Childbearing Among God’s People
“May Jehovah . . . increase you a thousand times.”—DEUTERONOMY 1:11.
1. How does the Bible speak of childbearing?
“LOOK! Sons are an inheritance from Jehovah; the fruitage of the belly is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the sons of youth. Happy is the able-bodied man that has filled his quiver with them.” So we read at Psalm 127:3-5. Yes, childbearing is a wonderful privilege that the Creator Jehovah granted the first human couple and their descendants.—Genesis 1:28.
Childbearing in Israel
2. Why were large families desirable among the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?
2 Large families were considered very desirable among Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob. Even children born to secondary wives and concubines were considered legitimate. This was the case with some of Jacob’s sons, who became founding fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel. (Genesis 30:3-12; 49:16-21; compare 2 Chronicles 11:21.) While God’s original arrangement for marriage was monogamy, he tolerated polygamy and concubinage among Abraham’s descendants, and this worked for a more rapid increase in population. The Israelites were to become “a people as numerous as the dust particles of the earth.” (2 Chronicles 1:9; Genesis 13:14-16) Within that nation would come the promised “seed” by whom “all nations of the earth” would be able to bless themselves.—Genesis 22:17, 18; 28:14; Deuteronomy 1:10, 11.
3. What was the situation in Israel during Solomon’s reign?
3 Obviously, in Israel childbearing was looked upon as a sign of Jehovah’s blessing. (Psalm 128:3, 4) It should be noted, however, that the opening words of this article, quoted from Psalm 127, were written by King Solomon, and much of this king’s reign was a particularly favorable time for Israel. Of that period the Bible states: “Judah and Israel were many, like the grains of sand that are by the sea for multitude, eating and drinking and rejoicing. And Judah and Israel continued to dwell in security, everyone under his own vine and under his own fig tree, from Dan [in the north] to Beer-sheba [in the south], all the days of Solomon.”—1 Kings 4:20, 25.
Hard Times for Children in Israel
4, 5. (a) Why was childbearing not always a cause for joy in Israel? (b) What heartrending scenes took place on at least two occasions in Jerusalem?
4 But there were other periods in Israel’s history when childbearing was anything but a joy. At the time of the first destruction of Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah wrote: “My eyes have come to their end in sheer tears. . . . Because of the fainting away of child and suckling in the public squares of the town. . . . Should the women keep eating their own fruitage, the children born fully formed?” “The very hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children.”—Lamentations 2:11, 20; 4:10.
5 Apparently, similar heartrending scenes occurred nearly seven centuries later. Jewish historian Josephus relates that during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., children snatched food from the mouths of their fathers, and mothers took food from the mouths of their infant children. He recounts how a Jewish woman killed her suckling baby, roasted the body, and ate part of it. Bringing children into the Jewish world in the final years leading up to the execution of Jehovah’s judgments against Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. and 70 C.E. could hardly be termed responsible childbearing.
Childbearing Among the Early Christians
6, 7. (a) What practices did Jesus do away with for Christians? (b) By what means was spiritual Israel to grow, and what proves this?
6 How was childbearing viewed among the early Christians? First it should be noted that Jesus did away with polygamy and concubinage among his disciples. He reestablished Jehovah’s original standard, namely monogamy, or marriage of one man to one woman. (Matthew 19:4-9) Whereas fleshly Israel became populous through childbearing, spiritual Israel was to grow through disciple making.—Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8.
7 If the expansion of Christianity was to come about mainly by childbearing, Jesus would not have encouraged his disciples to “make room” for singleness “on account of the kingdom of the heavens.” (Matthew 19:10-12) The apostle Paul would not have written: “He also that gives his virginity in marriage does well, but he that does not give it in marriage will do better.”—1 Corinthians 7:38.
8. What shows that many of the early Christians were married and had children?
8 However, while encouraging celibacy for the sake of supporting Kingdom interests, neither Jesus nor Paul imposed it. Both foresaw that some Christians would marry. Naturally, some of these would have children as a matter of course. The Christian Greek Scriptures contain several passages that gave the early Christians direct counsel on the upbringing of children. (Ephesians 6:1-4; Colossians 3:20, 21) If elders or ministerial servants were married, they were to be exemplary parents.—1 Timothy 3:4, 12.
9. According to the apostle Paul, how would certain Christian women be protected by childbearing, but what would they need in addition?
9 The apostle Paul even stated that having children could be a protection for some Christian women. Concerning material relief for needy widows, he wrote: “Turn down younger widows . . . They also learn to be unoccupied, gadding about to the houses; yes, not only unoccupied, but also gossipers and meddlers in other people’s affairs, talking of things they ought not. Therefore I desire the younger widows to marry, to bear children, to manage a household, to give no inducement to the opposer to revile. Already, in fact, some have been turned aside to follow Satan.” Such women would be “kept safe through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and sanctification along with soundness of mind.”—1 Timothy 5:11-15; 2:15.
‘Tribulation in the Flesh’
10. What different counsel for widows did Paul give in his first letter to the Corinthians?
10 It is noteworthy, however, that in his first letter to the Corinthians, the same apostle Paul suggested a different solution for widows. He qualified his advice on marrying, stating that he gave it “by way of concession.” He wrote: “Now I say to the unmarried persons and the widows, it is well for them that they remain even as I am. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to be inflamed with passion. But she [a widow] is happier if she remains as she is, according to my opinion. I certainly think I also have God’s spirit.”—1 Corinthians 7:6, 8, 9, 40.
11. (a) What would those who marry experience, and how does the marginal reference on 1 Corinthians 7:28 shed light on this? (b) What did Paul mean when he said, “I am sparing you”?
11 Paul explained: “If a virgin person married, such one would commit no sin. However, those who do will have tribulation in their flesh. But I am sparing you.” (1 Corinthians 7:28) With regard to such “tribulation in their flesh,” the New World Translation marginal reference refers us to Genesis 3:16, where we read: “To the woman he [Jehovah] said: ‘I shall greatly increase the pain of your pregnancy; in birth pangs you will bring forth children, and your craving will be for your husband, and he will dominate you.’” In addition to possible marital difficulties, the “tribulation in their flesh” that those who marry would encounter undoubtedly includes problems related to childbearing. While Paul forbade neither marriage nor childbearing, he obviously felt duty bound to warn his fellow Christians that such could bring about problems and distractions that might hinder them in their service to Jehovah.
“The Time Left Is Reduced”
12. What counsel did the apostle Paul give to married Christians, and for what reason?
12 In the first century C.E., Christians were not free to lead their lives like worldly people. Their situation would affect even their married life. Paul wrote: “Moreover, this I say, brothers, the time left is reduced. Henceforth let those who have wives be as though they had none, . . . and those making use of the world as those not using it to the full; for the scene of this world is changing. Indeed, I want you to be free from anxiety. . . . But this I am saying for your personal advantage, not that I may cast a noose upon you, but to move you to that which is becoming and that which means constant attendance upon the Lord without distraction.”—1 Corinthians 7:29-35.
13. In what sense was ‘the time left reduced’ for the first-century Christians?
13 Bible scholar Frédéric Godet wrote: “Whereas unbelievers regard the world as sure to last indefinitely, the Christian has always before his eyes the great expected fact, the Parousia [Presence].” Christ had given his disciples the sign of his “presence,” and had warned them: “Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Matthew 24:3, 42) The time left was “reduced” in that those first-century Christians had to live constantly in expectation of Christ’s coming. Furthermore, they did not know how much time remained for them individually before “time and unforeseen occurrence” brought their life to a close, ending all possibility for them to ‘make their calling sure.’—Ecclesiastes 9:11; 2 Peter 1:10.
14. (a) How is Matthew 24:19 to be understood? (b) How did Jesus’ warning take on added urgency as the year 66 C.E. approached?
14 For Christians in Judea and Jerusalem, the need to “keep on the watch” was particularly imperative. When Jesus gave warning of the second destruction of Jerusalem, he stated: “Woe to the pregnant women and those suckling a baby in those days!” (Matthew 24:19) True, Jesus did not tell first-century Christians that they should refrain from having children. He simply made a prophetic statement of fact, indicating that when the signal of Jerusalem’s imminent destruction appeared, quick flight would be more difficult for pregnant women or those with young children. (Luke 19:41-44; 21:20-23) Nevertheless, as unrest grew among the Jews in Judea during the years preceding 66 C.E., doubtless Jesus’ warning came to the minds of Christians and influenced their attitude toward bringing children into the world in those troubled times.
15, 16. (a) How is ‘the time left reduced’ for Christians living today? (b) What questions should Christians ask themselves?
15 How should Christians view marriage and childbearing today, in this “time of the end”? (Daniel 12:4) It is truer than ever that “the scene of this world is changing,” or, as another translation puts it, “the present scheme of things is rapidly passing away.”—1 Corinthians 7:31, Phillips.
16 Now, as never before, “the time left is reduced.” Yes, only a limited time remains for Jehovah’s people to finish the work he has given them to do, namely: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) That work must be accomplished before the end comes. It is, therefore, appropriate for Christians to ask themselves how getting married or, if married, having children will affect their share in that vital work.
An Ancient Example
17. (a) What work did Noah and his three sons have to accomplish before the Flood, and how long did it apparently take? (b) For what possible reasons did Noah’s sons and their wives refrain from having children during the pre-Flood period?
17 Jesus likened the time of “the presence of the Son of man” to “the days of Noah.” (Matthew 24:37) Noah and his three sons had a specific work to accomplish before the Flood. It involved building a gigantic ark and preaching. (Genesis 6:13-16; 2 Peter 2:5) When Jehovah gave instructions about the building of the ark, Noah’s sons were apparently already married. (Genesis 6:18) We do not know exactly how long it took to build the ark, but it seems likely that it took several decades. Interestingly, during all this pre-Flood period, Noah’s sons and their wives had no children. The apostle Peter specifically states that ‘eight souls were carried safely through the water,’ that is, four married couples but no children. (1 Peter 3:20) The sons’ remaining childless was possibly for two reasons. First, in view of the approaching destruction by a deluge of waters, they had a divinely appointed job to do that required their undivided attention. Second, they doubtless felt disinclined to bring children into a world where “the badness of man was abundant in the earth and every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the time,” a world “full of violence.”—Genesis 6:5, 13.
18. Although not setting a rule to follow, how does the course taken by Noah’s sons and their wives provide food for thought?
18 This is not to say that the course of action taken by Noah’s sons and their wives before the Deluge was meant to set the rule for married couples living today. Nevertheless, since Jesus compared Noah’s day to the period in which we are now living, their example can provide food for thought.
19. (a) How do our times compare with Noah’s day? (b) What did Paul foretell for “the last days,” and how does his prophecy concern childbearing?
19 Like Noah and his family, we are also living in “a world of ungodly people.” (2 Peter 2:5) Like them, we are in “the last days” of a wicked system of things that is about to be destroyed. The apostle Paul prophesied that “the last days” of Satan’s system would bring “critical times hard to deal with.” Showing that raising children would be one of the things hard to deal with, he added that children would be “disobedient to parents.” He stated that people in general, not excluding children and adolescents, would be “unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection.” (2 Timothy 3:1-3) While Paul was here prophesying of conditions among worldly people, obviously such prevalent attitudes would make the rearing of children increasingly difficult for Christians, as many have experienced.
20. What will be considered in the following article?
20 All the foregoing shows that it is necessary to have a balanced view of childbearing. While it can bring many joys, it can also bring many heartaches. It has advantages and disadvantages. Some of these will be considered in the following article.
Points for Review
□ Why were large families desirable in Israel?
□ What indicates that there were times when childbearing brought heartaches to the Jews?
□ How was spiritual Israel to grow in number?
□ How was the ‘time left reduced’ for the early Christians?
□ What possible reasons are there why Noah’s sons and their wives remained childless before the Flood, and what about the situation today?
[Picture on page 21]
Quick flight from Jerusalem would be more difficult for those with young children