The euphemism translated literally as at the time of life, כָּעֵת חַיָּה, appears four times in the OT (NIV):
- Genesis 18:10: Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
- Genesis 18:14: Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
- II Kings 4:16: "About this time next year," Elisha said, "you will hold a son in your arms." ...
- II Kings 4:17: But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.
The classical Jewish commentators interpreted this as meaning "a year". The reason for this is the apparent impropriety in interpreting this as "nine months" from the time of the visit by a mysterious male visitor.
The KJV translators, who usually translate according to the Jewish classical interpretations, apparently felt uncomfortable rendering this particular classical interpretation and possibly equally uncomfortable with the implications of the more straightforward interpretation and therefore punted, provided a literal translation - which makes no sense as an English expression, but is faithful to the Hebrew word-for-word.
Modern scholars such as Dr. Shelly Goldberg of Bar Ilan University interpret this phrase as referring to the term of pregnancy - nine months and dismiss the suggestion of impropriety as the prudishness of later generations. This "time of life", is the time when the child is born and becomes "alive", as children born before full term were either stillborn or usually did not survive.
There is one other use of a similar term כי חיות in Exodus 1:19: The midwives answered Pharaoh, "Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive."
Dr. Goldberg uses Exodus 1:19 to support the view that "at the time of life" means the term of gestation. According to this view, the excuse that the Egyptian midwives give Pharaoh in Exodus 1:19 means "Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they give birth before full term, before the midwives arrive".