Two Hebrew midwives (Shiphrah and Puah) perform acts of “creative disobedience” in response to Pharaoh’s edict for them to kill all male babies born to Hebrew mothers. They are portrayed dealing boldly and shrewdly with Pharaoh who is seen as impotent to curb Israelite fertility and incompetent in dealing with the midwives obvious disobedience. The midwives’ actions are invested with cosmic significance due to the intentional links back to the creation narrative in Gen 1 (fruitful, multiply, fill). The midwives’ actions are creative in the sense that they preserve the life of the people through whom God will work to complete creation.
A daughter of Levi (the mother of Moses) gives birth to a son and sees that “his is good.” Her recognition of the child as “good” evokes God’s evaluation of creation as “good” (1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). She refused to be an active party in Pharaoh’s program of death. After hiding the child for as long as she could, she makes an “ark” (the same word used for the ark in the flood narrative) out of reed and pitch and places it in the Nile. What may seem like an act guaranteeing the child’s eventual death in the Nile turns into an act of salvation.
The daughter of Pharaoh notices a basket in the reeds. She opens it. She sees the crying child. She feels compassion for him. She delivers him from the perilous water. Her actions parallel in many ways the actions of God in Exod 3:7-10. God hears the cry of his people. He takes notice of them. He commissions Moses to deliver them. Indeed, here action of drawing Moses from the water (“Moses” means “to draw out ‘from water’”) may look back to God drawing out, as it were, the earth from the dark watery abyss of Gen 1:2 and his deliverance of Noah in an ark from the waters of the flood. And, it may look forward to God’s salvation of the people of Israel through the waters of the Red Sea. If that doesn’t blow your mind, read the passage again and think through it carefully. God uses a woman, a non-Israelite woman, a daughter of Pharaoh—the very one seeking to destroy God’s people and by implication God’s creational project. God's ways are definitely not our ways.
A sister of Moses is there in background watching over her brother with love and affection. She too has a redemptive role to play in the furtherance of life. Her watchful eye, bold tongue, and quick whit place her brother back in the arms of their mother. She was bold, as a slave girl, speaking to a princess of Egypt and quick whited suggesting a Hebrew wet-nurse for the child.
This passage portrays woman playing an important role in salvation and indeed creation. All five women are actively engaged in the furtherance of life. They risk their lives for the sake of life. In the story of Israel’s exodus, “The courage of women is the beginning of liberation” (Exum 82).