Torah Gemstones Sh’mot (Names) Exodus 1:1-6:1
Although Sh’mot is translated Exodus it really means “names”. This week’s portion begins with the names of the children of Israel who entered Egypt with Jacob. In addition, the names of the two midwives who saved the Hebrew nation are specifically mentioned. Their names reflect the importance of their role in safeguarding the children of Israel, thus thwarting Pharoah’s decree to kill all the male Hebrew babies. Their obedience made it possible for light to come into the darkness of Israel’s exile in Egypt and preserve the future of the nation. It’s a pattern that is repeated over and over again right down to the story of the birth of Yeshua the Messiah. So the question remains “who are the midwives” and “how do they hold the key to Israel’s redemption”?
Up to this point, Pharoah was alarmed that the children of Israel had become a mighty nation within his own nation. The sages viewed this time spent in Egypt, including the period of slavery, as a pregnancy in which the nation of Israel was growing within the "womb" of another nation preparing to be born. Even though Pharoah saw the children of Israel as outsiders he also recognized they were much too important to his economy to be permitted to leave. He hoped the backbreaking labor he instituted would limit their high birthrate, but the more the children of Israel were tormented and oppressed by the state, the more they multiplied and grew.
The answer for the dilemma Pharaoh faced was infanticide. This would not only stem their growth but would destroy the great rescuer and deliverer of the children of Israel, Moshe. So Pharoah, a picture of the eternal enemy of the Jews in every generation, demanded the midwives kill the Hebrew male babies in order to exterminate “the seed” of all future generations. However, the midwives feared God instead of Pharoah and did not do what he asked; rather, they kept the baby boys alive.
In the opinion of the rabbis (Sotah 11b), the two midwives were actually Jochebed and Miriam, the mother and sister of Moshe. Their main goal was to save Moshe, whom they recognized to be the “one” who would bring salvation and deliverance to Israel. In addition, the rabbis in the Talmudic era, identified Moshe as the “suffering servant”. So the redemption plan of God, revealed through the Kingdom of Heaven, would be manifested through the suffering servant. The term, Chevlai Mashiach, or the “Birthpains of the Messiah”, reflected Moshe’s birth as well as the birth of the entire nation. It was a birth that would be accompanied by great distress and suffering. In fact, the Kingdom of God was often described in Scripture as “breaking forth”, as a woman writhing in the pain of labor ready to deliver her children. Therefore, the two midwives were all that was needed for the Kingdom to “break forth”.
The first midwife mentioned is Shifrah, from the root shafar, which means a bright and beautiful sight or sound. You might recognize the word shofar or trumpet as a related word. The sound of the ram’s horn is a beautiful sound that marks the beginning of the redemption. Shifrah is usually translated “to swaddle” or “to clean the baby”. So in terms of the Kingdom, how is one cleansed in a spiritual sense?
“That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of the water by the word.”
If the letters of shafar are rearranged they form parash, which means to spread out or scatter. Consider the seed is the word of God being scattered abroad in our hearts and to the four corners of the world. In addition, parash is connected to parshah, the word used for the individual Torah portions. Parshah really means the spreading out of an event or a word. Perhaps the midwife Shifrah represents the Word of God sent to those who are in exile.
There is another connection between Shifrah and the cleansing nature of the Word of God. Seraph is a related word which means “to burn” when speaking of spices in the Temple.
I saw Adonai sitting on a high lofty throne. The hem of his robe filled the Temple. Seraphim stood over him with 6 wings – two covering his face…crying out to each other Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts. The whole earth is filled with his glory.
One of the Seraphim flew to me and in his hand was a coal; he had taken it with tongs from atop the altar. He touched it to my mouth and said, “Behold this has touched your lips; your iniquity has gone away and your sin shall be atoned for”.
Again it is the Word of God that has the power to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The other midwife is Puah, whose name means brightness or a bright sound. Note the similarity in meaning with Shifrah. However, Puah is generally translated “to cry out to calm the mother”. Rearranged it becomes yafah meaning pretty or beautiful, a word usually associated with Rachel, Rebekkah and Sarah who are pictures of the Holy Spirit. If Puah means a cooing or calming down with a soothing voice, then consider the voice of the Holy Spirit with its calming and healing effect. Perhaps Puah is a type or picture of the Spirit of God.
So the names of these two midwives quite possibly reveal who is truly responsible for protecting, preserving, and bringing forth new life, thereby expanding the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the Word of God combined with the Spirit of God!
In Him you also, when you had heard the Word of Truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in Him, were marked with the sea of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of His glory.