After God created Adam and Eve, His first command to them was “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it….” But we find that the only thing they were able to produce was sin. As then, so now. We are born into this barren wasteland of sin and we add our own barrenness and our own sin to it. Inevitably there comes a day when we realize that we are barren and it becomes first troublesome, then heart-breaking and finally unbearable.
Proverbs 30:16 says there are 4 things that are not satisfied and never say “Enough”. One of those is the barren womb. I was reminded of Rachel’s agonized cry to Jacob – “Give me children or I die!”
But this is not just the cry of a barren womb. It is also the cry of the barren life. Aren’t there those moments when time seems to stand still and you see your life, so much of it foolishly squandered, and you realize that it may be that more of it is behind you than lies ahead of you……and it is barren. What a panic and mad scramble this can create as we try to dig deeply into every crevice of ourselves to find something, anything that we can offer to the Lord, only to realize that there is nothing – not so much as a crumb. Our life is barren because we are barren. We are all in the same barren condition, but we have learned how to not notice that there is no fruit from our lives. How easy it is to become content with producing that plastic wax-like fruit that is created to display in some sort of centerpiece. Nice to look at but not suitable to eat. But at least it is something we can point to as evidence that we are producing something…….
Isaiah 54:1 says “Sing, O barren, you who have not borne”. Why would a barren woman sing? Her greatest desire has been withheld from her. What cause for rejoicing could she have? But the passage continues “for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman, says the Lord.” We labor so diligently to be fruitful, striving, trying, working….but true fruitfulness can only come out of the admission of our utter barrenness and our dependence upon Another to produce the fruit.
What joy there is in realizing that our barrenness is not the enemy of fruitfulness, but the platform for it!
Hosea 14:8 says “Your fruit is found in Me.”
And thus we come to the conclusion of our study and where else could it conclude but in Christ Himself! John 15:4-5, 8
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing……by this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit.
Shall we remain contented in this unnatural state of barrenness when Christ has made the promise of much fruit, and such fruit that is pleasing to the Father? Oh will we not come to that holy place of abiding communion with Jesus, where we have realized that all we can offer Him is our barrenness, but also that He is able and so very, very willing to produce lasting and God glorifying fruit in us.
Let the barren who trust in Christ rejoice, for the fruit of His life in us is guaranteed.
Hannah was a woman who seemed to suffer greatly from her barrenness. Unlike Elizabeth, we meet Hannah when she was a young woman still in her childbearing years. Not only did she endure the sorrow of her barrenness, but also the provocation of her husband’s other, fertile wife, Peninnah. Not content to merely enjoy the blessing of motherhood, Peninnah entertained herself by provoking Hannah to an intense emotional state over her barrenness. 1 Samuel 1:6 says that her adversary (Peninnah), “provoked her severely to make her fret”. Interestingly, that word fret is also translated thunder. Peninnah didn’t just make Hannah cry, she made her angry!
Regardless of what her exact emotional state was, because of what she lacked and the continual harassment of her adversary, Hannah couldn’t enjoy what was set before her. And in the house of the Lord the shame of it all must have pressed upon her even more. Her husband, Elkanah, was a Levite, which meant his sons would also serve the Lord as Levites. Peninnah had many sons to offer to the service of the Lord, but Hannah had none. Nothing to give to God. And so we come to her prayer, as she pours out her heart before God. Could I just summarize it like this – “Oh God, would you please give me something that I can offer to You?”
The soul that realizes it has nothing to offer the Lord but that which He Himself gives, is the soul that is only a hairs breadth away from great blessing.
You know the story…..she has a son whom she gives into the service of the Lord. He is Samuel, a mighty prophet used greatly by the Lord. And on that day when she brings Samuel to the house of the Lord her heart cannot contain her joy. Her prayer of triumph is recorded for us in chapter 2. One verse in particular caught my attention:
“The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces; from heaven He will thunder against them. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth.” 1 Samuel 2:10
No longer does Hannah speak of her adversary for the Lord has vindicated her. No longer does Hannah thunder from vexation because the Lord has thundered in judgment. She smiles at her enemies because she rejoices in the salvation of the Lord, for He has rendered the weapons of her enemy powerless against her.
Elizabeth – Her name means “oath of God”, yet she lived her life with a promise unkept. She was barren and now old. Where were the promised children for the righteous? Luke 1:36 tells us that Elizabeth was called barren. It was a label that had been pinned onto her for years. I can almost hear the whispered remarks of those in her town – “that’s Elizabeth…..she’s barren.”
I wonder if she ever reflected back on the fathers (and mothers) of their people. In each of those beginning generations there was barrenness, and each time God intervened to bring a child. He did it for Abraham and Sarah, for Isaac and Rebekah and for Jacob and Rachel. But Elizabeth remained barren.
Her barrenness was a reproach. Deuteronomy 7:14 says “You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall not be a male or female barren among you or among your livestock.” Her barrenness declared her life as one that was not obedient and therefore not blessed. What a horrible stigma to bear.
Yet Luke 1:6 tells us that both Elizabeth and her husband were “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless”. And in that moment when the Lord did wonderfully open her womb, Elizabeth said that God has “looked on me to take away my reproach among people.” Elizabeth knew that even though people may have little regard for her, that she served a God who carefully watched all the details of her life and knew the great love she had for Him that compelled her to live a life of pleasing obedience to Him even when her greatest desire was denied. She knew that she had no reproach before God even though the blessing was withheld.
Since Elizabeth was an older woman, she may not have known she was pregnant as soon as a younger woman may have known. So there could have been months that Elizabeth thought of herself as still barren, when actually there was life stirring inside her. There was a span of time when her barrenness was over yet she did not know it. But then there came a day when it could be a secret thing no longer.
And when God sent this blessing, it came in a big way. For it was only after years of bearing an unjustified reproach that she was prepared to bear the forerunner to the One who would bear the ultimate unjust reproach. Who better to teach John how to remain faithful to God and disregard the opinions of men?
Were all those years of barrenness a waste? No, they were a training ground to prepare her for her greatest assignment.
Never was a more tremendous announcement made to a human than the one Mary received from the angel.
“Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:30-33
Israel of that day lived in expectation of the appearance of the Messiah. Based on the prophecies of Jeremiah, they did the math and knew that it was soon. Jewish girls desired the honor of being the mother of the Messiah. Mary was certainly no different.
How her heart must have leapt to know that she was the chosen one. Her greeting to Elizabeth in Luke 1:46-55 is an exaltation of the power and might of God like few others, as she anticipates the birth of the promised child in her womb.
Reading the words of the angel to Mary, one thing that is glaringly obvious is that there is no mention of the cross. The throne, yes. The kingdom, yes. But not the cross. How difficult would it have been for Mary to raise her son to adulthood, caring for Him, teaching Him, loving Him, knowing that He was destined for death? Who among us could bear such a burden year after year?
Sometimes we wonder why God doesn’t tell us certain things. We find ourselves in difficult circumstances and we wonder why God let us be caught off guard. Surely He knew. Surely He could have told us. But He didn’t. Why? We wonder and pray about the future, asking God to give us some insight. But frequently, He doesn’t.
Just like Mary, I know the end. One day I will stand before Jesus, forgiven and accepted, to spend eternity with Him. But the stuff between now and then, these things are a mystery to me. I sometimes think it would be easier if I knew what was ahead for me. But maybe it wouldn’t. It must be enough to know that God knows.
Because He knows the end from the beginning, and all the stuff in the middle, but He doesn’t tell it all.