I studied Sarah's life after an ordained female teacher declared Sarah was not an appropriate model for Christian women. I challenged the teacher on the spot, and later handed her this study.
Gen. 11:1-9 Tower of Babel in plain of Shinar.
Gen. 11:10-29 Genealogy of Shem to Terah. Notice how the men tend to become fathers for the first time around 30, and that their life-spans diminish from 500 years to about 200 years.
Gen. 11:29-30 Abram marries Sarai , but she was barren; she had no child. Possibly Sarai's barren state was like that of the man born blind; so that God's glory could be revealed in her at a later time.
From Acts 7:1-4 we are told God appeared to Abram while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and commanded him to leave his country and kindred, because they worshipped idols (see Joshua 24:2), but Abram allows his father to lead him to Haran instead.
Genesis 11:31 "And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there."
Nahor, Abram's brother, chose not to go with them. Their other brother, Haran, had died earlier.
Genesis 11:32 "And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran."
Abram, being the oldest son, is now the chief of the clan.
Read Genesis 12:1-5. Again God tells Abram to leave his country and his father's household behind, but Abram takes Lot with him anyway, and his disobedient decision will cause him trouble later.
I gather Abram shared what the Lord had said to him with Sarai, and that she traveled with him willingly. God makes a non-specific promise of a son. From verse 4, Abram is 75 and Sarai is about 65 (See Gen. 17:17).
Read Genesis 12:6-9. God gives Abram a more specific promise of a son who will inherit the land, and Abram builds two altars unto the Lord.
Read Genesis 12:10-13:4. A famine leads them to seek food in Egypt. From The Wall Chart of World History, it is two years later, and Sarai is a beautiful woman at 67. Maybe Abram's fear of being killed for the sake of his wife is unfounded, or possibly he has heard of this practice from travelers. Though declaring they are brother and sister is deceitful, it is not a lie (See Gen. 20:12 - Sarai is Abram's half-sister). God plagued Pharaoh's household and kept Sarai from being sexually defiled. It must have been difficult for Abram to receive gifts from Pharaoh while his wife was in Pharaoh's house. Whether or not Abram tried to return these gifts before being sent out is not noted. But later he makes an oath to the Lord that no one should claim they have made him rich (See Genesis 14:22-23). Abram returns to his previous altar. We're not told what God thinks of this little deception. Since Abram and Sarai are not punished or criticized, and they do it again, and God rescues them by plaguing the household she's in again, and the Law has not yet been given; I believe God did not hold this deception against them. In fact, God later declares that Abraham has kept all his commands (Gen. 26:5)
In Genesis 13:5-13 Abram and Lot separate.
In Genesis 13:14-18 God reconfirms his promise to give the land to Abram's seed. From The Wall Chart of World History it is five years after God called Abram. Abram builds a third altar in Hebron.
In Genesis 13:19-14:16 there are four kings against five who capture Lot and all he has. Abram leads his trained men against the five kings and slaughters them, returning with Lot and all the goods. From The Wall Chart of World History it is eight years after God called Abram.
In Genesis 14:17-24 Abram is met by two kings. The king of Salem, Melchizadek, blesses him, and brings bread and wine. Abram gives him a tenth of the plunder. The king of Sodom then tells Abram to keep the rest of the goods, but Abram will not allow the possible boast that he has made Abram rich, and gives the goods back after providing for the men who fought.
Genesis 15:1 "After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward."
This word of God specifically begins as a vision. God will also speak to him as one of the 'three men', and will continue to speak to him in various ways.
Genesis 15:2-3 "And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir."
According to the custom of those days, any child born to a slave, could be claimed as the property and progeny of the owner of that slave. It seems Eliezer is the oldest child-slave born in his house.
Genesis 15:4 "And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir."
Notice, God does not say Sarai shall be the mother at this point.
Genesis 15:5-6 "And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness."
In Genesis 15:7-21 the Lord makes a covenant with Abram to give him and his seed the land, and tells him of their future 400 year bondage in a foreign country from which they will come out wealthy.
It's been ten years (verse 3) since God promised Abram He would make a great nation out of him to inhabit the land. [CONJECTURE: Maybe Sarai has given up hope that the child might be born through her. Maybe she is beginning to feel the beginnings of menopause at 75.] Sarai initiates the plan to have a child through Hagar, a surrogate mother of sorts, and Abram agrees with her. A godly marriage allows either spouse to initiate new ideas.
Genesis 16:1-6 "Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the LORD judge between me and thee. But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face."
Not only is Sarai infertile, but now the surrogate slave-mother is mocking her. If I were to rewrite Sarai's words, they would be full of hurt and anger - 'My suffering is on your head! You said God was going to give you a son and make you a great nation. I let my maid sleep with you in order to conceive, but you're not keeping her from mocking me. Let God decide who is doing what is right.'
Abram does not contradict anything Sarai says, but allows her to deal with Hagar as she pleases. Giving haughty Hagar a 'spanking' or beating would have been culturally acceptable (See Proverbs 10:13 and 26:3). Also note that God tells Hagar to return and submit to Sarai, which seems to justify Sarai's harsh actions towards her. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael when Abram was 86.
In Genesis 17:1-14 Abram is 99 years old when God appears to him and again reconfirms His covenant with him, adding that he will be the father of kings. God demands all males to be circumcised as a token of this covenant.
Genesis 17:15 "And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy
wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be."
Sarai is Saray in Hebrew, from a root meaning to cut, similar to the word serrate; meaning princess.
Sarah is Sarah in Hebrew, meaning noblewoman.
Genesis 17:16 "And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her."
Sarah is truly to be a princess, and Abraham is called a mighty prince (Gen. 23:6). God establishes the Hebrews as a royal nation.
Genesis 17:17 "Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed,
and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred
years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?"
Laughed is tsachaq in Hebrew; meaning laughed, make sport, and mocking. It is also translated as 'caressing' in Gen. 26:8 when Abimelech catches Isaac and Rebecca using the same deception Abraham and Sarah used. It is the same laughter Sarah refers to at the joyous birth of their son, Isaac, whose name means 'he laughs'. It is what caused Hagar and Ishmael to be banished into the desert in Gen. 21:9. It is the same laugh which Sarah denies in chapter 18.
Genesis 17:18-22 "And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee! And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year. And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham."
Abraham has spent the last 13 years molding Ishmael into a future leader of his people; an investment not easily abandoned. God understands and promises his labor will see fruit in twelve princes and a great nation. Maybe God skips over Isaac to have Jacob also give birth to twelve sons to make a clear distinction between the two nations; one has His covenant and the other does not (though Mohammed later made one up for his people who are now called Muslims).
In Genesis 17:23-27 Abraham and Ishmael and all the males that were born in his house were circumcised.
In Genesis 18:1-8 Abraham and Sarah entertain three men to whom Abraham bows and calls Lord. Note that Abraham expects Sarah to obey him and quickly knead and bake several loaves of bread for the visitors, which she obediently remained in the tent to do.
Genesis 18:9-15 "And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy
wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent. And he said, I will certainly return
unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall
have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.
Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased
to be with Sarah after the manner of women. Therefore Sarah laughed within
herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being
old also? And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying,
Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is any thing too hard for
the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the
time of life, and Sarah shall have a son. Then Sarah denied, saying, I
laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh."
Pleasure is 'eden in Hebrew, meaning delicate or delight.
This is the only record of a conversation between Sarah and the Lord, most of which is through tent fabric. Sarah is beyond physical ability to conceive, and she also questions whether or not Abraham is. We know from Ishmael, the six children he sires with Keturah after Sarah's death, and sons from other concubines that Abraham's still virile (Gen. 25:1-6). This leads me to assume the 'pleasure' to which Sarah refers is that of finally having their own child, not the mere pleasure of sex. Though after 5 promises of a son over the last 25 years, and entering menopause without conceiving, sex might have become more full of despair than pleasure for both Abraham and Sarah. They must have felt overwhelming frustration due to infertility.
Like her husband, Sarah laughs at God's pronouncement of their conceiving a child in old age; but, unlike her husband, she fearfully denies laughing. God exposes the denial, but does not chide her, or Abraham, for laughing. Verse 12 contains the only record of Sarah calling Abraham her lord.
In Genesis 18:16-33 it's interesting that the Lord asks the other two men, who are called angels in the next chapter, if He should reveal to Abraham their plans for Sodom. To me it's another interaction of God's Headship. The Lord and Abraham discuss Sodom's future, while the other two head for Sodom.
Gen. 19:1-38 Lot's family and the destruction of Sodom and surrounding cities. Read chapter 20. Here we go again. A different country and a different king, but a similar story to chapter 12. Sarah is 89 or 90, which is roughly middle-aged for people living just shy of 200, but she hasn't had a menstrual cycle in years. She's still a beautiful woman.
Genesis 21:1-2 "And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him."
This visitation occurs about three months after God announces Sarah will be the mother in chapter 17, if Isaac is to be born a year from that last meeting. Therefore Sarah could not have remained very long in Abimelech's house.
Genesis 21:3-7 "And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him. And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age."
Throughout her barren bearing years, there must have been much heartache. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12)." And after 25 years of God's yet to be fulfilled promises, "Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised (Hebrews 11:11)." What a powerful testimony of enduring faith in God.
Genesis 21:8-14 "And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned. And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son. And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba."
If we suppose three years is the time for weaning, it would make Ishmael about 17. Hagar might have told her son how her own mocking had sent her into the desert when she was pregnant with him, and that God and their owners would not tolerate such behavior. Yet Ishmael laughs at Isaac, and Sarah is once again supported by God in having Hagar and Ishmael banished. The thought of Ishmael's leaving breaks Abraham's heart, but God comforts him, reminding him He will make Ishmael into a great nation. Abraham listens to God, and God tells him to listen to Sarah; and Abraham carried out their desire the next day. Abraham truly understands the reasoning behind banishing possible usurpers. Years later he will send away all the sons of his concubines to the east away from Isaac, to insure no male will contest him as heir (Gen. 25:6). The spiritual significance of casting out the son of the slavewoman is explained in Galatians 4:21-31.
In Genesis 21:15-21 God provides water in the desert for Hagar and Ishmael. They dwelt in Paran, and Ishmael marries an Egyptian. I find it interesting that the New Testament child of promise to an elderly couple (John, the baptizer) preceded God's deliverer for His people (Jesus), as Isaac preceded Moses.
In Genesis 21:22-34 Abraham makes a covenant with Abimelech and Phichol at Beersheba.
In Genesis 22:1-19 God tests Abraham, asking him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac; and then God provides the substitute sacrifice. From The Wall Chart of World History, Isaac is about 20 years old at this time.
In Genesis 22:20-24 Abraham is told of his kinsmen who have been born, including Rebecca.
In Genesis 23:1-20 Sarah dies at one hundred twenty seven years old, and Abraham buys a burial place for her in Hebron.
Let's look at 1 Peter 3:1-7 in light of the marvelous relationship of Abraham and Sarah.
1 Peter 3:1-2 "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear."
Sarah allowed herself to be taken to the houses of Pharaoh and Abimelech because of her submission to, and love for, her husband. Abraham must have been amazed at Sarah's faith in him and God to allow herself to be placed in such compromising positions.
1 Peter 3:3-5 "Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands:"
Abraham recognized his wife's beauty might cost him his life; yet he did not try to diminish her beauty or cover it up (as Muslims demand), but placed his life in her hands, trusting in her love for him. Christ needs His Bride, and a husband needs his wife, to be fully devoted to him; and that devotion is desirable and highly prized. Remember meek does not mean weak. Sarah boldly and 'sharply' makes her ideas and desires known to Abraham, but no nagging is recorded. Sarah trusts God, and her husband's relationship with God, and leaves the final decision with Abraham.
1 Peter 3:6 "Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement."
In Genesis 18 Sara obeys Abraham and begins kneading 22 liters of flour. After overhearing one of the three men proclaim she was going to have a child, she laughs and refers to her husband as 'lord' (owner and protector). With other men so close to the tent discussing her conception, she might have felt a bit threatened and thus referred to Abraham as her lord as a means of comfort for herself and as a possible deterrent to the men. This might have been the first and only physical encounter Sarah had with God, and she might not have known it was the Lord until he proclaimed himself such afterward.
1 Peter 3:7 "Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered."
Abraham honors his wife and defers to her wisdom on occasion. It amazes me that neither of them gave up on God during the 25 year long wait for their son of promise. I imagine that's because they encouraged one another to hold on to their trust in the Lord when they were tempted to doubt. Abraham and Sarah were truly "heirs together of the grace of life".
Sarah is a model for Christian women.
© 1997 L. Eve Engelbrite