4. Infertility and the Bible
Infertility has been a source of great sadness, and even anguish, for some married couples since Old Testament times. Many infertile Christians today ask questions like, “Is God punishing me? Is it God’s will for everyone to multiply? Should I claim the promises of the Old Testament?” Well-intentioned advice from friends or family sometimes implies that infertile couples have unconfessed sin in their lives or that their prayer lives are insufficient. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Be fruitful and multiply. This commandment by God to Adam and Eve and also to Noah was appropriate in the context of the God’s new creation of the world, but in the New Testament, the focus is shifted from a physical multiplication to a spiritual multiplication. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:7-8 says, ”I wish that all men were [single] as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.” Paul not only recommended a life without children, but a life without marriage so that one could devote all his time to accomplishing Christ’s command that we spread the Gospel message.40
Context, context, context. Many couples read the Old Testament stories of Hannah, Sarah and others and claim the promises of fertility that these women enjoyed after their struggles. This is one good example of when context must be considered. God’s plan for Hannah was a son named Samuel that would later become a prophet and judge; his plan for Sarah included a nation of children. Likewise, his plan for you is unique to only you. Instead of claiming promises meant for someone else, claim the promise that God will bless those who are obedient to Him.41
Infertility: a curse? The Old Testament contains a variety of stories where God punishes a society or a person with infertility. One such instance is when David’s wife, Michal, ridicules him for dancing before the Lord and as a result “had no children to the day of her death” (2 Samuel 6:23). Although God would have been justified in cursing Michal, the text does not say she could not, only that she did not have children. Perhaps the reason she did not have children was because she and her husband were not intimate from that day forward.
In the other few cases of individual infertility in the Old Testament, the reasons were spelled out under the law of Moses. They were: 1) an aunt and nephew who slept together (Leviticus 20:20), 2) a man who married his brother’s wife while the brother was still alive (Leviticus 20:21) and 3) a female who committed adultery (Numbers 5:20). The good news is that we now live under a New Covenant of grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.42
"For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews 9:15).
So what morals are we to learn from the Biblical stories of infertility?
1) God answers prayer.
I Samuel 1 tells the story of Hannah and Peninnah, the two wives of Elkanah. Peninnah was blessed with children, but the Lord had “closed the womb” of Hannah. Peninnah tortured Hannah because she did not have any children, and this made Hannah depressed and unable to eat, two of many same symptoms of infertile women today. It also bothered Elkanah, who loved Hannah more than Peninnah. He demonstrated the frustration of many infertile husbands when he cried, “Am I not enough?” (1 Samuel 1:8) So Hannah cried to the Lord in 1 Samuel 1:11:
“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.”
The Lord heard Hannah’s prayer and she became pregnant with one of the great prophets of the Old Testament, Samuel. Hannah trusted God through her pain and He rewarded her for her obedience.43
2) Don’t give up on God.
In Genesis, the Lord promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, and that he would give him a son through his wife Sarah, saying that “kings of peoples will come from her” (Genesis 17:16). But years passed and Sarah remained barren. She became impatient with God, so Sarah came up with the idea to use their maidservant Hagar to gain a family. She gave Hagar to her husband and Hagar became pregnant (Genesis 16:2-4). At this point, the two women despised each other and the Lord told Hagar to name her son Ishmael, who would be “a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers” (Genesis 16:12).
But finally, when Sarah was a very old woman, God planted a seed in her that would in fact, result in a nation of people—the nation of Israel. She gave birth to Isaac when she was 90 years old, and the nations of the two half-brothers have fought ever since. Sarah’s impatience and unwillingness to wait on the Lord resulted in a child of conflict.
3) God’s will is more important than having a child.
Contrary to the belief that infertility is a punishment from God, many “infertile” women in the Bible went on to give birth to some of the most important figures in Biblical history. Perhaps this means that the reason for these births was not for the “infertile” woman’s satisfaction of having a child, but to fulfill the bigger picture. Samson’s mother, for example, was barren for many years before an angel of the Lord appeared to her, saying,
“You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son…No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines” (Judges 13:3-5).
The woman, named only “wife of Manoah”, ran to her husband with the good news that she would give birth to a son. But she managed to leave out the most important part, that their son would deliver Israel out of 40 years of conflict with the Philistines. When Manoah asked the angel of the Lord to send more information about what their son would do in life, the angel said,
“Let the woman pay attention to all that I said. She should not eat anything that comes from the vine nor drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing; let her observe all that I commanded” (Judges 13:13 NASB).
The woman in this story was so focused on having a baby that she forgot the most important message: that God had a plan for her son. When someone is unnamed, as “Manoah’s wife” is, it generally means that she has brought dishonor to herself, that she has failed in some way.44 Samson’s mother teaches us all that it’s not about us, it’s all about God. Even when the answer is “no”, as it was even to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when he asked for his suffering to pass (Matthew 26:39), obedience is paramount.
God’s plan for me may not include children.
Scripture defines a family as being composed of one woman and one man joined in exclusive commitment, and it calls children resulting from that union a gift from God. In The Infertility Companion
, Sandra Glahn and William Cutrer, MD write:45
"Much of life is cause and effect, so it’s easy to let the mentality that we’ve earned a child creep into our view of God and Christian life. We think that if we do certain things—right things—voila! God will bless us with wealth, children, and whatever else we might want. So we establish a mentality of entitlement. We think, ‘If I go to church, read my Bible, pray—bingo! God is honor-bound to bless me with a child.’ When the nursery stays empty, we wonder why we failed to get our prize when we have put our dollar of obedience into the machines. We think that either the machine is broken or we are.
“Job’s friends had just such a cause-and-effect view of life, and it got them into trouble. They assumed Job was suffering because he must have done something awful. Later God told them that they had not spoken rightly about him, as Job had. Ultimately justice prevails, but not always in this life. Those who have eternal life in knowing Jesus Christ (John 3:16) have the promise that God will never leave us (Hebrews 13:5). And God’s presence is the greatest thing in all of life, because it is the only thing that brings true, lasting soul satisfaction. We have no promise that he will give us any temporal benefits. And even if God does answer the prayer for children, those blessings will never satisfy us at the deepest levels of our souls. Only intimacy with the Father through the Son satisfies the soul’s deepest longings.”
What does the Bible say about adoption?
We have all heard the story of Moses being put in a basket and being picked up by the Pharoah’s daughter in Exodus. Could this be the first recorded case of adoption in history? As the story goes, Pharoah sent out a decree at that time that all Hebrew baby boys were to be “thrown into the Nile” (Exodus 1:22), because they were beginning to outnumber the Egyptians. Moses’ mother managed to hide him for three months, but when she could no longer hide her baby boy, she covered a basket with tar and pitch and gently put her baby into the basket. The Pharoah’s daughter was bathing with her maids by the bank of the Nile and spotted the basket. When she saw the baby, she decided it must be one of the Hebrew babies and she felt sorry for him (Exodus 2:5-6).
Seeing this take place, Moses’ sister went to Pharoah’s daughter and offered to take the baby to be nursed. She agreed and so Moses’ mother was able to care for him until he was older. At that time, he went to the house of Pharoah, where he was raised (Exodus 2:7-11). This instance of adoption in the Bible is significant because it refutes the claim by some that if God gifts you with a child, you should not give that child up. Moses’ mother loved him enough to let him go and trusted God to take care of her son.46
Hadassah, also known as Esther, was adopted as well. Esther 2:7 says, “Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This girl, who was also known as Esther, was lovely in form and features, and Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.”
And finally, another adoption that takes place in the Bible is the adoption of the church by Christ. Everyone who believes in Christ is adopted by God into His kingdom.47 Romans 8:15, 22-23 says:
“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’…We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
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