Abraham and Sarah
Perhaps the most famous example, Abraham and Sarah were promised a child despite their old age. Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90 when Isaac was born (Genesis 17:17, 21:5).
Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90 when Isaac was born. This is explicitly stated in Genesis 17:17 and 21:5, clearly indicating their advanced age.
Zechariah and Elizabeth
As mentioned, Zechariah and Elizabeth were both advanced in years when they were told by the angel Gabriel that they would have a son, John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25).
While their exact ages are not given, they are described in the Gospel of Luke (1:7) as being “advanced in years” and having no child because Elizabeth was barren. This phraseology strongly suggests they were well past typical childbearing age.
Manoah and His Wife (Samson’s Parents)
In the Book of Judges, an angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife, who had been unable to conceive, and told her that she would bear a son, who would become Samson (Judges 13:2-24).
The age of Manoah and his wife is not specified in the Book of Judges. However, the narrative implies that they had been without children for a significant period, possibly suggesting they were older, though this is less explicit than in other examples.
Elkanah and Hannah
Although not as old as others on this list, Hannah was deeply distressed by her inability to conceive. She prayed to God for a child, and Samuel was born. Her story is significant for her heartfelt prayer and the miraculous response to it (1 Samuel 1:1-20).
Their ages are not mentioned. The emphasis in the story is more on Hannah’s initial barrenness rather than their age. However, the cultural context suggests that being childless for an extended period might indicate they were no longer young.
There are, however, a few other instances that could be considered, although they might not be as directly related to the theme of advanced age or might not be as explicitly detailed in terms of divine intervention:
Rebekah (Isaac’s Wife):
While not old, Rebekah was barren for a time before conceiving Esau and Jacob. Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, and she conceived (Genesis 25:21).
Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebekah (Genesis 25:20), and they waited 20 years before Rebekah conceived (Genesis 25:26), making Isaac 60 at the time of the twins’ birth. Rebekah’s age is not given, but the focus is on the period of barrenness rather than her age.
Rachel (Jacob’s Wife):
Rachel struggled with infertility for many years while her sister Leah bore children. She eventually conceived Joseph after a long period of waiting and praying (Genesis 30:22-24).
Like Rebekah, Rachel’s exact age is not mentioned. However, she had a prolonged period of barrenness while her sister Leah bore children. The narrative does not explicitly focus on her age.
The Shunammite Woman
In the story of Elisha in 2 Kings, a Shunammite woman who had shown hospitality to the prophet was promised a son, even though her husband was old. She did conceive a son as promised (2 Kings 4:14-17).
Her age is not specified in 2 Kings. The text notes that her husband was old, suggesting that they might have been beyond the typical age for childbearing, especially considering the surprise and joy expressed at the prophecy of a child.
Divine Intervention or Promise
In almost all these stories, the birth of the child is foretold or promised by God or an angelic messenger. For example, an angel of the Lord informed Manoah and his wife about Samson’s birth, and the angel Gabriel told Zechariah about the birth of John the Baptist.
Barrenness or Infertility
A common element in these narratives is the initial inability to conceive. Sarah, Elizabeth, Hannah, Rachel, Rebekah, and the wife of Manoah were all described as barren or had experienced prolonged periods of infertility before conceiving.
Prayer or Faithful Petition
Many of these stories involve prayer or a plea to God. For instance, Hannah’s fervent prayer in the temple is a pivotal moment in her story, leading to the birth of Samuel.
Advanced Age or Unlikely Circumstances
Several of these accounts specifically mention the advanced age of the parents (like Abraham, Sarah, Zechariah, and Elizabeth), emphasizing the miraculous nature of the conception. In other cases, the circumstances (such as prolonged barrenness) make conception seem unlikely or miraculous.
Special Role or Destiny of the Child
The children born in these stories often have a significant destiny or role in biblical history. Isaac was the child of promise through whom Abraham’s descendants would be named. Samson was to be a Nazirite dedicated to God from the womb. John the Baptist had a special role as the forerunner of Christ.
Fulfillment of God’s Plan or Promise
These births often represent the fulfillment of a specific divine plan or promise, aligning with broader themes in biblical narratives, such as the fulfillment of prophecy, the continuation of a significant lineage, or the advancement of God’s plan for Israel or humankind.
Sign of God’s Power and Blessing
Each story serves as a testament to God’s power, especially in overcoming human limitations like barrenness or old age, and they often underscore themes of faith, perseverance, and divine blessing.