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06 April 2015

Childbearing in the Old Testament

Reading about childbearing and the importance placed on childbearing and the continuance of the family in the Old Testament is fascinating stuff. I first spent time studying some of the Old Testament women when I was struggling to deal with my own infertility problems. There's tons of stories where you see this idea.

Hannah grieved until it affected her marriage, and eventually the priest thought she was drunk.

 Rachel's anguish was such that she thought it would kill her.

Sarah, seeing that she had no children, gave her maid to her husband as another wife to secure the continuance of his line.

In each of these stories, the women not only deal with the grief of childlessness, but they also must cope with the taunting of the women around them who are able to bear, and mock them for their barrenness. The grief of their empty arms is compounded by cruel jibes about their inability to perform in the sacred role of mother.

But there's some other, less familiar, less comfortable stories, and these almost tell us more about the importance placed on childbearing and the continuity of the family line.

Lot's daughters get him drunk and conceive - in our day, drugging someone like this is criminalized as rape. The Bible tells us that they were trying to preserve the seed of their father. It's an extreme that I can't picture in our day. Quite aside from the criminal nature of the act, I don't see our world putting that kind of importance on the matter. Family lines die out regularly, with no fanfare.

That's not the only story of what seems to me like an extreme position to take in order to preserve the family line. There's also the one I was reading tonight, from 2 Samuel 14, with the Widow of Tekoah.

Basically, it goes like this: two of David's sons have a disagreement, and the one kills the other (he's not without a certain amount of justification) and then runs away, fearing that King David will be angry with him. 3 years pass, and David misses his son, so one of the son's buddies gets a Widow of Tekoah to go see the king. She spins this tale about how she had 2 sons, and one killed the other, and now the family wants to kill the survivor, and can't the king do something so that her husband's line isn't ended forever? And the king listens to her! Tells her he'll handle it, and her surviving (murdering) son will be safe. At that point she says, "Uh, king, sir, don't be mad, but I was actually talking about YOUR son that's in exile," the son comes home, and life goes on.

It's amazing to me to see how far the cultural shift has gone in the other direction. This widow asked the king to excuse her son's murder, so that her family line could continue. And he was prepared to do it. No way that would fly now. Now, it's wait to have kids, if you have them at all. I've heard that stuff from folks in the church, even, though it's contrary to what the prophet says. But that's the fashionable thing, waiting. But then, then it was different.

From April Conference 1979: Fortify Your Homes Against Evil

 The importance placed upon children in the Old Testament is amazing. Women now often peg their value to education or other things, but you can see in the stories of Hannah and Rachel and Sarah how they pegged their value on the ability to bear children. (Neither is correct, in my opinion; a woman's value is intrinsic.) The lengths that some of the people went to just boggles my mind. I don't think that the extremes are good, but that's what brought this particular theme to my attention. Maybe that's why some of those stories are in there: to draw our attention to the importance of children. Because it's not just the crazies. Those women we love to hear about, Hannah, Rachel, Sarah, Elizabeth, they knew something about how important children are, too. Interestingly, in every case, those feminine heroes of the scriptures' infertility was resolved, and they bore at least one child. I'm still pondering that; obviously not every story ends so well in this life. But I'm certain that if I ponder it long enough, the Lord will teach me what it is His message is in their stories. I'm looking forward to that.


Anne Chovies said...

How different our culture is today and how any other culture that it's out of step with our own, "modern" society its considered barbaric. And yet we think nothing of the tens of thousands of babies that are killed every year. That's a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Ritsumei said...

Pot, meet kettle, for sure.


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