Giving Birth to the Wind?

I love the Bible’s use of language. There are figures of speech in there that sometimes make me stop and just admire the wordcraft going on. One metaphor that is returned to often is childbirth. Here’s an instance where Jesus himself used it:

“Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:19-22.)

See how effective that is? He uses the labor and birth process to explain that they can expect to be quite grieved for a while, but their later joy will eclipse their anguish just as a mother’s pain is supplanted by the joy of holding her child. We have two kids, and my wife and I know how true this is. Joy overwhelms when the child comes.

The Bible doesn’t always use this metaphor so positively, though:

As a pregnant woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so were we in your presence, Lord. We were with child, we writhed in labor, but we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvation to the earth, and the people of the world have not come to life. (Isaiah 26:17-18.)

“We gave birth to wind.” Sounds empty and meaningless, doesn’t it? As the passage says, they were unable to bring salvation or life to anyone. Their efforts were completely fruitless. Besides the rich salvation doctrine contained in this passage (more on that later), I love this passage for its imagery.

Here is a man, Isaiah, using birth as a metaphor. He tries to imagine what childbirth is like, but he’s never experienced it himself. He talks of writhing in labor, and I can almost imagine what he probably thought of at the time because I’ve done some really intense abdominal writhing in my life. Bleeding ulcers back when I was in law school, food poisoning that has kept me doubled over in cramps, a digestive tract that once decided to shut itself down for days so that I could neither sit nor stand nor lie down. Too gross? Then try this.

Isaiah said they experienced abdominal writhing like a woman in labor and then gave birth to wind. I’ve had that type of intense abdominal writhing too and giving birth to wind is the only thing that brought relief, let me tell you! (Think about it a moment … it’ll come to you if you haven’t already gotten there … crampy feeling and then making wind as intensely as a woman giving birth … got it? I knew you would!)

Yes, flatulence makes its way into God’s word. God’s awesome.

His awesomeness isn’t confined to inspiring wonderful uses of language, of course. Our God is an awesome God and in him is the only place we find salvation. You see, that’s what Isaiah was really getting at with his vivid imagery. God’s people thought they could work salvation on their own, but they couldn’t. Their intense efforts on their own had no more lasting effect that passing gas.

But we don’t have to rely on ourselves for our salvation. Salvation is found in God himself. As John discovered in his vision of the heavenly throne room:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10.)

It’s God who brings salvation to the earth, it’s God who brings the peoples of the world to life, it’s God in whom we find salvation and nowhere else. Peter made that clear:

“Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12.)

Isaiah was right, we can’t create one bit of salvation. Peter was right, salvation is found in Jesus alone. John was right, people from every nation will belong to Jesus.

And, of course, Jesus was right. When that day comes we will have joy inexpressible.

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7 Responses to Giving Birth to the Wind?

  1. This is excellent Tim. As a mother who HAS writhed and cried out in pain through five births, I get it. You’ve given me some good thoughts to ponder today.

    Also, that first passage is VERY familiar to me:
    “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.”

    I printed out these words of Jesus and taped them to the wall next to my bed as I endured a difficult pregnancy with my first baby. Now that baby is a strapping young lad of ten who daily brings joy to my heart. Indeed, the anguish is forgotten in light of the joy!

    • Tim says:

      As a father, I can understand this vicariously but certainly not to the degree that a mother can of course. I think both a mother’s and father’s feelings of joy for a child pale in comparison to God’s delight in us and the joy he has for us, though. I know I’m thrilled with my kids, but God is even more thrilled with his children. Amazing love, isn’t it?

  2. Mary Anne says:

    Re: language. You’ve seen the post I left at Pemberley about the possible discovery of King Richard the Third’s body, and I’ve been hearing this over and over in my head:

    “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of
    skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” The ultimate summation of how we have to make decisions we can live with in eternity—because that’s how we will live with them as “time and chance” end our days on earth.

    Another I’ve always loved: “Lift up your heads, oh ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in.” (Hearing Handel’s wonderful musical setting of this in my mind.) I was always intrigued by the idea of gates and doors lifting up their heads . . . until I realized the WE are the gates and doors, as in, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” I always imagine the “lift up your heads” as our natural response to the sound of a knock at the door–hey, there’s somebody out there! Better go and answer it . . .


  3. Aimee Byrd says:

    Okay, just had to read part of this post to my husband because I knew he would love the fact that you found something in Scripture that references passing gas—he is definitely a man who never outgrew that humor. But all kidding aside, what an excellent article, Tim. That really is the best analogy for trying to produce salvation on our own.
    And I had my three children drug-free, so I intimately know the truth in the John 16 verse.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Aimee. The fact that my take on it did not come across to you as straight out of left field means I must be close to getting it right!

      I hope Matt was as thrilled as I was to see flatulence right there in the Bible. This came to me in church last Sunday. Not an attack of gas, but the meaning of this imagery in Isaiah.

      And regarding the truth of the childbirth description in John 16, you know I’m just going to have to take your word for it!


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