Exodus 1:16

16 He said, "When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the sex of the baby. If it's a boy, kill him; if it's a girl, let her live."

Exodus 1:16 Meaning and Commentary

Exodus 1:16

And he said, when ye do the office of a midwife to the
Hebrew women
Deliver them of their children:

and see [them] upon the stools;
seats for women in labour to sit upon, and so contrived, that the midwives might do their office the more readily; but while they sat there, and before the birth, they could not tell whether the child was a son or a daughter; wherefore Kimchi F8 thinks the word here used signifies the place to which the infant falls down from its mother's belly, at the time of labour, and is called the place of the breaking forth of children, and takes it to be the "uterus" itself; and says it is called "Abanim", because "Banim", the children, are there, and supposes "A" or "Aleph" to be an additional letter; and so the sense then is, not when ye see the women on the seats, but the children in the place of coming forth; but then he asks, if it be so, why does he say, "and see them" there? could they see them before they were entirely out of the womb? to which he answers, they know by this rule, if a son, its face was downwards, and if a daughter, its face was upwards; how true this is, must be left to those that know better; the Jewish masters F9 constantly and positively affirm it: he further observes, that the word is of the dual number, because of the two valves of the womb, through which the infant passes:

if it be a son, then ye shall kill him;
give it a private pinch as it comes forth, while under their hands, that its death might seem to be owing to the difficulty of its birth, or to something that happened in it. This was ordered, because what the king had to fear from the Israelites was only from the males, and they only could multiply their people; and because of the above information of his magicians, if there is any truth in that:

but if it be a daughter, then she shall live,
be kept alive, and preserved, and brought up to woman's estate; and this the king chose to have done, having nothing to fear from them, being of the feeble sex, and that they might serve to gratify the lust of the Egyptians, who might be fond of Hebrew women, being more beautiful than theirs; or that they might be married and incorporated into Egyptian families, there being no males of their own, if this scheme took place, to match with them, and so by degrees the whole Israelitish nation would be mixed with, and swallowed up in the Egyptian nation, which was what was aimed at.


F8 Sepher Shorash. rad. (Nba) .
F9 T. Bab. Sotah, fol. 11. 1. Niddah, fol. 31. 2.

Exodus 1:16 In-Context

14 They made them miserable with hard labor - making bricks and mortar and back-breaking work in the fields. They piled on the work, crushing them under the cruel workload.
15 The king of Egypt had a talk with the two Hebrew midwives; one was named Shiphrah and the other Puah.
16 He said, "When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the sex of the baby. If it's a boy, kill him; if it's a girl, let her live."
17 But the midwives had far too much respect for God and didn't do what the king of Egypt ordered; they let the boy babies live.
18 The king of Egypt called in the midwives. "Why didn't you obey my orders? You've let those babies live!"
Published by permission. Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved.