Infertility in the Bible: Isaac and Rebecca's Journey
Ciara Dove-Reid, RDN
February 16, 2022
Biblical Infertility: Isaac and Rebecca's Journey
I am so excited to start this series, Biblical Perspectives of Infertility. Here, we will be exploring stories about women who struggled with infertility in the Bible and taking a deep look into the circumstances surrounding their journey to parenthood.
I decided to start this series not with the familiar story of Abraham and Sarah but instead with the story of Isaac and Rebecca, an inspiring yet cautionary tale that teaches us that prayer is the most important precursor to pregnancy.
Who Were Isaac and Rebecca and How Long Did They Have Infertility as a Couple?
Isaac was the son of Abraham and Sarah, a couple who also struggled with infertility before they conceived Isaac. At the age of 40, Isaac married a gorgeous Syrian woman named Rebecca. Forty years may sound like a long-time to wait for marriage, but it was reasonably young considering he lived to be 187 years old.
The two were married for 20 years before God blessed them with a child (Gen 25:5-26). Luckily, this span of infertility was a lot shorter than what his father Abraham had to endure, as he was unable to bear a child with Sarah until the ripe age of 100.
Yet, we can still imagine that two decades of infertility were rough on Isaac and Rebecca, even after years of hearing stories of the miracle baby God provided his father.
What Insights Can We Take Away From Their Journey of Infertility?
Take-Away #1: God may be waiting for husband and wife to grow both individually and as a couple, before he gifts them with a child
I often wonder what kind of relationship Isaac and Rebecca had. Were they madly in love, were they best friends? Were they passersby? And what tole did their journey of infertility have on this dynamic?
After all, we see in chapter 26 that Isaac lied and called Rebecca his sister to save his own life (his father Abraham did the same thing with Sarah). His wife was so gorgeous that he was afraid men in a land called Gerar would kill him to sleep with his wife. So he reasoned it would be better they sleep with his wife, than for him to lose his own life while defending her from being defiled by amorous strangers. This, to me, is not what I would expect a loving and protecting husband to do.
However, the times were different back then, and I imagine a lot was going through Isaac’s mind, especially since God had just told Isaac that he would be heir to Abraham’s promise. Perhaps he thought it best that he be alive at all cost? Maybe he thought lying would lead to both of them at least being alive? Or perhaps he assumed God would send him another wife and one that could bear his children? Who knows if this was a reflection of their marital dynamic or simply an act of fear.
Luckily, God ensured that no harm came to Isaac or Rebecca. I wonder if God used this moment to remind Isaac that the marital bed is sacred and to remind Isaac of the high expectations he has for how men are to protect and love their wives.
Take-away #2: The husband and leader of the household should seek God in prayer regarding a child
Aside from their relationship as a couple, one thing was certain. Isaac was a man of God who never forgot that God holds the keys to open the womb.
According to scripture, once Isaac saw that Rebecca could not become pregnant, he sought after the best healer in the Land, the Lord. He went to God in prayer and shared his heart regarding his wife's bareness, asking God to open Rebecca’s womb (Genesis 25:21). After this, Rebecca conceived twin boys! So gracious of God to make up for the years of infertility by giving her double the blessing!
"And Isaac intreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren: and the Lord was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived" (Genesis 25:21).
Isaac’s prayer is one of the biggest takeaways of their story. Isaac, the ruler over his household, “entreated” God in prayer privately, meaning that he earnestly begged God to allow his wife to become pregnant. I can only imagine the emotion Isaac brought to the Lord as he wondered why his wife's womb was closed, especially given the promise He had received directly from God. Interestingly, we do not know how often or how long he prayed, but it's clear that God never stopped listening.
Sister, does your husband seek the Lord in prayer regarding a child?
As a dietitian who works with women diagnosed with infertility, I often hear that prayer is one-sided. I see strong women in the Lord bring their prayers and supplication before God with a heavy heart every day. However, when I ask if their husband does the same, many say no. They often share that their husbands bring them comfort but don't seem motivated to go to God in private to pray for a child.
I imagine that in some cases, God might be waiting for the husband to pray like Isaac, especially since the ministry of fatherhood is such a big responsibility.
Take-away # 3: A long-awaited entry into parenthood, does not mean parenthood will be without turmoil
After years of waiting for a child, you would think that Rebecca would have a seamless pregnancy and that she and her husband would raise their children in peace and live as happy grandparents in the end. But this was far from what happened.
During Rebecca's pregnancy, her twin boys “struggled together within her”, so much so that she went to the Lord in prayer for insight and relief. When she sought the Lord, God indicated that this rough pregnancy foreshadowed the relationship and turmoil that would exist between her two sons.
"And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the Lord. And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger" Genesis 25: 21-23.
We know that the story goes on to tell how her eldest son, Esau, gave up his inheritance to his younger brother Jacob (born seconds after Esau), all in exchange for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25). An exchange that their father, Isaac, certainly would not have been happy of and maybe may not have even honored since Esau was his favorite.
Rebecca’s favorite child was Jacob. And she saw it fit to intervene to ensure that Jacob did indeed receive his father’s inheritance and blessing. She did this by having Jacob lie and trick his father into giving him the blessing while Esau was away.
After Isaac and Esau came to know of this trickery, both of them were moved to rage. So much so that Rebecca commanded her son Jacob to flee to her brother's house to avoid being killed by Esau.
Ironically, Jacob’s leaving for his mothers' town lead him to marry a woman on his mothers' side of the family, who also turned out to be barren. You can read about her struggle with infertility here.
Esau went on to marry a woman who was not raised in the ways of God. He did this purely out of spite to upset both his mother and father.
This shows you that no matter how long you wait for parenthood, it will not lead to perfect perfect children.
Take-away # 4: You do not have to be a perfect person or “perfect parent material” for God to gift you with a child
Overall, Rebecca became the hair that broke the camel's back. In one day, her deception served as the catalyst that provoked her husband to anger, her oldest son to hatred, and her youngest son to move far away. Could this have been a consequence of her actions? After all, God is quick to chastise those he loves (Rev 3:19).
I also wonder if the personal favoritism Rebecca and Isaac showed toward one son versus the other could have caused Jacob and Isaac to have a less than an optimal relationship with each other.
Nonetheless, I am sure that both Isaac and Rebecca learned from each of their flaws and mistakes as a human, and as a parent, and became better God-fearing people in the process.
There is such a burden lifted off our shoulders when we realize that, although we are to live as righteous as possible, we will always fall short, and require God’s refinement, no matter what stage of life we are in. This story also leaves us with a reminder that children will always be a gift from God because no human is perfect enough to “deserve” them.
God promised Isaac that He would bless his seed, just like God told Abraham, yet both were tested with infertility? God often gives us a season of waiting before our promises are fulfilled. I must add, however, that not everyone is promised children, but children are a gift from God, and God may choose to test your patience to great lengths before he gives you such a grand gift.
Even with continuous prayer, your blessing may not come until years later. You may be 45 or 50 when God opens your womb. You must remember that God orchestrates several components in our lives to ensure each milestone happens at his perfect timing. Therefore, you must be consistent in sharing your desire for parenthood with God and wait patiently for God's timing.