Having a “quiver full” of children is a biblical concept that comes from Psalm 127:4–5: “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”
Some Christians have taken the idea of having a “quiver full” of children out of its original context to support a doctrinal position that encourages married couples to abstain from using contraception and have large families. The Quiverfull movement applies the Psalm 127 passage in this way. Believing they are obeying God’s Word and safeguarding the church’s growth, Quiverfull followers reject all forms of birth control and accept as many children as the Lord chooses to give them.
Since it is essential to study the phrase quiver full within its theological framework, we must consider the whole passage to discern its meaning. Psalm 127 is a praise psalm extolling the virtues of family life as established under God. In verse 3, the psalmist declares that “children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him” (NLT). In ancient times, having numerous children in a family was considered a special blessing from the Lord. So far, the meaning of the passage is straightforward. But the subsequent text requires a look at the historical background:
“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court” (Psalm 127:4–5).
A quiver is a tube-like container usually made of leather, used for holding arrows. Warriors and hunters carried their quivers on their backs or slung over their shoulders. A soldier with his quiver full of arrows was well-prepared for battle. Thus, the term quiver full conveys the idea of protection and security.
Children “born in one’s youth” are those who are born when their parents are still young. The passage suggests that parents who have many children when they are young are blessed because those children will grow up in time to support them in their old age. These children are “like arrows in the hands of a warrior.”
This metaphor of children being “like arrows in the hands of a warrior” is also taken out of context by some Christians today. They teach that children, like arrows, are meant to be launched out into the world. But the symbolism relates more to security within the family. Having a quiver full of children was a gift from God because it would protect the family when the parents no longer could. A quiver full of children could also defend against those who might take advantage of elderly parents.
The picture the psalmist creates is one of an aging father surrounded by a group of strapping, grown sons who form a strong shield of protection for him and the family in his declining days. Such a father is in no danger of being overtaken or abused by his enemies, physically, legally, economically, or in any other way. In ancient Israel’s culture, a household filled with many sons brought security; the larger the family, the less vulnerable it was.
In response to God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” in Genesis 1:28, the Israelites of the Old Testament placed high importance on procreation. Their physical, emotional, and economic security was expressed through having large families (Psalm 113:9). While children are indeed a gift from the Lord, having a quiver full, or a large number, today does not necessarily represent the same security and protection that it did in ancient times.
Many married couples are unable to conceive and are thus unable to have a quiver full of children. But this does not mean that God has not blessed them. While children are one of God’s great blessings, He gives many other good things besides (Psalm 23; James 1:17).
Psalm 127:5 cannot be construed as a blanket command for all believers to abstain from using birth control and to seek a quiver full of children. Yes, God has declared children to be a gift and a blessing from Him. And, yes, producing offspring is part of the Lord’s general mandate for the human race. But nowhere in Scripture does God charge all married couples to have children.
The Voice translation provides an excellent rendering of Psalm 127:4–5, giving modern Bible readers a better understanding of the historical context: “Your sons born in your youth are a protection, like arrows in the hand of a warrior. Happy is the man who has his quiver full, for they will help and protect him when he is old. He will not be humiliated when he is accused at the gate, for his sons will stand with him against his enemies.” The blessing of a quiver full of children is that a father with many sons is happy and blessed because they will protect him later in life. But there’s no implication that every married couple should have a quiver full of children today.