The Barren

I always thought that the Samaritan woman with whom Jesus spoke at Jacob’s well in John 4 was of questionable moral character considering that she had had five husbands and was currently living with a man she hadn’t married. However, a little book by Barbara Richmond called Jewish Insights into the New Testament caused me to re-think that opinion and helped me grasp an important truth for my escape from legalism.

The Messianic Jewish rabbis who provided Mrs. Richmond with the information for her book pointed out that in Jesus’ day only the husband had the authority to initiate divorce. Why, then, would five consecutive men have divorced this woman? Was she an adulteress? Well, the penalty for adultery was stoning, so if she were an adulteress, why hadn’t she been stoned?

Even if one or two of these men had died (In John 4:18 Jesus noted only that she had had five husbands, not that she had been divorced five times,) it would seem unlikely--though not impossible--that all five of them had died. So why all the divorces?

It turns out that the leading cause of divorce in that day was barrenness.

If the woman was barren that would account not only for the divorces but also for the fact that she was at the well at the sixth hour (noon) whereas the other women would have come there in the cool of the early morning. Barrenness put a woman of those days into a swirl of rejection: rejection by her husband, by other women (consider Peninah’s toward Hannah in I Samuel 1 and Hagar’s toward Sarah in Genesis 16), and, it was thought that barrenness was a sign of God’s rejection, also.

Could it be that the Samaritan woman was not immoral after all, but instead, "…suffering from the crippling anguish of repeated rejection for a deficiency in her life which she was helpless to correct?" (p.29) (Italics mine.)

Just as the Samaritan woman lived in a society that placed a high value on productivity (reproductivity in that case), so do we. Schools place a high value on intellectual productivity, athletic productivity, musical and artistic productivity. Most churches value productivity--some in social justice terms such as caring for the needy or sacrificing for others; some in evangelistic terms such as witnessing and disciplining; some in political terms such as being involved in correcting cultural wrongs. The workplace values productivity above all else.

But when we are barren, how can we produce anything?

What do we see as our options, then? We can try to produce what everyone obviously expects of us. Or we can perceive that the expectations are way beyond us and decide not to even attempt to meet them.

I believe we are all barren. I believe most of us go for the first option, though, and try, try, try to be productive in whatever way we have accepted as being "the right way." God said at the attempted tower building at Babel, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them" (Gen.11:6; Italics mine). The world attests to this. People become fine upstanding citizens, eloquent preachers, philanthropists, brilliant musicians, artisans, and CEO’s, often while they are still barren. My trying extended to being a good girl, a good student, a good friend, and a good teacher. But I was still barren.

Those who go for the second option decide, "Why fight it? I am barren. Give me something to deaden the pain." In a way theirs is the most "cost effective" way to come to the same conclusion. The fact that the Samaritan woman was presently living with a man who was not her husband perhaps indicates that she had finally chosen this route to deaden her pain. People are still choosing this particular route.

Obviously neither option is safe. The first has us enslaved to our own efforts--which have the potential to make us proud of ourselves, or to bring us to the edge of a nervous breakdown, or to immunize us to the reality of our barrenness. The second has us enslaved to whatever we use to deaden our pain.

Now, back to Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman; quoting from Jewish Insights into the New Testament, p.30:

"When Jesus dealt with sin, He said ‘Go and sin no more.’ When He dealt with demons, He said, ‘Be gone.’ When He dealt with disease, He said, ‘Be healed.’

"To this woman, He said, ‘The Father seeks those who will worship Him in Spirit and in truth.’ Why?

"Because the only genuine healing for the soul tormented by rejection and insecurity is an intimate relationship and friendship with God Himself. His unconditional acceptance demolishes the stronghold of rejection; His perfect love casts out the fears of insecurity. The highway to wholeness is worship.

"To build a lifestyle of worship, of intimacy with God, is to secure spiritual and emotional stability and health. It is only in getting to know Him intimately that we find the assurance of acceptance and lasting love that our souls crave. Only from the security of that vertical relationship with Him can we ever hope to realize the blessing of loving ourselves appropriately and thereby find the path to loving others effectively."

Barrenness is a condition of having no life within. Only Jesus can remedy that. Oh, but He can remedy it profoundly! And with His remedy comes our freedom from the rejection and insecurity that comes from barrenness.

When legalism has me by the lapels, shouting in my face that I’m a lousy Christian because I’m not productive enough, I no longer have to listen. Life, Himself, lives in me. Because of that fact, and that fact alone, I am not barren. Therefore I can rest in Him, abide in Him, worship Him in Spirit and in truth, and experience the manifestation of His Life lived through me. For it’s "’... not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6).

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