Genesis 35:17

ESV And when her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for you have another son.”
NIV And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, 'Don't despair, for you have another son.'
NASB And when she was suffering severe difficulties in her labor, the midwife said to her, 'Do not fear, for you have another son!'
CSB During her difficult labor, the midwife said to her, "Don't be afraid, for you have another son."
NLT After a very hard delivery, the midwife finally exclaimed, 'Don’t be afraid — you have another son!'
KJV And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also.

What does Genesis 35:17 mean?

Jacob's most loved wife, Rachel (Genesis 29:30), has gone into labor. This happens while the large company is traveling south from Bethel toward the region of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The Bible describes this as a difficult birth (Genesis 35:16), though we are not told exactly why. It's possible that Rachel went into early labor, possibly due to some unmentioned health issue.

Rachel's labor is difficult and life-threatening. The Hebrew words applied to her situation evoke something "fierce," "harsh," or "severe." A curious detail is that the midwife can identify the baby's sex during—not after—the worst part of this process. This could suggest something like a breech birth, where the baby is delivered feet-first. This timing might also suggest the midwife was performing a Caesarean, or "C-section," where the infant is cut from the mother's womb. Despite popular misunderstanding, this process was not named for the Roman ruler Julius Caesar; it was a last-resort method for thousands of years prior. In the ancient world, a c-section was a last-ditch effort to save the baby of a dying woman, as the "surgery" itself was always fatal.

Lacking more information, we can only speculate as to a medical cause. The only meaningful details preserved are that the process was extremely difficult, and ultimately fatal for Rachel (Genesis 35:18–19).

The midwife delivering the baby attempts to encourage Rachel with the news that she has given birth to a long-awaited second son. The name of Rachel's first son, Joseph, was a prayer for another son (Genesis 30:24). Now that prayer has been answered. It's possible that Rachel has given birth to daughters, as well, though we don't know for sure.
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