Reflections on Genesis: Fertility

Written by Brandon O'Brien on January 31st, 2012

I started reading through the Pentateuch over Christmas vacation. During a course I took on the book of Isaiah last year, it became clear to me that it’s tough to understand the rest of the Bible if you don’t have a good grasp on the first five books. I’ve read those books, but I don’t have them down pat. So I’m starting from the beginning. I’m into Exodus now, but I thought I’d share a few observations about Genesis–things I found interesting and helpful. (In other words, this is part one of a series.)

God’s first commandment is to be “fruitful and multiply.” First he tells the beasts and birds to reproduce  (1:22). Then he tells Adam and Eve to do the same (1:28). For the rest of the book, the related themes of fruitfulness, fertility, and infertility recur again and again.

After the flood, for example, God tells Noah to “Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it” (8:17), a near quotation of 1:22. Then he tells Noah and his sons to “be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it” (9:1, 7). God promises Abraham, “I will make you very fruitful” (17:6). Even to Ishmael, whom I typically overlook, God says, “I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers” (17:20). When Isaac sends Jacob to find a wife, he blesses him with these words: “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples” (28:3). God tells Jacob, “be fruitful and increase in number” (35:11). Joseph names his second child Ephraim, “because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (41:52).

Infertility is a recurring theme, too, as the wives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are all “childless” (11:30; 25:21; 29:31). The point, as far as I can tell, is that humanly speaking, none of the patriarchs should have been able to realize God’s promise without God’s help. They were unable to conceive–to be fruitful and multiply–unless God intervened. And he did in each case.

Genesis is, at one level, a story of God’s fulfilling his own command to bless and fill the earth with his people. And Exodus begins with the fulfillment of God’s promise to the patriarchs: “but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them” (Ex. 1:7). It is clear, moving into Exodus, that God is still at work even though the Israelites feel deserted and alone.

I know the emphasis on fruitfulness and fertility in Genesis has a specific theological significance. God is making a people to worship him, reign with him, and be his witnesses among the nations. But the fact that God is faithful to give children to the childless touches me at a personal level, too. As Amy and I long and pray for children of our own, we are comforted to know that this is a prayer and desire God responds to. It is a holy, godly desire. In particular, I was touched by Genesis 25:21:

“Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.”

This has become my model for prayer. And we wait, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did, for God’s faithful response.


3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Sam Higgs says:

    Brandon, great observations. We are praying for y’all. Good writing.

  2. Erik Snodgrass says:

    Been working back through the Pentateuch myself lately and have enjoyed feeling that the rest of the Bible makes more sense. As always, your thoughts are welcome and helpful to my own processing of the Scriptures. I’d also like to add that I appreciate your writing because it’s honest and vulnerable. Not that your pain is refreshing, but still, it’s refreshing:)

  3. Patti Higgs says:

    I agree with Sam, great observations. The word is so full of enrichment for our lives. I have personally been praying for you and your wife to have a child. I also have kept you in mind if an adoption opportunity comes along.

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