Study Guide

Book of Genesis Infertility

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Now Sarai, Abram's wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, "You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her." And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. (NRSV 16:1)

Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. (KJV 16:1)

At first, Sarah is gung-ho about the idea of Hagar being her surrogate. The desire for children is so strong that she doesn't really think about what it will mean for another woman to bear her husband's child. Spoiler alert: it causes some problems.

Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?" (NRSV 18:10-12)

And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my Lord being old also? (KJV 18:10-12)

Oh, menopausal humor. Sarah cracks up at the thought of having a baby at her age. Is this comedy? Cynicism? Lack of trust? Are we supposed to be laughing along with her or scolding her for her levity?

Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. (NRSV 25:21)

And Isaac intreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren: and the Lord was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. (KJV 25:21)

Isaac makes an effort to help his wife out. Although, to be fair, he kind of needs a son, too.

Then she said, "Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees and that I too may have children through her." (NRSV 30:3)

And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her. (KJV 30:3)

First things first: "go into her" = have sex with her. Genesis loves it some euphemisms. Back to the story: didn't Rachel learn the surrogacy lesson from Sarah? Are the results any different his time?

When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. (NRSV 30:9)

When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife. (KJV 30:9)

Even though Leah has children, she decides to use her maid Zilpah as a surrogate to produce more. Is this about being fruitful and multiplying (God's words, not ours), or is it just about beating Rebekah?

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