Several childless couples appear in the Old Testament: Abraham and Sarah(Gen. 11:27-21:5), Isaac and Rebekah(Gen. 25:21-26), Jacob and Rachel(Gen. 29:31-30:24), Manoah and his wife(Judg. 13:2-24), Elkanah and Hannah(1 Sam. 1:2~20), Shunem woman and her husband(2 Kgs. 4:8-17). These couples have various problems. They face the misery of having no children to take care of in their old age, no children to inherit, and no children to carry the paternal name in Israel. What methods did childless couples use to work through their infertility? Until now, research has been conducted on infertility in the Old Testament with a major interest in the social reality of infertile women and God’s role in the stories. However, childless couples’ attempts to solve this problem have not received much attention.
This paper highlights an underexplored part of ancient Israelites’ lives using Abraham and Sarah as a case study in addressing the problem of childlessness(Gen. 11:27-25:11). This story best depicts the problems and solutions to childlessness in the Old Testament. As believers, Abraham and Sarah trust and wait for God’s promises, while attempting to solve problems through the societal methods of the time. In the story of Abraham, God's promise begins with the promise of a great nation(Gen. 12:2), the promise of Abraham's descendants(Gen. 12:7), the promise of descendants to be born in Abraham's body(Gen. 15:4), the promise of Sarah's son(Gen. 17:15-19), and the time Sarah gave birth(Gen. 18:10). As God’s promise concretizes, Abraham and Sarah try to conceive through institutions and customs available at the time. This paper suggests Abraham and Sarah used social methods such as adoption (relative adoption, alien adoption), the concubine system, and an inheritance decision in conjunction with religious methods of trusting God to solve their problem. This case study reveals that ancient Israelites used both social and religious methods to solve childless couples’ problem.