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Issue #97 - 02/12
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Barren women in the Old Testament

When I teach Biblical Hebrew, I use a lot of tools in order to deliver the important message- Hebrew is for all and everyone deserves the holy language. Today we are going to discuss the barren women in the Hebrew Bible. "By learning one word, we can gain a lot of information"- told me my Biblical Hebrew teacher at the university.The first woman who was barren was our first mother, Sarah. As we can read in Genesis 11:27-30-

Abraham and Isaac

"וַיְחִי-תֶרַח, שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד, אֶת-אַבְרָם, אֶת-נָחוֹר, וְאֶת-הָרָןוְאֵלֶּה, תּוֹלְדֹת תֶּרַח--תֶּרַח הוֹלִיד אֶת-אַבְרָם, אֶת-נָחוֹר וְאֶת-הָרָן; וְהָרָן, הוֹלִיד אֶת-לוֹטוַיָּמָת הָרָן, עַל-פְּנֵי תֶּרַח אָבִיו, בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹלַדְתּוֹ, בְּאוּר כַּשְׂדִּיםוַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם וְנָחוֹר לָהֶם, נָשִׁיםשֵׁם אֵשֶׁת-אַבְרָם, שָׂרָי, וְשֵׁם אֵשֶׁת-נָחוֹר מִלְכָּה, בַּת-הָרָן אֲבִי-מִלְכָּה וַאֲבִי יִסְכָּהוַתְּהִי שָׂרַי, עֲקָרָהאֵין לָהּ, וָלָד"
 

"Now these are the records of the generations of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran; And Haran became the father of Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; And the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. Sarai was barren; she had no child."

The author explains to us what is a barren- someone who had no child. This is the first appearance of the word barren and this is the reason why he chose to interpret this word. This barren woman eventually gave birth to Isaac, our second father, whose wife was also barren, as written:

Rebekah 

"וַיְהִי יִצְחָק, בֶּן-אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה, בְּקַחְתּוֹ אֶת-רִבְקָה בַּת-בְּתוּאֵל הָאֲרַמִּי, מִפַּדַּן אֲרָם--אֲחוֹת לָבָן הָאֲרַמִּי, לוֹ לְאִשָּׁהוַיֶּעְתַּר יִצְחָק לַיהוָה לְנֹכַח אִשְׁתּוֹ, כִּי עֲקָרָה הִוא; וַיֵּעָתֶר לוֹ יְהוָה, וַתַּהַר רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּו"

"And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived."(Genesis 25:20-21)
20 years after they got married, Esau and Jacob were born. Jacob, who stole the birthright and the blessing of Isaac, escaped to His family outside the Promised Land; there he met Rachel, another barren woman, as we can read:

"וַיִּתֵּן לָבָן לְרָחֵל בִּתּוֹ, אֶת-בִּלְהָה שִׁפְחָתוֹ--לָהּ, לְשִׁפְחָהוַיָּבֹא גַּם אֶל-רָחֵל, וַיֶּאֱהַב גַּם-אֶת-רָחֵל מִלֵּאָה; וַיַּעֲבֹד עִמּוֹ, עוֹד שֶׁבַע-שָׁנִים אֲחֵרוֹתוַיַּרְא יְהוָה כִּי-שְׂנוּאָה לֵאָה, וַיִּפְתַּח אֶת-רַחְמָהּ; וְרָחֵל, עֲקָרָה."

"Laban also gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid. So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with Laban for another seven years. Now the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren" (Genesis 29:29-31)

It's important to say that according to the words of G-d the people of Israel's women shouldn't be barren, as written: 

 "לֹא תִהְיֶה מְשַׁכֵּלָה וַעֲקָרָה, בְּאַרְצֶךָ; אֶת-מִסְפַּר יָמֶיךָ, אֲמַלֵּא"

"There shall be no one miscarrying or barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days."(Exodus 23:26)

"בָּרוּךְ תִּהְיֶה, מִכָּל-הָעַמִּיםלֹא-יִהְיֶה בְךָ עָקָר וַעֲקָרָה, וּבִבְהֶמְתֶּךָ."
 

"You shall be blessed above all peoples; There will be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle."(Deuteronomy 7:14)
 

 Anyway, we can learn that the barren woman gave birth to important characters as Samson the hero in Judges 13 and Samuel after we discover that Hannah was barren , as written:

Samuel and hannah

"וַיְהִי אִישׁ אֶחָד מִן-הָרָמָתַיִם, צוֹפִים--מֵהַר אֶפְרָיִם; וּשְׁמוֹ אֶלְקָנָה בֶּן-יְרֹחָם בֶּן-אֱלִיהוּא, בֶּן-תֹּחוּ בֶן-צוּף--אֶפְרָתִי.  וְלוֹ, שְׁתֵּי נָשִׁים--שֵׁם אַחַת חַנָּה, וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִית פְּנִנָּה; וַיְהִי לִפְנִנָּה יְלָדִים, וּלְחַנָּה אֵין יְלָדִים"

 "Now there was a certain man from Ramathaim-zophim from the hill country of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives: the name of one was Hannah and the name of the other Peninnah; And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children." (1 Samuel 1:1-2)

For me the barren women in the Bible are a sign of a future with productivity, a future with fruits, a future that would be better after the sufferings in the present.  All we need to do is to be optimistic- isn’t it?
Have a blessed week, Eli 

 
Main phrases of the post + transcription + translation

 

Hebrew

Transcription

Translation

עָקָר

āqār'

Male barren

עֲקָרָה

ăqārāh' 

Female barren

בָּרוּךְ

bārûch

Blessed

וַתַּהַר

wattahar

She conceived

רַחְמָהּ

rachmah

Her womb

לָבָן

lābān

Laban

וָלָד

wālād

Child

 

 
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