Exodus 1:15 MEANING

Exodus 1:15
(15) The Hebrew midwives.--Or the midwives of the Hebrew women (???? ?????? ??? ???????, LXX.). The Hebrew construction admits of either rendering. In favour of the midwives being Egyptians is the consideration that the Pharaoh would scarcely have expected Hebrew women to help him in the extirpation of the Hebrew race (Kalisch); against it is the Semitic character of the names--Shiphrah, "beautiful;" Puah, "one who cries out;" and also the likelihood that a numerous and peculiar people, like the Hebrews, would have accoucheurs of their own race.

Verses 15-22. - some time - say five or six years - having elapsed and the Pharaoh's first plan having manifestly failed, it was necessary for him either to give up his purpose, or to devise something else. Persevering and tenacious, he preferred the latter course. He bethought himself that a stop might be put to the multiplication of the Israelites by means of infanticide on a large scale. Infanticide was no doubt a crime in Egypt, as in most countries except Rome; but the royal command would legitimate almost any action, since the king was recognised as a god; and the wrongs of a foreign and subject race would not sensibly move the Egyptian people, or be likely to provoke remonstrance. On looking about for suitable instruments to carry out his design, it struck the monarch that something, at any rate, might be done by means of the midwives who attended the Hebrew women in their confinements. It has been supposed that the two mentioned, Shiphrah and Puah, might be the only midwives employed by the Israelites (Canon Cook and others), and no doubt in the East a small number suffice for a large population: but what impression could the monarch expect to make on a population of from one to two millions of souls by engaging the services of two persons only, who could not possibly attend more than about one in fifty of the births? The midwives mentioned must therefore be regarded as "superintendents," chiefs of the guild or faculty, who were expected to give their orders to the rest. (So Kalisch, Knobel, Aben Ezra, etc.) It was no doubt well known that midwives were not always called in; but the king supposed that they were employed sufficiently often for the execution of his orders to produce an important result. And the narrative implies that he had not miscalculated. It was the disobedience of the midwives (ver. 17) that frustrated the king's intention, not any inherent weakness in his plan. The midwives, while professing the intention of carrying out the orders given them, in reality killed none of the infants; and, when taxed by the Pharaoh with disobedience, made an untrue excuse (ver. 19). Thus the king's second plan failed as completely as his first - "the people" still "multiplied and waxed very mighty" (ver. 20). Foiled a second time, the wicked king threw off all reserve and all attempt at concealment. If the midwives will not stain their hands with murder at his secret command, he will make the order a general and public one. "All his people" shall be commanded to put their hand to the business, and to assist in the massacre of the innocents - it shall he the duty of every loyal subject to cast into the waters of the Nile any Hebrew male child of whose birth he has cognisance. The object is a national one-to secure the public safety (see ver. 10): the whole nation may well be called upon to aid in carrying it out. Verse 15. - The Hebrew midwives. It is questioned whether the midwives were really Hebrew women, and not rather Egyptian women, whose special business it was to attend the Hebrew women in their labours. Kalisch translates, "the women who served as midwives to the Hebrews," and assumes that they were Egyptians. (So also Canon Cook.) But the names are apparently Semitic, Shiphrah being "elegant, beautiful," and Puah, "one who cries out." And the most natural rendering of the Hebrew text is that of A. V.

1:15-22 The Egyptians tried to destroy Israel by the murder of their children. The enmity that is in the seed of the serpent, against the Seed of the woman, makes men forget all pity. It is plain that the Hebrews were now under an uncommon blessing. And we see that the services done for God's Israel are often repaid in kind. Pharaoh gave orders to drown all the male children of the Hebrews. The enemy who, by Pharaoh, attempted to destroy the church in this its infant state, is busy to stifle the rise of serious reflections in the heart of man. Let those who would escape, be afraid of sinning, and cry directly and fervently to the Lord for assistance.And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives,.... It is difficult to say who these midwives were, whether Egyptian or Hebrew women. Josephus is of opinion that they were Egyptians, and indeed those the king was most likely to succeed with; and it may seem improbable that he should offer such a thing to Hebrew women, who he could never think would ever comply with it, through promises or threatenings; and the answer they afterwards gave him, that the Hebrew women were not as the Egyptian women, looks as if they were of the latter: and yet, after all, it is more likely that these midwives were Hebrew women, their names are Hebrew; and besides, they are not said to be the midwives of Hebrew women, but Hebrew midwives; nor does it seem probable that the Hebrew women should have Egyptian midwives, and not those of their own nation; and they were such as feared the Lord; and the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem are express for it, and they pretend to tell us who they were: "of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah"; the one, they say, was Jochebed, the wife of Amram, and mother of Moses and Aaron, and the other Miriam their sister; and this is the sense of many of the Jewish writers (f): but whatever may be said for Jochebed, it is not credible that Miriam should be a midwife, who was but a girl, or maid, at this time, about seven years of age, as the following chapter shows, and much less one of so much repute as to be spoke to by the king. It may seem strange, that only two should be spoke to on this account, when, as Aben Ezra supposes, there might be five hundred of them: to which it may be answered, that these were the most noted in their profession, and the king began with these, that if he could succeed with them, he would go on to prevail on others, or engage them to use their interest with others to do the like; or these might be the midwives of the principal ladies among the Israelites, in one of whose families, according as his magicians had told, as the Targum of Jonathan observes, should be born a son, by whom the land of Egypt would be destroyed; of which Josephus (g) also takes notice; and therefore he might be chiefly solicitous to destroy the male children of such families; but Aben Ezra thinks, that these two were the chief over the rest of the midwives, and who collected and paid to the king the tribute out of their salaries, which was laid upon them, and so he had an opportunity of conversing with them on this subject.

(f) T. Bab. Sotah, fol. 11. 2. Midrash Kohelet, fol. 74. 1. Jarchi in loc. (g) Ut supra. (Antiq. l. 2. c. 9. sect. 1.)

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