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There was a series of miraculous births in the Bible:

  1. Abraham and Sarah were married for a long long time before she gave birth to Isaac.
  2. Rebecca was barren for 20 years before she gave birth to Jacob.
  3. Rachel was barren for many years before she gave birth to Joseph.
  4. Hannah was barren for years before she gave birth to Samuel.
  5. Zechariah and Elizabeth were well advanced in years before she gave birth to John the Baptizer.
  6. Finally, to top this off, surprise surprise, Joseph had just barely married the very young Mary when she gave birth to Jesus.

Matthew 1:

24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

In the first 5 cases, lots of consummations but few births. In the last case, no consummation, yet birth resulted. Is God trying to tell us something about this pattern? What is the significance?

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  • 1
    This is a matter of interpretation so this is a comment. I think we see the barenness of nature, the impossibility of fruit from flesh and blood, the unproductiveness of human relationships. And this goes on for years, or decades in our own natural experience. The contrast (with Sarah, Hannah and Elizabeth) is the fruitfulness and life that comes from Divine Spirit and Divine purpose, in Christ. And these three pre-figure the coming of Christ, in humanity. (Up-voted +1.)
    – Nigel J
    Sep 6 at 18:07
  • Curious as to why you write Rachel was barren only 5 years before the birth of Joseph. Jacob was in Padan Aram 20 years. Right after Joseph was born, Jacob made plans to leave Laban's land. Jacob married Rachel after the 7 days of celebration for his marriage to Leah. Rachel was barren at least 20 yrs, unless I've misunderstood something.
    – tblue
    Sep 15 at 3:08
  • Miraculous births are, to me, the sign of the True God rather than the God of this world and the 'normal' cycle of things. True God can 'make a way where there is no way'. As Jesus said, "My Kingdom is not of this world." But True God 'enters' this world from outside of it for His Purposes.
    – tblue
    Sep 15 at 3:20
  • Good point. I modified. Thanks :)
    – Tony Chan
    Sep 15 at 13:45
  • @TonyChan - Maybe not a useful comment on my part. Looking at the timelines of others, your first answer of 5 yrs of barrenness for Rachel fits some. I've seen <25 yrs, 13-14 yrs, and 7 yrs. Interesting PDF with different birth scenarios below. Some think that all 12 children were born in 2nd 7-yr period, while the extra 6 yrs were just for the cattle. My new thought is 14 yrs.:) The first 7 years don't count as Jacob wasn't married to either of them. faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/01-genesis/…
    – tblue
    Sep 15 at 18:46
5

Most would regard the numerous miraculous births in the OT and early NT as part of the pattern of "Typology" throughout the Bible - most stories pointed in some way to Jesus. Let me illustrate further:

  1. Jesus' divinely ordained and enabled birth
  • Isaac came miraculously from Abraham and Sarah (Gen 18:10-14) and both are called "monogenes", Heb 11:17 and John 3:16
  • Samson miraculously came from Manoa and his wife, Judges 13:2, 3 - the miraculously born Samson was Israel's deliverer
  • Samuel was miraculously born to Hannah, 1 Sam 1:20. Samuel became the prophet and judge of Israel just as Jesus was
  • Rachel only gave birth to Joseph after Jacob prayed. Joseph became the deliverer of Israel
  • The woman in Elisha's time (2 Kings 4:14-17) miraculous gave birth. The child died and was miraculously resurrected.
  • In Luke 1 we read the story of the miraculous birth of John the Baptist who became the greatest prophet

... and there are many more. Here is another example of Christ-centered typology:

  1. Joseph and Jesus
  • both are rejected by their own people
  • both became servants
  • both are betrayed for silver
  • both are falsely accused and face false witnesses
  • both attain stations at the "right hand" of the respective thrones (Joseph at Pharaoh's throne and Christ at the throne of God)
  • Joseph was 30 years old when he stood before Pharaoh, and Jesus was about the same age according to the bible when he began his ministry
  • Both became a savior to their people by going to Egypt; Joseph as a lad of 17 and Jesus as a baby (Matt 2:15)
  1. King Joash and Jesus

In 2 Kings 11 we read the fascinating story of Baby Joash which was in some was a type of Jesus:

  • Both were destined to become the king of Israel
  • Both were miraculous saved from murderous intentions of their enemies
  • Both were taken away by a woman to save them
  • Both were the only person left in the family and the only one who could subsequently rule
  • This same theme of an evil woman threatening God and His people is taken up again in Rev 17. [Revelation has two great women - the woman clothed in the sun who gives birth, Rev 12, and great prostitute of Rev 17.]
  1. Adam and Jesus
Adam Jesus
Adam was the first born of the living (Gen 2:7-20) made in the image of God, and given dominion over creatures and the earth (Gen 1:26) Jesus was the first born of the dead (meaning resurrected) and the very likeness of the invisible God (Col 1:15), given dominion over 'kings of the earth' (Rev 1:4-5) indeed authority over all creation (Matt 28:18)
Adam was without bride but given one (Gen 2:18-21) Jesus was without bride but given one (John 3:29)
Adam's bride came from Adam (Gen 2:23) requiring his side be pierced (Gen 2:21), and the two became one (Gen 2:24) (Matt 19:6) Jesus’ bride came from Jesus (Matt 16:19; 18:18; John 14:20) requiring his side be pierced (John 19:34), and the two became one (John 17:21)
Before Adam, the Spirit hovered over the waters (Gen 1:2) Before Jesus, the Spirit hovered over Mary’s womb (Luke 1:35) and was present over the water at Jesus’ baptism (Matt 3:11, 16)
Adam was cursed with thorns (Gen 3:18) Jesus was mocked with a crown of thorns (Mark 5:17)
  1. Two women clash over children
  • Sarah and Hagar clash over their children (Gen 21). See also Gal 4:21-31.
  • Leah and Rachael clash over children (Gen 29, 30)
  • Hannah and Peninnah clash over children (1 Sam 1)
  • Two prostitutes before Solomon clash over their children (1 Kings 3:16-28)
  • Two mothers argue over eating their sons (2 Kings 7:26-29)
  • Jehosheba and Athaliah clash over baby Joash (2 Kings 11, 2 Chron 22, 23)

This common theme is used as a metaphor for God’s people who are either faithful and pure, or, rebellious. These include:

  • The parable of the two adulterous sisters and their children (Eze 23)
  • The daughter of Babylon vs the daughter of Zion (Zech 2:7, 10).
  • More generally, the Old Testament uses this image of a woman to represent either faithful (Isa 62:5, Jer 2:1, 2) or unfaithful (Isa 47:1-3, Jer 2:32, Eze 16, Nah 3:4, 5) groups of people. See also Gal 4:21-31 which used Sarah and Hagar as metaphors.
  • In the book of Revelation we have two women: Jezebel or the harlot as a symbol of Babylon (Rev 2:20, 17:1-18:24), vs, the pure woman as a symbol of God’s faithful people the bride of the Lamb (Rev 12:1-17, 19:7, 21:9).

All this "Typology" is part of what may have been discussed when Jesus said:

  • Luke 24:27 - And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was written in all the Scriptures about Himself.
  • John 5:39 - You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me,
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What is the significance of the pattern of miraculous births in the Bible?

One of the first things to recognize is the infant mortality rate during this period of time. The article "Children in the ancient Middle East were valued and vulnerable — not unlike children today" under the heading "The death of children" mentions:

Archaeological data shows that the infant mortality rate was 50 per cent in the ancient world, but children who died were often cared for.

So it is not surprising that the Biblical record highlights certain "miraculous" births.

The next point we see in the examples from the question is the significance of some of these births. Note the particular births of the OP points # 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6. These are all births that are connected to the Messiah. What does this tell us? The Jehovah God was carrying out his will for the Messiah to be born and given witness to. The fact that God's name means "He Causes to Become" as the appendix of the New World Translation brings out:

However, this definition well fits Jehovah’s role as the Creator of all things and the Fulfiller of his purpose. He not only caused the physical universe and intelligent beings to exist, but as events unfold, he continues to cause his will and purpose to be realized.

As to Hannah and the birth of Samuel, this is just another example of Jehovah establishing his will for his people. Samuel was one of the great prophets of that time. But let us not forget about Samson's mother that was also barren (Jg 13:2, 3) and Samson becomes one of the notable judges of Israel. A Shunammite woman (2Ki 4:14-17) was also barren; while not much is mentioned about the child, the woman showed great faith in Jehovah's prophet Elisha. The Biblical account attributes the birth of Obed (Ru 4:13), an ancestor of the Messiah, to Jehovah God.

As the "source of life" (Ps 36:9), Jehovah God has shown throughout the Bible that he can and will make sure that his purpose to "fill the earth" (Ge 1:28) is accomplished.

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

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Part of this is simply a reflection of the human condition. Even now with thousands of years of medical advances around 10% of couples have trouble conceiving or carrying a pregnancy to full term. So it should be of no surprise that many couples in the Bible likewise faced infertility. A friend of mine has written a thesis investigating God's declaration in Genesis 3:16 suggesting that rather talking about painful childbirths, as it is commonly translated, it should actually be understood as talking about grief, in which case infertility should be seen as a direct consequence of this declaration. If I can get more details on this argument I'll add them later.

In the case of the patriarchs, I think there is more to it. Ever since Genesis 3:15 we are meant to be looking out for the "seed" or offspring of Adam that will contend with the evil one. We are meant to be looking for the child of promise, an idea that would continue developing into the later messianic prophecies. And so in order to demonstrate that the child of promise comes only because of God and not from human efforts, God ordained that this family would have many fertility troubles. Abraham takes matters into his own hands and gets his slave pregnant but his son Ishmael is not the child of promise, and is eventually disinherited. God directly claims responsibility for the fertility of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 17:6: "I will make you very fruitful." And so it was with Isaac, and to a lesser extent with Jacob. The culmination of this is of course the virgin birth of Jesus, a conception which was entirely the work of God.

Lastly, the Bible tells us that sometimes God used infertility as an intentional punishment or consequence of sin. When Abraham misled Abimelek in Genesis 20 who took Sarah into his household, God stopped every woman in that household from being able to conceive. Then in Genesis 29 it is implied that Jacob's neglect for Leah leads to her fertility and Rachel's infertility. As the wives continue to fight (while Jacob passively lets them, without it seems trying to be a peacemaker), God gives and takes away fertility. The situation of Elkanah, Hannah, and Peninnah in 1 Samuel 1 is reminiscent of Jacob and his wives.

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What is the significance of the pattern of miraculous births in the Bible?

It shows that even among the miraculous births in the Bible, the birth of Jesus is unique. It is the miracle of miracles as he is the king of kings.

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    Sep 15 at 3:21

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