Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat–
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
Sons are a heritage from the LORD,
children a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are sons born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their enemies in the gate.
–Psalm 127 (NIV)
Blessed are all who fear the LORD,
who walk in his ways.
You will eat the fruit of your labor;
blessings and prosperity will be yours.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your sons will be like olive shoots
around your table.
Thus is the man blessed
who fears the LORD.
May the LORD bless you from Zion
all the days of your life;
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem,
and may you live to see your children’s children.
Peace be upon Israel.
–Psalm 128 (NIV)
I’m really having trouble seeing the biblical basis for intentionally limiting your family size. All the way from Genesis 1 where God commands that Adam and Eve be fruitful and multiply, I see God teaching of children as a blessing from the Lord.
1. God’s Metaphor
Isn’t the very act of sex the husband planting his seeds in his wife’s body?
Well, it’s pleasure, and intimacy, an exclusive kind of communion between husband and wife too…
In the context of the husband planting his seeds in his wife’s body.
Sometimes God makes a seed grow, and a new son or daughter is born into the family.
Is this design meaningful or instructive to us? Yes, it is part of the general revelation: in the same way God shows us through man’s and woman’s complementary bodies that a man and a woman belong together, so he shows us by making seed-planting an integral part of sex that fruitfulness is a natural part of the sexual union between a man and his wife.
What then does it mean for a husband to catch his seeds — to make sure that they are not planted in his wife’s body — and then throw them away?
Or, what does it mean for a wife to make sure that no seed can grow in her body?
Or, what does it mean for a couple to agree that the husband will only plant at a time of the month when no seed is likely to grow?
Strange farmers we are, trying to avoid a crop!
But you say, it’s not that we don’t want a crop at all… we just want to limit the size. Besides, sowing is the wrong metaphor.
But you say, if you have more children and don’t provide for them, you’ve denied the faith and you’re worse than an unbeliever!
I say, that’s absolutely true. But doesn’t this drive us as fathers to be diligent to provide for our families? Where is our reasoning coming from, that the solution is fewer children.
But you say, having a lot of kids is oppressive for the woman.
But I say, look at how the woman is portrayed in Psalm 128 — a fruitful vine with her olive shoots around her. Is that not a position of high honor and blessing? Where do we get the idea that it is oppressive?
But you say, not everyone who has a lot of kids has faith. Having lots of kids doesn’t guarantee anything!
I say, that’s true. Many good things are futile without faith. But doesn’t this drive us to pursue faith?
But you say, what about world overpopulation?
I believe this idea is a lie from the devil. The very day that God said, “Be fruitful and multiply,” Adam could have said, “But Lord, that will never work. The exponential explosion…”
Look everywhere in the world that there are starving children and tell me where the fathers are. They’re gone, brothers and sisters. Don’t point to fatherless Africa — where there are whole nations full of men running from fatherhood — and tell me that the answer is that we must limit our family size for conscience’s sake.
But you say, why do you keep talking about Scripture? This is a private matter between a husband and wife.
The Hebrew children in Egypt were oppressed as a direct result of their great fruitfulness (Exodus 1). Is Scripture teaching that their fruitfulness was a private decision they all made, to have large families? Is there a lesson here, that they would have been wiser not to endanger their families so? No, we say (we do say no, don’t we?) But if their fruitfulness was the blessing of God, leading to persecution and then a great deliverance, how is it that it has now become merely a private choice?
God blessed Hannah (who had been barren) and gave her and Elkanah five sons and daughters since she had dedicated Samuel to the Lord.
Then there’s Job…
The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters.
–Job 42:12-13 (NIV)
3.1. Human fruitfulness mentioned with other blessings of fruitfulness
The Holy Spirit often places mention of the blessing of the fruit of the womb in among blessings of other kinds of fruitfulness — fruitful produce of the ground and fruitful multiplication of flocks and herds. For example:
“He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there will be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle.”
(See also Deut. 8:1; 28:4,11,18,62,63; 30:9,15,16; and Lev. 26)
The parallels between human fruitfulness and the fruitfulness of the land and of flocks and herds are not an accident. God has has given us these pictures to teach us, and we are responsible for learning. We see an example of this responsibility in 1. Cor. 15:
But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own.
–1 Cor. 15:35-38
The Holy Spirit through Paul rebukes the man sharply — calling him a fool! — who does not see the obvious parallel between the sown seed that dies and is raised different than it was, and man who dies and will be raised different than he was.
Does it make any sense that God’s bountiful blessing on the produce of the land or on the flocks and herds would be expressed in moderate yields? On what basis then do we place human fruitfulness in a different category from other blessings of fruitfulness? Especially in light of other passages…
“May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
Then Elkanah her husband said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep and why do you not eat and why is your heart sad? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”
–1 Sam. 1:8
Seven sons? Ten sons? What a burden, we wouldn’t want that! But how is it that we call burden what God calls blessing?
3.2. New Testament
Does God teach us something different in the New Testament? Is there a continuity in this, or is this one of the things that has passed away in the New Covenant?
Well, bringing up children is listed as a good deed (1 Tim. 5:10); Paul counsels younger widows to marry and have children (1 Tim. 5:14); in other places children seem to be assumed (1 Tim 3:4,12; Titus 1:6; 2:3-4)… I suppose you could point to 1 Corinthians 7:29 (“What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none”) and say that extends to not having a (large) family. (I would say though, look at all of 1 Cor. chapter 7 — is Paul arguing for getting married but not having (very many) children?)
I do not see any change in children’s status as blessings from the Old Testament to the New. Is it there? Am I not seeing it?
4. More Objections
But you say, many children were a blessing in the agricultural days — not so much now.
But I say, Scripture doesn’t speak of children being a blessing to help with the farm work, but it does speak of them contending with their enemies in the gate. Is there a shortage of enemies these days?
But you say, you sound like a Catholic or one of those quiver full people!
But I say, are we living to please God, or to do the opposite of Catholics and quiver full people?
But you say, it’s a bad world out there!
I say, yes — that’s exactly why we need to be faithful to bear and raise these arrows for our King’s glory. (It is good to keep in mind on this point that we’re raising arrows, not rabbits.)
But you say, our children are wild already. We must avoid utter chaos!
But I say, why are the children wild? Does the the Bible present a model of the family where as there are more children, the family gets closer and closer to breaking down? Far from it! The ability to maintain order in the family is even one of the qualifications for being an elder in the church (1 Tim. 3:4-5). If our children are wild, we should question why this is. Do you need to reach out to a mature brother and sister in the Lord for counsel in ordering your home? (I speak earnestly; doing so can be a great help!)
But you say, I don’t want to have a bunch of kids, because my friends will laugh at me.
Besides, you ask (angrily) — are you saying that purposely limiting your family size is a sin?
I’m not ready to say that (though my study of the Word on this matter does make me wonder). I’m just saying, I don’t see how we get to that type of choice if we start from the Bible.
But why are you angry? Am I misrepresenting the words of a holy God, and you’re jealous for his glory?
5. The Goodness of God
Dear brothers and sisters, we do not believe in the goodness of God in giving us children.
Our behavior makes it clear that we do not see our children as arrows who will go out and contend with their enemies in the gate. Instead, we see our children as shackles, and we ask ourselves, “How many shackles can we in good conscience clamp on to our family before our Christian witness is extinguished?”
We need to repent of our unbelief and our lack of faith, and study the doctrine of children revealed in the Word of God.
I ask you: is this just crazed Daniel wanting everybody to go out and go crazy in openness to kids — or is this the heart of God?