What does Exodus 1:16 mean?
ESV: “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.”
NIV: When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.'
NASB: and he said, 'When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.'
CSB: "When you help the Hebrew women give birth, observe them as they deliver. If the child is a son, kill him, but if it's a daughter, she may live."
NLT: When you help the Hebrew women as they give birth, watch as they deliver. If the baby is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.'
KJV: And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live.
NKJV: and he said, “When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.”
Verse Commentary:
Pharaoh assumes that midwives are present when Hebrew women give birth. He commands them to kill the newborn Jewish sons. The mention of a "birthstool" literally means "two stones." In its most primitive form, the birthstool was two bricks or stones placed under the buttocks of a woman in labor. Later, the birthstool was an actual chair with an opening in the center where the baby would come out into the hands of a midwife.

The idea at hand is that the midwife is the first to hold the baby and discover its gender. If the child was a male, the midwife was commanded to end his life immediately. The practice of infanticide was evil in God's sight (Genesis 9:6). Knowing this, the Hebrew midwives feared God and would not follow Pharaoh's command (Exodus 1:17). Whether their response was openly,and immediately defiant, or simply a matter of later disobedience, these Hebrew would be risking their lives to protect children. This passage seems to suggest they followed the latter path—an act of heroism often forgotten when remembering the events of the book of Exodus.

Later, when Pharaoh sees that his orders are not being followed by the Jewish midwives, he will resort to having infant Jewish boys thrown into the Nile River (Exodus 1:22). In this troubling context, Exodus will introduce Moses (Exodus 2:1–2), the main figure God uses to bring the Jewish people out of bondage.
Verse Context:
Exodus 1:15–22 describes the Egyptian king's third, most drastic attempt to curb Israeli population growth. After enslavement and brutality, the Hebrews are still growing. Out of political fears and racial disgust, the Egyptians seek other ways of reducing Israeli power. Here, Pharaoh will enact a program of infanticide: ordering Hebrew midwives to murder male Jewish babies. When they resist, Egypt's king extends this command to the Egyptian people in general. This backdrop of murder sets the scene for the rise of Moses, the eventual leader of the nation of Israel.
Chapter Summary:
The children of Abraham and Jacob grow rapidly, forming a prosperous nation made up of twelve tribes, one for each son of Jacob. This inspires fear and hate from the Egyptians. Their king first tries to slow down the Hebrews' growth by enslaving them. Next, he increases the brutality of their work. Then, he tries to command Jewish midwives to kill their own people's newborn baby boys. When these all fail, he openly orders the murder of all Jewish infant boys. Inadvertently, this creates the very situation which leads to the rise of Israel's eventual leader, Moses.
Chapter Context:
Exodus chapter 1 establishes the difficult reality faced by the nation of Israel. At the end of Genesis, Abraham's descendants were finally safe. In this passage, they become prosperous and expand rapidly. This, however, results in fear and hatred from the native Egyptians, who enact a program of slavery and infanticide against the Hebrews. This sets the scene for the arrival of Israel's greatest leader, the prophet Moses, who will speak for God during this time of Israel's rescue. The next chapter explains Moses' dangerous childhood and exile in the desert.
Book Summary:
The book of Exodus establishes God's covenant relationship with the full-fledged nation of Israel. The descendants of Abraham prosper after settling in Egypt, only to be enslaved by a fearful, hateful Egyptian Pharaoh. God appoints Moses to lead the people out of this bondage. Moses serves as God's spokesman, as the Lord brings plagues and judgments on Egypt, leading to the release of Israel.
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