“Although Sarah was past the age of childbearing, she knew God would keep His promise regarding her fertility. Abraham, though very elderly, became the forefather of a great nation. Its inhabitants would become as numberless as the stars in the sky or the countless gains of sand upon the shore. However, none of the patriarchs received the full benefits of God’s promises, but only glimpsed their future fulfillment. All of them died victoriously as a result of their faith. They regarded themselves as alien residents. Such people plainly show they are seeking a homeland. If they had been homesick for the country they left behind, they had ample opportunity to return. Instead, they yearned for their heavenly home. For this reason, God is not ashamed to be called their God – and has prepared for them a celestial city.” (paraphrased)
The Life of Sarah
The name Sarah means “Princess.” In the Hall of Faith, she is the first woman whose strength we are asked to consider. Sarah was the daughter of Terah, the half-sister of Abraham. Sarah became his wife and they left the town of Ur in Chaldea together (Gen. 12:5). Epitomizing the obedient and faithful spouse, she was a woman who could adapt to changing circumstances. Peter encourages Christian wives to emulate Sarah’s fidelity (I Pet. 3:6).
When Sarah was nearly sixty years old, she was still very beautiful (Gen. 12:11). At one point, famine drove Abraham and Sarah into Egypt (12:10). Abraham was afraid the Egyptians would kill him and take Sarah if they knew she was married to him, so he told her to say she was his sister (12:12). After Pharaoh brought Sarah to his house, God protected her sexuality by bringing a plague upon the Egyptians. When Pharaoh realized Abraham had deceived him, he sent them both away.
Twice in her life Sarah nearly became part of a king’s harem. The previous situation with Pharaoh is almost repeated when Abraham arrived in Gerar and visits King Abimelech (Gen. 20:2). God warned the king in a dream not to touch Sarah. Abimelech did not – but he rebuked Abraham for his dishonesty (20:7-10). Throughout both of these ordeals, God does not allow either ruler to copulate with the woman destined to become the mother of the Jewish race.
Even as a young woman, Sarah was unable to bear children (Gen. 11:30). Abraham laughed within himself when the Lord told him Sarah would have a child at ninety years of age (17:17). By this time, Abraham was nearly a century old (Rom. 4:19). When the Lord later came to Abraham’s tent, Sarah laughed at the thought of childbearing so late in life (Gen. 18:12-15). Long past the time of fertility, she could not imagine how she could conceive. She tried in her own way to fulfill God’s promise by giving her handmaid to Abraham, hoping to provide a son through her – but her faltering faith produced only Ishmael. God Himself named the promised child Isaac, meaning “laughter,” as a memorial of their incredulity to think the elderly could be parents (17:19). Sarah later laughed with joy when Isaac was born (21:6).
Sarah died at the age of 127 and Abraham survived her by about forty years (Gen. 23:1). Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Leah, and Joseph would all eventually find their final resting places in the cave of Machpelah (49:31 & 50:13).
Because of their marital union and faith, it is natural for the writer to mention Abraham along with Sarah. Any marriage can come to full fruition only when both are Believers. The phrase “received strength to conceive seed” is katabolen spermatos, referring to the male’s part in procreation. After God’s announcement to Sarah, she waited twenty-five years to give birth to her promised infant. Her infertility and advanced age absolutely precluded the possibility of conception. But miracle births are proof God can create life in a womb when it is apparently impossible. God also opened the barren womb of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist (Lk. 1:7). In this regard, the Incarnation of Christ is foreshadowed. Concerning miraculous conceptions, Gabriel reminded Mary that “with God nothing is impossible” (1:37).
Beginning with the faith of one married couple, the entire Hebrew race was produced. Abraham being “as good as dead” does not refer to his overall physical condition, but is a hyperbole regarding his inability to procreate. The Lord used the combined similes of numberless stars and sand when reaffirming His promise to him (Gen. 22:17). Abraham’s renewed potency remained strong, even after Sarah’s death. He later married Keturah and fathered six more sons (25:1-2).
The writer of Hebrews interrupts his story of Abraham to interject a few general remarks (vv. 13-16). All the patriarchs died without appropriating what God had pledged. It was nearly 500 years after the death of Jacob when the Hebrews began the conquest of Canaan. Though none of them lived to see God’s promises fulfilled, they continued to embrace them as a reality. They welcomed them as sailors salute or greet a country on the horizon they are approaching. Even though they did not see them come to fruition, they were convinced they would. Abraham lived as if he had met the Messiah – and died knowing he would arrive in His heavenly city. Jesus affirmed that Abraham foresaw the era of Christ and rejoiced (Jn. 8:56). The common bond between Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob was trusting God to do what seemed impossible. Faith begins by believing God and leads us to embrace what He promised.
The patriarchs did not own the land they traversed, but regarded themselves as wandering pilgrims. Their nomadic lifestyle verified they were foreigners, for they did not take up permanent residency. Paradoxically, the patriarchs were refugees in the very land they would one day inherit. Abraham described himself as an alien sojourner (Gen. 23:4). Jacob told Pharaoh the years of his pilgrimage were a hundred and thirty years (47:9). David confessed he and his company were displaced persons – as were their forefathers (I Chron. 29:15 & Ps. 39:12). Peter instructs Believers to live in this world as exiles and pilgrims (I Pet. 2:11).
Sojourning proves one has not reached their ultimate destination. Nothing prevented the forefathers from returning to Chaldea, except their trust in Jehovah. Had they been homesick, they might have gone back anytime. Although they could have returned to Mesopotamia, they sought a more enduring fatherland. This is best illustrated by an incident which occurred later in Abraham’s life. His chief servant was tasked with returning to Mesopotamia to seek a bride for Isaac. When the servant suggested he take Isaac back with him, Abraham strictly forbade him to do so (Gen. 24:5-6). Abraham’s faith in God excluded any possibility of looking back. They had not traveled so far that it was impossible to retrace their steps, but preferred the hardships of Canaan to the comforts of Chaldea. This passage clearly shows that focus and determination are required to continue to travel a challenging path. Paul encourages us to forget what is behind us and press toward the prize of our calling in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13-14).
From the Genesis account, it is difficult to ascertain what the patriarchs were thinking. Here, however, we are specifically told they anticipated heaven. “Desire” (oregontai) means “to stretch out the hand with the expectation of grasping something.” The writer urges his readers not to yearn to return to Judaism, just as the patriarchs did not desire to go back to their homeland. They saw the fulfillment of the promises and looked forward to dwelling in a heavenly country. Jesus promised all Believers that they will inherit “the kingdom the Father has prepared for them since the foundation of the world” (Mt. 25:34).
God is unashamed to be named as their God, openly honoring them and attesting to their faith. He frequently describes Himself as the God of the patriarchs (Gen. 28:13 & Ex. 3:6). When addressing the Sadducees, Jesus quotes the words of His Father as being “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Mt. 22:32). The proof the Lord honored their faith is demonstrated by what He provided for them. The patriarchs never sought to establish residency in Canaan, knowing their true citizenship was in heaven (Phil. 3:20). The example of the forefathers should help us develop spiritual priorities. The same heavenly city they sought awaits every faithful Believer.
QUESTIONS: THE FAITH OF SARAH
1. Sarah almost became a member of:
A. King David’s harem
B. King Abimelech’s harem
C. Pharaoh’s harem
D. King’s Saul’s harem
E. both B & C
2. Sarah had two children before she bore Isaac. True or False?
3. According to Judges 13:2, Manoah was barren, but an angel told her she would have a son (13:3). What was the name of her child? (v. 24)
4. From the time God promises Sarah a child until the time of Isaac’s birth was a period of:
A. 25 years
B. 50 years
C. 75 years
D. 100 years
E. 125 years
5. After Sarah died, Abraham married Keturah. How many more sons did Abraham have by her? (Genesis 25:1-2)
6. According to John 8:56, what did Abraham foresee?
7. According to Colossians 3:2, what must we set our affections upon?
8. According to Luke 9:62, those who look back are unfit for what?
9. In what ways do your consider your life a pilgrimage toward heaven?