Matt 19:26-27 Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
One of the greatest sources of frustration and anguish for a woman is to find herself unable to conceive. In her desperation for a child she will go to almost any length to meet that need. And although we cannot always agree with what she may do, we can identify with the compelling driving force that is within her to satisfy the desire of her heart.
Today’s society is no stranger to this compulsion. We read about it all the time in our newspapers. Such desperation can lead her to do all manner things,
It can drive her to steal someone else’s baby, perhaps from a pram or from a hospital maternity unit. This is so common that every maternity unit within an NHS hospital has an intercom identification check before allowing anyone to enter the unit. Likewise the post natal ward at Southend Hospital has a security guard checking every person both entering and leaving.
- It can lead to seeking expensive and sadly, frequently frustrating IVF treatment.
- It has even caused some to seek a surrogate to have a child on their behalf.
- We even read of a case where a wife went through years of agonising court hearings to be permitted to use the frozen sperm of her dead husband.
- Even the attempt to try and adopt a baby can be a long and difficult process
God knows the anguish that woman (and her husband) experience.
He is fully aware of all the suffering that exists in his world. There is nothing he doesn’t know.
But have this certainty! There is also nothing he cannot overcome. Nothing is impossible to God. Matt 19:26-27 Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
God has a plan to end all suffering! Despite what we as individuals might have to endure in this earthy pilgrimage, there is coming a day when all who believe will know that perfect experience. Isa 25:6-9
6 On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine-- the best of meats and the finest of wines.
7 On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations;
8 he will swallow up death for ever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.
9 In that day they will say, "Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation."
17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
The Bible talks a lot about barrenness. But in nearly every case it reveals the way,
from barrenness into fruitfulness.
It talks of suffering that changes to joy.
It talks of pain that leads to fulfilment. But it always comes at a cost!
There are lessons here that will help all of us, not just the infertile woman. God uses her as our illustration because we can all understand what she is enduring.
Fertility actually means fruitfulness. And we don’t have to be a woman to be without fruit. Neither does fruitfulness only imply the bearing and raising of children, as important as that is. Listen,
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Many biblical characters were born to mothers who were deemed to be infertile!..........It’s as though God delights to bring life from that which was previously lifeless! ..........God loves to bring joy to the downtrodden, the despised, the scorned and the unhappy.
God loves to bless us, and he frequently chooses to do it out of the sometimes unpleasant circumstances we find ourselves in.
Let’s quickly look at some biblical accounts where God demonstrated this facet of his character
We are all familiar with Sarah’s story. She desperately wanted a baby! She was incredibly beautiful, yet was unable to have the baby that would give her the recognition that other fertile women around her enjoyed! She even tried to arrange things by persuading her husband, Abraham, to sleep with her Egyptian handmaid Hagar, with disastrous consequences.
I always find this an incredible story.
Abraham had received a promise from God that his descendants would be as numerous as grains of sand on the sea shore…in others words too numerous to count!
He had received this promise at the age of 85 when most men would probably realise that they were pretty well beyond their ‘sell by date’. Likewise his wife was old, and even less likely to conceive after the possible years of child bearing had passed!
Despite the obvious, Abraham nevertheless believed God to the extent that he continued to make love to his wife, and even agreed to her suggestion to use Hagar as a surrogate.
What is even more incredible, is that despite Hagar bearing Abraham a son shortly thereafter, is that God waited another 15 years before he fulfilled the real promise that he had made to Abraham! So both Abraham and Sarah continued as lovers despite the circumstances! I can imagine it may well have been pretty hilarious for them at times!
(I remember Malcom Muggerige (who became a Christian quite late in life) once saying on TV as old man, “You know, sex is a funny thing. And the older you get the funnier it becomes”)
What Abraham and Sarah did right, was to believe God’s promise and they obediently continued to live in a way that would enable God to bless them! Fifteen years! Why God always seems to leave things to the last minute I don’t know, but I suspect it’s something to do with helping us to realise that he is in charge!
What they did wrong in the first place was to try and work things out for God. It didn’t work!
Do you realise that if Sarah had simply trusted God’s promise, then she would still have had Isaac, BUT the enmity that still exists today between Jew and Arab would never have happened.
Ishmael became the father of the ISHMAELITES, a nomadic nation that lived in northern Arabia. Modern-day Arabs claim descent from Ishmael!
Then we remember the story of Hannah. She was married to Elkanah. He also had another wife, Peninnah. Peninnah had children. Hannah had none. We read that Peninnah would torment and humiliate Hannah because she was childless. This went on year after year. Her behaviour reduced Hannah to tears to the degree that she totally lost her appetite!
But Hannah didn’t try to take matters into her own hands. Instead she took her distress to the Lord. Even that action was misunderstood!
1 Sam 1:10-19
10 In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD.
11 And she made a vow, saying, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head."
12 As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth.
13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk
14 and said to her, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine."
15 "Not so, my lord," Hannah replied. "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD.
16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief."
17 Eli answered, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him."
18 She said, "May your servant find favour in your eyes." Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.
19 Early the next morning they arose and worshipped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her.
Baby Samuel was eventually born. In her gratitude to God, Hannah dedicated her son into the permanent service of God and as soon as he was able to feed himself, passed him into the care of Eli, the priest. After that she would only see him once a year at the time of the yearly sacrifice.
What can we learn from this account?
When things don’t seem to be going right for you, there is no better place to go than to get before God and talk to him about it. God is the one who can always change things. But remember he is the Lord. His ways are not always our ways. If it were left to us we probably wouldn’t do things the way God, in his sovereign way, would do them!
I don’t know why God chose to take my Eileen to himself at such a comparatively young age. It wasn’t what I was praying would happen! I don’t know why God allowed me to arrest minutes before I was due have an operation for something that really didn’t seem to have serious symptoms, and then allow the surgeons to bring me back again. That certainly wasn’t something I was praying for! But I do know this, God has a purpose in everything that he does! He still has a plan for my life, and I do not want to resist what he plans and makes clear to me!
Neither does he want me to remain permanently downcast!
Likewise when you do things that are in line with God’s plan, just like Hannah, you can expect to be misunderstood. People might misunderstand your motives, but God knows exactly what is in your heart!
Doesn’t it amaze you that Hannah having at long last been blessed by God with a baby boy, gives him straight back into God’s service at an age when he could only just begin to feed himself. Would you or I have done that? Did God leave Hannah unhappy and without a child to love once again? No, she had three more sons and two daughters whilst Samuel went on to become a mighty servant of God!
Another wife’s story
There is another less familiar story concerning a woman who also was childless. We don’t even know her name! All we know is that she was married to a godly man named Manoah, from the tribe of Dan.
It was at a time when the Israelites were occupying the promised land. Moses, Joshua, and Caleb were long dead, and for short periods of time God raised up Judges to lead his people.
The people were suffering oppression from the surrounding nations because they had foolishly ignored God’s instructions and plans for them and had decided to live just as they pleased, including intermarrying with foreign wives and husbands, and worshipping foreign gods.
There is no account that the woman was bitter because of her childlessness. But we do know that in those days it was culturally important to have children, to the extent that relatives were obliged to accept widows as part of their own immediate family with a view to raising children on behalf of any man who had died.
Despite being a male dominated society, God did all his communicating with the woman!
God told her that she was to have a baby son and that he would be used by God to deliver the Israelites from Philistine domination. God instructed the woman to cease drinking alcohol (it’s probably sound advice to any expectant Mum who wants a strong baby, to abstain from alcohol during her pregnancy and throughout the time she is feeding them).
God also instructed her to treat her baby in a special way as a Nazirite set apart for God, and never cutting his hair!
NAZIRITE (separated, consecrated) - a person who took a vow to separate from certain worldly things and to consecrate himself to God (Num 6:1-8). Among the Hebrew people anyone could take this vow; there were no tribal restrictions as in the case of the priest. Rich or poor, man or woman, master or slave-all were free to become Nazirites.
Nazirites did not withdraw from society and live as hermits; however, they did agree to follow certain regulations for a specified period of time. While no number of days for the vow is given in the Old Testament, Jewish tradition prescribed 30 days or a double period of 60 or even triple time of 90 to 100 days. Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist were the only "Nazirites for life" recorded in the Bible. Before they were born, their vows were taken for them by their parents.
Once a person decided to make himself "holy to the Lord" (Num 6:8) for some special service, he then agreed to abstain from wine and other intoxicating drinks. This prohibition was so strict that it included grapes, grape juice, and raisins. Perhaps this was to guard the Nazirite from being controlled by any spirit other than God's (Prov 20:1; Eph 5:17-18).
While under the Nazirite vow, a person also refused to cut his hair, including shaving (Num 6:5). The purpose of this long hair was to serve as a visible sign of the Nazirite's consecration to the Lord (Num 6:7).
(from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright (c)1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
Samson was the son that God blessed her with. Samson was always a problem. He was demanding and rebellious as many young people are to their parents today.
His life and behaviour must have caused her considerable grief! I think that many Christian parents can identify with her when they see the ways their children have chosen to follow despite their good instruction, and their hope that they might have followed a slightly different path!
Samson’s life followed what we might have called a disastrous path. He fancied women that followed forbidden customs and religions. He got mixed up with bad company. He acted violently towards those he upset. He committed murder, robbery and arson, and became a wanted outlaw.
But we read he actually led Israel for twenty years at a time when they were oppressed by the Philistines.
He even spent time using the services of a prostitute before eventually succumbing to a seductress named Delilah whom he fell in love with. She however wore him down with her incessant nagging until he told her the secret of his great strength. It cost him his strength, his sight and his freedom. It also ultimately cost him his life.
But all this was part of God’s plan! We get this insight early in the story,
4(His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.)
Does God ever do things the way we all expect? No, because he is God and he chooses what and whom he will to achieve his purposes.
What do we learn here?
Parents don’t fear the worse if your child drifts into activities and behaviour that are unacceptable to a Christian. God can still use them to fulfil his purpose. Samson despite his behaviour takes his place among the great men of faith that we read about in Hebrews 11. Look,
32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. It goes on and on!
Don’t let the circumstances cause you to believe that there is no hope! Keep on praying! Let God decide the outcome!
I find this is a sad story. Michal, King Saul’s daughter loved David
1 Sam 18:20-21
20 Now Saul's daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased.
21 "I will give her to him," he thought, "so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him."
Saul had come to hate and fear David so we see Saul using his own daughter to try and bring about David’s downfall. But to Saul’s consternation her love was true and she protected David, helping him to escape when her father was about to have him killed. Such an act put her own life at risk and she had to lie in order to avoid that fate.
In David’s time of exile, he married other wives, and Michal was forced into marriage by her father to another man.
On David’s return to prominence, he demands the return of Michal to be his wife once more, though it is quite clear from scripture that the relationship she was now in was a loving one.
2 Sam 3:15-16
So Ish-bosheth gave orders and had Michal taken away from her husband Paltiel son of Laish. Her husband, however, went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, "Go back home!" So he went back. He really had no other choice!
I guess Michal had become pretty mixed up over the events she had experienced!
It appears to have driven her into possessiveness, orthodoxy and bitterness because sadly we later read,
2 Sam 6:16
16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.
2 Sam 6:20-23
20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would."
21 David said to Michal, "It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD's people Israel-- I will celebrate before the LORD.
22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honour."
23 And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.
I feel sorry for Michal. She clearly did not appear to deserve this fate. But again, God acts as he sees fit. God knows the hearts of everyone, and he knew Michal’s inner character better than us.
We don’t know whether it was her bitterness that made her barren, or if David no longer took her to his bed after her critical outburst over the way he chose to worship God. But she never had children!
What lesson can we draw here?
- It’s a dangerous thing to allow bitterness and criticism to rob you of God’s best in the relationships we have, both inside and outside of marriage!
- Try and see the best in people themselves and don’t simply judge them by their actions
So we have looked very briefly at the stories of four barren women. We have seen the ways that some dealt with their dilemma. How some were affected by their circumstances and how one allowed the circumstances to affect her attitudes to others.
We have seen how important it is to hold on to what you have received from God, to believe it, and to keep working towards that goal despite how impossible it all appears.
The bottom line is God wants us all to be fruitful. He wants us all to put our trust and hope in his provision for our lives. We don’t have to become victims of our circumstances. God won’t necessarily take the circumstances away, but he will provide us with grace and strength to be overcomers in any situation. Paul tells us,
2 Cor 12:7-10
7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (Or, as it says in one modern paraphrase, “ My strength shows up best in weak people. The less I have, the more I depend on him”)