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The Stigma of Infertility in Antiquity

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 today can learn much about waiting on the Lord by studying the lives of these women, who were frequently regarded as outcasts in society.

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 were obsessed with reproduction of the species.

The forces of nature that supplied life-giving food and water to ancient man were revered as gods, blood-thirsty deities in many instances, demanding both animal and human sacrifice as a means of appeasement. Because fertility of the fields, herds, and the human womb was of constant concern in the pagan world, ritualistic forms of nature worship evolved in an attempt to control the forces of nature that do the bidding of Almighty God. Ignorance of the changing patterns associated with seasonal weather conditions, coupled with pervasive superstition, gave rise to countless myths that were venerated by the pagan populace. Gods and goddesses, idols made by human hands, were given dominion over various aspects of nature. Quite literally, there was a god for everything under the sun, with the focus generally involving fertility in some form.

Male and female temple prostitution and ritual sex played a significant role in ancient Canaanite worship, representing sacred union with the gods that yielded a boost in fertility and an impartation of the deity to the practitioners. Such was the superstitious belief system of the ancient world. Of course, the lascivious fertility cults were off limits to the Israelites, who were forbidden by Yahweh to learn the evil ways of the heathen (Deut 12:2-4).

In my recent DVD series and Bible study/workbook (Barrenness in the Bible – Curse or Blessing?), I discuss the barren women of the Bible and their miraculous conceptions that pointed prophetically to the birth of Yeshua, the most miraculous nativity of all. There is much is to learn from the inspiring testimonies of those who experienced “temporary infertility” until God’s appointed time for fruitfulness.

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