A Single Grain of Sand

One final agonizing groan ended with the harsh grating of an infant’s cry.

Shiphrah stared wide-eyed at the bloody mess on her apron. Her stomach cinched.

“Puah, I need you here.” She swallowed the tremors in her voice.

Sliding her supporting arms out from behind the new mother, the other midwife circled around the birthing stool before kneeling beside Shiphrah on the dirt floor. “Oh, HaShem, have mercy. What do we do now?”

Soft moans answered Puah’s anxious question.

It’s their blood or yours’. Pharoah’s words clanged like gongs in Shiphrah’s ears, drowning out the newborn’s wail. 

“Just close your eyes, Irit.” Shiphrah tapped the woman’s knee on the stool across from her. “And breathe. That’s it.” Jerking her eyebrows, she motioned for Puah to attend the patient. They could not let on. Irit must believe all is well. At least, until they figured out what to do. 

Inhaling a jagged breath, she pressed the tiny aproned bundle against her thundering chest. Think, Shiphrah, think. She had known this day would come. Had tried to prepare herself for the grotesque task now required of her. Or, could she have misinterpreted her orders?

Fresh feces fouled the already stale air, clouding her focus. One wrong decision now would cost her own life. 

Shouts from the foreman resonated down the alleyways surrounding the tiny mud brick home. 

“No, no, no. They’re coming.” Puah abandoned Irit’s side, dropping the soiled linen into the waste pot. She pressed knuckles into her headscarf now plastered to her sweat-stained brow. “Shiphrah. What are we going to do?”

“Is everything al-alright? Where’s my baby?”

Shiphrah locked gazes with Irit. If someone had indeed summoned the guards, they had maybe minutes until they arrived. Her heart pounded out the time in her chest. With every beat their silent footsteps drew closer. Everything’s fine, Irit. Rest now.” She wiped her crimson stained hand on her apron. My blood or his?

Puah lifted the woman enough to remove the stool beneath her, laying her back on the dirt floor, one cushion at her head. 

  Irit collapsed back on the pillow, allowing Shiphrah room to breathe again. Had they only arrived sooner … But we didn’t.

Puah straightened beside her, arms hanging down in awkward uncertainty. “Fine?” She whispered.

A solution took shape in Shiphrah’s mind, and she gripped her friend’s wrist. “Yes. By providence, it is. We came too late.” She motioned toward the reed knife by the stool. “Give it here.”

“You’re going to—” Color drained from Puah’s cheeks. “To go through with it?”

“We have broken no law today.” Shiphrah shoved the bloody mass forward. “Sever it.” Her breathy whisper evaporated off her tongue. 

Puah tied the umbilical cord off. With shaking hands, she severed the connection between mother and child.

Turning the baby over onto his stomach, Shiphrah rubbed down his back and legs with salt water and dried him with a fresh warm linen. She handed him off into Irit’s waiting arms. “Listen, Puah. I can promise you nothing. Not hope. Not safety.” Shiphrah reached for the basin of water to clean her own hands. “But what we do, we must do together. Do you understand?”

Puah tipped her chin in a soft nod. 

Warmth coursed through Shiphrah’s veins. Fear? Honor? Or just adrenaline? 

Footsteps drummed outside, and Irit’s brother stomped in like a wild man ready to tear the place apart. “I just heard the news. Where’s the baby?” His fiery gaze bounced from one face to the next before he strode across the room, dropping to his knees at his sister’s side. 

Licking her lips, Shiphrah smoothed a hand over her hair, catching sight of her apron. Filthy mess. Ripping the garment off, she snatched her instruments, the dirty linens, and the wash basin and repositioned herself in the far corner for a speedy cleaning. The sooner they were gone, the better. Especially now that he showed up. 

Ernan, the prized catch for most of the young ladies a decade younger than herself, had never bothered so much as a glance at her before this moment. And with his good looks, he could have his pick from the top of the list, a list that Shiphrah’s name had long since been bumped off of.  

Shiphrah growled under her breath. He said nothing to her. Ever. Yet that nothing had the power to humiliate her again and again. “Time to go, Puah.”

“It’s a—it’s a boy.”

The incredulousness in Ernan’s tone stopped her in her tracks. She spun on her heel to find him staring at her, eyes wide in apparent confusion. Caught off guard by his sudden rapt attention, Shiphrah shuffled her feet.

The Hebrew community celebrated life, and a male heir spoke of divine favor, that the strength and legacy of the family would continue. Yet Ernan’s expression belied any expected celebratory response.

Shiphrah motioned back to the baby. Anything to shift his eyes off of her. “Yes, a healthy boy. Congratulations.”  What was so strange about that? Unless he knows. 

He turned his focus on his nephew. 

Shiphrah searched his face. Had he heard gossip from the palace? All the midwives had sworn to secrecy. How then could he know? 

Ernan’s lips twitched as his neck swiveled back her direction, his brows pinching even tighter together. 

Not the face of one who just became an uncle to a healthy baby boy. 

Unease crept in. Grabbing Puah’s arm, Shiphrah shoved her toward the door. They had stayed too long.

Once in the alleyway, she held a slender finger to her lips. No questions. Not yet. They must leave this part of the quarter before she could feel safe again. Clutching her medical bag full of tinctures and bandages to her chest, Shiphrah willed her heart to cease thundering. 

But the empty streets of the slave quarters only created a vacuum in which to feel the full weight of what she had just done.

Would Ernan tell? Regardless, whether through him or another, soon the truth would come out. A boy could not remain hidden forever. How long did they have? Days? Weeks? 

A gentle hand slipped under Shiphrah’s elbow. Puah. She cast her friend a grateful half smile. Her brave, perhaps rash, words only minutes before already tested true. Whatever we do, Puah, we must do together. 

What would happen to that boy, whether he lived or died, was far beyond her control now.  Shiphrah lifted her chin. She had done all she could to give him life. But how long would it last? Had she risked her family’s lives, and Puah’s also, for this? 

Two full moons earlier, Pharaoh had summoned all of the Hebrew midwives to his court. A flock of bewildered women had poured into his antechambers only to hear a death sentence. Either the life of every male child, or their own.  

Shiphrah rubbed her temples as Pharaoh’s words rang out in her memory like gongs.

“Now, you can tell your Hebrew friends of this order today,” his menacing smirk still burned in Shiphrah’s mind as though it were yesterday. “And they will blame you for killing their little ones. You will be the most cursed of all your people. Or, you do it quietly.” He had pressed the tips of his fingers together, his eyes alight with gleeful malice. “Slip them a potion of silphium, and your friends never catch on that all the boys are stillborn while the girls are healthy. Or kill a few girls too, if you find suspicions arising.”

Shiphrah winced at the memory. 

One of the elder midwives had dared to protest. But with a tiny flick of Pharaoh’s fingers, guards escorted her out for execution. Another brave one informed him that Hebrews did not use such methods for divining sex as the Egyptians did. 

At that argument, Pharaoh had leaned forward on his throne, knuckles whitened as he gripped the arm rests. “Use whatever method you like. But it’s their blood or yours. Now, get out!”

“Can we speak now?” 

A soft voice chirped at Shiphrah’s shoulder, and she jumped. Surveying their surroundings, she nodded. In this part of the quarter, they were not so well-known. 

Puah’s expression pinched as though she struggled to find the right words. “What are we going to do now? Someone will find out we disobeyed the edict.”

Shiphrah sucked in a deep breath, and recalled the solution that had so struck her thoughts in that moment of desperation. “Do you remember how Pharaoh pressured us to obey his orders without making them known to anyone?” At her friend’s nod, she continued. “He is not wanting a rebellion on his hands by the Hebrews learning of his genocidal plans. It’s for this reason, I believe, that he urged us to kill the child while still in the womb. So if we arrive too late, and the baby is already there, then we are under no compulsion to follow his decree.” 

“Ah. I see.” But Puah’s wrinkled forehead hinted otherwise.

Shiphrah bit her lip. It had all seemed so clear at the moment she held the infant in her hands. So innocent. She could not have killed him then. But would Pharaoh believe her? Had she jumped to a conclusion she only wished to be true?

“It’s a good plan, I think.” Puah reached for her hand and squeezed it until her knuckles whitened. “Oh, Shiphrah, I could not have killed that baby. I am so glad. But …” her voice drifted off as she glanced at the empty homes they passed. “It is wrong to kill our people.”

Shiphrah raised an eyebrow. “Our people? It is wrong to kill. Our job has always been to give life, not take it. We know what is right. That is not the question.”

“Yes, of course. I just meant, well, you know the promises for our people. HaShem told our forefather Abraham that He would make his ancestors as numerous as the grains of sand. How can He though, if we are destroying the grains?”

Shiphrah eyed her companion, a soft smile easing its way across her face. “Indeed. We must remember the promises.”

“But so many have already been killed.” The light in Puah’s eyes dulled for one moment before brightening again. “We must tell the others. The midwives. They can use the same argument. We can save more lives.”

“Then we risk too much.” Shiphrah licked her lips. “Listen, a few boys slipping through the numbers will not arouse too much suspicion.” They could continue practicing in anonymity, her conscious clear of all the deaths she was not responsible for. “But if all the midwives follow us? Our chance of remaining hidden would be like a Nile crocodile roaming the palace halls.”

Puah cocked her head. “But you said yourself that what is right and wrong is not the question. Are we not for life? If we have found a solution to do the right thing, should we not share it?”

Balking at Puah’s sudden conviction, Shiphrah stammered. “I wasn’t. It’s just. We need to consider all the ramifications.”

Puah squeezed her hand, eyes awash with compassion. “HaShem promised to multiply our people. To bless us that we might be a blessing to others. He will protect us now. We must have faith in His promises.”

“But what if the time is not now? And we lose everything?”

Puah studied the ground for a moment. “Then I don’t know. But we must try. We know what is right. To do anything less would be hypocrisy.”

Shiphrah returned the hand squeeze, swallowing the fear that threatened to regurgitate. She had not intended to go so far. But how could she turn back now? “You are right, friend. We must save as many as we can.”

They reached Puah’s residence and hugged their goodbyes.

Continuing on, Shiphrah shuddered as a pocket of hot wind bombarded her skin. Oh, HaShem, forgive us if we also make assumptions about You and Your timing. I don’t know when You will fulfill Your promise. But please hear our desperate plea. See the plight of Your people and have mercy on us. 

She unlatched the door to the home she shared with her ima and safta.

So the crocodile would enter the palace. Crazy? Without question. Foolish? Maybe. They had backed themselves into a corner and only the God of their fathers could keep them hidden now.



“And when will your time come?”

This again. Shiphrah pursed her lips for the thousandth time, letting the dough rest a moment beneath her floured hands. Her safta meant well, but this conversation could dizzy a cat with its frequent circulation into every discussion.

Safta tapped her cane on the dirt floor. “You can’t stay here forever, you know. Healthy woman that you are. And not unattractive.”

Qualities fit for livestock. If only she could find such a man who did not mind being strapped to the ‘not-unattractive’ one. 

“And you have an enviable position as midwife, better income than most.” Safta continued without taking a breath. “And easier work-load. Not 12-hour days in the hot sun. More time to care for your family. Really, Shiphrah, have you tried?”

“Safta.” She flipped the dough on to the floured table. “The only men that will even speak to me are the married ones whose children I deliver. To the rest, I am invisible.” Invisible and alone. Shiphrah swallowed the saliva pooling in her mouth.

Safta would not be around forever. And Ima had other children who blessed her with grandchildren. Their lives would move on, while Shiphrah’s remained chained in place, unable to leave home, yet increasingly aware that she did not belong. 

The only women left alone without a husband in their community were either deformed or strange. Or both. But perhaps it was their many years of singleness that led to the estrangement, isolated from a normal life of motherhood.

Shiphrah sighed. Why dwell on a reality she had no power to change? Better to ignore her unbearable fate than stare it in the face. At least as a midwife she held value within her community. Even as a spinster. 

With the heel of her palms, Shiphrah kneaded out the ball of dough, sprinkling a pinch of flour with every other movement. She was neither deformed nor strange, at least to her reckoning, but it still seemed not enough. Just too plain. Tossing in a few fresh rosemary leaves, she punched her fist into the pillowy dough. 

Yet Ernan had spoken to her. Even stared. And though she had not seen him since, still she could not erase his attention, however trifling, from her mind.

A meaty knock pounded on the thin wooden door, sending shivers through the veil that divided the room. 

Startled, Shiphrah dropped the dough on the floor. “By all the fates.” Muttering under her breath, she scooped up the moist lump now coated in a layer of dust. 

“Mercy! Shiphri, watch your tongue. Who is it?”

Wiping her floured hands on her apron, Shiphrah motioned for her grandmother to remain seated. “Forgive me, Safta. I don’t know.”

“Open in the name of Pharaoh!” The pounding continued.

Shiphrah licked her lips. “Yes, one moment please.” So now it comes

Two months had passed since the birth of Irit’s boy. And several more babies had followed after that. Though only a handful of other midwives had joined their ranks, it was still only a matter of time before someone ratted them out to Pharaoh. 

Clenching her fists, she strode towards the door and unlatched it. 

One of Pharaoh’s men stood like a stone, shirtless, wearing a simple ceremonial necklace and full length sheer kilt with horizontal pleats. “You must come with me, midwife. Pharaoh demands a report.”

Ducking her head in deference, as well as to avoid staring at the man’s chiseled frame, she turned back inside. “Safta, I must go now. I don’t know if I will be back in time to prepare dinner.” If she would be back at all. 

“What?” Her grandmother pushed herself to her feet with the help of a cane. “Who is that man? Where are you going?”

“To the palace, Safta.” She risked the man’s ire by stepping back inside, but she needed one last reassurance. Pecking her grandmother on the cheek, Shiphrah whispered. “Pray. Pray hard.”

Her Safta caught hold of her hand. “Child.” A question lingered in her eyes, and she glanced out the door where the messenger waited. “HaShem is always with you.”

Nodding, Shiphrah pressed her forehead against her grandmother’s. Perhaps for the last time.

Straightening her shoulders, she stepped in line with her escort, feigning a confidence she wished she could feel. Too late to back out now. She had made a decision, and would defend it til the last. She would defend them, those seven perfect little boys she had welcomed into this world since Pharaoh’s bloodthirsty decree.

Marching through the dusty streets, Shiphrah dried clammy palms on her tunic. The other midwives would be there. Their argument held merit. Pharaoh would listen. He did not want an uprising on his hands. 

Or did he? Perhaps she had misjudged him.

Shuddering, Shiphrah glanced ahead where the columns of the royal palace rose above the common houses. 

Puah already stood waiting with another escort at the arched entrance to the palace gardens. 

Shiphrah nodded her casual greeting. “Where are the others?”

Tilting her head, Puah blinked away at the moisture in her eyes. “It’s just us, Shiphrah.”

She inhaled that information like the scent of soured milk. So they stood alone after all. Why had the others not been summoned? Grabbing Puah’s arm, Shiphrah marched forward into the gardens, drawing her friend in close enough to whisper. “Why? What did they say?”

Puah shook her head. “Nothing. They said nothing, but that I waited for you alone. Oh Shiphrah.” She clenched her friend’s hand, tears threatening to escape. Glancing behind them, Puah lowered her voice. “It is what we feared. What will happen to us now if Pharaoh is angry with our excuses?”

The intoxicating scent of jasmine swept over them as they shuffled through the flowered gardens.

“The elders tell us it is wrong to fear these pagans. That we are chosen, children of the Promise, and thus have the protection of the God of our fathers. But Shiphrah.” Puah slowed to a halt. “I am afraid.”

Shiphrah stared at the white marbled steps looming ahead. “So am I.” If they were alone, it could only mean that the other midwives had caved into fear, pointing defensive fingers their way instead. Turning to their escorts, she addressed them in Egyptian. “May I have a moment to confer with my companion?”

“Pharaoh is expecting you.” The man waved his hand, pressuring them to continue. 

Nodding, Shiphrah urged Puah forward. HaShem, give me wisdom. She had only moments to put into words all the wild thoughts that had poured through her mind these past two months. “We set out on this course of action thinking we would be alone. And so we are.  We cannot lose faith now.” She spoke out of the side of her mouth, barely raising her lips.

Puah lifted her chin, frail but determined.

Shiphrah squeezed her friend’s arm even tighter. “I have pondered this over and over. What do I fear most? The wrath of Pharaoh? The unknown punishment he most certainly will inflict on us? Is it losing my life? Or my comfortable position as a midwife?”

Their bare feet padded across the courtyard past the palace pools lined with columns and statues. 

“With one word he could strip all this from me. Is this … is this what I fear?” She shut her eyes, and a tear squeezed out. “Or do I fear the God of our fathers? Do I fear the One who gave me life? The One who chose our people, who promised a good inheritance? He promised He would bring our people back out of Egypt. But how can He if our people do not survive?”

The large columned hallway, decorated with exquisite Nile fauna motifs, ended at the doors of the throne room where two more guards stood, spears erect, ready to bid them enter. 

Tears streaked through the dust on Puah’s cheek, and she pulled Shiphrah in for a fierce embrace. “I could not do this without you, my friend.” She whispered in a hoarse tone.

Startled by the display of affection, Shiphrah hesitated before returning the embrace. “Nor I without you.” Her life did not boast many close friends. Yet through this harrowing decree and the course of action that followed, Puah had morphed from an underling into a companion Shiphrah trusted with her life. 

A heavy squeak against the marble announced the doors opening. 

It was time.

Pulling away, Shiphrah nodded to her dearest friend, blinking her eyes dry. With resolute faces, they turned toward the grand hall and marched in side by side. 

Across the vast expanse of mosaic tiles that stretched in front of them, steps rose to the dais where Pharaoh slouched on his ebony throne. The whip in his hand tapped a bored rhythm against his arm. He paused mid-strike as the midwives approached. 

Slipping into a small curtsy, Shiphrah clasped her hands in front of her waiting for the ruler of the kingdom to speak first.

“Ah. My confused and misguided midwives.” His gold and navy striped headdress of the two kingdoms glistened in the flickering light of the braziers as he crossed his arms over his bare chest. “Reports have reached my ears of Hebrew babies being born healthy. Boys. Was my decree unclear to you, unlike with the others who found no difficulty in understanding? Or are you just foolish enough to dare defy my authority? Answer me now. Why have you let the boys live?”

Trembling, Shiphrah steeled her nerves. “Mighty Pharaoh, the Hebrew women are not like your Egyptian women. They labor hard in the fields and are full of strength. So much so, that when the time of delivery comes, they give birth before the midwives arrive.” Should she say more? Present her assumption that he did not want to create cause for revolution? But she could not, as an inconsequential midwife to slaves, presume to know more of the pharaoh’s inner thoughts and motivations. He considered himself descended from the gods, and she, the mere dust he walked on. 

Pharaoh returned to his whip, each beat against the arm of his throne syncing with the beat of her heart.

HaShem, let it be enough. She had no recourse but to trust Him now. Once, Shiphrah could rely on her own reasoning and skills to remove her from tough situations. But sound logic seldom held weight with a deified king. 

Narrowing his eyes, he glared back at them as though weighing the measure of her words. “Full of strength, you say?”

Shiphrah nodded as Pharaoh stood to his feet, pacing in front of his throne. She had defied a decree from the governing authority over this land. Now, she lived only at the mercy of Pharaoh. But his is not the highest authority. Bowing her head, her mind scrambled for the truth she had declared to Puah right outside these chamber doors.

With an abrupt pivot on his heel, Pharaoh ceased his movements.

HaShem, You are the highest authority over all the nations. It is You that I fear, not Pharaoh. My life I place in Your hands. Should he take it, still I trust You. 

The ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt threw his hands in the air. “So be it. If it is as you say, then we cannot stop the births.” He snapped his fingers, and a scribe appeared, wax tablet in hand. “The midwives are of no further use to us.” He waved a dismissive hand toward them.

Out of nowhere, the escorts appeared to usher them out of the throne room. 

Stunned, Shiphrah dipped into a hasty curtsy, catching Puah’s eye as they exited the great hall. Elation filled her like wings expanding. She had not even dared dream of such a victory. The boys were safe.

“Today, I make a new decree.” 

Pharaoh’s voice bounced off the pillars in the great hall and halted Shiphrah at the door. Foreboding threatened the fledgling hope inside. Had she celebrated too soon?

The escorts nudged them forward, and they complied with slow, shuffling steps. 

“We must take action to preserve our great kingdom against the threat of these Hebrews. Inform our people, when they see a Hebrew boy, they are compelled by the word of Pharaoh to throw him into the Nile.” 

Shiphrah gasped. Clutching Puah’s hand, they sped out of the great hall. 

Thrown into the Nile?

We must escape now. Pharaoh had let them go. But the innocent, perfect children he would kill.

Slowing at last beyond the safety of the palace gates, Shiphrah glanced at her companion.

Puah’s face, a storm cloud of emotion, pinched with wrinkles. “Why, Shiphrah? Why would Pharaoh decree such a thing? It is on the back of Hebrew slaves that his precious cities and monuments have been built. These boys are the next generation.” Her breath hitched. “Without them, we will cease to be a people, and he will have no more slave force. I—I cannot understand it.”

Nor do I. Shiphrah lifted her gaze to the clear azur skies. HaShem?

They continued in silence past the elegance of Egyptian homes.

“‘The threat of these Hebrews.’ That’s what he said, wasn’t it?” Shiphrah had been wrong to assume his motives before, but the pharaoh’s words lit a candle that shined more light than expected. “He fears us.”

“Fears us?” Puah scoffed. “That’s absurd. We are slaves, exhausted from heavy labor, bent over by our burdens, running barefoot because we have no money for shoes. This is what he fears?”

“Yes, Puah. Our forefathers came as one family, seventy persons, to settle in Goshen. Now that small village has become a city, which we have long since outgrown. Despite the severity of the conditions, our people are multiplying. Our men could rise up to fight against our oppressors.”

“But we have no weapons.”

Shiphrah shrugged. “Our numbers threaten Pharaoh. And if he cannot control us, then he loses control of his kingdom.”

They sat down in the dirt under a duom palm a stone’s throw from the Nile’s bank. Standing knee deep in the water, several women bent over their washboards, scouring stains out of stubborn linens.

“We risked everything.” Puah dug up a handful of pebbles and dirt. “Yet what does it matter now? They will all die.”

Shrieks pierced the air, and the washing women scrambled for safety on the banks. Their fingers pointed back at a scaly log floating toward them. Crocodile.

Shiphrah darted her gaze from one woman to the next, their terror palpable with every minute expression. “It is not wrong to fear.” Her soft musings rippled like the water quietly displaced by the crocodile’s stealthy movements. “In fact, we must. Fear senses danger ahead, warns us to reevaluate our course.” 

The washer women heaved rocks at the beast to scare him off, all the while clasping the wet laundry to their chests. With a flick of his monstrous tail, the crocodile disappeared beneath the surface.

“In the natural, there are a great many things on that list. Death, the unknown, insignificance, being alone.” Shiphrah flinched as the truth of her words convicted her. How she dreaded the thought of being single for the rest of her life, never having a man or child to call her own.

Shiphrah shifted positions, brushing a few pebbles out from under her. How could she think about her relational life when the future of her people was at stake? 

“So we reevaluate, ask ‘what now?’” Shiphrah leaned back against the roughened bark of the duom palm. “Danger does not always mean it is time to run. We saw the danger, and we chose to face it. Because we feared something far greater. Someone far greater.”

Puah nodded, pulling her knees up under her.

“Now we must reevaluate again.” A fierceness ran through Shiprah’s veins, determination to see this through. “Pharaoh has declared war against our people. It is clear to me, we cannot remain in Egypt much longer. HaShem will raise up a deliverer to save us. He will fulfill His word to bring us back to the land He has promised us.”

“Then what must we do now?” Puah

The washer women on the bank eased their way back into the Nile, eyes alert, as they hunched over their boards, this time only ankle-deep. 

Shiphrah raised an eyebrow. Brave. But they do what they must. “We jump back into the water. Hide as many as we can.”

Puah shook her head. “How can you hide a crying babe? Even within the Hebrew quarters, Egyptian soldiers routinely patrol the streets.”

“Yes, we will lose many. But HaShem has counted every grain of sand. If there is a chance to save a single one, we must try.”

“Then we are wasting time now.” Puah bolted to her feet. “Soldiers will enter Goshen at any moment. We must tell the elders. Word will spread fastest that way.” 

Shiphrah accepted Puah’s outstretched hand to help her rise. 

Leaving the river bank, they dashed into the nearest village, zig zagging through the streets until they arrived at one of the elder’s homes. 

The door swung open under Puah’s insistent pounding. 

Ernan stood in front of them, jaw hanging. “You’re—you’re here.” Snapping his mouth shut, he beckoned them. “Come in quick.”

Shiphrah held her breath as she stepped past the threshold. What was he, of all people, doing here?

Seated on wooden benches in the center of the room, eight wizened men stared at the newcomers, their faces a blend of anxious confusion. 

The elders.

“Ernan, who are these women?” one elder said with a disgruntled growl.

“Uncle, these are the midwives I told you about.” 

All at once, the circle of men buzzed with questions. 

Shiphrah could not distinguish their words from the buzz whirling around her own head. Ernan had spoken to elders about them? About her? Heat crept through her cheeks. Somewhere in the recesses of her mind, she recalled that his great uncle on his mother’s side was an elder. But what could Ernan possibly have to say to him?

“Wait, please.” Puah held up both hands, silencing the chaos. “We have sought you out with urgent news.”

“Yes, of course. Why else do you think we have gathered?” Ithniel, Ernan’s great uncle, gestured toward two empty chairs. “You were summoned to the palace? Tell us, what said Pharaoh?” 

Easing into the offered seats, Shiprah blinked at the confusion. How did they know? A nudge in her ribs shook her from her thoughts. “Pharaoh. He signed a new decree. Every Hebrew boy is to be thrown into the Nile. We must warn the people to hide their sons.”

A flurry of activity erupted. More questions fired their way, and Puah responded to each one with such calm. A plan began to form for spreading the news throughout the quarters and into the other cities where their people mixed with the Egyptians. 

Shiphrah wrinkled her brow. She had expected everything to take much longer. Yet somehow the elders already had been prepared. She turned toward Ernan, who stared at her. 

“You are alive.” His voice conveyed relief. “I wasn’t sure when I heard you had been summoned back to the palace.”

Surprised by the address, Shiphrah glanced back at Puah, who remained engaged in conversation with the elders. She offered him an awkward half smile. “Yes, but how did you know. What do you know?”

Ernan slid his chair closer to hers, his strong jaw twisting to one side. “I know that two months ago, all my acquaintances that gave birth to boys found them stillborn, while the girls lived, healthy. Then I overheard the taskmasters discussing the new decree. So when I received the news that my sister’s time had come,” He searched her face. “Well, there he was, my little nephew.”

Shiphrah ducked her head, the scene in Irit’s bedchamber replaying in her mind, the embarrassment of the moment. Her awkwardness.

His finger gently tucked under her chin and lifted it to meet his gaze. “You did what no one else had the courage to. For that I am indebted to you.”

Shiphrah froze, every nerve ablaze where his skin had just touched hers. “I only did what I knew to be right.”

“But it was so much more than that. You saved the future of our people at the risk of your own life. Had you thought of your own comfort and position, my nephew would be dead. Those boys,” he swept an arm around the room, “would be dead. You risked everything.” Ernan sat back and swallowed. “You are a woman of great courage. I’ve not met one like you.”

Blushing, Shiphrah dropped her gaze to his hands, but kept her chin up. He had lifted it, after all.

The elders filed out of the house, each with a direction to target.

Puah rose next to her. “We’ve been assigned the quarter around our own homes, Shiphrah.” She glanced from one face to the other and cleared her throat. “But, um, I will start on the west end, and maybe you want to start on the east. Whenever you are ready.”

Shiphrah tore her gaze away from Ernan. “Yes, I am coming.”

Puah waved a hand. “Take your time. Maybe you and Ernan should cover those streets together. Two are better than one.”

Puah! She pursed her lips. How could her friend embarrass her like that? Yet the voiced idea hovered in the air with a thread of hope. Would Ernan agree to such an unveiled set-up?

Grinning, Puah waltzed out the door.

Ernan stood. “It would be my pleasure.” He stepped aside, motioning for Shiphrah to pass first. 

Hesitating, she tilted her head sideways. “Are you sure? I can go alone.”

His soft smile warmed her to the core. “I insist. Nothing would satisfy me more.”

“Oh.” Shiphrah followed his direction outside, her stomach and her tongue competing for the largest knot. 

They strode in silence down the dusty streets as they snaked their way toward her neighborhood. 

“Actually, there is something more.” He ran one hand through his shoulder-length hair. “Please allow me to thank you properly.”

“Really,” Shiphrah sputtered, “there is no need.”

Halting in the street, Ernan turned to face her. “Dinner, with my family. Please, they must be allowed to express their gratitude as well. And then, perhaps, I could meet yours?” 

Shiphrah’s head swam in the depths of his sincere gaze. Meet her family? Dare she dream he implied more than just friendship? Alarm gripped her as the defenses around her heart began to crumble. She longed to say yes, but the very earth she stood on seemed to quake beneath her, leaving her swaying in uncertainty.

Woman of courage. That’s how Ernan saw her, how HaShem saw her. Could she not then also see herself through the same eyes? Warmth beamed throughout her body. I am a woman of courage. Of faith. HaShem, You have not left me alone.

A slow smile stretched across her face. “I would like that very much.”

Did you enjoy Shiphrah’s story? I would love to hear your feedback! Visit my Contact page to leave a comment and subscribe to my newsletter so you will receive an update when the next story is released!


If you enjoyed my Biblical fiction shorts, you will love my full-length novel, When the Stars Fought. Nab your copy today!