Sarah and Grace
“Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.” (Genesis 21:1)

Sarah had to wait until she was ninety years old to receive God's promise to her. She had been uprooted from the prosperous city of Ur (located halfway between present day Baghdad and the Persian Gulf) when her father decided to move to Canaan. Their caravan of family, slaves, livestock, and household goods moved slowly northwest along the trade route toward Haran about 560 miles from Ur. Sarai was the daughter of Terah and the wife of Terah's son Abram. They had the same father, but not the same mother. By the time they reached Haran, Terah decided to settle in this crossroads city instead of traveling further into Canaan.

Abram made a good living here. He increased his livestock and goods. But once again, Sarai, at the age of 65, had to pack up and move on. God had told Abram to leave Haran. He promised to lead him to land he could call his own and pass on to his descendants. Abram obeyed because he believed God was trustworthy.

Sarai, instead of living in a large brick home built around a shaded courtyard as was common in Ur, now had to live the rest of her life in a tent. Instead of being settled in one place, she had to travel behind the livestock from one sparse grazing area to another. And year after year, Sarai remained childless.

Canaan was a dry and barren area. It's only value lay in its position between two great political powers - Egypt and Mesopotamia. Caravans had to pass through Canaan to carry goods between these two civilizations. When Canaan became so dry that a severe famine threatened his family and livestock, Abram took his clan into Egypt. The Nile river kept Egypt well watered and fertile. 

Abram was afraid that his extraordinarily beautiful wife would cost him his life. So, he told Sarai to pretend to be his sister, and withhold the fact that she was also his wife. As Abram feared, the Pharaoh of Egypt heard about Sarai and had her brought into his harem. He paid Abram quite well for his “sister.” 

He used the same strategy years later with the King of Gerar. Both times God rescued Sarai. Both rulers rebuked Abram for his lie.  Abram profited from it each time, not because he did the right thing, but because God was keeping his part of the covenant to bless Abram.

Abram wonders, though, what good all these riches are when he has no son to inherit it. God reassures him again and again that he would not have to adopt an heir. He would have a son.

Meanwhile, Sarai has come to the conclusion that the Lord was preventing her from conceiving. Marriage contracts of the time permitted a wife who could not produce an heir to provide her husband with a slave woman to be a surrogate mother. The slave woman's children would be counted as the legal wife's.

Sarai chose Hagar, a young Egyptian slave girl (maybe a gift from Pharaoh?) to be the surrogate. Sarai speaks in the Scriptures for the first time, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to this plan. 

Hagar might not have been crazy about it; she was young and her mistress's husband was old. She had no choice; she was a slave.  But, she got her revenge. She conceived. Abram was delighted. Hagar gloated spitefully to Sarai. Sarai angrily took her regrets out on Hagar who fled into the desert. (More about Hagar next month.)

God sent Hagar back to Sarai. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael when Abram was 86 years old. Sarai watches and yearns as Ishmael grows up. Thirteen years go by and the Lord appears to Abram: “I am God Almighty (El Shaddai); walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

This promise now seems reasonable to Abram; he now has a son, Ishmael. But God has other plans: “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.” God repeats the promise, “I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

God had just  made the same promise to Abram, now Abraham: “I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.” Abraham took this promise seriously, but Sarai was now 89 years old. He couldn't help himself. The thought of an old woman giving birth to a child was just too funny. He laughed. He reminded God that he already had an heir, his son Ishmael; he really didn't need another one.

God again patiently, but firmly promises, “But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” Abraham went home and went through with the circumcision that showed his willingness to covenant with God.

Abraham and Sarah needed more encouragement so the Lord visited them at their tent. This time Sarah is listening from inside. After she prepared bread for the guests, she eavesdropped on their conversation. The strangers surprised her by asking for her by name. They had her attention. The Lord promised again, this time in Sarah's hearing: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Sarah laughed.

The Lord said, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

God has a sense of humor, too. He named their son Laughter. (Isaac means laughter.)

“Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.”

Sarah was called and chosen just as Abraham was called and chosen by God to receive the covenant promise of innumerable descendants, blessings from God, and an inheritance neither lived to see fulfilled. Sarah was an integral part of God's plan of redemption, not merely a passive recipient of it.

Paul used Sarah to represent the New Covenant. Her words are quoted as inspired Scripture. Peter held her up as an example of inner beauty that women in Christ should imitate. Along with Abraham, her name is listed among the faithful in Hebrews Chapter Eleven.

As Abraham is the father of the faithful, so Sarah is the mother of all those who will inherit eternal life in the kingdom of heaven.

References: Genesis chapters 11-24; Genesis 21:1; 11:31; 17:1-2, 15-16, 5-6, 17;21:1-2; Galatians 4:24, 30; 3:29; I Peter 3:3-6; Hebrews 11:11; Reader's Digest The Bible Through The Ages; Zondervan Handbook To The Bible; Illustrated Dictionary and Concordance of the Bible

For the Scripture References and related Bible Study Guide, go to Bible Study Guide: Sarah and Grace, Called and Chosen

Scarlett Stough