Fertility is the ability to conceive children or bring forth a plentiful crop. Every culture in every era has considered fertility among its chief concerns because the fertility of a culture, both sexually and agriculturally, ensures its future. Many pagan cultures invented gods and goddesses that were supposed to grant fertility to people and the ground. The worship of the fertility gods led to much wickedness and perversion.
A woman’s fertility—her childbearing ability—was of great importance in Bible times. In those ancient cultures, a woman gained a sense of value if she could give her husband many sons, and a woman who could not conceive suffered emotionally. The family suffered as well, with no sons to help with the work and no daughters to care for the parents as they aged. The Bible records several instances of infertility, and we learn that God knew and cared about each situation. From everything we read in Scripture, God is directly involved in fertility.
God’s instruction to Adam and Eve was to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:27–28). He had created them with the physical ability to reproduce, and He wanted them to fill the earth with human beings. Their bodies were as perfect as human bodies can be, so their ability to conceive and bear children was unhindered (Genesis 4:1–2). In God’s perfect world, infertility was not a problem. The problem of infertility only came later as sin and brokenness corrupted the earth. Infertility is a consequence of living in a less-than-perfect world inhabiting bodies that will eventually die.
The first instance of infertility discussed in the Bible is that of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 11:30). They were beyond childbearing years, but, even when they were younger, Sarah had been unable to conceive. Yet this is the couple to whom God promised a son (Genesis 15:1–5; 17:15–16). Sarah’s age and barrenness became the backdrop for a miracle when God granted them a son, Isaac, in their old age (Genesis 21:1–2). Through that son, God created a nation that would be a blessing to the whole world (Genesis 12:1–3; 18:18). God’s intervening in Abraham’s life to give him a son shows that God has plans for our children even before they are conceived.
The Bible is clear that God is intimately involved with fertility. He is the One who opens and closes the womb (Isaiah 66:9; Genesis 29:31; Jeremiah 1:5). He is directly involved in the formation of a baby inside the mother: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. . . . My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13–16 ).
Children are a gift from God, and He expects parents to value them as He does (Psalm 127:3–5). He also has compassion on those who are barren, and the Bible records several instances of His intervention to “open the womb” of infertile women. In addition to Sarah, God opened the wombs of Rebekah (Genesis 25:21), Leah (Genesis 29:31), Rachel (Genesis 30:22), Samson’s mother (Judges 13), Hannah (1 Samuel 1), and Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1). Under the Old Covenant, God promised fertility to the Israelites if they obeyed His commands and honored Him as their God (Exodus 23:26).
Jesus used fertility as a metaphor to describe the life of a true disciple. His followers are to live fruitful lives, bringing others into the kingdom (Matthew 13:23; John 15:5). Jesus warned that someone who professes His name but refuses to “bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 7:19). It is not the Lord’s purpose for everyone to have physical fertility, but spiritual fertility is God’s will for all of His children: “I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:16).