Exodus 1:15
And the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah:
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(15) The Hebrew midwives.—Or the midwives of the Hebrew women (ταῖς μαίαις τῶν Έβραίων, 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.

Exodus 1:15. The king spake to the Hebrew midwives — The two chief of them. They are called Hebrew midwives, probably not because they were themselves Hebrews; for sure Pharaoh could never expect they should be so barbarous to those of their own nation; but because they were generally made use of among the Hebrews, and being Egyptians, he hoped to prevail with them.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.Hebrew midwifes - Or "midwives of the Hebrew women." This measure at once attested the inefficacy of the former measures, and was the direct cause of the event which issued in the deliverance of Israel, namely, the exposure of Moses. The women bear Egyptian names, and were probably Egyptians. 15. the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives—Two only were spoken to—either they were the heads of a large corporation [Laborde], or, by tampering with these two, the king designed to terrify the rest into secret compliance with his wishes [Calvin]. The Hebrew midwives; such as not only were employed about the Hebrew women, but were Hebrews themselves, not Egyptians, as some suppose; as may appear,

1. Because they are expressly called, not the midwives of the Hebrews, but

the Hebrew midwives.

2. The Egyptian midwives would not willingly employ their time and pains among the meanest and poorest of servants, as these were. And if they were sent in design by the king, he had lost his end, which was to cover his cruelty with cunning, and to persuade the people that their death was not from his intention, but from the ellarices and dangers of child-bearing.

3. The Hebrew women, as they had doubtless midwives of their own, so they would never have admitted others.

4. They are said to fear God, Exodus 2:17,21.

You are not to think that these were the only midwives to so many thousands of Hebrew women, but they were the most eminent among them; and it may be, for their excellency in that profession called to the service of some Egyptian ladies, and by them known to Pharaoh, who might therefore think by their own interest, and by the promise of great rewards, or by severe threatenings, to oblige them to comply with his desires; and if he met with the desired success by them, he meant to proceed further, and to engage the rest in like manner. 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.)

And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was {f} Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah:

(f) These seem to have been the main of the rest.

15. The names were preserved by tradition (Di.) as those of two noble-minded women, who in perilous times had done their duty to God and their people, and refused to obey the inhuman command of the heathen king. Obviously if the numbers of the Israelites even remotely approached 600,000 males (Exodus 12:37), far more than two midwives must have been required: either the numbers were in reality very much less, or these were the only midwives whose names were remembered.

15–22. The second measure. The Heb. midwives are commanded to slay all male infants that are born. V. 15 connects directly with v. 12.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. The promised blessing was manifested chiefly in the fact, that all the measures adopted by the cunning of Pharaoh to weaken and diminish the Israelites, instead of checking, served rather to promote their continuous increase.

Exodus 1:8-9

"There arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph." ויּקם signifies he came to the throne, קוּם denoting his appearance in history, as in Deuteronomy 34:10. A "new king" (lxx: βασιλεὺς ἕτερος; the other ancient versions, rex novus) is a king who follows different principles of government from his predecessors. Cf. חדשׁים אלהים, "new gods," in distinction from the God that their fathers had worshipped, Judges 5:8; Deuteronomy 32:17. That this king belonged to a new dynasty, as the majority of commentators follow Josephus

(Note: Ant. ii. 9, 1. Τῆς βασιλέιας εἰς ἄλλον οἶκον μεταληλυθυΐ́ας.)

in assuming, cannot be inferred with certainty from the predicate new; but it is very probable, as furnishing the readiest explanation of the change in the principles of government. The question itself, however, is of no direct importance in relation to theology, though it has considerable interest in connection with Egyptological researches.

(Note: The want of trustworthy accounts of the history of ancient Egypt and its rulers precludes the possibility of bringing this question to a decision. It is true that attempts have been made to mix it up in various ways with the statements which Josephus has transmitted from Manetho with regard to the rule of the Hyksos in Egypt (c. Ap. i. 14 and 26), and the rising up of the "new king" has been identified sometimes with the commencement of the Hyksos rule, and at other times with the return of the native dynasty on the expulsion of the Hyksos. But just as the accounts of the ancients with regard to the Hyksos bear throughout the stamp of very distorted legends and exaggerations, so the attempts of modern inquirers to clear up the confusion of these legends, and to bring out the historical truth that lies at the foundation of them all, have led to nothing but confused and contradictory hypotheses; so that the greatest Egyptologists of our own days, - viz., Lepsius, Bunsen, and Brugsch - differ throughout, and are even diametrically opposed to one another in their views respecting the dynasties of Egypt. Not a single trace of the Hyksos dynasty is to be found either in or upon the ancient monuments. The documental proofs of the existence of a dynasty of foreign kings, which the Vicomte de Roug thought that he had discovered in the Papyrus Sallier No. 1 of the British Museum, and which Brugsch pronounced "an Egyptian document concerning the Hyksos period," have since then been declared untenable both by Brugsch and Lepsius, and therefore given up again. Neither Herodotus nor Diodorus Siculus heard anything at all about the Hyksos though the former made very minute inquiry of the Egyptian priests of Memphis and Heliopolis. And lastly, the notices of Egypt and its kings, which we meet with in Genesis and Exodus, do not contain the slightest intimation that there were foreign kings ruling there either in Joseph's or Moses' days, or that the genuine Egyptian spirit which pervades these notices was nothing more than the "outward adoption" of Egyptian customs and modes of thought. If we add to this the unquestionably legendary character of the Manetho accounts, there is always the greatest probability in the views of those inquirers who regard the two accounts given by Manetho concerning the Hyksos as two different forms of one and the same legend, and the historical fact upon which this legend was founded as being the 430 years' sojourn of the Israelites, which had been thoroughly distorted in the national interests of Egypt. - For a further expansion and defence of this view see Hvernick's Einleitung in d. A. T. i. 2, pp. 338ff., Ed. 2((Introduction to the Pentateuch, pp. 235ff. English translation).)

The new king did not acknowledge Joseph, i.e., his great merits in relation to Egypt. ידע לא signifies here, not to perceive, or acknowledge, in the sense of not wanting to know anything about him, as in 1 Samuel 2:12, etc. In the natural course of things, the merits of Joseph might very well have been forgotten long before; for the multiplication of the Israelites into a numerous people, which had taken place in the meantime, is a sufficient proof that a very long time had elapsed since Joseph's death. At the same time such forgetfulness does not usually take place all at once, unless the account handed down has been intentionally obscured or suppressed. If the new king, therefore, did not know Joseph, the reason must simply have been, that he did not trouble himself about the past, and did not want to know anything about the measures of his predecessors and the events of their reigns. The passage is correctly paraphrased by Jonathan thus: non agnovit (חכּים) Josephum nec ambulavit in statutis ejus. Forgetfulness of Joseph brought the favour shown to the Israelites by the kings of Egypt to a close. As they still continued foreigners both in religion and customs, their rapid increase excited distrust in the mind of the king, and induced him to take steps for staying their increase and reducing their strength. The statement that "the people of the children of Israel" (ישׂראל בּני עם lit., "nation, viz., the sons of Israel;" for עם with the dist. accent is not the construct state, and ישראל בני is in apposition, cf. Ges. 113) were "more and mightier" than the Egyptians, is no doubt an exaggeration.

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