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Miriam Shiphrah Puah Jochabed Zipporah Pharaoh's daughter protected Moses Exodus

Watercolour and ink portrait of Miriam by Sarah Beth Baca.
Used with permission of the artist. All rights reserved.
Prints of this portrait can be purchased here.


Moses was one of Israel’s greatest and most revered leaders. However, there were several occasions when he would have perished if it had not been for the courage, wisdom, and enterprise of women. Here is a brief look at these six brave Bible women who God used to achieve his purposes.

1 & 2. Shiphrah and Puah—Exodus 1:15–21

The Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah courageously defied the authority of Pharaoh by disobeying his wicked edict to kill the newborn Hebrew boys. These midwives jeopardised their own safety to protect and save the life of Moses and the other baby boys. Shiphrah and Puah feared God more than they feared Pharaoh, and God blessed them because of their righteous actions, actions that were motivated by their reverence for God (Exod. 1:15–21).

3. Jochebed—Exodus 2:1–3

Moses’s mother Jochebed[1] discerned that there was something special about her infant son, and she protected him by hiding him for three months from Egyptian authorities. When she could no longer hide him at home, Jochebed made a waterproof basket and placed her baby in it. She placed the basket in the Nile among the reeds and entrusted her son into God’s care. Jochebed was desperate to keep her baby boy safe and she was fearless (Exod. 21:1–3; Heb. 11:23).

4. Pharaoh’s Daughter—Exodus 2:5–10

Pharaoh’s daughter[2] found the baby in the Nile and felt sorry for him.[3] Even though she realised he was a Hebrew, she rescued him, offered protection, and later adopted him. We can assume the princess would have encountered considerable difficulties in persuading other members of the Egyptian royal family to accept the Hebrew child as her adopted son. She was successful, however, and Moses was raised in the Egyptian royal palace where he received an excellent education as a student prince (Acts 7:21–22). His palace education, training, and experience would become useful when Moses had the difficult task of leading the Israelites (Exod. 2:5–10). Moses later rejected his Egyptian mother (Heb. 11:24–26).

5. Miriam—Exodus 2:4–8

Moses’s older sister Miriam[4] had been standing on the banks of the Nile, watching over her baby brother in the basket, to make sure he was safe. When she saw that he was being rescued, Miriam bravely approached Pharaoh’s daughter and persuaded her to have the baby nursed by his own mother, Jochebed. This arrangement meant that Moses received optimum love and nurture within his own family for a few years before being surrendered to Pharaoh’s daughter when he was still a little boy. Miriam later became a prophetess and she is recognised as a leader alongside her brothers Moses and Aaron (Exod. 2:4–8 cf. Micah 6:4; Leviticus Rabbah 27.6). (I have more about Miriam here.)

6. Zipporah—Exodus 4:24–26

In this mystifying passage of scripture, we read that God was about to kill Moses. Moses’s first wife Zipporah[6] astutely recognised the cause of God’s wrath. She took the initiative and appeased God’s anger, even though she found it all very distasteful. Zipporah, like the others mentioned above, protected Moses and saved him from death (Exod. 4:24–26). (Read more about Zipporah on The Junia Project, here.)

Brave Bible Women

Pharaoh was concerned that the Israelites were increasing in number in Egypt and would rebel and fight, and his solution was to kill the Hebrew baby boys (Exod. 1: 8–10, 22). Pharoah underestimated the bravery and resourcefulness of women.

The Bible has many examples of women who were willing to put themselves in harm’s way in order to help others. Brave Bible women include Jael (Judg. 4:21; 5:24–27), the woman of Thebes who killed Abimelech (Judg. 9:53), Rahab (Josh. 2:1–6); Abigail (1 Sam. 2:1ff)[5], Michal who protected her husband David (1 Sam. 19:11–18), the servant girl who was given a dangerous task (2 Sam. 17:17–18), the woman of Bahurim (2 Sam. 17:19–20), Rizpah who defended the honour of her slain sons (2 Sam. 21), Esther (Esth. 4:11, 16), and Priscilla who risked her life for Paul’s sake, as did her husband Aquila (Rom. 16:3–5).[7]

One sense of the Hebrew word for “helper” (ezer)—used in Genesis 2 to describe the woman in Eden—is “rescuer.” (I have a discussion on the meaning of ezer in my article, A Suitable Helper.)

Christian Women Today

Christians who narrowly define femininity, and rigidly prescribe certain attributes and roles for women, are doing women and the church a great disservice.[8] Men and women are different and, generally speaking, they have different strengths and abilities. However, we need to look beyond gender and discern the spiritual gifts, abilities, and calling of the individual person. We need to be cautious that we do not underestimate the abilities or curtail the activities of the brave and courageous women who God wishes to use today.


[1] Jochabed: Moses’ mother Jochebed is named in Exodus 6:20 and Numbers 26:59.

[2] Pharaoh’s Daughter: We do not know the name of Pharaoh’s daughter, but in Jewish Midrash she has been given the name Bithiah (bat-yah) which means “the daughter of the LORD.”

Rabbi Joshua of Siknin said in the name of Rabbi Levi, “The Holy One, blessed is he, said to Bithiah the daughter of Pharaoh, ‘Moses was not your son, yet you called him your son; you are not My daughter, but I call you My daughter …” (Leviticus Rabbah 1:3 (page 6) cf. 1 Chron. 4:18).

Josephus, however, gives her name as Thermuthis (Jewish Antiquities 2.9.5–7).

[3] Six or Seven Women? Some include the princess’s slave girl, who is mentioned in the second half of Exodus 2:5 CSB, as another female character who rescued Moses. This would bring the number of women who rescued Moses up to seven, a significant number in the Hebrew scriptures. It is possible the slave girl was a Hebrew, and perhaps she was aware that Moses had been placed in the Nile by his mother Jochebed. What the text actually tells us, however, is that Pharaoh’s daughter sent her slave girl to retrieve the basket from among the reeds of the Nile. This girl was a participant in the rescue of Moses, but not a protagonist. There is no indication she used her own initiative, so I have not included her in the main list.

[4] Miriam: While Miriam may have been too young to be called a “woman” at the time Moses was a baby, I have included her because she is female and played a valuable role in ensuring the safety and well-being of her younger brother.

[5] Abigail: It would have been no mean feat to confront David and four hundred of his men who had been insulted and were intent on revenge with their swords at the ready. Yet Abigail approached David and humbly presented to him a “peace offering.” Her quick actions saved her household from disaster and she kept David and his men from unnecessary bloodshed. I have more on Abigail, here.

[6] Zipporah, one of Moses’s two wives: Zipporah, one of seven daughters of the priest of Midian, was Moses’s first wife unless he had married an unknown Egyptian woman before he fled to Midian. (See Exodus 2.) Zipporah is mentioned in Exodus 2 and again in Exodus 4:18–26 which is where she circumcises the boys and saves Moses’s life. Moses later sends his wife and sons home. Perhaps because he understood the hardships he and the Israelites were about to face. (See Exodus 18.) Moses’s wife is consistently referred to as the daughter of the Jethro (or Reuel) priest of Midian in Exodus.
In Numbers 12 we have the story of Aaron and Miriam complaining that Moses had married a Kushite wife. This marriage seems to happen much later than his marriage to Zipporah, more than 40 years later. This unnamed woman seems to be Moses’s second wife. Craig Keener suggests she was from the royal family of Kush and possibly a Kandake. Josephus identified Moses’ second wife as Tharbis, the daughter of the king of the Ethiopians (i.e. Kushites). Josephus’ account of the marriage (and treaty) between Tharbis and Moses in Antiquities 2.10.2, however, does not fit the sequence of time in the biblical record. You can read his account here.

[7] Other Bible women also showed commendable initiative, shrewdness and courage: women such as Tamar (Gen. 38, esp. Gen. 38:26), Naaman’s wife’s servant (2 Kings 5:3), Ruth (especially Ruth 1:15–18; 2:2), the wise woman of Abel Beth Maacah (2 Sam. 20:15–22), etc.
The “Proverbs 31 woman” is described as andreia (“courageous”) in the Septuagint (cf. eshet chayil). Esther and Judith are described as andreia (“courageous”) in 1 Clement 55:3–6. (I mention more andreia women in my article Revisiting Eshet Chayil: Woman of Valour.)

[8] Complementarians are Christians who have narrow ideas about the roles of women. Complementarians believe it is the man’s role to protect women, and not vice versa, yet there are very few Biblical examples of men protecting women. One clear biblical account of a man rescuing and protecting women also involves Moses. In Exodus 2:16–19, Moses rescued and helped shepherdesses who were being harassed. One of these shepherdesses would become his first wife Zipporah.

© Margaret Mowczko 2010
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Explore more

Various articles on brave Bible women are here.
25+ Biblical Roles for Biblical Women
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
Did Miriam the prophetess only minister to women?
3 Formidable Bible Women with Strange Stories (Rahab, Tamar, Rizpah)
3 Old Testament Women with Clout (Serach, Aksah, Sheerah)
A Suitable Helper
Being an Ezer is not a Gender Role
Revisiting Eshet Chayil: (Woman of Valour)
Gender Roles and Gendered Activities in the Old Testament
Old Testament Priests and New Covenant Ministers

Further Reading

An article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on these six women is here.

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

8 thoughts on “6 Women who Protected and Rescued Moses

  1. Thanks, but a point of correction. When Numbers 12:1 said that Moses married a Cushite/Ethiopian, it meant that Miriam called Zipporah an Ethiopian because of her skin colour. So, Moses had only one wife, i.e. Zipporah, daughter of Midianite priest Jethro

    1. The identity and nationality of Moses’ wife, or wives, are not 100% clear, but your “correction” to something I haven’t even mentioned is flawed.

      Zipporah was Moses’ first wife and she was most likely a Midianite. That is, she was a descendant of Midian, Abraham’s fourth son by his wife Keturah (Gen. 25:1-2). There is also a possibility Zipporah was a Kenite (Judges 1:16; 4:11). Zipporah is never referred to as a Cushite. The unnamed woman from Cush was probably Moses’s second wife.

      Numbers 12:1 does not mean that “Miriam called Zipporah an Ethiopian” (or Cushite) as you claim. Number 12:1 doesn’t mention Zipporah at all but says, “Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman).” Zipporah was long gone by this time. (Zipporah is mentioned three times in the Bible, in Exodus chapters 2, 4, and 18.)

      Miriam was not even around when Moses married Zipporah back in Exodus 2:21. At that time Miriam was in Egypt and Moses and Zipporah were in Midian. Miriam and Aaron’s grumbling recorded in Numbers 12 happened years later when the Israelites were in the wilderness. (Moses had spared his wife Zipporah the ordeal of wandering through the wilderness and had sent her away to live in her father’s home.)

      Numbers 12 does not mention that either Miriam or Aaron grumbled about the Cushite woman’s skin colour. Rather Miriam and Aaron’s words show that they were jealous of their brother’s relationship with God and ministry: “Does the Lord speak only through Moses? Does he not also speak through us?” (Num. 12:2). God responds to these questions in Numbers 12:6-8, but there is no mention of Moses’ wife or her skin colour.

      It seems that jealousy of Moses’s ministry led to criticism of Moses’s second wife who may have been royalty, but we are not told what it was about the marriage or about the woman that Miriam and Aaron had a problem with. More about Miriam’s complaining here: https://margmowczko.com/miriam-prophetess-ministry-to-women/

  2. Why does Miriam call Zipporah an Ethiopian?

    1. Hi Isabella, Miriam doesn’t call Zipporah an Ethiopian.

      In Numbers 12:1 it says “Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because of the Cushite woman he married (for he had married a Cushite woman).”

      The Hebrew word is Kushiכּוּשִׁי (“Cushite”), but it was translated as the equivalent of “Ethiopian” in the Septuagint (ancient Greek version of the Old Testament) and in the Vulgate (4th century Latin translation).

      Moses’s Cushite wife is not Zipporah but another woman.

      I write about how Cushites were sometimes referred to as “Ethiopians” here:
      Here’s a sample.

      In the Bible, “Ethiopia” refers to the region in Africa immediately south of Egypt. Its boundaries have shifted over time, but the northern boundary has always begun at modern-day Aswan.
      Numbers 12:1 states that Moses’ second wife came from this region (i.e. Kush). Could she have been a kandake as Craig Keener suggests? Josephus identified Moses’ second wife as Tharbis, the daughter of the king of the Ethiopians (i.e. Kushites), and he mentions Meroë by name (Antiquities 2.10.2).

  3. […] (1) Disobey those in authority and jeopardise your own safety by rescuing young children from danger: Shiphrah and Puah (Exod. 1:15–22), Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter (Exod. 2:5–10), Mephibosheth’s nurse (2 Sam. 4:4), Jehosheba who rescued her nephew Joash (2 Kings 11:1–3). […]

  4. […] Several holy women went against authority figures, disobeyed laws, and disregarded the wishes of their own husbands. Shiphrah and Puah disobeyed Pharaoh’s command, and God blessed them for their disobedience (Exod. 1:15–21). Rebekah and Abigail went against their husband’s wishes. There is no hint of censure against Rebekah in the Bible (Gen. 27:1–28:2), and Abigail was commended for her wise and brave actions (1 Sam. 25). Queen Esther, in order to save the Jewish people, disobeyed a law and risked her life by coming into her husband’s presence without being summoned (Esth. 4:11; 5:1). […]

  5. […] 1 Corinthians 11:3 has been used by some to support an idea called “covering,” which is that women need the covering or protection of a man’s (spiritual) authority. However, the biblical text does not support the idea that women need the covering or spiritual protection of men. Even in the Old Testament we see that God bypassed husbands and fathers and spoke to women directly, or he sent an angel to speak to women. In the New Covenant, however, every redeemed man and woman has access to God, through Jesus, facilitated by the Holy Spirit. God did not, and does not, single out men as his authorised spokesmen (prophets) or as protectors. God also used, and uses, women as prophets and protectors. […]

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