The word “childless” has a certain negative connotation all its own. I have been revisiting II Samuel again (as I do around this time every year), and I noticed, for the first time I think, just how often the condition of childlessness appeared in these early books of the Old Testament. Being “childless” has one inherent meaning: waiting on a promise that has not arrived.
Perhaps the most famous of childless couples is Abram & Sarai. Abram had been promised that his descendants would outnumber the stars, and yet… here he was old, with no child. Sarai was none too young herself, and though she too knew of the promise, she decided that perhaps God was waiting on her to come up with an idea to help out. We all know the result of her brilliant plan – a conflict that rages on so many thousands of years later – but what of her childless state? When the promise finally came – in GOD’S WAY, in HIS time – it was one little boy named Laughter who fathered the nation that would change the world.
Rachel cried out to God in her childless state, voicing her frustrations to her husband. Her waiting finally ended with the arrival of her first son. Joseph represented the hope of Israel, for without his journey through God’s will from the prison to the palace, Israel would have been extinguished by famine. The birth of her second son Benjamin ended her life, and in keeping, Benjamin’s descendants proved to be agents of destruction.
In Judges 13, we learn that Manoah’s wife was barren, until God sent a special boy who carried his power in his obedience to a seemingly arbitrary rule about his hair. Samson, the child of the promise, was a man who was swayed too easily by his emotions (I see more than mere lust in his motives), but in the end, he used his death to bring about destruction upon the enemies of God.
What does all this mean? Well, thus far, we can determine that there is something special about the birth of a child –a promise, if you will – to one who has been declared “childless.”
In I Samuel, we find the story of Hannah, broken before the Lord in a prayer that has no words, crying out to God, begging for her promise. And then, Samuel was born. The first child of the promise was the beginning of the bloodline. The second child of the promise was to protect the chosen people through a time of famine. The third child of the promise was a warrior, who through his weakness and in spite of temptation, rose up to deliver his people from their oppressors. And now, this Samuel, another child of promise, will remind his people of their loyalty to Jehovah and will anoint the first two kings of Israel…
By all rights, the child born of two kings should have reigned, but Michal’s refusal to let go of her bitterness, her refusal to rise above the pain her life had dealt her, left her childless…II Samuel recounts her story, one of the Bible’s saddest. How many do we know like Michal, who have allowed the bitterness of their past to blot out their futures?
Then in II Kings, we find the story of the Shunamite woman, who after waiting her whole life, received her promise by way of the prophet. And when that promise was ripped away from her, she rose up, saddled her donkey, and rode out boldly, proclaiming, my child will NOT die! Her refusal to give in revived the dead promise, and with the prayers of the prophet, the child lived again.
And then the blessed story of Elisabeth, who in the book of Luke, has waited so long for a child that she has given up hope…when the promise arrives. And that promise, John the Baptist, has a very special work to do, for he will announce to the world that the promise embodied within all of scripture, the hope of all mankind, lives and walks among us, if we will only recognize Him. He will prepare the way of Christ.
So what of all this talk of childlessness, of promises unfulfilled? Simple enough. Are you waiting for a promise? Have you waited long enough that hope has started to fade? Do you feel as hopeless as these men and women who longed for the birth of a child, seemingly in vain? The message is there for you in scripture: HOLD ON. For the child that is borne out of childlessness…the promise that is borne from the ashes… is particularly blessed, for it is the very progeny of faith, and its legacy will reverberate throughout the pages of time.