By Veronica Olson, Crosswalk.com
Do you know the story of Sarah, wife of the biblical patriarch Abraham? She is an important person in the book of Genesis, but her significance is even more clear when we consider the overarching story God is telling through his Word.
In Genesis 17:4-8 God makes a covenant with Abraham saying, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.
I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”
Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was also included in that covenant: “God also said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her’” (Gen. 17: 15-16).
If you are familiar with this story, however, you know that there was a major roadblock to the fulfillment of this promise: Sarah was barren--she was not biologically able to conceive and have children (Gen. 11:30).
This fact underscores how God blessed Sarah and Abraham by delivering on his promise to give them a son and an heir. Although Abraham and Sarah initially laughed at this promise, after many years it came true.
Sarah gave birth to Isaac who was in turn the father of Jacob who was the father of Judah who ultimately was in Christ’s lineage.
In the book of Isaiah, the prophet recounts Sarah’s role in this important lineage:
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; Look to Abraham, you father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth” (Isaiah 51:1-2).
Many of us may be familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah, but if we dig a bit deeper there is even more to uncover about this famous woman of the Bible.
1. Sarah or Sarai Means “My Princess”
When God called Abraham and Sarah to leave the land of their birth and go to the land of Canaan, and when he made his covenant with them, he changed their names. Abram’s name was changed to Abraham and Sarai’s name was changed to Sarah.
In her book Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible, Sandra Glahn notes: “When Abraham changed the spelling [of Sarai’s name] in accordance with divine directive, he did not change the meaning, but simply rendered it in Northwest Semitic (Canaanite), as opposed to the Akkadian dialect of Upper Mesopotamia, from whence he and Sarah had come.”
Glahn goes on to say that it is fitting for the name Sarah to signify a princess since she would be the mother of kings who would rule the nations (pg. 150).
2. Sarah Was Related to Abraham
While it is unclear exactly how Abraham and Sarah were related, the biblical record makes it clear that they were blood relatives. In Genesis 20:12 Abraham says of Sarah, “Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife.”
This would seem to indicate that Sarah and Abraham were half siblings, although some biblical scholars note that the words used in the Hebrew can more broadly mean “blood relation” (Glahn).
Unlike today, marrying a cousin or close relative in biblical times was not strange or considered taboo like it is today. On the contrary, it was a way to protect your family line and provide for those within your own household.
The relatedness of Sarah and Abraham comes up several times throughout Scripture, most notably when Abraham tells Pharaoah, king of Egypt, and later, Abimelech, king of Gerar, that Sarah is his sister instead of his wife because he is afraid these powerful men will kill him and spare Sarah because she is beautiful (Gen. 12, 20).
3. Sarah Laughed When She Heard God’s Promise That She Would Give Birth to a Son
In Genesis 18 divine messengers are sent to Abraham and Sarah’s dwelling in Mamre. There, one of the messengers tells the aging patriarch, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son” (vs. 10).
When Sarah hears this from inside the tent where she is preparing a meal for the guests, she “laughed to herself” (vs. 11). “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” she says to herself in disbelief.
Of course, God’s Word comes true and Sarah gives birth to Isaac within the year as the messengers said. And of all the names she could have chosen, Sarah names their son Isaac which means “laughter.”
It is as though she has a sense of humor and is able to laugh at her own previous unbelief in what God can do. Perhaps whenever she heard or said Isaac’s name Sarah was reminded of God’s power to work miracles.
4. Sarah Moved a Lot
Have you ever had to move because you felt God calling your family somewhere? Perhaps you moved for your husband’s or your own job, to be closer to family, or to pursue a ministry opportunity.
That happened to Sarah and Abraham--a lot. In the beginning of their story, Sarah and Abraham and their family pick up their things and their life in Ur of the Chaldeans and journey toward Canaan, stopping to settle in Haran (Gen. 11:31).
Later, Sarah journeys with Abraham to Canaan and follows him to such places as Shechem, Bethel, Hebron, Gerar, and Beer-Sheba (Glahn, pg. 168).
For much of her life, Sarah was moving from place to place, yet the Scripture doesn’t contain any record of her complaining, even when she moved from the settled and urbanized city of Ur to places in Canaan where she and Abraham lived in tents (Gen. 18).
5. Sarah Struggled with Doubt, but Yet She Still Had Faith
Although Sarah laughed at God’s promise of a son and heir, she embraced her role as Isaac’s mother and as a prominent figure in God’s story.
Fast-forwarding to the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews says, “It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed that God would keep his promise” (Hebrews 11:11).
This is a good reminder for us today that doubting God and his promises does not mean that we don’t have faith. God can work even through our doubt.
We can learn much from Sarah’s story. Although she was far from perfect, at times doubting God and even mistreating her slave woman, Hagar, God showed her grace.
He fulfilled his promise to bless her with a son who would play a significant role in the larger story God was writing. Ultimately, Sarah became the mother of many nations not only in a literal sense, but in the sense that she was the mother of all who would become sons and daughters of God through Christ.
What about Sarah’s story encourages you today?
Photo Credit: ©Sparrowstock
Veronica Olson wrote her first poem at age seven and went on to study English in college, focusing on 18th century literature. When she is not listening to baseball games, enjoying the outdoors, or reading, she can be found mostly in Richmond, VA writing primarily about nature, nostalgia, faith, family, and Jane Austen.