This is not an article which I am really qualified to write. I have asked a couple of women to write on this subject for me, but they have not yet been able to do so. Perhaps when they see a man’s perspective they will write a similar article from the woman’s view, and I will publish it as well.
When it comes to pain, we men are wimps. We have a low-grade fever and we are down for a week. Stub a toe or hit a thumb with a hammer and we think the world is coming to an end. At Navy boot camp the Medical Department had to come up with a special protocol to deal with men collapsing in the shot line. We just don’t deal well with pain. Women, on the other hand, are equipped by God to endure pain. One of the results of Eve’s sin was pain in childbirth, but with that God gave the ability to withstand it. Apparently the prophets (all of them men) thought the pain of childbirth was something with which to frighten other men.
The phrase “a woman in labor” (or “a woman in travail” in the King James Version), or some variation on it, appears seventeen times in the Bible. Most of the time it is used in the same context. Hardships, trials, and conquests were coming. Isaiah and Jeremiah, especially, spoke of the suddenness of these trials. Assyria and Babylon were going to come unexpectedly, to attack Israel or Judah. And when they did, according to these prophets, they would come like “pain, as of a woman in travail.” (Ps 48:6; Isa 13:8; Jer 6:24, 22:23; Mic 4:9, etc.) A woman may be at a banquet in the evening, and in the hospital before morning (that is experience speaking). Even though Jeremiah had been prophesying for seventy years, when destruction came it was sudden. In such a way will God bring destruction on the world we know.
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. (1 Thes 5:2-4)
Paul warns us to be ready for the end. It may be in 2012. It may be before or after that date. For many it may be tomorrow. We should be ready, like a woman who has her hospital bag packed and waiting by the door.
Sometimes these prophets phrase it differently. They use the words “sorrow, as a woman that travails.” (Jer 13:21, 49:24; Hos 13:13) Some men might even think that this phrase is improper. If you listen to a woman in the late stages of pregnancy you might get the impression that childbirth is preferable to carrying the child. After the birth, the joy in the newborn overtakes the sorrow of labor. But those who have been in the labor and delivery room know that there is a time when there is definitely sorrow. Ask any man whose wife has threatened his life if he ever gets her pregnant again. The punishments God was going to bring on those nations who disobeyed him were to be sorrowful. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah promised a restoration of God’s people. Nevertheless, the punishment would bring sorrow.
Jesus used the concept in yet another way. He predicted his death, but added,
A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. (Jn 16:21-22)
The apostles would lose him for three days. They would mourn. But a woman in labor ends up joyful, because she has borne a child. We may sorrow for the death Jesus had to die. But we rejoice in the resurrection, like a woman who has come through her travail.