Most women in the Bible have only a few verses, but thirteen chapters mention Sarah and her role as Abraham’s wife and Isaac’s mother.
Are you a planner? Do you wake up each morning, making a list of all that you hope to accomplish that day? What about for the upcoming week? Year? Decade? Do you have a Plan B or C or a final option for when none of your best laid plans turn out the way you’d hoped?
Sarah was a woman with a plan for all occasions. Unfortunately, sometimes her plans got ahead of God’s plans.
The Story of Sarah in the Bible
Most women in the Bible have a chapter or two at most dedicated to their story. Many women have merely a verse or two. Sarah’s story, however, encompasses thirteen chapters in Genesis, plus mentions in Isaiah, Romans, Hebrews, and 1 Peter.
While Sarah is a woman greatly admired, she is also a woman who spent much of her life in fear, compensating for her worries by creating elaborate schemes. She and Abraham both were that way, but none of their ideas turned out the way they expected.
Abraham and Sarah Leave Ur
Like most women of her time, I’m sure Sarah expected to live and die in her native land, raising a quiverful of children, but God had other plans.
Sarah married her half-brother Abram, but the children didn’t come. Sarah was barren. Then, one day Terah, her father-in-law, decided to leave the land of Ur and head to the land of Canaan. He took with him Abram, Sarah and Lot, but instead of going all the way to Canaan, they stopped in Haran and dwelt there.
Sarah left her homeland, settled in at Haran, and waited for the children to come, but she remained barren.
After Terah’s death in Haran, God spoke to Abram, telling him to leave the country and go “to a land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) God promised Abram that he would make him a great nation. Abram, Sarah and Lot left Haran and followed God towards Canaan.
Again, Sarah had to leave behind family and friends and begin anew in an unfamiliar land. Surely, though, God’s promise of making Abram into a great nation had to encourage her. It was only a matter of time before her infertility would give way to motherhood.
They arrived at the terebinth tree of Moreh in Canaan, and God said, “To your descendants I will give this land.”(v. 7) Abram built an altar to God and worshiped him before moving to the mountain east of Bethel, pitching his tent there, and building another altar.
Abraham and Sarah in Egypt
When Abram and Sarai first left the land of Ur, Abram asked Sarai that whenever they went through foreign lands, she was to say that he was her brother. (Genesis 20:13) Sarai agreed. Though it was not a complete lie since he was in fact her half-brother, both of them had to know it was not a God-honoring pact.
When famine struck the land of Canaan where Abram and Sarai dwelt, Abram made the decision to go to Egypt and dwell there. As they neared Egypt, Abram reminded Sarai of their earlier agreement. He pointed out her obvious beauty and fear that the Egyptians might kill him if they found out he was married to her.
Sure enough, she attracted the attention of the princes of Pharoah and was taken to Pharaoh’s palace.
Imagine how frightened Sarai must have been, to be separated from Abram and placed in a pagan environment. It was only a matter of time before she would be called into Pharaoh’s private chambers. Why didn’t Abram protect her? How could he take their gifts in good conscience?
Fortunately, though her husband had abandoned her, God had not. He plagued Pharaoh’s household until Pharaoh confronted Abram. Sarai was returned to Abram, and they were kicked out of Egypt.
How scared Sarah must have been when things go awry and the Pharaoh whisks her away from Abraham and into the king’s palace, preparing her to be a part of his royal haram. Fortunately, God was watching out for all concerned, and intervened, bringing great plagues on Pharaoh and his household. I can only imagine the relief Sarah must have felt to be reunited with her husband.
Abraham and Sarah in Gerar
After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham and Sarah moved from Mamre to Gerar. Upon their arrival in the new land, he told King Abimelech that Sarah was his sister. And just like in Egypt, the king brought Sarah into his haram.
Why would Abraham do such a thing? Had he not learned his lesson in Egypt? Why was Abraham still not willing to trust God and profess Sarah as his ninety-year-old wife?
God wasn’t about to allow anything to mar his plans for Abraham and Sarah’s conception of the promised son. God came to Abimelech in a dream warning him what would happen if he slept with Sarah. But Abimelech was pure. He pointed out his innocence to God, and God affirmed that he knew Abimelech had not touched her. He ordered the king to return Sarah to her husband and Abraham would pray for him.
Abimelech did as God directed, but first, he rose early in the morning and told all his servants what had happened. Then he called to Abraham and rebuked him for his dishonesty. He asked him why he would do such a thing.
Abraham responded he did it because he thought “There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.” (Genesis 20:11 ESV)
As it turned out, the pagan king acted more righteous than God’s chosen couple. After admonishing both Abraham and Sarah, Abimelech gifted them with livestock and servants and told them to live where they pleased in his kingdom.
Sarah Devises a Plan
You’d think since Sarah had personally witnessed the hand of God at work in her life, that she would know that she could trust Him. But even though she knew God had promised Abraham a son, after time continued to pass without a baby, Sarah let her fears get the best of her.
Perhaps she feared that God had forgotten them. Or maybe, she feared, they’d misunderstood God. Obviously, Sarah was far to old to bear a child. If Abraham was to have his heir, she’d need to take matters into her own hands.
Losing confidence in God and desperate to provide Abram children, Sarah devised her own plan of action. She gave Hagar, her Egyptian maidservant, to be a second wife to Abram so that she might obtain children through her. Abram agreed to Sarah’s plan.
Sure enough, Hagar conceived, but things didn’t turn out the way Sarah expected. Hagar flaunted her pregnancy, looking down on her barren mistress.
Sarah couldn’t handle Hagar’s insolence, so she blamed Abram for the situation she had created. Undisturbed, Abram told her Hagar was hers to do to her what she pleased. So Sarah dealt harshly with Hagar until she fled from her presence.
What a mess Sarah made when she got impatient with God and took matters into her own hands. Though it was an accepted custom at the time to use servants as surrogate mothers when the wife was unable to conceive, this was never God’s plan.
Why did Abram go along with Sarah’s contrivance? Probably because he, too, was desperate to fulfill God’s promise. In their eagerness to see God’s plan come to fruition, they created complications that could have been avoided.
God’s Promise to Abraham and Sarah
Hagar bore Ishmael, but Sarah remained barren. Another decade passed. Abram and Sarah grew older. Then one day God appeared to Abram to establish His covenant with him. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and changed Sarai’s to Sarah.
After changing Sarah’s name, God told Abraham that he would bless Sarah and that God would give Abraham a son by Sarah, then he would further bless her by making her a mother of nations and mother of kings.
Abraham laughed in his heart that he, a 100-year-old man, and Sarah, a 90-year-old woman, would have a child. He suggested that Ishmael fulfill God’s promise. But God insisted that Sarah would bear a son, and they would call him Isaac. It would be with Isaac that His covenant would be established.
Later, God came to Abraham again, and as He ate the feast prepared by Abraham, God repeated that Sarah would have a son. Sarah, who was standing behind the tent door and listening to the conversation, laughed to herself that God would wait until she was aged to finally provide her the joy of a child.
Though she didn’t laugh out loud, God heard her inward laughter. He asked Abraham why Sarah laughed. Then He reminded them that nothing was too hard for Him to accomplish. He promised them that by the next year, they would have the promised son.
Both Abraham and Sarah laughed when God told them the time had finally come for them to have the promised son. Just thinking of the ludicrousness of two old people having a baby brought joy to their hearts. Though they had long ago given up hope, God had not forgotten them.
When Abraham was a hundred-years-old and God told Abraham that his promised son would come from Sarah, Abraham fell on his face and laughed. When Sarah was ninety and heard God saying that she would have a child, she, too, laughed to herself. Both had long ago given up hope and had a hard time believing that it could be possible for a couple their age to conceive a child.
But at the appointed time, Sarah bore a son. They named him Isaac, which means “He will laugh.” After they circumcised Isaac, Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.” She also said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.”(Genesis 21:6-7 NKJV)
How eager Abraham and Sarah were to see the fulfillment of God’s promise, but they had to wait until God’s timing to see it come to fruition. All their efforts to take over and speed up the process only complicated the situation. God wouldn’t be rushed. He knew that by waiting until it was physically impossible for Sarah to conceive, all would recognize the miracle of the birth of Isaac.
Interestingly, the time when we would most expect Sarah and Abraham to exhibit fear, we see none. No mention is made of Sarah in the account of Abraham taking Isaac to the mountain to sacrifice him. Did Abraham not tell Sarah? Did he tell her and she accepted it? Seems unlikely, but we’ll never know since the Bible doesn’t tell us.
The Death of Sarah
Though Sarah was ninety-years-old when she bore Isaac, God gave her another thirty-seven years to cherish Isaac and Abraham.
When Sarah died, Abraham mourned and wept for her. Since they were living in Canaan as foreigners, he went to the sons of Heth asking for property to bury his wife. They called him a mighty prince among them and offered him his choice of burial places.
Abraham chose the cave of Machpelah at the end of Ephron’s field, offering full price for the property. In the presence of all the townspeople, Ephron countered, saying that he would give it to Abraham. But Abraham insisted he wanted to pay market value.
Ephron responded the land was worth four hundred shekels of silver, so that’s what Abraham paid. And the field of Ephron in Machpelah before Mamre, also known as Hebron, in Canaan was deeded to Abraham as a burial place for his wife. After all those years of living as nomads, Abraham finally owned property in the promised land.
The entire chapter of Genesis 23 is devoted to the death and burial of Sarah. Though Sarah made plenty of mistakes in her lifetime, her love for her family remained constant. She followed Abraham wherever he led. She did what she could to please him. Even when she messed up, it was usually due to misplaced efforts to indulge him.
When Sarah died, she left behind a legacy of love. Her husband and son knew how very much she loved them, and they loved her.
What Can We Learn From the Story of Sarah in the Bible?
It’s easy to berate ourselves when we are fearful, but God understands fear. Throughout the Bible, He’s always reminding people to not be afraid. He knows that’s our natural inclination. He reminds us, though, that we don’t have to live in fear.
If we can only trust Him and quit trying to take the weight of our worries on our own, He will take care of it all in a way that far surpasses anything we could imagine. We can be fearless if we give it to Him instead of holding onto it ourselves.
Right now most of us are living in some state of fear, whether it’s the fear of sickness or death, worrying about the future, our jobs, our income, our country. Fear is overtaking our world. We’re all searching for answers, but we need to make sure that our trust is in God, not in our own wisdom.
We do not need to be like Sarah who let her fear direct her paths, doing what seemed right in her own eyes rather than waiting for God to do His thing. We need to have patience when God does not take action in our timetable. We need to remind ourselves that God is in control and if we put our faith in Him, He will see us through this present situation as well as whatever else our future holds. We must not let our fear cause us to act foolishly.
Lord God, we come to you, many of us fearful for our lives. Nothing makes sense to us. What we thought we knew, no longer applies. Every day is something new to fear. Lord, please take our fears and show us how to replace them with faith. Forgive us for those times when we allow our fears to consume our minds. Reveal yourself to us, reminding us how much you love and care for us and how you want what’s best for us. Be patient with us when we fail. We love you. In Christ’ name. Amen.
Sarah Bible Study
Bible Study Review
- What happened with Abraham and Sarah went to Egypt?
- What happened in Gerar?
- What was Sarah’s plan?
Thoughts to Ponder
- How did Sarah show a lack of faith?
- What wss the effect of Sarah’s misguided plan?
- Why is a chapter devoted to Sarah’s death?
- Do you have a hard time trusting God?
- Are you willing to follow God when it doesn’t make sense?
- What are you afraid of?
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