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Exodus 1:15-21

Context

1:15 The king of Egypt said 1  to the Hebrew midwives, 2  one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 3  1:16 4  “When you assist 5  the Hebrew women in childbirth, observe at the delivery: 6  If it is a son, kill him, 7  but if it is a daughter, she may live.” 8  1:17 But 9  the midwives feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live. 10 

1:18 Then the king of Egypt summoned 11  the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this and let the boys live?” 12  1:19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew 13  women are not like the Egyptian women – for the Hebrew women 14  are vigorous; they give birth before the midwife gets to them!” 15  1:20 So God treated the midwives well, 16  and the people multiplied and became very strong. 1:21 And because the midwives feared God, he made 17  households 18  for them.

1 tn Heb “and the king of Egypt said.”

2 sn The word for “midwife” is simply the Piel participle of the verb יָלַד (yalad, “to give birth”). So these were women who assisted in the childbirth process. It seems probable that given the number of the Israelites in the passage, these two women could not have been the only Hebrew midwives, but they may have been over the midwives (Rashi). Moreover, the LXX and Vulgate do not take “Hebrew” as an adjective, but as a genitive after the construct, yielding “midwives of/over the Hebrews.” This leaves open the possibility that these women were not Hebrews. This would solve the question of how the king ever expected Hebrew midwives to kill Hebrew children. And yet, the two women have Hebrew names.

3 tn Heb “who the name of the first [was] Shiphrah, and the name of the second [was] Puah.”

4 tn The verse starts with the verb that began the last verse; to read it again seems redundant. Some versions render it “spoke” in v. 15 and “said” in v. 16. In effect, Pharaoh has been delayed from speaking while the midwives are named.

5 tn The form is the Piel infinitive construct serving in an adverbial clause of time. This clause lays the foundation for the next verb, the Qal perfect with a vav consecutive: “when you assist…then you will observe.” The latter carries an instructional nuance (= the imperfect of instruction), “you are to observe.”

6 tn Heb “at the birthstool” (cf. ASV, NASB, NRSV), but since this particular item is not especially well known today, the present translation simply states “at the delivery.” Cf. NIV “delivery stool.”

7 sn The instructions must have been temporary or selective, otherwise the decree from the king would have ended the slave population of Hebrews. It is also possible that the king did not think through this, but simply took steps to limit the population growth. The narrative is not interested in supplying details, only in portraying the king as a wicked fool bent on destroying Israel.

8 tn The last form וָחָיָה (vakhaya) in the verse is unusual; rather than behaving as a III-Hey form, it is written as a geminate but without the daghesh forte in pause (GKC 218 §76.i). In the conditional clause, following the parallel instruction (“kill him”), this form should be rendered “she may live” or “let her live.”

9 tn Heb “and they [fem. pl.] feared”; the referent (the midwives) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

10 tn The verb is the Piel preterite of חָיָה (khaya, “to live”). The Piel often indicates a factitive nuance with stative verbs, showing the cause of the action. Here it means “let live, cause to live.” The verb is the exact opposite of Pharaoh’s command for them to kill the boys.

11 tn The verb קָרָא (qara’) followed by the lamed (ל) preposition has here the nuance of “summon.” The same construction is used later when Pharaoh summons Moses.

12 tn The second verb in Pharaoh’s speech is a preterite with a vav (ו) consecutive. It may indicate a simple sequence: “Why have you done…and (so that you) let live?” It could also indicate that this is a second question, “Why have you done …[why] have you let live?”

13 sn See further N. Lemche, “‘Hebrew’ as a National Name for Israel,” ST 33 (1979): 1-23.

14 tn Heb “they”; the referent (the Hebrew women) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

15 tn Heb “before the midwife comes to them (and) they give birth.” The perfect tense with the vav consecutive serves as the apodosis to the preceding temporal clause; it has the frequentative nuance (see GKC 337-38 §112.oo).

sn The point of this brief section is that the midwives respected God above the king. They simply followed a higher authority that prohibited killing. Fearing God is a basic part of the true faith that leads to an obedient course of action and is not terrified by worldly threats. There probably was enough truth in what they were saying to be believable, but they clearly had no intention of honoring the king by participating in murder, and they saw no reason to give him a straightforward answer. God honored their actions.

16 tn The verb וַיֵּיטֶב (vayyetev) is the Hiphil preterite of יָטַב (yatav). In this stem the word means “to cause good, treat well, treat favorably.” The vav (ו) consecutive shows that this favor from God was a result of their fearing and obeying him.

17 tn The temporal indicator וַיְהִי (vayÿhi) focuses attention on the causal clause and lays the foundation for the main clause, namely, “God made households for them.” This is the second time the text affirms the reason for their defiance, their fear of God.

18 tn Or “families”; Heb “houses.”



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