Old Testament thoughts is a weekly post where we’ll be looking at some interesting aspects of some Scripture from the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament). Right now, we are looking at the first two chapters of Exodus.
Yesterday I posted we looked at some of the creation language and the significance of such language. Today we’ll look at the “Account of the Hebrew Midwives,” in Exodus 1:15-22.
Hebrew or Egyptian
Are the midwives of Hebrew or Egyptian descent? The verse is actually inconclusive about the nationality of the midwives. It literally says “Then the king of Egypt said to the midwives of the Hebrews…”
וַיֹּאמֶר מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, לַמְיַלְּדֹת הָעִבְרִיֹּת
Now, although it could go either way, here are a few reasons to support the view that they are Egyptian for three reasons:
1. The rest of the story reads like the women are not Israelites. They are referred to twice as “fearing God,” a term often used for non-Israelites who nonetheless recognized God as God.
2. It also makes the story more believable. Why would Pharaoh believe Hebrew women, his slaves, when they said that they couldn’t get to the women in time? Or why would Hebrew women even have midwives if they knew this was the case? Of course, some think that this is precisely the point, that Pharaoh is being portrayed as a complete oaf. While there is a trend here of women tricking Pharaoh throughout, I don’t think that warrants taking the midwives as Hebrew instead of Egyptian.
3. The word “vigorous” or “lively” (כִּי-חָיוֹת) might be a negative way of referring to Israelite women. So the Egyptian women would be saying something like this, “Hebrew women are less refined and more animal-like than Egyptian women, they give birth quickly and don’t even need a midwife.” So the Egyptian women would be slamming the Hebrew women to more easily pull the wool over Pharaoh’s eyes.
Of course, again, the answer is inconclusive and it doesn’t really matter to the story, but some of the best things about a story can be found in the smallest details.