And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses.
Exodus 1:21 (KJV)
Houses – So did God actually come down and build a house for each of the midwives? Some translations have the word “families” instead. Maybe God gave the midwives families?
For either of these to work, we need to add to the text. We assume that if God gave them homes, maybe the midwives were homeless prior to that? Or if God gave them families, maybe they were barren earlier? Either way we’re speculating.
The Hebrew word in question here is battim which comes from the word bayit meaning “home.” Quickly we assume God is speaking about giving the midwives homes. But let’s take a step back and investigate another part of the verse; “for them.”
L’em ( להם ) is the Hebrew word being used here and means “for them.” But the interesting part is that this word is a masculine pronoun. It’s referring to something masculine, not feminine, not the midwives. So who could possibly be the other subject? The male babies. God made, for the male babies, a home. At a time when the male babies were being hunted down and cast into the river, they (the male babies) found a home in the care and protection of the midwives.
However, the Chizkuni provides an interesting explaination, although it still requires a leap in grammatics.
ויעש להם, “He made for them;” we find in many places in the Torah that the masculine pronoun is used when the subject happens to be feminine. [The word for “for them” should have been: להן, seeing that the subject, the midwives were feminine. Ed.] To quote just two examples of similar occurrences: Genesis 31,9: ויצל אלוקים את מקנה, “G-d saved the livestock of your father,” אביכם where the grammatically correct word should have been: אביכן. Or, Exodus 2,17: ויבאו הרועים ויגרשום, “the male shepherds came and chased them (the daughters of Yitro) away.” The correct word should have been ויגרשון. There are many examples of a similar kind throughout the Holy Scriptures.
However, I recommend reading the masculine pronoun as written. Because the midwives feared God, the reward for their efforts wasn’t given to the midwives themselves, the reward was given to the male babies. Can we learn something here? The work that we do, with the fear of God, should bless others, not ourselves.
The text says what it says. It doesn’t require us to add to it, and our English translations aren’t always accurate. With a few moments of time we can study further and learn more. The more we learn and understand, the better works we can accomplish so that others can be blessed.