I'm currently teaching Gospel Doctrine in my ward. I was called toward the end of last year, so essentially have been teaching Old Testament since the beginning of the calling.
I've been so intimidated that I've done a mountain of research for each lesson because I know there are people in the class who know the scriptures a lot better than I do, and I don't want to get it wrong.
I've learned lots of things so far. One of the things I've come to appreciate the most is an understanding of the social life and traditions of the people in the OT. Some things have seemed so bizarre to me until I've done a little digging and have been able to figure out why the people behaved the way they did.
Our God, in His infinite wisdom, allows us to structure our societies as we see fit. Many times they are fraught with inequalities, silliness and cruelty. Ignorance. But He allows it because He promised He would. It's one of His many gifts. Agency.
That agency, however, led to some wacky beliefs contained in the Old Testament that have me often shaking my head. For centuries, for example, women were valued very little and then mostly for their reproductive capabilities. So much of their identities were tied up in whether or not they were able to bear children, and then hopefully male children. (Don't ask me what they were thinking- I'm not sure how long they planned to have the species continue to perpetuate itself without the birth of girl children, but hey. What do I know.)
The OT peoples also knew of the coming of a promised messiah. Women of Israel hoped that He would be born through their lines, so not only was there pressure to bear children, there was also this hope that they would be the ancestor of the Savior. It's a lot of pressure, and dependent largely upon the luck of the biological draw.
There are stories, however, that jump out at me as incredible. We just finished covering Ruth, and I LOVED researching her story. She is amazing, and I love her. Naomi, also, I would like to count as a friend. Their friendship is lovely and inspiring. And Ruth was able to have a son when she married Boaz, so lucky girl, her worth went up several notches in the eyes of the locals. Even Naomi's friends were happy for her when Ruth gave birth. (Their comments of adulation went something along these lines: "Yay! Now Naomi again has a reason to live! A grandson!")
All snarkiness aside, I understand the desire for motherhood. I count among my blessings the fact that I've not known the pain of being unable to have babies. I do not take this blessing for granted. One of the things I can relate to when I think of these ancient women is the desire for children and the joy when they arrive. (Funny- we're not often told of how they handled the teen years...)
My daughters are 17 and 15, my son is 5. They have caused me tears of anger and frustration and tears of unabashed joy. I'm grateful to live in a time where my intellect is valued over the functionality of my uterus, however, and I'm grateful to learn of these people who lived so long ago and lived lives of faith and hope despite their various challenges.
Kind of like we do today, really.
And as a side-note: if you're looking for some mothers and families to offer a quick prayer for, check this link.