I’ve started to work on a short Bible study on barrenness, primarily looking at Old Testament figures although it has stretched a little past that. Since I’m new to writing Bible studies, I thought I’d post sections here in case anyone finds it interesting, helpful, or has comments or suggestions to make. This will be Barren Beginnings, Part 1.
Barren Beginnings, Part 1
(I’ll add opening and closing prayers later)
In the beginning, God created and blessed. He created every type of space and filled them up until the waters teemed, the air sung, and the ground held every type of animal. God became so well-known for this expanding life that for many years blessing was understood in terms of fertility.
In a lot of ways, that makes sense. What were the results of God’s blessings in these passages?
- Genesis 9:1 ____________________________________________________________
- Genesis 12:1-3 _________________________________________________________
- Genesis 24:35 __________________________________________________________
- Deuteronomy 15:6, 10 ___________________________________________________
Blessed families grew and spread. Blessed cattle and crops grew and sold. Blessed communities abound with expanding economies. And, the first main female character in Scripture is the Mother of All Living!
Then, isn’t it ironic and interesting that the second main female character in Scripture is barren, as are so many important figures to come?
Eve born Cain, perhaps shortly after the fall, but he was not the promised seed who would deliver humanity according to God’s promise. Neither was their second son. How old was Eve when she gave birth to her third son, the son of promise, through whom Christ would eventually come? (See Genesis 5:3 for help.)
Is this surprising to us? Does this reveal any expectations we have about God and granting children?
Fertility is, indeed, very important. It is so important that it is stressed over and over again. Fill the earth (Genesis 1:28) and refill the earth (Genesis 9:1). The very covenant with Abraham stressed family and Abraham’s line of descendants as the source of God’s mediation, promising, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
Pregnancy and childbirth was a distinct honor and both a religious and community endeavor. Because of a woman’s body and how common it can be, it was even assumed. Even so, this Bible study can easily discuss seven prominent female characters in Scripture who were barren.
Try to name six or seven barren women in Scripture:
- Sarai/Sarah, Abraham’s wife
- Rebekah, Isaac’s wife
- Rachel, Jacob’s second wife (three generations of initially barren marriages)
- The wife of Manoah, Samson’s mother
- Hannah, Samuel’s mother
- Michal, David’s first wife, never had children
- Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin
Sarai is one of the first women to be named in Scripture. She is significant even before she has children, just as all barren women remain valuable both as individuals and as contributors with their husbands, households, communities, and God. Also, of course, to their parents, siblings, communities, etc.
The Lord insisted that Sarai become Sarah, the mother of the promised child. Still, barrenness continued for a good long time! When Isaac was finally born, what can we say about his conception and birth?
How many subsequent generations in Jesus’ bloodline were barren?
Is that a significant number in Scripture?
Taking a closer look at Sarah, Scripture specifically states Sarah was barren (Genesis 11:30), and defines it as having no children. How does that broaden our understanding of barrenness?
Such a broader understanding allows us to see barrenness in all our lives, even those who mourn they are no longer able to bear children. It also allows for symbolic use later in the Old Testament, as we will see.
Looking at the other women on your list, why was it scandalous for each one to have no children?
When these women were finally granted children, what offices or rules did their children have? In other words, how significant are the results brought out by God from previous barrenness?
(Answer: You have probably heard of Jesus serving as our Prophet, Priest, and King. Barrenness affected all those offices in the Old Testament, as well as the Davidic kingship, Levitic priesthood (in John the Baptizer), and preachers!)
For our sake, our Lord Jesus is prophet, priest, and king. He is a child born to us, “a son given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Yet He, the greatest among woman’s seed, was not born of fertility. Rather, His miraculous birth specifically teaches about the profound intervention of God, in flesh as well as in spirit. He is the Child no married couple could have born, lest His heavenly Father and His Word be doubted.
(End of Part 1)
My own Questions/Concerns
Would this be long enough to be a single session? I’m torn between having two or three parts.
Should I talk about how Sarah is our mother by faith? Or might that get esoteric?
I’m not sold on a lead in or how to end it. You can probably tell by the lack of prayers. I’d be open to advice! 🙂