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The act or process of bringing forth young from the womb. The biblical writers, like other ancient people, did not fully understand the process of conception. Having no knowledge of the woman's ovum, they thought that only the male's semen (his “seed”) produced the child. The woman provided her womb as a receptacle for the protection and growth of the child.

Midwives were often used in the birthing process (Genesis 35:17 ; Genesis 38:28 ; Exodus 1:15 ). Birthstools were also used (Exodus 1:16 ; see Ezekiel 16:4 ). Often the child was named at birth (Genesis 21:3 ; Genesis 29:32 ,Genesis 29:32,29:35 ; Genesis 30:6-8 ). The woman was considered ritually unclean for a period of from 40 to 80 days following birth (Leviticus 12:1-8 ; see Luke 2:22 ).

When a son was born, he was placed immediately on his father's knees (Genesis 50:23 ; Job 3:12 ). The psalmist's words, “Upon thee was I cast from my birth,” reflects the father's receiving of his new son and signifies God's care from the moment of birth (Psalm 22:10 ; Psalm 71:6 ). Rachel, by receiving Bilhah's child upon her knees at birth, was adopting him as her own (Genesis 30:3-8 ).

Birth could be premature because of the shock of bad news (1 Samuel 4:19 ). The untimely birth—here, stillborn (see Untimely Birth)—enters the dark, finds rest, and does not know the agony of life (Ecclesiastes 6:4-5 ; Job 3:11-13 ). A miscarriage was caused by accident or violence (Exodus 21:22-25 ), or may have been considered as divine judgment (Psalm 58:8 ; Hosea 9:14 ).

The birth of a child was a time of rejoicing, especially the birth of a son (Ruth 4:13-14 ; Jeremiah 20:15 ; Luke 1:14 ,Luke 1:14,1:57-58 ; Luke 2:13-14 ; John 16:21 ). One's birthday was an occasion for celebration (Genesis 40:20 ; Matthew 14:6 ). If life became unbearable, one might be moved to curse the day of birth (Job 3:3 ; Jeremiah 20:14 ).

The birthing process was used in a figurative way in describing the relationship of God to His people. In Deuteronomy 32:18 , God gave birth to Israel as a mother would give birth to a child. Therefore, when the Israelites said to the tree, “You are my father,” and to the stone, “You gave me birth,” they turned away from their true parent (the tree and stone pillar were symbols in the worship of idols). According to Jesus, it is just as necessary to be born of the Spirit as it is to be born of a woman (John 3:1-7 ). The birthing process is also used as an image to describe God's creative activity (Job 38:29 ). God is even pictured as a midwife (Isaiah 66:7-9 ).

Many biblical writers used the pain of childbirth in a metaphorical way. Kings before God tremble like a woman giving birth (Psalm 48:6 ). The coming of the day of the Lord will cause anguish similar to childbirth. There will be pangs, agony, cries, gasping, and panting (Isaiah 13:8 ; Isaiah 42:14 ; Jeremiah 6:24 ; Jeremiah 13:21 ; Jeremiah 22:23 ; Jeremiah 30:6 ; Jeremiah 48:41 ; Jeremiah 49:24 ; Jeremiah 50:43 ; John 16:21 ; Revelation 12:2 ).

Phil Logan

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Birth'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 25th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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