Shout for joy, O barren one (Isaiah 54:1)

POST OVERVIEW. Considering how the coming of Jesus Christ has changed the primary roles of women as presented in the opening chapters of Genesis.

Many people are familiar with the basic plot of Genesis 1:1-4:1, even including some people who have no interest whatever in the Creator God who, out of nothing, brought all things into existence. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1). Even in our day, most people in our country over the age of thirty know this Bible verse. And many know that creation supposedly took place over six days. They know that Adam was created out of the dust and was placed in the Garden of Eden, that Eve was created from his rib, that there was a serpent and some forbidden fruit, and Adam and Eve sinned and made God kick them out of the Garden, and then Eve had a child by natural birth named Cain. Although Bible knowledge is rapidly disappearing, even in many of our churches, this tale of the beginning still remains in our cultural lore as a story many people know.

While many are familiar with the bare bones of the plot, relatively few realize the depth of these seemingly simple verses that begin the Bible and how many fundamental ideas are presented in them. For example, in these opening chapters, in Genesis 2:18-24 and then in Gen. 3:20 and 4:1, the woman’s two primary roles are given.


First, she is created to be a helper to the man (2:18, 20). This is the first role of the woman. “It is not good for the man to be alone.” The man needed someone to help him. This other creature needed to be like him in many ways, most importantly to also be created in the image of God (1:27), but this other creature needed also to be different than him, because she was created as “corresponding to him” (the literal rendering of the Hebrew). She must not be identical to him, for then she would only double his weaknesses. Rather, she would be his helper, complementing his weaknesses with her strengths. But notice that the woman was created for the man. Her purpose is dependent on the man. She was created by God as a helper for the man. Notice also that Eve was created as a helper for Adam before the fall.

The second role for the woman is to bear and nurture children. Eve was given her name by Adam because she was the mother of all the living (Gen. 3:20). Then, in Gen. 4:1, Eve gives birth to Cain, the first human being ever born. To the woman, then, is given the role of being the one who bears children.

So, the two primary roles for the woman, according to the Genesis account and according to the natural order, are helper and then mother. Therefore, according to this natural order, the woman is fulfilled when she is a helper to her husband, and she bears children. This was true “in the beginning” and, of course, it is still true today, that a godly woman experiences a great deal of personal fulfillment when she is a helper to a godly husband, and she is a nurturing mother to her children.

But there also seems to be a problem here. For if this “in the beginning” paradigm of helper and mother is still in effect as the overarching principle for women, then single women without husband to help or children to nurture would have no opportunity for fulfillment, and barren wives could be ashamed because of their barrenness (consider Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:5-7, 10-20 and Elizabeth in Luke 1:6-7, 13-14, 24-25). If this context were still true, then even among those in Christ, there would be a perception that some women, those married with children, were better or more favored than others, like the single and the barren. But we know that this is impossible, because “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” In Christ, there is no “better” or “more favored,” for all those in Christ have received an equal amount of amazing grace.

Then, as we meditate on Scripture, we realize that the “old order” is no longer the dominant paradigm. It cannot still be so, for in Isaiah 54:1, the barren woman is told to shout for joy and the one who has not travailed is told to break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud. “The sons of the desolate one will be more numerous than the sons of the married woman,” says the LORD. How can this be? Although Isaiah wrote his prophecy around 700 BC, in passages like this he writes of a time that for him is in the future when there will be a mandate that supersedes the old order. “But when the fulness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law” (Gal. 4:4). Jesus, the Son of God, lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, and was raised from the dead the third day to commission His church to make disciples of all nations and teach disciples to live holy lives. And now with the Great Commission, any woman can know the greater joy of many spiritual children as she proclaims the good news about King Jesus. Any faithful woman can shout for joy as a witness for our Lord Jesus Christ. Now there is no possible shame for being single or for being childless, because in Christ, we are part of His chosen, blood-bought family. All disciples of Jesus are striving, together and individually, to exalt the name of the King of kings, and we all, together and individually, rejoice as the fame of Jesus spreads among the nations.

“Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child;
Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed;
For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous
Than the sons of the married woman,” says the LORD. – Isaiah 54:1

SDG                 rmb                 9/12/2022                   #570