I’ve been sitting on this last of three sessions for the Bible study, “Barren Beginnings” for a few days. I’m just not sure about it yet, so I would especially welcome your comments or suggestions on writing or content. Am I stating when I ought to be leading with questions? Is it too long, being half a page longer than the other two sessions? Is it less friendly to a broad audience? The previous parts are here and here.
And, once it’s in semi-final form, I’ll post it somewhere so you can download and print it for free use—probably on a new resource page! 🙂
Barren Beginnings (Part 3 of 3)
Opening Prayer: O Lord, You are the Way, the Truth, and the Light. Keep us in Your Word and strengthen us by Your gifts and means of grace. Amen.
Our God creates and fills. He sends His Son to be the Child we all need, a Savior from every sin and weakness. He speaks with care, offering us clarity while giving us His Spirit, and connects us with the cross through Baptism and the Body and Blood of Christ through the Bread and Wine. And, He works in history and outside of time! Still, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33).
Read Isaiah 7:14 (and stay on that page). What connotations do you have with this verse? What have you been taught regarding it?
Most of us are most familiar with its place at Christmas time. We are not so familiar with these warm words of life and assurance being spoken to an evil king!
That beautiful prophecy in Isaiah is spoken amid warnings of the coming Assyrian invasion. People would walk in great darkness, but they would also receive a great light (Isaiah 9:2). God speaks judgment against Israel, as the tribes metaphorically devour one another (Isaiah 9:21).
Let’s read it in context: Isaiah 7:10-17. What possible connection lies between this passage and barrenness?
While our Lord will make life abound so much that even a virgin shall be with child, King Ahaz embodies the barrenness of Israel! Yet, God will still provide life and every blessing, fulfilling His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Adam and Eve of old.
In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were like a bride (Isaiah 49:18), a wayward bride (Ezekiel 16), and then a mother sacrificing her children to Baal. When the Israelites in the Old Testament turned away from God and the two covenants that kept God’s presence among them, they bore death. They brought judgment upon themselves.
The blessings promised Abraham were unsought, and the presence of God through the conditional covenant in Deuteronomy was broken. Mercy was disregarded as unnecessary and God’s offer to forgive and reconcile was rejected on both individual and collective levels.
In the following verses, how is sin and death barren rather than fertile?
- Proverbs 30:16
- Romans 6:23
Sin is an unquenchable and destructive hunger. It is selfishness and greed. It stands in stark contrast to God’s merciful betrothal, steadfast commitment, and freely given forgiveness. While God and His righteousness overflow with love and mercy to fill with good things and satisfy, our fallen nature is blind to the value and nature of His gifts!
Still, our Lord is unchanging. He remains faithful to His people, although Israel, which He treated and loved as a Bride, stopped knowing Him and bearing His fruit.
Whether that fruit is understood as faithful fruits of the Spirit or believing children, the Old Testament displays exactly how “good” we are away from God. How does the display of Israel’s pattern of rebellion and repentance mirror our own? What can we do apart from God?
How does the metaphor of barrenness describe humanity in its fallen state of sin?
Did miracles keep the Israelites faithful? Special treatment? Cultural identity? What keeps us alive in Christ?
The Triune God offers new and restored life. And, He offers it with no prior requirements whatsoever. He is not supplementing or adding an extra source of DNA. How does Isaiah 54:1-3 demonstrate that God continues to give new life and raise up for Himself a faithful people?
Read John 1:12-14.
Our Lord is specific. Rebirth, or “birth from above,” is not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor of the will of man. Birth from above is not from personal sacrifice, predispositions, genetics, physical abilities, or the choice or strength of an individual. It is entirely of God. All who receive Him, who believe in His name, receive from God the right to become, and be, children of God.
It appears counter-intuitive, but being barren in Scripture allows us to see how God works in this world without success from our own efforts or characteristics. We see how our Lord cares for individuals and families, positions and the very people of God.
In short, there is an ironic use. Our Lord’s wisdom is often found ironically in our own foolishness. Death comes to us all, yet He conquers death through death. Our Matriarch in faith was old and barren (1 Peter 3:6), and a virgin gave birth, bringing great light into darkness.
All of us have a tendency to focus on what we do or what we have to offer. Yet, how does God’s work through barren women offer us a different perspective?
How does viewing ourselves as spiritually barren apart from Christ affect how we see ourselves? How we see those with physical barrenness?
The days are coming, “when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’” (Luke 23.29). Crisis came to Jerusalem, and crises can come to us. Only the Lord can carry us through. And, if that includes barrenness, we can remember that in two places, the Bible rephrases Isaiah 54:1 to say, “Blessed are the barren:” Luke 23:29 and Galatians 4:27. The Lord is very clear: blessed are the barren. Not because of themselves. Not because of their circumstances, but rather true blessing is finding favor in the sight of God.
A woman was in the crowd. She yelled out to our Lord, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” and Jesus replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:27-28).
Fertility does not save. Childbearing apart from faith—apart from that one Bethlehem Babe—is an altogether different blessing.
Whether we have children or not, we can join in to say:
“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the child of her who is married,” says the Lord” (Isaiah 54:1). The Lord has sent us His own Child and raised up children for Abraham from our own hearts of stone!
From our own barren beginnings, where will God take us? Our Creator makes a place for us, and He will fill it with His own children! He sets each of us, barren or not, into a home and credits us with Christ!
Closing Prayer: Create new hearts and sustain us in our unique positions in this life. Thank You for all You have done for us. Spread Your Word and fill this earth with the glory of Your Son! Amen.