BARREN, BARRENNESS (Heb. עָקָר, H6829; Gr. στείρος). To be a wife without motherhood has always been regarded in the E not merely a matter of regret, but also a matter of reproach and humiliation. Notice Sarah’s sad laughter of despair (Gen 18:12), Hannah’s silent pleading (1 Sam 1:10ff.), and Rachel’s passionate alternative of children or death (Gen 30:1). This reproach attached to barrenness, among the Hebrews, was prob. partially caused by the expectation of every mother that she might be mother of the Messiah. Barrenness was a family’s great misfortune. It is significant that mothers of the Heb. race (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel) were by nature sterile, and therefore God’s special intervention showed His favor to Israel. The wives of the patriarchs, in order to avoid the disgrace of barrenness, gave their handmaidens to their husbands, regarding the children born under such circumstances as their own (Gen 16:2; 30:3).
Barrenness is removed by the mercy of God, often through the use of prayer (Gen 25:21; 1 Sam 1:12). God in His mercy gives the barren woman a home and children (Ps 113:9); and the nation is considered to be a barren woman, who will sing because of the promise of children (Isa 54:1).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
bar’-en, (bar’-en-nes tsiyah; melehah; shakhol; `aqar; steiros; argos):
(1) Of land that bears no crop, either
(a) because it is naturally poor and sterile: tsiyah "dry" (Joe 2:20), melechah, "salt" (Job 39:6 the King James Version), shakhol, "miscarrying" (2Ki 2:19,21), or
(b) because it is, under God’s curse, turned into a melechah or salt desert, for the wickedness of the people that dwell therein (Ps 107:34 the King James Version; compare Ge 3:17,18).
(2) Of females that bear no issue: `aqar: Sarah (Ge 11:30); Rebekah (Ge 25:21); Rachel (Ge 29:31); Manoah’s wife (Jud 13:2,3); Hannah (1Sa 2:5); steiros: Elisabeth (Lu 1:7,36).
In Israel and among oriental peoples generally barrenness was a woman’s and a family’s greatest misfortune. The highest sanctions of religion and patriotism blessed the fruitful woman, because children were necessary for the perpetuation of the tribe and its religion. It is significant that the mothers of the Hebrew race, Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel, were by nature sterile, and therefore God’s special intervention shows His particular favor to Israel. Fruitfulness was God’s special blessing to His people (Ex 23:26; De 7:14; Ps 113:9). A complete family is an emblem of beauty (So 4:2; 6:6). Metaphorically, Israel, in her days of adversity, when her children were exiled, was barren, but in her restoration she shall rejoice in many children (Isa 54:1; Ga 4:27). The utter despair and terror of the destruction of Jerusalem could go no farther than that the barren should be called blessed (Lu 23:29).
(3) Argos is translated in the King James Version "barren," but in the Revised Version (British and American) more accurately "idle" (2Pe 1:8).