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 F6: 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 F7 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.
F6 T. Bab. Sotah, fol. 11. 2. Midrash Kohelet, fol. 74. 1. Jarchi in loc.
F7 Ut supra. (Antiq. l. 2. c. 9. sect. 1.)