There are many people who suffer deep trials in their lives, which they are apparently undeserving of. We also see this in the lives of people in the Bible. Yet, we also see a call go out for those hard done by to sing out for joy. There is a true comfort in God for those who mourn, and a real solution to the evils of the world we live in.
1. The Barren Sing for Joy
Isaiah 54 calls for the barren to sing with joy.
Isaiah 54:1: Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD. WEB
This call was given in the final declining years of Judah, leading to the Babylonian captivity. The nation could well be considered barren. It was a small and weak nation in an area dominated by the likes of Assyria, Egypt and Babylon. But here we see that the call should go out to rejoice.
James 2:14: What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? 15. And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, 16. and one of you tells them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled;" and yet you didn't give them the things the body needs, what good is it? WEB
Isaiah 54 calls for the barren to sing, which is somewhat analogous to a call to be “warmed and filled”. In isolation, there's a danger that it could be a call to be joyous, but yet without any substance to actually have joy in. Indeed, at the time, the people of Israel didn't see an immediate relief from the collapse of their nation.
This leads us to the question of what the barrenness was, what the joy should be for, and whether it was justified.
The mother of Samuel, Hannah, is an example of a woman who suffered at the hands of barrenness. Much to her disappointment and shame, she was not able to have children. She was loved greatly by her husband, and well looked after, but felt a natural incompleteness.
1 Samuel 1:4: When the day came that Elkanah sacrificed, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions: 5. but to Hannah he gave a double portion; for he loved Hannah, but Yahweh had shut up her womb. 6. Her rival provoked her sore, to make her fret, because Yahweh had shut up her womb. 7. as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of Yahweh, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat. WEB
She would have wondered just what God's plan was for her, and why she hadn't received that joy that the women around her had. She was sad, because she didn't know if this blessing of completeness was to be in her life.
However, there was a change in her mood after Eli spoke to her. After her prayer to God, and the blessing of Eli, she seems to have taken on a confidence that God would bless her in time.
1 Samuel 1:17: Then Eli answered, Go in peace; and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of him. 18. She said, Let your handmaid find favor in your sight. So the woman went her way, and ate; and her facial expression wasn't sad any more. WEB
Then, after the birth of Samuel, we see in 1 Sam 2, a prayer of joy and confidence in God.
At this same time, the nations around Israel were the national rivals, and they were busy provoking Israel about her barrenness and apparent lack of husband. The people of Israel were given to feel shame because they didn't have the type of king before them that other nations did.
Just as in the case of Peninnah and Hannah though, things weren't quite as they seemed. Israel was indeed barren, but not for lack of a king. They had their God, and not only that, but also a promise of fruitfulness.
Just as Israel was barren due to her widowhood, so too was Ruth the Moabitess. She had joined into God's people in marrying her husband, but he had died, leaving her potentially destitute.
The situation would have felt desperate to Ruth, to the point that her mother-in-law recommended she return to her people for some form of social security support. Growing older in a land without husband, children or relatives was an uncertain future. Being a Moabitess, she didn't even have the promise of being one of God's people.
It's against this context of the hope of the Gentiles, that by nature there simply isn't a promise or assurance.
Ephesians 2:11: Therefore remember that once you , the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "uncircumcision" by that which is called "circumcision," (in the flesh, made by hands); 12 that you were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off are made near in the blood of Christ. WEB
So at that time, Ruth was in a hopeless position. She was without husband, and without hope.
However, the record in the book of Ruth reveals how the hopeless situation was turned around when Boaz redeemed her. She put her trust in him and his God, and as a result could participate in his inheritance. She became his wife, and joy eventually flowed out of the uncertainty and sadness.
This experience at a personal level mirrors the account of Isaiah. God's action at a national level with his people is an offer to bring them from a state of barren despair, to one of being redeemed,
Isaiah 54:4: Don't be afraid; for you shall not be ashamed: neither be confounded; for you shall not be disappointed: for you shall forget the shame of your youth; and the reproach of your widowhood shall you remember no more. 5. For your Maker is your husband; Yahweh of Hosts is his name: and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; the God of the whole earth shall he be called. WEB
Literal barrenness is recorded of several of the women through the Bible. In many cases it was a temporary stage, before a much greater glory.
- Sarah: Although promised a seed, remained barren until her old age. She then bore the first descendent in the promise to Abraham.
- Rachel: Mother to Joseph, who was to save his family.
- Manoah: Bore Samson: a judge for God's purpose
- Hannah: Taunted by her rival, but became mother to Samuel.
- Ruth: Redeemed by Boaz, great-grandmother to David.
- Elizabeth: John the Baptist - the messenger for Jesus.
In these cases, the barren did indeed sing, when God's plan had come to fruition.