Barren Women in the Bible
At this time of year we celebrate the joy of motherhood; but what about the grieving women who are unable to conceive for various reasons? Mother’s Day should also be a time of sensitivity and hopefulness for women who have not yet given birth. The Bible lists numerous barren women in the Hebrew Scriptures and one barren woman in the New Testament, all of whom gave birth prior to the advent of the Messiah. Each woman has a unique story to share concerning the infertility that grieved her heart until fruitfulness was realized in God’s appointed time. Believers can learn much about waiting on the Lord by studying the inspirational lives of these women who were frequently regarded as outcasts in society.
Barrenness, generally considered a female problem, was a humiliating social stigma in antiquity, a curse worse than death, believed to be divinely imposed upon certain women who had been cursed by the gods. Barren women were habitually taunted and ridiculed, made to feel like second-class citizens, and were considered a public embarrassment to their husbands. The shame of barrenness was always on the minds of infertile couples. In some societies, husbands were free to acquire secondary wives or concubines to fulfill their need for progeny, preferably a male heir.
The childless couple faced an uncertain future with no offspring to work the fields, tend the herds, and assist with the daily chores in the home. Even worse, who would care for the couple in old age, mourn their passing, bury them with dignity, memorialize them annually, and carry the family name to the next generation and beyond? Such were the time-honored duties of one’s loyal children. With critical needs of this magnitude, it is not surprising that desperate people in the ancient world left nothing to chance when it came to reproduction of the species.
The revered matriarchs of Israel, Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, were expected to procreate in response to the promises God gave their husbands, beginning with the great patriarch, Abraham. God covenanted with Abraham that He would make him a great nation (Gen 12:2), pledging that his descendants would be as the dust of the earth (Gen 13:16). This was an astounding declaration for an aged, heirless man to hear, but the reality seemed impossible. How could this prophetic word come to pass? After all, his beloved Sarah was old and barren!
You know the end of the story, God opened Sarah’s womb miraculously, but the perceived curse of infertility persisted in the next generation and beyond! Rebekah and Rachel, the next women in the matriarchal lineup, were also barren! Or were they? In reality, the three women suffered from temporary infertility, not barrenness! They all brought forth long-awaited sons in God’s appointed time. Their remarkable, faith-building testimonies still speak to us today. There is much more to learn about the matriarchs and the other so-called barren women in the Bible in my series: “Barrenness in the Bible– Curse or Blessing,” available from bibleinteract.com. Happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere and to mothers-to-be…in God’s appointed time!