Readers of the Bible will come across a barren woman motif that is prominent in the Old Testament but is rarely seen in the New Testament. It makes sense to believe that barrenness is in no way a blessing, but there are a substantial number of verses from the Bible that beg to differ. By examining the text, there are two signs that show that infecundity in women is actually a work of God: the words he gave to Moses at Mount Sinai and the number seven. When readers reach the New Testament, the indication of barrenness drops significantly, leading to the theory that Jesus Christ’s birth and crucifixion has opened the wombs of women that were originally destined to have closed ones. This motif provides a lesson that applies to all audiences, including people who read the Bible for nonreligious purposes.
One may wonder why the topic of infertile women is so common throughout the Old Testament, otherwise known as the Hebrew Bible. Are these women victims of curses that were cast upon their families? By looking closely at the text, it would be easy to agree that these women are barren due to an act of God, the most authoritative figure in the Bible. In fact, the text blatantly states that God will get rid of all infertility and miscarriages within the nation of Israel as long his people follow his commands (Exodus chs. 19-40). God tells Moses, the man who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, to speak the following words to the Israelites at Mount Sinai: “You are to worship the LORD your God, and…no women will miscarry or be barren in your land” (23.25-26). Knowing that God promised these things, it would be logical to conclude that the Israelites did not do what he commanded.
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Another sign that infertility is a work of God is the number seven. Without going deep into detail, the number seven is a symbol of God’s perfect work. Examples include God’s creation of the universe in seven days (Genesis chs. 1-2) and how God commands Noah to gather seven pairs of every type of clean animal prior to a huge flood (7.2-3). Similarly, there are exactly seven barren women that are mentioned in the entire Bible. These women are known as Sarah, Rebekkah, Rachel, Hannah, Michal, Elizabeth, and the wife of Manoah (who is nameless). What may be theorized as pure coincidence may simply be another sign of God’s perfection.
Unfruitfulness, however, isn’t completely a punishment as seen by the renowned descendants of these women. Wait. How are barren women capable of having offspring? Besides for Michal, a wife of former King David, all of the women listed previously would give birth to mighty sons. The pain that Hannah, one of two wives of Elkanah the Ephraimite, felt forms one of the most emotionally-touching stories in the Old Testament. Peninnah, Elkanah’s other wife, bore sons and daughters and made sure that Hannah kept that dispiriting thought fresh in her mind. In tears, Hannah prayed to God, including a vow: “If you will…grant me offspring, then I shall give the child to the LORD for the whole of his life, and no razor shall ever touch his head” (1 Samuel 1.11). She prayed for a while with no results until finally, God remembered Hannah’s pleas as she had intercourse with her husband. Thus, Hannah named her child Samuel in honor of God’s answer. In short, Samuel grew up to be one of the most powerful figures in the Bible. He is well-known as the last and greatest judge of Israel.
The barren woman motif becomes far less common in the New Testament. Besides for Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias, there are no barren women specifically acknowledged beyond the Old Testament in the scriptures. Unsurprisingly, the son of Elizabeth, John the Baptist, is one of the noblest characters in the Bible. John is recognized as the forerunner of Christ and is even a cousin of the LORD (Luke 1.5-80). His birth is accompanied by the promise, “he will be great in the eyes of the Lord…he will be filled with the holy spirit” (1.15). Jesus later says of him that there are none “greater than John” (Matthew 1.11-13) for he is the last and greatest epitome of the Old Testament prophets.
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It may be noted that no barren women are mentioned after the birth of Jesus. Of course, Christians believe that Jesus’ birth was a part of God’s plan to save humanity from its own sin. But because barrenness also becomes less salient in the New Testament, it can be reasonable to assume that Jesus’ birth and crucifixion broke the curse that fell upon the Israelites under the leadership of Moses due to their disobedience.
With a motif that is sustained throughout more than half of the text, the writers of the scriptures may be trying to convey a message to their readers. A typical Christian, who believes what the text says, may be reminded of how God is always in control of humans’ situations and that the power of prayer is not to be underestimated. Strictly from a secular viewpoint, one may simply feel a sense of gratitude for the ability to have children, even if the children aren’t blood-related.