What does the bible say about barren women who had to wait til late in life to have children? What is the lesson for us?
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In the Bible just 6 women are described specifically as ‘barren’.
By nature the women who were barren would have borne no children. Each had children by the direct intervention of God.
Barrenness in women and infertility in men are evils of this present world of sin and death brought about by Adam’s disobedience. Barrenness is not punishment on individuals, but like disease, accidents, famines, floods and earthquakes, just another evil that many have to endure.
The promise to Israel, had they kept the covenant made with God at Sinai, makes clear that God can and would intervene and ensure fertility of both people and livestock.
Exodus 23:26 There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in thy land: the number of thy days I will fulfil.
Deuteronomy 7:14 Thou shalt be blessed above all people: there shall not be male or female barren among you, or among your cattle.
Psalms 127:3 Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
The promise is made in Genesis that the curse of sin and death which came upon man as a result of the serpent’s deception of Eve would be reversed by a male born of a woman. God prophesies it figuratively thus:
Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
From Eve onwards the hope of women of faith was that the promised seed would be or come through a son of their conception; that they might play their part in the redemption of mankind.
The women described as barren in the Bible are as follows:
1. Sarai (renamed Sarah) the wife of Abram (renamed Abraham)
Genesis 11:30 But Sarai was barren; she had no child.
Genesis 17:15 And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. 16 And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.
Genesis 17:1 And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken. 2 For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age... 5 And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. 6 And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me.
The line of the promised seed becomes more focussed when God chooses Abram.
Genesis 12:1 Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: 2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
The blessing with which all families of the earth will be blessed is the removal of sin and death.
It becomes clear that the reason why Abraham and Sarah were made to wait is to both develop and demonstrate to us the strength of their faith in what God had promised. To teach us the lesson that God imputes righteousness through faith. Abraham becomes the father of the faithful.
Romans 4:16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, 17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,)...18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. 19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: 20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
Hebrews 11:11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
Isaac begins the line through which the seed would come.
Genesis 21:12 And God said unto Abraham... in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
Romans 9:7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.
The promised seed is Christ.
Genesis 22:18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
Galatians 3:16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
Sarah is made a type of Spiritual Jerusalem, free from bondage.
Galatians 4:21 Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? 22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. 24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. 25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. 26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. 27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.
Isaac as a child of promise is made a type of those who become children of Abraham by baptism into Christ.
Galatians 4:28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
Galatians 3:29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
2. Rebekah the wife of Isaac.
Genesis 25:21 And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.
Rebekah’s barrenness was a test of faith, resolved by prayer. The promised seed was to come through Isaac and God intervened again and Rebekah conceived twins Esau and Jacob, one was faithless and sold his birthright for a meal of pottage, the other became faithful and inherited the promises.
3. Rachel the younger wife of Jacob (renamed Israel)
Genesis 29:31 And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.
As Jacob deceived Isaac to steal Esau’s blessing so Jacob was deceived by Laban into marriage with Leah when he had served for Rachel. Jacob then married Rachel but the marriage was marred because Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah and the strife degenerated into contest of conception. Jacob understood that Rachel’s barrenness was of God.
Genesis 30:1 And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die. 2 And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?
In process of time (through her persistence in prayer) God causes Rachel to conceive.
Genesis 30:22 And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb. 23 And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach: 24 And she called his name Joseph; and said, The LORD shall add to me another son.
It is not until we see how Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers and becomes the saviour of both Egypt and Jacob’s family that we understand the reason for the delay that Rachel endured. Although the line of the seed was to go through Leah’s son Judah, Joseph becomes a type of Christ as the deliverer of Israel, rejected by his brethren, who the Jews will recognise at his second coming.
Acts 7:13 And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren;
Matthew 23:39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Rachel died at the birth of her second son Benjamin and we might consider that barrenness was an act of mercy which prolonged Rachel’s life (although this is, of course, conjecture). Rachel was buried near Bethlehem where Jesus was to be born.
4. The unnamed wife of Manoah of the tribe of Dan.
Judges 13:2 And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not. 3 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son... 24 And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson:
Samson was a Nazarite from the womb and the intervention by God was to begin the deliverance of wayward Israel from the oppression of the Philistines, (a deliverance which was not completed until David became king).
Judges 13:5... no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.
He is listed among the people saved by their faith.
Hebrews 11:32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:
5. Hannah the second wife of Elkanah.
1 Samuel 1:2 And he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children... 5 But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the LORD had shut up her womb.
The shutting up of Hanna’s womb caused her to vow to lend her first son to God for life. When the son was born she fulfilled her vow.
1 Samuel 1:11 And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.
1 Samuel 1:19 And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the LORD, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the LORD remembered her. 20 Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the LORD.
1 Samuel 1:24 And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the LORD in Shiloh: and the child was young. 25 And they slew a bullock, and brought the child to Eli. 26 And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the LORD. 27 For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him: 28 Therefore also I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the LORD. And he worshipped the LORD there.
1 Samuel 2:18... Samuel ministered before the LORD, being a child, girded with a linen ephod. 19 Moreover his mother made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. 20 And Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife, and said, The LORD give thee seed of this woman for the loan which is lent to the LORD. And they went unto their own home. 21 And the LORD visited Hannah, so that she conceived, and bare three sons and two daughters.
Hannah’s understanding of God and her belief in his purpose are clearly laid out in her prayer:
1 Samuel 2:1 And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the LORD, mine horn is exalted in the LORD: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation. 2 There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God. 3 Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. 4 The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength. 5 They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased: so that the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxed feeble. 6 The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. 7 The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. 8 He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, and he hath set the world upon them. 9 He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail. 10 The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them: the LORD shall judge the ends of the earth; and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed.
At this time Israel had no king so Hannah is looking forward with the eye of faith to the time when God will judge the world and the promised seed will rule in righteousness as God’s appointed king. This is what Paul speaks of:
Acts 17:31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
Samuel was born at a time when the priesthood was failing in the hands of Eli’s sons. Through Samuel God continued the deliverance of Israel from the oppression of the Philistines.
1 Samuel 7:13 So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more into the coast of Israel: and the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.
Samuel was the one who God caused to anoint Israel’s first two kings; Saul who was faithless and David who was faithful. The promised seed was to come through David of the tribe of Judah. This seed was Christ.
Luke 1:32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
6. Elisabeth the wife of Zacharias, cousin to Mary.
Luke 1:7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years...
Luke 1:13... the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
John Baptist was to prepare the way for Jesus. Once again the conception was a miracle performed by God to fulfil his purpose. We might consider that by the delay in conception Elisabeth would be spared the slaying of John by Herod (again this is just conjecture). Mary had to endure the death of Jesus:
Luke 2:35 (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
The belief of Elisabeth, Mary and Zacharias in the provision of a saviour is seen in their responses.
Luke 1:41... Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
Luke 1:46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. 51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. 53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; 55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
Luke 1:67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, 68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, 69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; 70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: 71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; 72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; 73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, 74 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, 75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. 76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; 77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, 78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, 79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Thus we see how God intervened in each case of barrenness to bring into being the men who would fulfil his purpose. The lesson is that God works in the lives of those have faith in his promises and live their lives accordingly.
In the New Testament the barren is made a figure of spiritual Israel and her children the gentiles (which include us) who until Christ came had produced very little fruit for God.
The Old Testament speaks thus:
Psalms 113:9 He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD.
Isaiah 54:1 Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD.
Paul, quoting Isaiah 54:1, explains it thus:
Galatians 4:26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. 27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.
Through the intervention of God, by belief in the gospel and baptism into Christ, we can become children of the barren woman and a cause for rejoicing.
I hope you have found this helpful.
May God bless you,