The idea of the inability to bring forth children is conveyed by the Hebrew words ʽa·qarʹ (“barren”; Ge 11:30) and gal·mudhʹ (“sterile”; Isa 49:21). Also, in Proverbs 30:16, barrenness is literally described as “restraint of the womb.” (NW ftn) The Greek word for “barren” is steiʹros. (Lu 1:7, 36) Barrenness is also spoken of as “deadness of the womb.”
Jehovah’s original mandate to Adam and Eve, later repeated to Noah’s sons, included the command, “Be fruitful and become many.” (Ge 1:28; 9:7) Failure on the part of a married woman to bring forth children was therefore viewed in ancient times as a reproach, an affliction, a punishment, one of the greatest misfortunes. “Give me children or otherwise I shall be a dead woman,” pleaded Rachel with her husband Jacob.
That Jehovah is capable of making a barren woman fruitful is shown by the words of Jacob to Rachel: “Am I in the place of God, who has held back the fruit of the belly from you?” Finally, we are told, “God remembered Rachel, and God heard and answered her in that he opened her womb. And she became pregnant and brought a son to birth.” (Ge 30:2, 22, 23) Other cases demonstrating Jehovah’s power to give children to women afflicted with natural barrenness over a long period of time may be cited: Sarah (Ge 11:30; 17:19; 21:1, 2); Rebekah (Ge 25:21); Samson’s mother (Jg 13:2, 3); Hannah (1Sa 1:10, 11; 2:5); a Shunammite woman (2Ki 4:14-17); and Elizabeth (Lu 1:7, 36). With Jehovah’s blessing, the Israelites during their sojourn in Egypt became so prolific that the Egyptians were alarmed, thinking they would soon be outnumbered. (Ex 1:7-12, 18-21) Jehovah was also given credit for granting conception to Ruth the ancestress of David.
When Jehovah withheld his blessing even the land would become a barren and desolate waste. On the other hand, with divine blessing, the land was capable of bringing forth much fruitage. (Le 26:3-5) Similarly, with Jehovah’s rich blessing, it was promised, “neither a woman suffering an abortion nor a barren woman will exist in your land.” (Ex 23:26; De 7:13, 14; 28:4, 11; Ps 127:3-5; 128:3) Conversely, Jehovah, on one occasion, “tightly shut up every womb” of Abimelech’s house when he contemplated taking Sarah as wife.
Because of the terrible distress foretold to come on first-century Jerusalem, Jesus said “barren women” would be happy, relieved, not having the anguish of seeing their children suffer.
Isaiah and the psalmist prophesied of a barren woman whose reproach and shame are to be forgotten, for she will bring forth many sons, all of them taught by Jehovah. (Ps 113:9; Isa 54:1-15) The apostle Paul applies Isaiah’s words to “the free woman,” that is, “the Jerusalem above.”