15 And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: 16 And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. 17 But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. 18 And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? 19 And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them.
In today’s verses the actions of the Pharaoh become even more horrifying. Not only did he subjugate and oppress the Israelites because of an unfounded fear, but now he seeks to commit mass infanticide! Seeing that he spoke to only two women, we must assume that they were overseers for all the other midwives, and it was expected that they would carry out their miserable orders by compelling the many under their care to do the terrible deed for them.
Of course what Pharaoh was asking was morally wrong, and also directly against the chief function of a midwife, which is to safely preserve the life of the child and mother through the birthing process. All that being said, by giving this command the Pharaoh had shown he was willing to kill even the most innocent to achieve his ends, so why not the midwives if they failed to obey him? Thus, Shiphrah and Puah showed great courage in defying his commands. The excuse they bring back to the Pharaoh is obviously false, and I find it hard to believe that he was fooled in the least. If so, these two women had just put their own lives on the line in place of the Hebrew sons.