Speaking of strong women, world history has seen several. Margaret Thatcher was one strong woman who earned the nickname the Iron Lady because of her uncompromising politics and leadership style. Golda Meyer is known for her famous words “Send forth the Boys!” approving the operation “Wrath of God”. I personally like Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunga for the outstanding principles and the intellect she displayed as a stateswoman even during the civil war. These names are just a few but there are many others.
If we look at Hollywood, we can find plenty of strong women characters. We meet “The Wonder Woman portrayed” by the gorgeous Gal Gadot. Harley Quinn in “The Suicide Squad” portrayed by Margot Robbie. Okoye in “The Black Panther” played by Danai Gurira. The list is a long one like the sheer number of films Hollywood has produced since its inception, but my favorite characters are Imperator Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road” portrayed by Charlize Theron, and Liz the deuteragonist in the Netflix Series, “The Blacklist” portrayed by Megan Boone.
The Bible also speaks of several strong women. Women such as Queen Esther, Deborah the only female Judge, Rahab the Prostitute, and Phoebe the helper and deaconess. The list goes on, but my favorite is Naaman’s maid because of the courage she displayed while being a slave in a foreign country. Today however I want to draw your attention to five strong women we meet in the life of Moses who have missed the limelight. Someone said, “Behind every successful man there stands a woman” (I hate to admit it but even Potiphar’s wife was instrumental in God’s plan to propel Joseph to success!) This saying was so much real in the life of Moses. Let’s dig into scripture to find out more.
1. Shiphrah and Puah the Defiers
It is common knowledge Moses survived the Pharaoh’s imperial edict to kill all the Hebrew boys, owing in large part to his sister Miriam and his mother. The mother’s name was Jochebed, according to Exodus 6:20 and Numbers 26:59. But before that, Moses was saved by two other women we meet in Exodus 1:15-16. Puah and Shiphrah, the midwives who decided bravely but dangerously to defy the Pharaoh’s orders to kill Jewish boys at the birth stool, (Exodus 1:17). Now the best is yet to come.
It’s one thing to mock the bull from the other side of the fence but it’s completely another thing to take it by the horns! It’s exactly what Shiphrah and Puah did. They defied the orders and when confronted answered the king saying, Hebrew women are different from Egyptian women in that they are more active and give birth before the midwives arrive, (Exodus 1:18-19). Either they lied to the Pharaoh (to safeguard the lives like Rahab in Joshua 2:3-7) or they deliberately began arriving late at the scene so that the babies will be born already.
Maybe they were telling the truth because in some women physical activity during pregnancy eases the delivery. Whatever they did I am sure of one thing. They mocked a genocidal maniac to his face and lived to tell the tale! The question however must not be whether we should judge Shiphrah and Puah for lying. Our question must be why did they lie if they lied? The answer is right there. Their reverence for the Lord overpowered their fear of the Pharaoh and the potential consequences. The Pharaoh could have drowned them in the Nile or even worse tossed them to the Crocs!
I initially wanted to name this sermon “The Characteristics of a Strong Woman” but I felt it would be awkward for a man to define a strong woman. So let me tell you why I believe Shiphrah and Puah were two strong women in the Life of Moses and what makes a strong woman. Like I said before their reverence for the Lord overpowered their fear of the Pharaoh. I cannot say they were afraid of going to hell because in the days of Moses there was not much emphasis on it as much as it is now.
The modern world uses a certain criterion for defining a strong woman, but Shiphrah and Puah show that reverence for God over fearing man is the first and foremost quality of a strong woman. Society often pressures us into their mold and women become victims frequently. Maybe you are planning to lose your honor because your boyfriend is threatening to break up if you don’t. Some of you might be considering a sexual bribe at work in exchange for a well-deserved but delaying promotion. There can be others considering an abortion for various reasons. Some of you might decide to marry an unbeliever not because you are desperate, but because your family is pressing you to get married at any cost.
I can give you examples one after the other. There are many real-life stories I can tell but the bottom line is you are a strong woman if you revere the Lord more than you fear the man. Nobody can tell you otherwise. The bible says the Lord rewarded Shiphrah and Puah for their bravery and their commitment to doing what is right. He will do the same for you, only if your reverence for him is more powerful than the fear you may have for a man.
2. Jochebed the woman of Faith
Let’s consider the next woman I believe was a strong woman in the life of Moses. She is none other than Jochebed Moses’ mother. We meet her in Exodus 2. The author of Exodus says she decided to keep the baby instead of killing him because he was beautiful and the author of Hebrews 11:23 says something similar. The Amplified Bible, however, says something additional. “By faith Moses, after his birth, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful and divinely favored child; and they were not afraid of the king’s (Pharaoh’s) decree.” [NET]
Both Moses’ father Amram and mother Jochebed were devout worshippers of Jehovah. They saw Moses’ future by faith. They realized Moses was special, and God has appointed him to be the savior of an entire nation, a great prophet, and a great leader. While their neighbors tossed their newborn baby boys to the Nile for the fear of the Pharaoh Amram and Jochebed were not afraid of the king, and they decided to protect him despite the risk and managed to conceal him for three months. When she reached the end of the rope she devised and executed a brilliant plan. More on that later.
The Pharaoh mentioned here is said to be King Ramses II [Also see: We may now know which Egyptian pharaoh challenged Moses]. He was the most powerful king who ruled Egypt in its most powerful era. Like any other powerful man, he was also obsessed with power and did not hesitate to eliminate anything he perceived as a threat. For such a powerful ruler, he certainly had eyes and ears everywhere. What assurance can we give this monstrosity of a man could have spared Jochebed and her family had he discovered Moses in her home? Jochebed risked not only her life but her entire family.
Jochebed was an ordinary woman who possessed an extraordinary faith. That faith was the source of her extraordinary courage. That is the reason why I say Jochebed was a strong woman. She had a very good excuse to toss her baby to the crocs in the Nile. There were three other people in her life. Her husband, her son Aaron and daughter Meriam. Yet she did not take the easy way out. By faith, she saw Moses will become a great man of God and she faithfully held her end of the bargain. So, a strong woman is a woman of faith.
There are many applications to be drawn from the life of Jochebed, but I want to consider two problems in our society today. In the USA it is found at least 22,000 newborn babies are left in hospitals each year by parents unwilling or unable to care for them. That is the first problem. The second problem is abortion. In the year 2019, in the US, 629,898 unborn babies have been aborted. Women in many other countries are demanding to legalize abortion on the grounds of poverty, so-called women’s health, and rape and incest.
Poverty is a problem, but do you know what the biggest problem is? Advocating for abortion rights while discouraging adoption as an option. Especially by the feminist movement. Now consider Jochebed’s actions. She put him in a papyrus basket coated with tar and pitch and placed it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile, (the reeds served as a natural barrier to the crocodiles and prevented the current from taking the basket to the Mediterranean sea). Then she got Miriam the baby boy’s sister to watch him from a distance. Simply put she was giving Moses away for adoption by faith!
Speaking of adoption, I can’t help but mention the late Steve Jobs the founder of Apple Inc. He has written this about his mother in his biography. “I wanted to meet [her] mostly to see if she was OK and to thank her because I’m glad I didn’t end up as an abortion. She was 23 and she went through a lot to have me.” [Source: Live Action] Today the Apple Watch, the iPhone, the iPad, the MacBook Air and Pro, the iMac, and the iMac Pro have revolutionized the way we work among many other things thanks to a mother who saw the potential of her unborn baby whom she gave away for adoption.
I’m going to devote a few more paragraphs to this point because it’s the most crucial element of my message. In many nations, abortion is already permitted if the mother’s life is in danger. Now allow me to share a true story with you. I know a missionary couple and the wife was diagnosed with a major medical issue in the third month of her pregnancy, which would have put her life in jeopardy, and physicians advised her to terminate the pregnancy.
They claimed that the baby would be born with a damaged brain and malformation anyway. This couple on the other hand, by faith, believed that God has a specific plan and purpose for their unborn baby. As a result, they decided to carry the pregnancy to term. She gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl six months later. God’s love has worked a miracle. That mother is still alive and serving the Lord faithfully. Like Jochebed and Amram that couple took a risk by faith and God honored them and blessed them.
“What if the baby will be born deformed?” One might ask. I am asking them, “Are you God to decide who lives and who dies?” Consider another story. many years ago, a woman found out her unborn baby will be born with “Tetra-amelia Syndrome”. She was qualified for an abortion but refused to proceed and gave birth to a baby boy. That boy is Nick Vujicic, Evangelist, Founder of Life without Limbs, world-renowned speaker, and New York Times, best-selling author.
“But what if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest?” Another may ask. I am asking them, “What if you were the result of rape or incest and your mother decided to get rid of you?” On the other hand, think about Mary. Although God protected Mary, she suffered insults for a lifetime. Her life wasn’t pleasant because nobody believed her except Joseph and Elizabeth. Jesus was called an illegitimate boy. Joseph was the laughingstock of the day. Nobody was more entitled to have an abortion than Mary. Where will you and I be today had Mary had an abortion?
What if Jochebed had killed Moses, right after he was born to spare her life and her family? We will not have the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and the beloved Psalm 91. Will there be a book by the name of Joshua in the Bible? What would have been the fate of the Israelites in slavery? We will never know because Jochebed never killed her baby boy, but the point is human potential is incredibly amazing and abortion nullifies it.
God may have destined that baby in your womb to become a Moses, a Deborah, a Phoebe, a Paul. We just don’t know. After all, 1 Corinthians chapter 2 verse 9 says, “But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” (NET) Say no to abortion! Say yes to life! Trust God for a miracle. He will honor your faith. You will be glad you did because you will see God’s glory.
3. Bithiah the Compassionate
We looked at Shiphrah and Puah the midwives and Jochebed Moses’ mother. Next, I want us to look at Bithiah. The Bible doesn’t tell us the name of the Pharaoh’s daughter. The Jewish tradition however recognizes her as Bithiah. She happened to come to the riverbank with her maids the same day Jochebed left Moses among the reeds. She discovered the basket with the baby boy in it. The American Standard Version says in Exodus chapter 2 verse 6 “And she opened it, and saw the child: and behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews’ children.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree” – It means a child usually has a similar character or similar qualities to his or her parents (Ex: The Daughter of Herodias in Mark 6:17-28). Ramses II was a tyrant ruler, a racist, and a cold-blooded murderer. I won’t be surprised if Bithiah turned out to be just like her father, but I am surprised because she didn’t. Skeptics argue Bithiah warmed up to the baby because she was childless even after being married for five years. I strongly disagree because the Bible says she had compassion for the crying baby.
Bithiah knew the baby was of Hebrew origin. Now rescuing him would have been considered an act of treason but it seems God is always on time. By the time Jochebed brought Moses back to the palace the Pharaoh had ended the decree to kill the Jewish baby boys because his astrologers had told him the savior of the Israelites was among the babies that were tossed into the Nile. He didn’t know Moses’ mother placed him in the basket and kept it on the riverbank. On the other hand, he desperately wanted a grandson, and judging by Moses’ fine appearance he believed Moses to be a gift from Hapi the god of the Nile.
I believe Bithiah was a strong woman because she was a woman of compassion. It’s a word, that politicians and even preachers sometimes use carelessly without any thought but the literal meaning of the word compassion is “To suffer together”. It is defined by emotion experts as the feeling that occurs when you are confronted with another person’s suffering and feel inspired to help them. Therefore, compassion is not just a strong feeling, but it is also an action.
Bithiah taught us a lesson in compassion long before the synoptic gospels or the extra-canonical gospel of Thomas recorded Jesus’ The Parable of the Good Samaritan. She taught us that compassion is an emotion that demands an action regardless of social standing, race and ethnicity, and time or place. She also taught us acts of compassion don’t count the cost. Although the bible doesn’t say it and Pharaoh had ended the murderous decree, Kelley Nikondeha in her book Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach Us about Freedom suggests Bithiah risked retribution had Pharaoh found the truth about Moses.
Nikondeha assumes Jochebed must have observed Bithiah for a considerably long period and realized she had a heart of compassion. She placed the basket among the reeds because she knew the kind lady will find him. I want to ask you a question. When people see you, do they see a woman of compassion and find confidence in you? A woman of compassion helps others in their hour of need without counting the cost. She is a strong woman. You can be that woman.
4. Miriam the Competent One
So far, we looked at Puah and Shiphrah, Jochebed, and Bithiah. Let’s consider the character of Miriam. Miriam was probably 5 years old when Moses was born (Source: Amazing Bible Timeline with World History) Her first appearance in the bible is in Exodus 2:4-8. Miriam was a competent girl. Although Bithiah pulled Moses from the water, she wasn’t a nursing mother (There was no baby formula in those days). Miriam however devised a brilliant strategy that allowed Jochebed to take Moses back home without getting killed.
Miriam was a worship leader, a composer, a musician, and a prophetess. Exodus chapter 15 verses 20-21 says, “Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.” Miriam was the first prophetess among the handful of women God ordained with the gift of prophecy, (Deborah in Judges 4:4, Huldah in 2 Kings 22:14, Isaiah’s wife in Isaiah 8:3, Anna in Luke 2:36, and Philip’s four daughters in Acts 21:9.
Miriam is an example of what a strong woman should not be also. In Numbers, chapter 12 verses 1 and 2 this woman of competence was overcome by a spirit of competition. She questioned, “…Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken also through us?” The Lord’s anger burnt against her that he struck her with leprosy. Although the Lord healed Miriam after Moses interceded for her it is heartbreaking that she never entered the promised land, (Numbers 20:1). She was a competent woman who ended up being competitive and God doesn’t like competition.
I believe Miriam was a strong woman because she was a woman of competence. The Lord used her in that area to propel Moses to leadership although she did not get to enjoy the limelight as much as Moses and Aaron did. Had the Pharaoh’s daughter given Moses to an Egyptian foster family, Moses could have grown up as a heathen who enjoyed the sinful pleasures of Egypt, (Hebrews 11:25). Thanks to Miriam’s strategy Moses’ parents received two years to impart the godly values of Jehovah to Moses.
We have seen many women leaders. In church as well as in the world. The five-year-old Miriam shows, that strong women don’t always lead from the frontlines. Moses would have lived as an Egyptian and died as an Egyptian if it wasn’t for young Miriam’s strategy. You are a strong woman if you enjoy leading from behind the curtain away from the limelight. There are many women in the church today that are not seen in the limelight. If you are one of those women, remember that your reward in heaven exceeds all the rewards deserved on earth put together. So, don’t lose heart.
A strong woman wouldn’t make the mistakes that Miriam made. She shall not permit competition in her life or haughty attitudes in her heart. Competition perceives pride and envy. God hates pride and envy. He despises the proud but gives grace to the humble hearted, (Proverbs 3:34). You need to be careful because society often recognizes competitive women as strong women. Don’t confuse competition with competency.
The feminist movement is campaigning for gender equality and empowerment today because according to them women can do whatever men can do. I don’t disagree. After all, we can see many exemplary women who accomplished almost everything that men have accomplished. Gender equality and empowerment are not altogether wrong either (except for abortion rights). However, if you reflect on these matters in the light of eternity you will realize all of them are temporary. They don’t last forever.
While God has called some of you to shine, he has called most of you to help others shine. Just like the women in the life of Moses, (except Miriam who enjoyed the limelight). Moses wouldn’t have shined so much if it wasn’t for those strong women. The five-strong women didn’t shine much in this world but when the Kingdom of God is accomplished, they will shine as much as Moses and Aaron, all the Prophets, the Apostles, and the saints because in heaven you don’t have to fight for gender equality! In heaven, all are equally important regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or age.
Just don’t permit this world to squeeze you into its mold. The ancient society attempted to shape Puah, Shiphrah, Jochebed, and Bithiah into its desired mold, but these strong women dared to swim upstream while everybody else kept on swimming with the current. In conclusion, in my sermon, I mentioned five qualities of a strong woman. Those qualities are the fear of God, faith that takes risks, compassion, and competence. You may not have all these qualities in you but if you have the first quality “the fear of God” the others will follow, and God will call you a strong woman.
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