has been willing to use His consecrated people. Telling them on the one hand that they are unworthy, He assures them on the other hand of His willingness to use their imperfections and to overrule and guide in respect to their services for Him and His cause.

(14) The prime essentials evidently in the faithful performance of such a commission would be reverence for Yahweh and humility as respects our own talents and abilities. It was so with Moses, the ‘humblest man in all the earth.” Not stopping even to tell Yahweh of his appreciation of the facts that he had been chosen for and had undertaken this great work, Moses was overwhelmed with the thought that Yahweh would think to use him as a messenger, and he promptly disclaimed any special qualifications for such a mission. Indeed, he evidently felt, as well as said, that there were others much more capable of the work than himself. But was it not this very appreciation of his own unworthiness that helped to make him suitable for Yahweh’s business? And so with us: we may be sure that when we feel strong then we are weak, and when we feel weak in our own strength then we are best prepared to be strong in Yahweh and in the power of His might and to be used of Him as His instruments. It was so with the great apostle; it must be so, we believe, with all whom Yahweh will decide to use and acknowledge in any part of His service.

(15) Overwhelmed with a realization of the responsibilities of the work suggested, Moses protested to Yahweh that he had not the qualifications, and Yahweh’s answer was that this was true, but that his weakness would be perfected in Yahweh’s strength — “Certainly I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:12) And this being true, how could the mission be a failure? It is equally true with us today: if Yahweh is for us and with us, who could be against us? (Romans 8:31) How could the work fail? Many of Yahweh’s people are being called out of Babylon and its confusion and darkness, its oppressions and its bondage, to creeds of the “dark ages,” and its social boycotts, etc., to worship Yahweh in spirit and in truth, to give their hearts, all that they have, to Him and His service.

(16) The body of Christ, the antitypical body of Moses, are permitted to have a share, as Yahweh’s representatives, in the work of preaching Christ and God’s Kingdom, and of the coming day of judgment through that Kingdom, while baptizing those who wish to enter into covenant relationship with Yahweh through the blood of Jesus. (Matthew 24:14; Luke 22:20,29; Acts 5:42; 8:4; 10:42; 11:20; 28:31; Romans 10:15; 1 Corinthians 1:23; Hebrews 10:29) While feeling our unworthiness of so great an honor, and our inability as respects so great a work, let us remember that Yahweh Himself is with us, and that since it is His work it will go onward and accomplish the designs intended, and gather out eventually all who are truly Yahweh’s, whether we are faithful or whether we are unfaithful. But let us be faithful, and thus maintain the relationship to the great antitype of Moses, and ultimately be associated with him in the glories of the Kingdom, in the dispensing of the blessings and judgments of the future age. –Acts 3:23.

(17) Not only did Yahweh assure Moses of His presence and power and cooperation in the mission, but also that it would result successfully — that he would bring the people out of the land of Egypt and into this very mountain, and to the very place where Yahweh was then communing with him. The matter began to take tangible shape before Moses’ mind: as God said it would be so, undoubtedly his word would be fulfilled. So Yahweh’s assurances to us, that the results will come anyway, are an encouragement to us to go forward and to do our parts. Yahweh will do the work, and the whole question is whether or not we will have a glorious share in it as his members and representatives.

(18) Let each of us then, dear readers, impress upon our hearts the essence of this lesson, that if God is with us and for us, however humble and weak of ourselves, we may be mighty through him to the pulling down of the strongholds of error and for the building up of His people in the most holy faith, and for their deliverance from the bondage of error. Let us in the name of Yahweh and his Son, Jesus, do with our might what our hands find to do, but always with the thought that we serve Yahweh. Let His words, “Certainly I will be with you,” be the strength in our every endeavor in his name and cause.

Much of this lesson is based on a lesson from ZWT Reprints 3989