By his command to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth,” Jehovah indicated that pregnancy was to be part of the woman’s normal role. (Gen. 1:28) With the introduction of imperfection into the human family, God explained that the pain of pregnancy would be increased. (Gen. 3:16; see LABOR PAINS.) The Hebrew word rendered “pregnancy” comes from the root ha·rahʹ, meaning “to conceive, to become pregnant.” The equivalent thought in Greek was expressed by the idiom “having in belly [Gr., en ga·striʹ eʹkhou·sa],” which meant ‘to be with child’ or to be pregnant.—Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18, 23.
Among the Jews, children, and especially male children, were viewed as a blessing (Ps. 127:3; 128:3; Gen. 29:32-35; 30:5, 6), and barrenness as a shame and a reproach. (Luke 1:24, 25; Gen. 25:21; 30:1) Consequently pregnancy was something a married woman desired. (1 Sam. 1:2, 11, 20) When once a child had been conceived, the developing embryo or fetus was considered a soul. Action that resulted in killing a developing child in the womb was handled according to the rule “soul for soul.” (Ex. 21:22, 23) it was a horrendous act for an enemy to rip up or split open a pregnant woman.—Hos. 13:16; Amos 1:13; 2 Ki. 8:12; 15:16.
Pregnancy would include pain at its termination (Ps. 48:6; 1 Thess. 5:3), but that temporary grief would end with the birth of the child and so pregnancy would normally come to a happy and satisfying conclusion.—John 16:21, 22.
“WOE TO THE PREGNANT WOMAN”
When responding to the apostles’ question about the conclusion of the system of things, Jesus spoke about fleeing from Judea and said: “Woe to the pregnant women and those suckling a baby in those days!” (Matt. 24:19; Mark 13:17; Luke 21:23) The fulfillment and truthfulness of those words became apparent in the events prior to and during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Though reasonable activity and movement is usually possible for a woman during her pregnancy (Luke 1:39, 56; 2:5), extended flight on foot over mountainous country would be hard on her, and especially if her time for delivery were close. Extreme adversity befell pregnant women and those suckling babies when Roman forces laid siege to Jerusalem. Famine prevailed. During pregnancy it is important for a woman to have proper nourishment. If, for example, she does not get sufficient calcium she might lose her teeth, as the body takes calcium to form the bones of the developing baby. Furthermore a woman’s maternal protective instinct would increase her suffering as she saw infants starving and dying, all the while knowing that she would soon bring a child into such conditions. Josephus wrote about some starving men in besieged Jerusalem: “They showed no pity for grey hairs or helpless babyhood, but picked up the children as they clung to the precious scraps and dashed them on the floor.”—The Jewish War, translated by G. A. Williamson, p. 291; compare Luke 23:29.
The period of pregnancy culminating in the birth of a child is used several times in a metaphorical sense. Israel lost God’s favor because her unfaithful people ‘conceived trouble and brought to birth what is hurtful.’ (Isa. 59:2-8; compare Psalm 7:14.) The process began with their allowing “hurtful thoughts” and wrong desires to impregnate their minds and hearts and, in effect, incubate there, with the inevitable result that “hurtful works” came to birth.—Compare James 1:14, 15.
Elsewhere Isaiah depicts Israel as a woman crying out in labor pains and saying to God: “So we have become because of you, O Jehovah. We have become pregnant, we have had labor pains; as it were, we have given birth to wind. No real salvation do we accomplish as regards the land, and no inhabitants for the productive land proceed to fall in birth [come to life, JP].” (Isa. 26:17, 18) This may refer to the fact that, despite God’s blessings (compare verse 15) and his having set before Israel the opportunity to become a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6), Israel had not yet seen realized the long-awaited fulfillment of the promise regarding the Seed through whom blessings would flow. (Gen. 22:15-18) Israel’s own efforts at salvation had produced nothing, unreality; as a nation it could not bring about the freedom “from enslavement to corruption” for which all creation “keeps on groaning together and being in pain together.” (Rom. 8:19-22; compare 10:3; 11:7.) With the Babylonian conquest the land “faded away” due to its pollution through the violation of God’s covenant, and ‘the inhabitants of the land decreased in number.—Isa. 24:4-6.
In contrast, by bringing back his people from exile, Jehovah made Jerusalem like a woman who had been made pregnant by her husband and brought forth numerous children.—Isa. 54:1-8.
The apostle Paul quotes this prophecy of Isaiah chapter 54 and applies it to “the Jerusalem above [which] is free, and she is our mother.” (Gal. 4:26, 27; compare Hebrews 12:22.) This evidently provides the key for understanding the vision recorded at Revelation 12:1-5, in which a pregnant heavenly “woman” gives birth to “a son, a male, who is to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod.” The shepherding of the nations with an iron rod is directly connected with the Messianic kingdom of God and hence the vision must relate to the producing of that Kingdom, so that, following the defeat of Satan’s attack on the newborn “child,” the ensuing cry goes forth: “Now have come to pass the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ.” (Rev. 12:10) The anguish of the pregnant heavenly “woman” preceding the birth calls to mind Paul’s expression at Galatians 4:19, “childbirth pains” there apparently representing stirring interest and fervent desire to see full development of matters reached (in Paul’s case, the full development of the Galatian believers as Christians).