Sarah is first introduced to us as Abram’s wife Sarai, a woman who cannot bear children (Gen. 11:29-30). Although she and Abram are born of different mothers, they have the same father. She is therefore Abram’s half sister (11:31).
Sarai is a woman who forsakes her homeland in Babylonia to follow God with her husband. She adapts herself to her husband’s dreams and epitomizes the obedient, faithful wife. Their home in Ur of the Chaldees is located about half way between the Persian Gulf and Baghdad. This Babylonian couple will become the parents of the Hebrew race. The word “Hebrew” refers to an immigrant or one from an alien nation.
Famine soon drives this pair into Egypt. Abram is afraid the Egyptian lords will kill him and take Sarai into a harem if they discover they are married. Apparently, Sarai is very beautiful, even at sixty years of age (12:11). Abram tells a half-truth, informing the officials that Sarai is his sister (12:13). Abram is afraid for his own life. Sarai’s safety is secondary. God protects the mother of the twelve tribes by sending a plague upon Pharaoh and his house (12:17). Due to this physical affliction, Pharaoh is prevented from having sex with Sarai, who will mother Isaac. Pharaoh soundly rebukes Abram for his deception and sends them both away unharmed. Abram has acted cowardly, but God is faithful to protect the sexual purity of the future mother of many nations.
The years pass and Sarai is desperate to see God’s promise of a son fulfilled. She gives her handmaid Hagar to Abram that she may bear a child through her (16:1-2). Sarai would rather allow Abraham to have the promised child through Hagar than die childless. But her faltering faith breeds a son named Ishmael. This child is the cause of bitter envy between Sarai and Hagar (16:4). The jealousy continues in the 21st century, as evidenced by the animosity between the Israeli and Arab states (Gal. 4:29-30).
God renews His covenant with Abram (17:5-6). As the great ancestral parents of the Hebrew people, the Lord changes Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah (Gen. 17:5 &15). The new names are significant, for Abraham means father of nations and Sarah means mother of nations (17:16).
Sarah and Abraham are soon visited by three angels. Sarah laughs because she is afraid to believe she can give birth to a child in her old age (18:15). The name Isaac means laughter and the promised son is named after this incident (21:3-6).
In a situation which parallels the earlier predicament in Pharaoh’s court thirty years earlier, Sarah’s holiness is once more threatened. Abraham knows foreigners are not highly respected and that a husband must be disposed of before his wife is available. Fearful he will be killed, Abraham again claims she is his sister. It is possible Sarah has previously agreed with Abraham to use this deception whenever necessary (12:11-13). Abimelech, the King of Gerar, decides to take Sarah into his harem. Under penalty of death, God warns Abimelech in a dream not to touch her. Rebuking Abraham for his deceit, he loads the couple with gifts and sends them away (Gen. 20:1-18). Abraham’s son, Isaac, later uses this same ploy concerning his wife Rebekah (Gen. 26:6-11).
In the next scene in Sarah’s life, she is giving birth to Isaac at 90 years of age (Gen. 21:2-3). It is difficult for women even half her age to bear children, but Abraham never wavers in faith. He believes God will perform the promised miracle birth, despite his own century-old body (Rom. 4:19).
When Hagar later provokes Sarah, she boldly asserts her rights as a wife and protects her son. God specifically tells Abraham to listen to his wife in this matter (Gen. 21:12). Hagar and her son are cast out. Ishmael will grow up to father the tribes that remain the enemies of God’s people to this day. In an allegory, Hagar is represents the era of outdated Mosaic Law while Sarah typifies the current Gospel age (Gal. 4).
When Abraham and Isaac return from Mount Moriah, Sarah is dead at age 127 (Gen. 23:3). A Jewish legend persists that she died of a broken heart. Abraham weeps for her and buries her in the cave of Machpelah (25:9-10). He survives her by 38 years, dies at age 175, and is buried beside her.
Of all the women in “The Hall of Faith,” it is the strength of Sarah we are first asked to observe (Heb. 11:11). Peter advises women to imitate her obedience and holds her up as a model wife who respects her husband (I Pet. 3:6).
Sarah won the hearts of three men: Abraham, Pharaoh and Abimelech. She is one of the most important women in world history to Christians, Jews and Muslims. This great woman of faith became the mother of the most favored nation on earth: Israel. Apparently Sarah never looked back to her homeland, but went forth to share her husband’s dreams and aspirations. Her loyalty to Abraham, despite their many trials, is exemplary. With Sarah by his side, Abraham was willing to march toward an unknown future as “heirs together of the grace of life” (I Pet. 3:7).
Points to Ponder
1. Why did Sarah give her handmaid Hagar to Abraham (Gen. 16:1-2)?
2. What was Hagar’s attitude toward Sarah (Gen. 16:4-5)?
3. What advice did Hagar receive from an angel (Gen. 16:9-12)?
4. What did God promise Abraham in Genesis 17:19?
5. Why did Sarah lie (Gen. 18:12-15)?
6. What brought great joy to Sarah (Gen. 21:6-7 & Rom. 9:9)?
7. Who did Sarah want cast from her home and why (Gen. 21:9-10)?
8. Where did Abraham bury Sarah (Gen. 23:7-11)?
9. According to Genesis 25:8-10; 49:30-31 and 50:13, who else is buried there?
10. Paraphrase the situation in which Isaac lied about his wife Rebekah (Gen. 26:6-11).
11. How does this situation parallel those of his father Abraham in Genesis 12 and 20?
12. Paraphrase the allegory regarding Sarah and Hagar in Galatians 4:22-31.