But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.   

Extraordinary Women: Sarah

By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.

If you read the Biblical account of Sarah’s life and are willing to be honest, she comes across as “nagger”….Many times she behaves badly, She was manipulative, had temper tantrums and at times was mean-spirited. Whining and complaining seem to be a specialty. ..never quite  seeming to be able to display the dignity and honor she should have as the wife of a great patriarch. There are even hints of her being  a beauty, yes a pampered one, a prima donna to be sure. Everywhere she went she received favor and privilege because of her looks.

But remember, the Biblical account of Sarah’s life doesn’t begin until she was 65 years old. Amazing, at that age she was such a beauty that Abraham regularly believed men wanted her for their harems. To this day she is remembered for her beauty. A famous Moslem tradition says that Sarah resembled Eve, that Allah gave Eve 2/3’s of all beauty and then divided what remained among all other women. It seems clear, she was a beauty.

Above all else Sarah wanted children, but the first thing recorded about her was her barrenness, Gen 11:29-30:

29 Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and the father of Iscah. 30 But Sarai was barren; she had no child.  

This fact was a great burden to her, she spent years in the grip of frustration and depression because of it...she concluded God was restraining her, (Gen 16:2).  That is what drove her to concoct the scheme that was immoral and utterly foolish, she persuaded Abraham to father a child by her maid, Hagar. BIG MISTAKE! And one that tore her life apart and left a lasting scar on her personality. Her bitterness seethed for 13 years, when she insisted Abraham throw out Hagar and Ishmael. Sarah’s faults were obvious enough. She was harsh, severe, relentlessly self-centered, temperamental and something of a battle-axe! She wasn’t always the kind of person that evokes sympathy and understanding.

Fortunately, there is much more to Sarah than that. She had important strengths as well as glaring weaknesses. Scripture commends her for her faith and steadfastness. Peter pointed to her as the model of how wives should submit to their husbands headship. Yes, she had periods of petulance, (she was as fleshy as we are) but she also exhibits humility, hospitality, deep affection for her husband, sincere love for God and a HOPE that never died.

The Principle Matriarch

She is the principle matriarch in Hebrew history, even though she had only one child, a son, and him when she was long past child bearing age. Her love for her husband was a great character quality and makes us wonder at her notorious blunder of gross unfaithfulness. But her steadfast faith in God’s goodness became the central feature of her legacy. The New Testament enshrines her in the Hall of Faith, because “she judged Him faithful who had promised…”

Let’s step back a bit and see Sarah’s background.

She was Abraham’s 1/2 sister, Terah was father to both, different mothers. This relationship would be considered incestuous in our day was not wrong in their day. Nahor, Abraham’s brother, married a niece, both Isaac and Jacob married cousins. These close relationships were not unusual or scandalous in the Patriarchal period...there is a word for that relationship, “consanguine” - matrimony between close relatives.  It was common until well after Abraham’s time so we ought not read our own cultural distaste backwards too vehemently.

The Lord ultimately forbid the practice because of the accumulation of genetic mutations in the human gene pool. Remember, our race began with two genetically perfect creatures, therefore, there was no risk of hereditary defects. But, gradually the dangers of inbreeding arose. No legal prohibition against incest arose until Moses day (Lev 18:6-18, and 20:17-21). The patriarchs should not be evaluated by laws that were not in place in their day.

The first 65 years of Sarah’s life are summed up in one phrase, “Sarai was barren, she had no child,” (Gen 11:30).

Abraham's Early Life

Similarly, little is told of Abraham’s life, he was born and raised in Sumeria, lower Mesopotamia, where the Tigris and Euphrates meet as well as the head of the Persian Gulf, a region that is part of Iraq. His hometown was a famous urban center known as Ur of the Chaldea’s Ur was a sophisticated urban and pagan culture. Sarah and Abraham lived there at the height of Ur’s power and affluence.

They were “ruled” by the Babylonian moon god and is the same culture that built the famous ziggurats.  Abraham worshipped YHWH< the One True God, passed down from his ancestors. He was only a ninth generation descendant from Noah’s son Shem. But  by Abraham’s time idolatrous worship thoroughly dominated every world culture. It would seem however, that pockets of faithful believer’s were interspersed among all these pagans.

Job and his “friends”  were contemporary's of Abraham, they lived in Uz, a part of the Middle East, Jer. 25:20, but not close to Ur. We also read of Melchezedek, (Gen 14:18) representing an order of itinerant priests who served the One True God. Abraham met Melchezedek, apparently somewhere in the region of the Dead Sea.

The Lord's Purpose in Calling Abraham

Consider the Lord’s purpose in calling and choosing Abraham.  He was to father a great nation and that nation would be formally covenanted with YHWH. The purpose was three-fold:

  • Witness to the world.

  • Scripture was committed to them, (Rom 3:2)

  • By their lineage, a Deliverer, the Messiah, would arise and in Him all nations would be blessed (Gen 18:18)

Sarah obviously had a key role to play in this plan. She was to be the mother of this line. It would appear that when Abraham was first called by God he was very young, and he obeyed God’s call. (Gen 12:1; Heb 11:8). But, he took Terah his father with him.

It also appears that on the first leg of the journey, the "apron strings" were still attached and Terah was still acting as head of the family. He was in charge! But they stalled at Haran, 650 miles NW, along the Euphrates. They remained there until Terah died, apparently sometime later.

Abraham was 75 when he left Haran for the Promised Land. Sarah obviously dearly loved Abraham. Scripture suggests she went with him eagerly. She knew God’s plan and wanted to do her part even if she was 65 and would live the life of a nomad, it would be hard on her. Gen 12:5 suggests the final leg of the journey to Canaan was direct and uninterrupted, it was 350 miles on foot.  The total journey was 1000 miles. They didn’t stop until they reached Bethel.

Abraham built an altar, the Lord appeared to him and expanded His original promises, adding that He was giving the surrounding areas to Abraham’s descendants as well. Abraham and Sarah were vagabonds and nomads the rest of their lives but Bethel’s altar was their anchor.

A grandson, Jacob, would be visited by YHWH at Bethel. But a famine arose in the area and Abraham and Sarah went to Egypt for food. It was there that Abraham had a serious break down in his faith, and passed off Sarah as his sister to avoid trouble with Pharaoh, (Gen 12:12-20). But, God protected her and Abraham and Sarah left Egypt more wealthy than they arrived. They returned to Bethel and Abraham worshipped the Lord.

What Energized Sarah?

What energized Sarah’s willingness to leave all and commit to a life of wandering?

  • Sarah knew and understood that Abraham her husband was the human channel through which the world would see the outpouring of God’s redemptive plan. And, she loved and was devoted to Abraham.

  • She also loved YHWH! And she “judged Him faithful who had promised”...(Heb 11:11).

But despite her faith she must have constantly pondered her childlessness, and as time went by, her burden increased. But Faithful God kept giving her reason to hope, (Gen 15:7-21). God restated and expanded His promise. He ratified the covenant, an unconditional covenant, God told Abraham about what He would do, Sarah knew but still stressed. In her frustration, she hatched a scheme so fleshy, she would regret it the rest of her life.

Truthfully, what we see today in the Middle East is an outworking of Sarah’s foolishness. She contemplated the problem and concluded that surrogate parenting was the way to go. She took it upon herself to engineer a fulfillment of the divine promise and unwittingly stepped into the role of God. She urged Abraham to take Hagar her Egyptian maid and have a child by her. He did as she asked (Gen 16:3).

What a sorry precedent for the nations patriarch to set. In later generations Jacob would be duped by his uncle into marrying his two daughters and also he shared the beds of two concubines. David had similar trouble (2 Sam 5:13) and Solomon really carried the idea too far...500 wives and more than 1,000 according to 1 Kings 11:1-3. God’s design has always been one man-one woman for life (Matt 19:4-5). And...who did Sarah take it out on???? Abraham! That was a good part of the problem

The truth is that Abraham, as head of the house, should have rejected Sarah’s plan out of hand. So there was blame for Abraham and Sarah and of course Hagar in that she deliberately provoked Sarah in the most brazen way, (Prov 30:23)...all three were guilty and reaped bitter fruit from what they sowed. When it erupted Abraham gave Sarah her way, (easiest?)

But what is interesting here is that God showed extreme favor to Hagar, He spoke to her in the first person because it was Christ speaking, not in the third person as it would be if an angel were speaking. His words were full of mercy, HE called her Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid, showing her He knew who she was but was reminding her she was running from her duty...here is recorded an amazing promise, (Gen 16:10-12, the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict).

Another interesting fact is that Sarah never received such a promise from God, her faith rested in God’s promise to Abraham, (Gen 12:3; 13:16; 15:1-6). Never did God expressly state that Sarah would be matriarch to the nation of Israel.

When Abraham was 99, the Lord appeared to him again and renewed the covenant, but not only renewing it but enlarging on it. It is at this point that God also changed Abraham’s name, from Abram, to Abraham, “father of many nations”.  He also made the whole land of Canaan “an everlasting possession” for Abraham’s offspring FOREVER! (Gen 17:7-8).  He also instituted circumcision, the sign and formal  seal of the covenant. Everything germane to the covenant was now in place.

At the beginning of chapter 17 God had revealed Himself to Abraham with a new name, “El-Shaddai” or Almighty God. The name highlights God’s omniscience. Nothing is to hard for the Lord.

But, for the first time He brought Sarah into the covenant by name, changing her name from Sarai to Sarah, "Princess".  God said He would bless her, give her a son by Abraham, and promised that kings and peoples would descend from her. 

Abraham laughed considering their ages, not in unbelief but perhaps amazement?   Rom 4:20-21:

20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.

We must note that Abraham also pleaded with God to remember Ishmael, God did promise, but reiterated that the real blessing would come, not through Hagar's son, but  through Sarah’s son...to be born this time next year!

Hagar cast out by Abraham at Sarah's insistanceIn Gen 18, the Lord Himself appeared to Abraham and Sarah along with two angels. Abraham asked Sarah to prepare a meal, she made a feast (on short notice too). Peter speaks of this in his epistle, as an example for us to follow, (1 Pet 3:5-6). Now it was Sarah’s turn to laugh, not in unbelief but amazed and joyful...her laugh was not out loud, but with in herself...she realized this stranger knew her heart and had to be the Lord!

The following year was  busy one, it was the year Sodom and Gomorrah were were destroyed. They also traveled to Gerar. Sarah at 90 was still a “looker” and Abraham again tried to pass her off as his sister but God acted so there would be now doubt whose child she was carrying. Again God visited Sarah, she conceived and the child Isaac was born. Her hearts desire was given her and she lived a long and happy life, with one exception, Ishmael and Hagar.

When Isaac was weaned and Abraham gave a feast to celebrate things came to a head, Ishmael made fun of Isaac, Sarah heard and demanded Abraham be rid of Hagar and the boy. Abraham did as Sarah asked, sent Hagar and the boy away into the desert, where God appeared to them again, with promises to bless them, multiply them and protect them...remember, Israel and the Arabs?????

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