"No woman miscarrying or barren in your land."

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(Tim) A couple nights ago we were reading the Bible together following dinner. We've finished Genesis and are halfway through Exodus in Robert Alter's translation of the Pentateuch. After the necessary corruption of 'adam' in the first couple chapters of Genesis (which was so bad we started laughing at Alter's PC circulocutions), we've very much enjoyed using a literal translation that, otherwise, is so careful to keep the Hebraisms intact. A couple years ago we'd used Alter's translation of 1 and 2 Samuel

and appreciated it quite a bit, too.

Reading Exodus 23, we came across this promise God makes to His covenant people. Speaking of all the wicked people-groups in Canaan who have finally filled their cup of wickedness, He declares:

...I shall obliterate them. You shall not bow to their gods and you shall not worship them, and you shall not do as they do, but you shall utterly tear them down and you shall utterly smash their pillars. And you shall worship the Lord your God, and He will bless your bread and your water, and I shall take away sickness from your midst. There shall be no woman miscarrying or barren in your land. The count of your days I will fill.

At this point we stopped and I asked a question: "Would Christians today be angry at God if He blessed them this way--that none of our wives or daughters would miscarry or be barren? Say God poured out His favor on us and all our homes sprouted children just like olive trees sprout branches; would we be pleased, or would we be angry?"

But then, God hasn't blessed us in this way, has He? Barrenness and miscarriage are a central reality of pastoral ministry, today. And also birth control.

Birth control? That doesn't fit into this discussion...

Birth control is a choice. Husbands and wives are simply exercising stewardship over the fruitfulness of their marriage bed. It's not right to look at the practice of birth control in the context of this promise of God to His covenant people. Infertility and miscarriage are an act of God, but birth control is man's choice.

So the only things we should attribute to God are those matters not under the sovereign free will of man--is that what we're saying? If we have no choice, there's room to speak of God's will; but if we have a choice and have made it, we should remove God's agency and focus on man's?

Would we follow the same principle with abortion? Would we dismiss God's agency, God's sovereignty in the slaughter of the unborn today, because, as we're reminded so often, it's a woman's choice?

Then I remembered a lesson the late Larry Allen taught me back when we were both involved in Presbyterians Pro-Life. Talking one day, he pointed out that our nation's abortions are not man's choice, but God's curse. We think we're choosing to terminate our pregnancy, but what's really happening is that God has cursed us with miscarriages--miscarriages so monstrously evil that they are carried out by the choice of the child's own mother and the money she pays the murderer for her child's death.

It's time we preach and teach and do marital and premarital counselling with this simple Biblical doctrine fixed in our minds. When God blesses His covenant people, the wombs of covenant wives and mothers and sisters are fruitful. When He disciplines us, we are barren and miscarry our children. And when those who are not members of His Church sterilize their beds and abort their little ones, they are under God's curse. Individuals. Cities. States. Nations. Continents. Hemispheres. Yes, now the whole world.

We must face the fact that the Church for which our Lord died has come under His discipline and there's no clearer evidence of that discipline than the sterility and death in our wombs so closely matched to that of the unbelievers, the Canaanites we live among.

And to speak of our barrenness as the choice to use birth control or our abortions as the choice to terminate our pregnancy doesn't alter God's sovereign will and decree.

But faithful preaching will bring the repentance and prayer that do.