Recently, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be barren.
Obviously, “barren” means infertile or a woman who cannot have children. In the Bible, there are many stories centered around a barren woman. It clearly is more significant than just infertility.
In the society of Bible times, bearing children was highly valued and a woman’s primary role was that of mother. Motherhood was a woman’s primary identity. Socially, barrenness as presented in several biblical stories caused a woman to experience reproach and even a form of social death. But for the biblical matriarchs like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, etc. there was even more pressure — they had to have children to fulfill God’s promise of a Savior. Biblical women who experience periods of barrenness often understand their inability to conceive as a divine withholding of blessing, a punishment, or even a curse.
Obviously, there was the societal pressure, the lack of identity, and shame that came with barrenness. That is all painful as it is. But the Biblical women also had an even deeper pain along with it: will God fulfill his promise? Will the Savior come?
So many women in the Bible experience this. It is a theme in the stories of the unnamed mother of Samson, Hannah the mother of Samuel, and Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist. All of these women became pregnant through divine intervention.
One that I think we often overlook is Ruth. I was listening to the Worthy podcast and they had Carolyn Custis James on and at one point she was talking about a book she wrote on the book of Ruth and she brought up Ruth’s barrenness. Why is it that she is married to Naomi’s son at the beginning of the story and has no children? Why is it so significant at the end of the book, after marrying Boaz her kinsmen redeemer, that she bears Obed? Obed, a baby who would be in Jesus’s genealogy.
Clearly, barrenness is a significant theme in the Bible. I think this theme is super relevant because we all have areas in our lives where we feel barren or lacking. The shame, pressure, anger, frustration, and hopelessness that these women felt, we also feel in different areas of our life.
Where do you feel barren right now? Do you, as these women did, struggle to see how God is fulfilling his promises to you?
The beauty in these stories is that we see, especially with Sarah and Elizabeth, that although God’s timing may not be expected, he is always faithful. The genealogy continued onto Jesus and our Savior has come.
If God can use a barren woman, he can use you. He is working through you even at your lowest and when you feel the most empty.
“I have to ask myself how I can possibly expect to know Jesus as he would want to be known if my life remains unscathed by trouble and grief. How can I hope to grasp anything of God’s heart for this broken planet if I never weep because its brokenness touches me and breaks my heart? How can I reflect his image if I never share in his sufferings? And how will any of us ever learn to treasure his hesed and grace if we never experience phases where these blessings seem absent?” ― Carolyn Custis James