The Barren Women
A Mothers Day tribute to Mary Barron Greer 1920-2008
Today I want to talk with you about “emptiness” about that feeling of being of little or no use to God or anyone else. During my lifetime of ministry I have spent many years counselling the hurting and teaching others the skills necessary to do the same, and not only the ability to sympathize with the hurting but to empathize with them, to hurt with them, and lead them through the dark and difficult times, into better and brighter days.
In order to illustrate the point, I want to focus on three different women in the Bible, all of whom had their own feelings of emptiness – for we read that they were all barren. I believe that they all longed for a child, a son or daughter of their own. What they didn’t realize at the time, was that God had shut up their womb for a reason and for a season? I recon that it was not that they could not medically or physically conceive, but that rather God had placed a “reserved” notice on all three of them, for God had something pivotal, something miraculous to do in their lives, and he had reserved their womb for His Divine purpose.
While each of these woman have a different story to tell, there is nevertheless a similarity which will emerge as we look at their lives, so stay with me as we ponder together the stories of
the Barren Women.
The first woman is called Hannah
And we find her story in the first book of Samuel in chapters
one and two.
At that time the Sons of Eli were representing the priesthood, but Hophni and Phinehas had become backslidden, and were living in immorality and selfish greed, taking for themselves the gifts that were being offered to God, and sleeping with the
prostitutes that assembled around the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. Indeed the Bible calls them the sons of Belial (Ch2:12) another name for the Devil!
We read in Chapter 2v17 that “the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD: and they abhorred the offering of the LORD.” So polluted and perverse were the practices of these two priests, that the people had come to hate the worship of the Lord. Nevertheless, against their better judgement, Hannah and her husband Elkanah went faithfully and to the sacrifices and in spite of the fact that Hannah was regularly taunted for her “Barrenness” (a great personal shame to a woman in those days), she regularly prayed that God would grant her a Son, and actually promised him back to the Lord, as a gift to the Priesthood – if only God would grant her the request.
What Hannah did not realize however, was that God had shut up her womb (Ch1v5) and had chosen her, a barren woman, to be the vessel through which he would bring restoration to His Work, His Word and His Ways, when the time was right. You see dear friends, God is always in our tomorrow’s as well as in our today’s. God not only knows about your past and your present, but he knows your future as well. Some of you can’t see any future in God, because you hold on too tightly to your present? And some of you will miss your destiny because you
will allow others in the driving seat to control your decisions and guide your direction. Remember that if you are trying to please others, the chances are that you may not be pleasing to God?
So seeing the end from the beginning, as God always does, he shut up Hannah’s womb until his timing was right, and then he gave her a son. The Aging Prophet, Eli noticed her pray, and the fervour of her petition, indeed supposing her to be drunk he rebuked her, but discovering that she was pleading with God for a Son, Eli asked that God would grant her request and eventually Samuel was born. Hannah weaned the child and after a little while brought him as promised to Shiloh, unto Eli so that he could properly be schooled in the ways of God. Samuel was still a child, and although he had been brought and gifted to the Lord, he was not yet ready for any ministry.
God may call a man or woman, gift and equip them for service, many years before the “time” is right for their ministry. Although we may have a revelation about something, that does not mean that we have it in our hands. We must understand that God not only has his plans and purposes but also his timing! Dear Christian friends, we must learn that God is never in a hurry, there is no panic in heaven. It is through faith and patience that we inherit the promises. (Heb 6:12)
Although Hannah had longed desperately for a Child, it was not until she came and offered to give him back, that God answered her prayer. Hannah was waiting on God, but God was waiting on her. It may be today, that you are longing for a miracle, a blessing, a change in your life and circumstances, but it could be that God is waiting on you, …. You may have some part to play in answering your own prayer. You cannot feed a child, until they open their mouths wide. God had more for Hannah than she expected for we read that after Samuels birth, that “the LORD visited Hannah, (again) so that she conceived, and bare three sons and two daughters.”(Ch2:21)
Samuel also grew in wisdom, stature and in favour with God, unlike Eli’s boys, – and then comes the final warning to Eli in Chapter 2,v34-35 We read …
“And this shall be a sign unto thee, that shall come upon thy two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas; in one day they shall die, both of them. And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever”.
So God reveals to us all here that when His ways and words have been abandoned, and He needs a voice for the nation, to bring a people back to Himself, he brings that powerful voice, from the most unexpected place, – from a barren woman.
God had to remind Eli that it is GOD HIMSELF who
“raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifts up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes,” (Ch2:v8)
Of course this was not the first time such a miracle had occurred and for the self same reason, God had brought another powerful voice from a woman called barren.
The second woman is called Sarah
And we find her story in the Book of Genesis, and she comes into her own in Chapters 16 and 17. Her name was not always Sarah, but Sarai, ….Abraham’s wife, and His name was not always Abraham, but Abram and we shall see how they got their names changed in a moment. God had promised Abram that his reward would be great and that his descendents would be as great in number as the stars of heaven. But Abram was childless, because Sarai was barren. God also covenanted or promised Abraham – land and wealth, both to him and his descendants. Sarai became impatient for the promise and convinced Abram (now 86) to sleep with her maid-servant Hagar. Sarai gave Hagar as a wife to Abram and she bore him a son, and Abram called that boy – Ishmael. In spite of this blatant attempt to take things into their own hands, some thirteen years later, Our Merciful God appeared to Abram again – and now in Gods time, he shows up to fulfil his covenant promises. It was at this time also that God changes Abrams name to Abraham, meaning the Father of Nations. (17v5) (God changed his name so that he would “speak” out the promise – Faith calls the things that are not as though they were – it’s a Biblical principle – the power of life and death are in your tongue. Prov.18:21) God is going to give Abraham a Son, this will not be of mans doing, mans will, mans devising, or mans appointing, but it would be all of God. As I’ve said, Sarai also got her name change, and was called Sarah, the Mother of Nations. (17v16) Think of it – Abraham is 100 years old and Sarah is 90 years old – but God is a God of the Impossible and He gives faith for impossibilities. NOW God promises to open her womb and she shall bear a Son, and they shall call his name Isaac. (17v19)
Abraham & Sarah both laughed at the utter impossibility and improbability of the whole idea, but God needed a voice, and Isaac was to be that voice, not Ishmael,… and to achieve that end, God placed that voice in the womb of a Woman called Barren. Now I think it is important to point out here that Abraham pleaded with God to forget his plan and to allow Ishmael to be the chosen instrument in the hand of God.
We read “Shall a child be born to a man who is 100, and
Sarah who is 90 years old bear a child, ….Oh that Ishmael might live in they sight” (v17-18) But God said NO, (God does not change) nevertheless he did promise that Ishmael would be blessed and become the father of 12 nations. Argumentative old men, fit and healthy young men, and the barren wombs of 90 year old women, cannot alter the plans and purposes on the heart of the Sovereign God. Like Hannah, Abraham too would one day have to bring Isaac to the alter of Sacrifice and offer him back to the Lord, and passing that awesome test recorded in Genesis 22, God swore to Abraham that he would bless him.
So we have seen how God brought a voice for the nation and for the need, from the wombs of these two women, called barren!
The third woman is called Elizabeth
And we have read her story earlier in the Service from LUKE Chapter 1. It is important to point out here that between the final chapters of the prophesy of Malachi, and the beginning chapters of the Four Gospels, there had been 400 years of silence. There had been no voice from Heaven, no word from God, and the Vision if you like is without someone to keep the door open, and someone to keep the light on. The world had subsequently deteriorated into sin and wickedness and was very much as it appears today, …without hope and without God.
But I want to Bless God for MERCY, for without it, we all have no hope. The Bible tells us that God is “Rich” in mercy – that means that he has more mercy than he needs and thus is always merciful, full of compassion, full of patience with his wayward sinful creation, – and once again we see God in need of a voice;
a Preacher – to prepare the way for the Saviour. Where will he find that voice, from which nation, which people, which tribe, which class, which colour, which creed….. The answer seems to be that there is no such preacher and no such voice. So God returns to his previous and pivotal plan, and places a voice in another Barren Woman!
Luke’s Gospel tells us in Chapter one, v 5-6 of…
“ a certain priest named Zacharias, …. whose wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless“.
Here again we must conclude that God’s choice was not the obvious – God does not see us as others see us. God does not always look on what we are, rather God sees what we can become. Verse 7 tells us that they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they were both now well on in years, and although desiring children, had no expectation of a family, for it appeared that Elizabeth was Barren? I say, it appeared that way, for like Hannah and Sarah, Elizabeth did not know that God had shut up her womb for a reason and for a season, –
and that God had reserved her womb for a peculiar blessing.
Luke tells us that “while Zacharias, executed the priest’s office before God and that while on duty, that there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.” This was to be the great “John the Baptist” the voice of one crying in the wilderness “Prepare ye the way of the Lord…” This was to be the John who would Baptise Jesus in the Jordan River, and would call the world to “repentance and faith”. God needed a voice, God needed to speak LOVE to the nations again, MERCY and GRACE were still on offer, but God needed to tell it!
Once again the vessel through which God would work
was surprisingly through a woman called barren!
Now my dear friends, you may be feeling empty and barren today. You may be singing with the Hymn writer,
“Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling,”
Well that isn’t all bad! For you see God wants us empty, so that he can fill us and use us. Too many are full of themselves, full of their gifts, full of their talents and abilities, full of their pride and place in the house of God. God takes no delight in such, and looks only to those who are empty, and acknowledging their need of him, and of his fullness. You cannot fill a vessel that is already full? God wants our lives emptied of self, so that they can become full of Him! Jesus condemned those who loved the best seats in the synagogues and the salutations of men, and to be called “lord” and “master“…and told them that if that was all they wanted, then that was all they would get, they had their reward.
Remember Jesus encouraged his followers to accept the lowly place, indeed to humble oneself as a little child, and he promised that in due season, God would lift up the humble. Many today are chasing the applause of the world, diluting the truth so as not to offend or cause upset, and political correctness has replaced common sense in many areas of life. Gods word has been replaced by the writings of the good and the great, and as a result people are left without any real direction or foundation for their lives. Our young people are crying out for discipline, wanting to know where the boundaries and the limits are, and the differences between right and wrong.
But we don’t use words like wrong, and sin any more, these we are told may offend. As a result, old people are beaten to a pulp in their own homes for a few pounds, foreign visitors are terrorized by racial hatred, and children are abused and the unborn murdered every day in our towns and cities. In a generation that fights to “save the whale” few fight to save the Unborn child? Few show any concern about what God may think, and fewer still care. Hence we have witnessed a generation that have grown up, who don’t know “the ten commandments“ or the “Lord Prayer. I believe that this is the first Generation who have never known what it is to go to Sunday School. – Its not their fault, it is ours, the Church, the Body of Christ. We have been a silent voice when we ought to have been “speaking the truth in love”. I am guilty, even as a preacher, I too have failed to speak out and speak up, too afraid
of Public Opinions.
But not any more – it is time for change, God needs a voice, God needs a clear and clarion call to the nation, and to the world. We can no longer sit on the fence, halting between two opinions. Jesus said, you are either for me or you are against me, and there can be no middle ground. We may not all have been born of a barren woman, but we were all born with a tongue, and here in this country, most of us know how to use it. Let us use it for God, and let us declare our faith with courage and conviction, with passion and with power.
Now this Final Word
I first pondered this subject of The Barren Women, while listening to a sermon from Time Square Church, New York, in April 2006 and thought that the subject of the three Barren Women was worthy of further study. That’s why I have brought you this message today, from my own understanding and insights of what God was doing in these women’s lives. Pastor Conlons sermon in New York that day was entitled
“A song in every barren woman” and is available to listen on the TSC Website but when that message was first aired,
Carter Conlon ended HIS sermon with these exact words.
And I quote “ When God wants to do something pivotal, something miraculous, when God needs to bring a voice to a nation, he brings that voice from a woman called Barren”.
In that moment, in April 2006, Gods Holy Spirit fell on me with such power that I wept uncontrollably with great joy and overcoming emotion, for more than an hour.
It had suddenly dawned on me that my Mothers
Christian or given names were Mary Barron, … and at that time I was praying or asking God for confirmation that I was moving in the centre of His will!
What more could I ask for, God had confirmed his purpose for me, that I was to be a “voice” for God to this community. I knew that in Gods time a door of opportunity would open, and I was not surprised to discover that just a few days later, SHINE fm RADIO invited me to join the team of presenters here and that is how THE SANCTUARY (this Sunday Service Broadcast) was birthed!
It is my prayer that from this small and simple beginning, God will do great things, and a great harvest of souls will be gathered in, and that every week as you listen to these messages that for you, they will be a memorable moment of encounter with God.
May God bless this Word and Witness, to all our hearts,
for his dear names sake, AMEN