- Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you. Isaiah 49:15 ESV
הֲתִשְׁכַּח אִשָּׁה עוּלָהּ
וְאָנֹכִי לֹא אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ
μη επιλησεται γυνη του παιδιου αυτης του
μη ελεησαι τα εκγονα της κοιλιας αυτης
ει δε και επιλαθοιτο ταυτα γυνη
αλλ’ εγω ουκ επιλησομαι σου ειπεν κυριος
Will a mother forget her child
so as not to have mercy on the
descendants of her womb?
But even if a woman should forget these,
Yet, I will not forget you, said the Lord.
All the translations in the King James tradition, except for the NRSV, have “son of her womb” in this verse. The (T)NIV and several other modern translations have “child of her womb”. The Septuagint has “descendants” or “offspring” of her womb.
Although the Hebrew ben-bitnah most literally says “son of the womb”, I have to question whether the actual referent here is a son or a daughter; and if a daughter, wouldn’t it be better translated “child of her womb.” In verse 14 the referent is clearly Zion, a female entity, and usually treated metaphorically as a female. Does it really make sense to call Zion the “son of her womb?”
My second reason for questioning the use of the gender exclusive “son” here is that this entire passage compares the love God has for his children to something both a mother and a father feels. But the feeling is for the children, not specifically a son.
I found the phrase “child of my womb” recently as the title of a post on a blog authored by a woman who had just lost a stillborn child, a daughter. I argue that she would never have used the phrase “son of my womb” in this situation. I feel strongly that if the Hebrew or Greek word refers to children, both male and female, then that needs to be made clear in English.
I look forward to hearing comments as to whether there are any reasons why “son of my womb” should be retained.