Barren Women, Virginity and Proof of Virtue
Can we discover the general age of Mary at Jesus' birth?
June 12, 2018
There were two profound things that greatly affected women in the scriptures. One was their marriage and the second was the birth of children. Both of these were the hope and dream of almost every little girl. Their ability to marry was greatly affected by their purity or celibacy prior to marriage. The subsequent birth of children was greatly affected by their ability to conceive. These two were entwined in the scriptures in unique ways. These will be examined and from this journey the question arose, How do we know if Mary was a common young virgin versus an uncommon older virgin? The general age of Mary at Jesus' birth can be discovered.
The scripture term "barren"
The biblical term "was barren" was used of: Sarai in Genesis 11:30; Rebekah in Genesis 25:21; Rachel in Genesis 29:31; Manoah's wife in Judges 13:2; and Elisabeth in Luke 1:7, 36. Its meaning was established when it was used in Genesis 11:30 "But Sarai was barren; she had no child." Barren was implied in the context of Hannah, "the Lord had shut up her womb" (1Sam 1:5) and Hannah described herself "the barren" in her prayer of 1 Samuel 2:5. It was also explained as a consequence to Michal's actions in 2 Samuel 6:20-23. To be barren generally meant that about 20 or more years of marriage went by and no birth of children occurred.
Sarai / Sarah
Genesis 11:29-31 29 And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah. 30 But Sarai was barren; she had no child. 31 And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there. [emphasis mine]
Genesis 24:15-16 And it came to pass, before he had done speaking, that, behold, Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder. And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her: and she went down to the well, and filled her pitcher, and came up.
Genesis 25:20-22, 26 20 And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian. 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. 22 And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the Lord. ... 26 And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them. [emphasis mine] Note that Isaac married Rebecca at age 40 and Rebekah was called barren before she bore Esau and Jacob 20 years later when Isaac was 60 years of age. [emphasis mine]
Genesis 29:31 And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.
Judges 13:2-3 And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not. And the angel of the Lord appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son. [emphasis mine]
1 Samuel 1:5 But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the Lord had shut up her womb. [emphasis mine]
1 Samuel 1:2, 5 2 And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation. 5 They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased: so that the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxed feeble.
2 Samuel 6:20-23 20 Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself! 21 And David said unto Michal, It was before the Lord, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel: therefore will I play before the Lord. 22 And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour. 23 Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death. [emphasis mine]
Luke 1:7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. [emphasis mine]
The scripture term "virgin"
When the scriptures conveyed that a celibate young woman was spoken about the expression "young virgin" was used.
Judges 21:12 And they found among the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead four hundred young virgins, that had known no man by lying with any male: and they brought them unto the camp to Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.
1 Kings 1:2 Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat.
Esther 2:2-3 Then said the king's servants that ministered unto him, Let there be fair young virgins sought for the king: And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather together all the fair young virgins unto Shushan the palace, to the house of the women, unto the custody of Hege the king's chamberlain, keeper of the women; and let their things for purification be given them.
In other places the scriptures used in the same context the expression "damsel" to imply a young virgin woman.
Genesis 24:16 And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her: and she went down to the well, and filled her pitcher, and came up.
Deuteronomy 22:13-21 13 If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, 14 And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: 15 Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel's virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate: 16 And the damsel's father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her; 17 And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter's virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. 18 And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him. 19 And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days. 20 But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: 21 Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father's house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.
Deuteronomy 22:23-24 If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour's wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.
Deuteronomy 22:25-29 25 But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die. 26 But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter: 27 For he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her. 28 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; 29 Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.
When the scriptures conveyed that a celibate woman, without regard to age, was spoken about the expression "virgin" was used.
Genesis 24:43 Behold, I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass, that when the virgin cometh forth to draw water, and I say to her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water of thy pitcher to drink.
Exodus 22:17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.
Leviticus 21:3 And for his sister a virgin, that is nigh unto him, which hath had no husband; for her may he be defiled.
Psalm 45:14 She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework: the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee.
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Luke 1:27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
For the regular Levitical priests there was a specific requirement for marriage. "And the Lord said unto Moses, Speak unto the priests the sons of Aaron, and say unto them, There shall none be defiled for the dead among his people: ... 7 They shall not take a wife that is a whore, or profane; neither shall they take a woman put away from her husband: for he is holy unto his God." (Lev 21:1, 7)
For the Levitical high priests there was a very stringent requirement for marriage. "And he shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or an harlot, these shall he not take: but he shall take a virgin of his own people to wife." (Lev 21:13-14
22 of 53 various English translations of Isaiah 7:14 emphasize "the virgin"
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Listen carefully, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will call his name Immanuel (God with us). AMP
Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel. CSB
Therefore will the Lord himself give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and shall bring forth a son, and call his name Immanuel. Darby
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. ESV, ESVUK
The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be pregnant and will have a son, and she will name him Immanuel. EXB
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and she shall call his name Immanuel. GNV
Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel. HCSB
But the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be pregnant. She will have a son, and she will name him Immanuel. ICB
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Watch! The virgin is conceiving a child, and will give birth to a son, and his name will be called Immanuel. ISV
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel. JUB, NKJV
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look! the virgin is with child and she is about to give birth to a son, and she shall call his name 'God with us.' LEB
Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. MEV
The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be pregnant. She will have a son, and she will name him Immanuel. NCV
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (NIrV®)*, NIV, NIVUK
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. NKJV
All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin[a] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means 'God is with us'). NLT
Therefore Adonai Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin[a] will conceive. When she is giving birth to a son, she will call his name Immanuel. TLV
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin will conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. WEB
Therefore the Lord Himself giveth to you a sign, Lo, the Virgin is conceiving, And is bringing forth a son, And hath called his name Immanuel. YLT
The expression "the virgin"
The emphasis of the expression "the virgin" in this many translations highly suggested that there was something unusual about this virgin, different from other virgins. Mary was described before the birth of Jesus in the New Testament accounts of Matthew 1:16-20 and Luke 1:27-56; 2:5-19. In these accounts the virginity of Mary was declared by three different types of expressions. "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost." (Matt 1:18), "To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary." (Luke 1:27) and "Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" (Luke 1:34).
It was understood, of course, that every baby was born a virgin and that this description remained through their childhood, early years of maturation and into adulthood unless under malicious circumstances (rape) someone determined to physically altar this status or by consensual agreement (fornication, adultery) it was removed. Then outside of these two situations a young adult was commonly understood to be a virgin when entering marriage. What then made Mary different as a virgin since 22 English translations described her as "the virgin" and not just as another generic "virgin"?
If a woman was not young any more and not early in adulthood then there was an increased possibility of premarital intercourse over time. This was the period of Roman rule that was publicly known to have licentious behavior amongst the people. Jesus spoke freely of the same when chiding the chief priests and the elders of the people (Matt 21:23-32), "Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him." (Matthew 21:31-32)
Again this was understood when Jesus was addressed by the Pharisees, "And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? 12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. 13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Matt 9:10-13) The whole chapter of Luke 15 was about the commonness of sin and the rejoicing when someone returned in repentance. Jesus presented this somewhat common conduct when giving a parable, "But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf." (Luke 15:30). That meant that both men and women were participating in fornication and adultery.
Therefor the question, "What then made Mary different as a virgin?" How do we know if she was a common young virgin versus an uncommon older virgin? What was given in the scriptures to clarify this? Matthew recorded the following.
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. 20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. 22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us."
Here the angel of the Lord supported the position of Mary's celibacy up to this moment in time when addressing Joseph. Matthew further supported this position by continuing with "Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus." This information would have been learned from Mary and verified by others in her sphere since Joseph was dead before Jesus gathered disciples. But why specially affirm the reasonably expected youthful purity or celibacy until marriage?
Luke opens chapter one with this affirmation of research and integrity of his information.
"Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; 3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, 4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed."
Luke then proceeded to describe the circumstances of an older woman who was barren in verses 1 through 25. He described Elisabeth by saying, "And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years." (Luke 1:7) Then Luke reported that Zacharias affirmed the same when saying, "And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years." (Luke 1:18) Luke stated further that there was no child and Elisabeth had born words for infertility, "And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men." (Luke 1:24-25) This account conveyed the age of Zacharias to have been 50 years when he finished his formal temple duties (Num 8:23-25, ch 4). He and Elisabeth were barren of children since their marriage. Zacharias had married according to Leviticus 21 verses 1 and 7 since he and Elisabeth were described in this manner, "And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." (Luke 1:6)
After this Luke described the situation surrounding Mary in Luke 1:26-34.
"And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?"
Luke further added "And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth." (Luke 1:39-40) Noting the licentious behavior detailed above it was highly unlikely that Mary as a damsel, a young virgin went alone into the hill country to visit Elizabeth and Zacharias. She would have been an easy target. But as a mature woman she would have been secure in that travel.
Since Zacharias and Elisabeth were described as, "righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless" (Luke 1:6) they would have been a good influence upon Mary for many years. If Mary was not a very young damsel but a mature woman this would help account for the scripture filled declaration from Mary known as the Magnificat. She in her maturity would have understood the "hope of Israel" and its long term import as described in her words (Luke 1:46-55).
"And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. 51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. 53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 54 He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; 55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever."
Barren women in the scriptures
Now return to the early part of this article where the scripture term "barren" was introduced. The only place in the Old Testament that gave a length of time to the term barren was Genesis 25:20-22 and 26 since Rebecca was without child from marriage when Isaac was 40 and she birthed fraternal twin sons when he was 60 years of age. Thus the scripture term "barren" was connected to a duration of about 20 years without any children. A long time without children was certainly meant with Sarai in Genesis 11:30, "But Sarai was barren; she had no child" since she birthed her only son at age 90 (Gen 17:17). This was reinforced in the New Testament when Zacharias and Elisabeth were described in Luke 1:7, "And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years."
Rachel was described as barren for perhaps a shorter duration in Genesis 29:31, "And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren." Jacob had served 7 years before he received Laban's daughter as a wife. (Ge 29:20-21) Through Laban's deception Jacob was given Leah first, after one more week (7 days) he was given Rachel, and then Jacob served 7 more years for her again (Ge 29:20, 27-28). After Joseph was born and Jacob expressed he wanted to depart to Isaac, Laban urged him to stay (Gen 30:27-43). Then Laban negotiated for Jacob to remain in Haran and he served Laban for 6 more years for livestock (Ge 31:41), "Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times." Joseph was born at the end of the second 7 year period and 6 more years transpired before leaving Haran.
Thus Rachel was described as barren up to Joseph's birth. This implied that she was at least 30 years old or more at marriage, 37 or more when Joseph was born and thus 20 years past the beginning of marriageable age, the common age to begin child-bearing. This would be consistent with the connection between "20 years" and "barren." Jacob was 77 years old at the beginning of those 20 years with Laban and thus it was quite probable that Leah and Rachel were in their 30's or even 40's and even possibly early 50's at their marriages. Remember that their common life spans were longer at that time period since Rebekah's nurse lived to around 140 years (Ge 35:8). [Deborah was about 13 when given to Rebekah, plus 20 years to Jacob was born, plus she died after Dinah's bad experience at Shechem (Ge 34:1-31) when Jacob was about 106. (~13 + 20 + ~106 = ~139)]
Jacob was born when Isaac was 60 years of age (Ge 25:24-26) and Abraham was 160 years old (Ge 21:1-5). When Esau and Jacob were 15 years old Abraham died at 175. When Jacob was 76-77 he obtained Isaac's blessing by subterfuge and Esau threatened Jacob's life (Ge 27:5-41). Then with approval of Isaac and Rebecca Jacob fled north to Haran to preserve his life and seek a suitable wife (Ge 28:1-7; 31:41; 30:25-ch31). Jacob at 77 began to serve Laban in Haran for 20 years (Ge 31:41). He served for 7 years and received Leah, served 7 more years for Rebecca and then served 6 more years for cattle and flocks (Ge 31:41). After the first 7 years Jacob (age 84) received his cousin Leah as a wife (Ge 29:18-26), then after 7 more days received his cousin Rebecca as a wife (Ge 29:27-30). During the second 7 years of service to Laban and with Bilhah and Zilpah as additional wives Jacob had 11 sons including Joseph when Jacob went from 84-91 years of age, as shown below. Joseph was born when Jacob was 91 years old.
This was not directly stated but was calculated by noting that Jacob in Genesis 47:9 was 130 years old when Joseph presented him before Pharaoh in Egypt. At that moment Joseph was 39 years old. Joseph was 30 years of age when presented before the Pharaoh and made ruler (Ge 41:14-46). Then he went through 7 years of plenty (Ge 41:29-30) and two years of famine to get 39 years (Ge 45:6, 11). Thus age 130 minus 39 = 91 for Jacob's age at Joseph's birth. Add ~15 more years to Dinah's experience.
Jochebed the mother of Moses
Kohath was expressly stated as having been born and then brought into Egypt (Ge 46:10-12; Ex 1:1-5). Kohath had a son Amram at about age 50 who grew and then married Jochebed (his aunt, Kohath's much younger sister and daughter to Levi). Jochebed was explicitly given as Levi's daughter twice (Ex 6:20; Nu 26:59) and this must be taken into account. If Levi had a late aged birth of his daughter she would be the right age for marriage with his grandson Amram, but she also must fit with the three births of Miriam, Aaron and Moses. Thus Levi at about 93 years of age had a late aged birth of Jochebed. This would make her about 8 years younger than Amram (age 94) when Moses was born. Jochebed would have been about 86 years old with an expected life of 122 or more years. Thus much later in life Jochebed and Amram had their 3 offspring, Miriam, Aaron and Moses, with Aaron born 3 years before Moses (Exo 7:7). These facts are consistent with Psalm 105:37 where it says, "... and there was not one feeble person among their tribes." This suggested that Jochebed was barren for far more than 20 years.
She was described by a very direct expression in 1 Samuel 1:5, "the Lord had shut up her womb." The time duration was somewhat long as expressed by the words "And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat." And again, "wherefore it came to pass" from verse 20. Because she had waited a long time she also gave her son to the Lord for a long time, "For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord." (1Sam 1:27-28) This was followed by her prayer in chapter 2, "... so that the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxed feeble."
Judges 13:2 said she was "barren, and bare not." No other age information was given in the account.
Saul was about age 18 to 21 for Jonathan's birth, plus 2 years reign with Jonathan then at least 20 or more, made about 38-41 years for Saul at the end of the 2nd year (1Sam 13:1-2). With Saul at 39, or in his 40th year, when he started to reign for 40 years (2Sam 2:8-10) Jonathan must have been at least 20 years of age after the second year of Saul and even older when he commanded a garrison of one thousand soldiers (1Sam 13:1-2). David was born when Saul was about 49 years of age. This made Jonathan about 58 (or up to 3 years older if born earlier) at his death (79-21=58) and about 28 or more years difference between Jonathan and David.
If Jonathan had been very busy with military conflicts and matters of civic service to his father Saul he may not have married earlier. At some point Jonathan married, but he and his wife were barren of children until shortly before his death. This could be another circumstance where an aged mother in Israel had a child under the Lord's blessing. Jonathan was ~58 when he died and thus ~53 for the birth of his son (2Sam 4:4). If he was married around his twenties this would make his wife "barren" in scripture terms for 25 or more years. If Jonathan married at a later time he could have been up to around ~52-53 years of age. Jonathan has only one son as stated in scripture. Mephibosheth was introduced in 2 Samuel 4:4, "And Jonathan, Saul's son, had a son that was lame of his feet. He was five years old when the tidings came of Saul and Jonathan out of Jezreel, and his nurse took him up, and fled: and it came to pass, as she made haste to flee, that he fell, and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth."
She was introduced in 2 Kings chapter 4 as a person who sought to serve God's prophet Elisha. Even though the scriptures did not directly give a statement about barren it confirmed she was childless and her husband was old. She was the first woman to receive the same child twice, once by birth and again by a resurrection (2Kgs 4:32-37).
"And he said, What then is to be done for her? And Gehazi answered, Verily she hath no child, and her husband is old. 15 And he said, Call her. And when he had called her, she stood in the door. 16 And he said, About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son. And she said, Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid. 17 And the woman conceived, and bare a son at that season that Elisha had said unto her, according to the time of life." (2Kgs 4:14-17)
This brought us to an interesting set of parallels — the 2 births of a savior and aged motherhood. Moses, a savior for natural Israel, was born to an aged woman by a special miracle, similar to that of Sarah (Gen 17), Rebecca (Gen 25:21), Rachel (Gen 30:2, 22), Hannah (1Sam 1), Manoah's wife (Jdg 13), the Shunammite woman (1Kgs 4), Elizabeth (Luke 1) and perhaps Mary. Jesus, the savior to a greater Israel, was born to a virgin mother by a special miracle of conception. The lives of both infants, Moses and Jesus, were in jeopardy due to edicts from the ruler of their birth lands (Ex 1:16; 2:1-3; Mt 2:13).
Another parallel to note was that Hannah named her child "son of God" and then gave her child to the Lord.1 Hannah then bore other children (1Sam 2:20-22), so did Mary the mother of Jesus (Mk 6:3). Note also the resemblance between Hannah's Song and Mary's Magnificat (1Sam 2:1-10; Lu 1:46-55). Manoah and his aged wife received a son who portrayed the miraculous power and uniqueness of Jesus.2
In each of these cases an aged woman was given a miracle of motherhood. The increased age for Mary brings much greater proof of her celibacy than does the common 14-17 year old view. Living honorably with her parents well past the usual marriageable age, thus both unmarried and a virgin, provided much greater proof that she fit the criteria and was "the virgin" prophesied in Isaiah (Mt 1:18-24; Lk 1:26-38). The text in Isaiah 7:14 (AMP) agreed when it stated "... Listen carefully, the [c]virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will call his name Immanuel (God with us)." [c. See notes in AMP] This was not any unmarried young virgin of marriageable age but someone known to be a virgin, proven by years in the same way that "barren" was proven by years.
This betrothed couple, both probably older in years before marriage, also fit well with Joseph's death before Jesus began his ministry. The eldest son then assumed the duties of protection, care and provision for his widowed mother (Ex 20:12; De 5:16; Mt 15:4; 19:19; Lk 18:20; etc.). This fell to Jesus. Since there were other sons, "James and Joses, and Simon, and Judas" (Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3), they would have been bound to assume care for Mary upon Jesus' death. Why then did Jesus request of Apostle John to be His substitute caregiver to Mary, unless she was quite aged? "When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home." (John 19:26-27)
Even though Jesus was fulfilling the very same commandment he wrote upon stone tablets for Moses, 'honor your father and mother' (Ex 31:18) there was more to be grasped. This request was a subtle form of "I will lay down my life for you, you will lay down your life for her." By this special interchange with John Jesus removed Mary from the exclusive care of her natural sons and entered her into the roll of care for qualifying widows by his disciples. This fulfilled these and other scriptures.
Exodus 22:22 Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.
Deuteronomy 10:18 He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.
Deuteronomy 14:29 And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.
Deuteronomy 16:11 And thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you, in the place which the Lord thy God hath chosen to place his name there.
Deuteronomy 16:14 And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates.
Deuteronomy 24:17 Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow's raiment to pledge.
Deuteronomy 24:19-21 When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands. 20 When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. 21 When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
Deuteronomy 26:12 When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled.
Deuteronomy 26:13 Then thou shalt say before the Lord thy God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of mine house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all thy commandments which thou hast commanded me: I have not transgressed thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them.
Jeremiah 22:3 Thus saith the Lord; Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.
Thus Sarah's advanced age for the birth of Isaac, a preview of Christ, and Jochebed's advanced age as mother to the first savior of Israel may well point toward Mary's increased age as the earthly mother of the greater Savior. The same would have been true much later of Hannah who finally conceived and birthed Samuel whose name means "son of God."
Start at 27 years of age for Mary at the birth of Jesus, add his 30 years of age (Lk 3:23) to begin his ministry, add 3 and 1/2 years of ministry3 and reach 60 years of age for Mary at the cross of Jesus. This fit entirely into James 1:27, "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." And it fulfilled 1 Timothy 5:11-14, "But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; 12 Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. 13 And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. 14 I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully." Then Mary at 27 or more years of age for Jesus' birth would certainly align with 1 Timothy 5:9, "Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man."
It was much more likely that Mary was not very young but a mature woman who had proven her integrity. She would have conducted herself faithfully before God and men just like Zacharias and Elisabeth who were described as "righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." (Luke 1:6) This would have been done over many years before she was betrothed to Joseph. This longer period of time provided much greater proof than merely reaching the early age of marriage. So much so that she was known as virtuous and celibate as recorded in the New Testament accounts of Matthew 1:16-23 and Luke 1:27-56; 2:5-19. Thus she fit the criteria of "the virgin" as prophesied in Isaiah 7:14. Just like the angel said, "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." (Luke 1:28)
* Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL READER'S VERSION®. Copyright ©1996, 1998 Biblica. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of Biblica.
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