The grave, the barren womb, the earth that is not satisfied with water— and the fire never says, “Enough!” – Proverbs 30:16
We in the church need to be reminded that, as the song says, “Jesus loves the little children.” Attitudes today that stem from feminism and liberalism have given birth to ideas that children are a curse, a burden, a bother, a chore, an inconvenience, and all around undesirable. Children, we are taught – whether we realize it or not – intrude upon our personal liberty. They infringe on our rights over our own lives and our own bodies. These attitudes are obvious, at times even in the church.
While we may stand against abortion, especially when it is used as an after-conception form of birth control, we do not even blink an eye when we decide to use chemical contraceptives that will either prevent conception or prevent implantation (abort) once conception occurs. And even if we attempt to use natural family planning we still miss the whole point. We still see children as something to be planned or prevented as we see fit.
The Bible teaches us a few things on the subject and we need to pay attention. Let us settle these things right from the start. We must understand and embrace these points as truth, because this is what the Bible tells us about children: God gives children as a blessing (Psalm 127:3), God causes conception and crafts each child in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16), God even causes the time of delivery and birth for each child (Isaiah 66:9). If only God can bring a new life into being then why do we work so hard at trying to prevent God from blessing us?
But what about those within the church who want the blessing of children but are denied? God has made us male and female, fitting us for lifetime partnerships (that reflect His relationship with His Bride) and gives us a lineage through parenting. However, there is an exception when in His Providence at times God ordains that a couple will not have any children. This has been viewed a as stigma by some and as a blessing by others. There are those, albeit without a Biblical worldview, who have decided that they do not want children and so have chosen barrenness by their own actions. And there are always those who deeply desire to have children and yet are never satisfied.
It is the prevailing view in the world, and sadly in many churches today, that children are a burden, a choice, an inconvenience, or an infringement on our freedom. And so many have been fooled into thinking that they can control their fertility through everything from drugs to mutilation (surgery) that we are killing ourselves and our children all in the pursuit of barrenness. And yet, there are those who want children and who have a right view of children, but for some reason, God does not open every womb.
Even as a barren woman may come to accept her barrenness and count it a blessing, trusting in an all knowing and all loving God, and learning to be content where she is with how things are, even then a barren woman will tell you that the desire for children never really goes completely away. Proverbs 30:16 tells us that the barren womb is one of the things on this earth that never says, “Enough.” The barren womb is never completely satisfied with the lack of bearing a child.
Why is that? Simply put, because God made us to be fruitful and multiply. The desire to prevent having children, or to kill our unborn children is unnatural. That is not the way God designed us. So let us look then at the truth behind God’s Providential Exception: The Barren Womb.
God Alone Opens and Closes the Womb
When examining this topic we must begin with the undeniable truth of Scripture that tells us plainly that God alone has the power to open and close the womb. If a child is conceived and born it is because God has created that life, formed that baby, and even caused the delivery of the child. If the womb, on the other hand, remains barren and childless, that too is by God’s design. He alone is sovereign over life.
Consider these examples from the Old Testament:
Isaiah 44:2, 24; Genesis 20:18; 29:31; 30:2, 22; 49:25; 1 Samuel 1:5-6; Job 31:15; Psalm 139:13; Isaiah 66:9; Jeremiah 1:5; Exodus 23:26; Deut 7:14
Barrenness as a Curse
Because God is sovereign in the conception and birth of every child many are quick to assume that barrenness is a curse from Him upon a woman or a family. The inability to have a child is seen as something unnatural, something even unholy. There were several barren women in the Bible who were looked down upon because of their barrenness, as if they had brought it upon themselves.
Let us take a look though at several verses that help give us a Biblical perspective:
According to Genesis 20:18 and 2 Samuel 6:23 there are instances when God has caused barrenness as a result of sin and as a curse or a punishment.
Hosea 9:11-14 is even more distressing, as a curse is prayed for upon enemies of God and it is said that they will be barren or will miscarry. This was a direct result of their sin against God.
But is this always the case? Is barrenness or miscarriage always a judgment, a curse from God because of sin? A simple look at the whole counsel of the Word of God proves that these were the exceptions and not the rule. In fact, if we take the time to look at just a few people in the Bible we see that there are those who are barren who are not cursed or being judged for their sin. We find that they are barren so that God can prove His power and glorify Himself.
Patriarchs and Prophets
A look at the Patriarchs and Prophets reveal to us two very vital facts in our study. First, barrenness is not always a curse. Secondly, the barren will give birth if God so desires it. He is in control.
Let us look at these who were barren for the glory of God and those who were barren and later gave birth in extraordinary circumstances. Here are a few summaries:
Genesis 11:30; 21:1-7 – Sarah is barren. She is old. And according to the promise of God and by His power she gave birth to Isaac. She was beyond child bearing age, in her 90s, and she had a baby according to God’s plan and for His purposes.
Genesis 25:21– Rebekah was barren and yet as she and Isaac pleaded with God and trusted Him, in His time and according to His plan she gave birth to Jacob and Esau.
Genesis 29:31; 30:1-2; 22-24 – Rachel was barren and her barrenness was a source of strife in the family. And after seeing other children born to her husband from other wives God finally opened her womb, twice. Consider the fruit of her womb, so to speak. Joseph was used of God to preserve the nation of Israel and the world around the middle east as he was elevated in the Court of Pharaoh and implemented a plan to deal with seven years of famine. And her second born, Benjamin is no less significant. One of his descendants wrote most of the New Testament. His name was Saul, and was later changed to Paul.
Judges 13:2-3, 24 – Manoah’s wife was barren but later, as God ordained it, she gave birth to Samson, a mighty man and a judge over Israel.
1 Samuel 1:1-11 – Hannah was barren and so grieved that as she prayed a priest thought she was drunk! And yet according to God’s plan in answer to her prayer, her womb was opened and she gave birth to Samuel, the prophet who anointed Kings in Israel.
Luke 1:5-7, 13-17, 24-25, 57-58 – And then there was Elizabeth. With no children and aging, after Gabriel brought the news to her husband, she conceived and gave birth to John the Baptizer, the one who fulfilled prophecy and came to announce the coming of the Messiah.
It might be tempting to look at this and say that these women were not really barren for they all eventually gave birth. While it is true that they did give birth, it is also true that before God gave them children they were barren. One way to look at it is to see that indeed, all women are barren until God opens the womb. Remember, only God is able to open and close the womb.
Barrenness as a Blessing
“Sing, O barren, you who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman,” says the LORD. – Isaiah 54:1
We have seen that while barrenness has at times been the result of judgment for sin, the overall idea that barrenness is a curse simply cannot be substantiated from Scripture. There are many godly women throughout the Bible who were barren. In exposing this false belief we have even seen that many who were barren later were blessed with children. God had His purposes for their barrenness, even if it was only for a little while.
But what about those who are barren and never have children? Are they cursed? Does God hate them? Have they done something wrong to deserve this? Why are they barren? There can be no other answer than that God is sovereign, as since He is God we must trust Him. On the surface that sounds simplistic and even trite. Who am I after all to suggest that if a couple is barren that they should just trust God and His purposes?
While it is true that I know first hand, by experience, what it is for a family to go through this dark providence as my wife and I have no children, it is not who we are that matters. Far beyond that, there is the truth – this is what the Bible tells us and that settles is as the only answer to our questions. God is sovereign and if He has chosen that a woman is to be barren and even remain barren then there is nothing that anyone can do to change that. But then, if this is what God has decided, then this is His will, and His will always works for our good and His glory. The gifts He gives us are always good. Even if we fail to see that these are gifts.
The question is not whether or not barrenness is a curse. The question is this, is the woman who is barren walking by faith and not by sight? Is she trusting God for everything, in every area of her life? Is she honoring and glorifying God, learning to be content wherever she finds herself?
And for her husband, does he pray for his wife and with his wife about all of these things? Does he encourage her and love her as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her? Does he sympathize and empathize, and grieve with her when she hurts and feels loss? And does he take her to the Word of God to lift her eyes to the cross when she feels that God has done this to hurt or punish her?
Our last point before looking at a few specific ways to apply this lesson is a point that I have saved intentionally for last. A foundation had to be laid before we could even understand this point. This last point runs contrary to our “natural” way of thinking. Whatever we confess, we know this to be true, barrenness is so associated with sin or a curse that it is difficult to accept by faith what the Bible really says. For we see that if we lay aside our preconceived notions, we find that the Bible tells us that barrenness is a blessing.
At this point you are either nodding your head in agreement or you are sure that I am crazy. How can barrenness be a blessing? I am glad you asked. Are you ready to learn the truth, and by that truth to be set free from the false beliefs and expectations that the world, the devil, and our own flesh hoist upon us?
Read Psalm 113 and 127. When we apply Psalm 113 and Psalm 127 we learn that it is up to God to build the home. We cannot build without Him and unless He builds, there will be nothing built. God creates life in the womb, fashions the body and soul of that baby, and brings about the time of birth. God knows our days before we are born, He knows all our thoughts and words before we think or speak. He sets the boundaries of our life.
Can we trust Him then that He will bless us as He sees fit? It is true that children are a blessing from His hand, but can we really say that barrenness is also a blessing? When we compare the two – having children and being barren – we naturally think that one has been blessed while the other goes without being blessed. But that simply is not true.
Psalm 113:9 tells us that God grants the barren woman a home like the joyful mother of children. What is the difference here? God gives us each joyful homes. He creates families as He sees fit. And whether that home includes children or not it is still God who has “granted” that joyful home.
As we also have learned in Proverbs 30:16 that the barren womb never says “Enough.” There is always a yearning for children. However, can we be content and satisfied and fulfilled even while still desiring something else? Yes we can, when we have the right perspective and really desire the right things. Think about it this way – we know that heaven will be wonderful. We will see Jesus. There will be no pain, sorrow, or sin. And we will live forever in God’s presence. So knowing how wonderful heaven will be, can we desire to see Jesus and be with Him and at the same time be content and satisfied while here on this fallen world?
We are told that we can be and should be content. We are also told that we can be satisfied. How? How can we be satisfied when the barren womb never says “Enough”? Jesus tells us that we can be fulfilled; we can be satisfied, if we are hungering and thirsting after righteousness.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” – Matthew 5:16
When we deeply desire, as if our lives depended upon it, to be right with God, then we will be satisfied. True satisfaction comes from God, from being right with Him, from having our sins forgiven and being righteous and holy. So while the barren may desire children, there can still be contentment and satisfaction found in walking with God.
We also find from Isaiah 54:1, 5, 17 that the barren are told to sing and rejoice. Why would a barren woman sing and rejoice? Because she will never know the pain of seeing her children stray from the Lord. This is serious. There is nothing more painful than for a parent to see their child walking in sin and suffering the judgment of God as a result. And the truth here is that if we are barren then we will never know what it to have our children be rejected by God.
We see then that God alone builds the home and He tells us that there are reasons to see His will as a blessing. We are even told that there are reasons that the barren can rejoice! And if we are looking to children for true and lasting satisfaction then we have missed the truth that only God can satisfy and only those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled.
We must then take joy in our heritage from God, Christ’s imputed righteousness. He has made us right with God, and that exceeds all other blessings on this earth. This can also applied as there is the hope of a future promise of fruitfulness. In Galatians 4:27 Paul applies Isaiah 54:1 and tells us that in Christ we are not desolate (desolate = deserted) and that we will never be rejected by God.
In light of the coming judgment of the world for sin then we see that we have been blessed no matter what has happened in our lives and families if we only know Christ. (Luke 23:26-31).
To apply what we have learned, we must admit that barrenness is most often an opportunity to experience blessing and not a curse. We see these blessings in barrenness:
Barrenness shows us that God is sovereign in the birth of every child. He is not only sovereign, but has a purpose in the birth of every child. Look at those in the Bible who were previously barren but whom God blessed with children. What did their children do for the Kingdom of God?
Barrenness gives us an opportunity to truly trust God to build our home and family.
Barrenness gives us an opportunity to be satisfied by God.
Barrenness reminds us that we have cause to rejoice, for we are never left desolate if we are in Christ.
Barrenness gives us a motivation to witness. It reminds us that many will be lost (and many will lose children) in the coming judgment for sin when Christ returns.
Can you rejoice today, right where you are, whether barren or not? If you have Christ, that is enough. And wherever God has you, you are blessed in Him. If you find yourself as part of God’s providential exception, do not dwell on what He has not given you, instead thank Him for what He has given you – His Son!
Here is a link for the sermon I preached on this subject available online for free:
God’s Providential Exception: The Barren Womb – Ps 113:9; Prov 30:16
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