Poole on Exodus 1:18, 19: The Midwives' Misdirection of Pharaoh

Verse 18:[1] And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive?


Verse 19:[2] And (see Josh. 2:4, etc.; 2 Sam. 17:19, 20) the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them.



[They have knowledge of midwifery, כִּֽי־חָי֣וֹת הֵ֔נָּה[3]] Some maintain that the כִּי/for is superfluous (Vatablus). They render it variously. Lively, or vigorous (Samaritan Text, Munster, Pagnine, Junius and Tremellius, Oleaster, Ainsworth); active (Tigurinus); they are most vigorous and most robust, capable of enduring labors and sorrows; and therefore they prevent us and do not require our help (Ibn Ezra in Fagius, Vatablus). Others thus: They are like unto the beasts (for חָיָה signifies animal and beast), which, when they give birth, do not require midwives (Fagius, Vatablus, rabbis in Menochius). This does not displease: thus they were able to speak, feigning hatred and contempt for the Hebrews, and that for kindness, which they, while pretending, were conferring upon them (Menochius). Animals, beasts are they. Thus חָיּוֹת is taken in Psalm 104:25;[4] Ezekiel 1:5[5] (Malvenda). Others: They are midwives (thus Onkelos in Fagius’ Comparison of the Principal Translations, Syriac, Montanus). Thus the word signifies in the Chaldean[6] and in the commentaries of the Hebrews. They are so called because it was as if they were causing the fetus to live,[7] when they help it to come into the light (Fagius, Vatablus): the fetus they keep warm, animate, compose (Malvenda). That is to say, They have no need for other midwives. They themselves are causing to live before a midwife might come; they pray…and God hears them (Targum Jerusalem in Vatablus). They are skillful and of a vigorous and sagacious nature (Menochius). They are wise (Chaldean), observant (Arabic). If they respond with the truth (which we more greatly approve), the Hebrew women, made more certain concerning the command of the king, were giving birth before they called them; if with a falsehood, they cunningly cover the truth (Junius).



They are lively, or, vigorous and active in promoting the birth of their own children; or, like the beasts, which without any help of others bring forth their young. So the Hebrew word signifies; and so there is only a defect of the particle of similitude, which is frequent, as I have noted before.


And are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them: This might be no lie, as many suppose, but a truth concerning many of them, and they do not affirm it to be so with all. And so it might be, either because their daily and excessive labours joined with the fears of the execution of the king’s command, whereof they seem to have gotten notice, did hasten their birth, as the same causes do commonly in other women; or because they, understanding their danger, would not send for the midwives, but committed themselves to God’s providence, and the care of some of their neighbours present with them. So here was nothing but truth, though they did not speak the whole truth, which they were not obliged to do.

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּקְרָ֤א מֶֽלֶךְ־מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ לַֽמְיַלְּדֹ֔ת וַיֹּ֣אמֶר לָהֶ֔ן מַדּ֥וּעַ עֲשִׂיתֶ֖ן הַדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֑ה וַתְּחַיֶּ֖יןָ אֶת־הַיְלָדִֽים׃


[2] Hebrew: וַתֹּאמַ֤רְןָ הַֽמְיַלְּדֹת֙ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֔ה כִּ֣י לֹ֧א כַנָּשִׁ֛ים הַמִּצְרִיֹּ֖ת הָֽעִבְרִיֹּ֑ת כִּֽי־חָי֣וֹת הֵ֔נָּה בְּטֶ֙רֶם תָּב֧וֹא אֲלֵהֶ֛ן הַמְיַלֶּ֖דֶת וְיָלָֽדוּ׃


[3] Exodus 1:19b: “…for they are lively (כִּֽי־חָי֣וֹת הֵ֔נָּה), and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them.”


[4] Psalm 104:25b: “…wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts (חָיּוֹת).”


[5] Ezekiel 1:5a: “Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures (חַיּוֹת)…”


[6] In Chaldean, חַיָּה signifies midwife.


[7] See what things are on verse 17.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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