Abraham married well, to a beauty named Sarah. She was pretty enough to turn the heads of a pharaoh and a king, who nearly lost their lives for entertaining the thought of taking her into their harems.
What both rulers didn't know was that they were dealing with God's faithful matriarch, Sarah, and with His faithful patriarch, Abraham. To be sure, Abraham distorted the truth a little by presenting his wife as his sister. But she was his half-sister. She was also his wife. And at age 65, she continued to turn the heads of rulers. However, her inner beauty of faith in God far exceeded her outward appearance.
Sarah is a shining example of the practice of faith.
In the process of time, God transformed Sarah into a courageous, loyal, and faithful support for her husband. Although God changed her doubt to faith, Sarah must be given credit for placing herself in God's hands for Him to reshape her perspective.
Sarah also protected Isaac and defended her hearth and home (for her, a comfortable tent) from a polygamous relationship. She forced the banishment of her handmaiden Hagar who had a son, Ishmael, by her husband Abraham. She was faithful in her marriage through thick and thin. Her shortcomings were typical for any day, any epoch, but her virtues are uncontested as an example for women and men forever.
A fitting partner
What follows is a remarkable story of one of the most faithful saints in the history of humanity. Sarah was a fitting partner to Abraham. In this story, Sarah shines as a faithful wife and mother. She might even be called the mother of all faithful women. The apostle Peter suggests such a description for her when he writes: "As Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid..." (1 Peter 3:6).
As a wife, Sarah also transcended the occasional apprehensions of married life. Since husbands and wives can and do have different perspectives based on reason and intuition, a wife can become apprehensive of her husband's decisions.
That is where the importance of good communication comes into play in a healthy marriage. And although Sarah and Abraham likely had good communication in their marriage, through her faith she was helped in this important emotional need to look to God for answers and blessings.
Perhaps the most difficult time for Abraham and Sarah was when Sarah demanded that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness. It was a heartrending scene, a time of great crisis for Sarah, Abraham, and Hagar (not to mention young Ishmael).
For Sarah, it was the time of decision, a declaration and substantiation of her son Isaac as sole heir to Abraham and Sarah's future blessings. God had previously announced to Abraham that He would continue His covenant through Isaac, not Ishmael (Genesis 17:19-21), so this was in keeping with God's purpose.
Sarah had personally observed 16-year-old Ishmael mock young Isaac. (Comparing Genesis 16:16, and Genesis 21:5 and Genesis 21:8, Ishmael was 13 years old when Isaac was conceived, 14 years old at Isaac's birth, and approximately 16 years old when Isaac was weaned.) "And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she [Hagar] had borne to Abraham, scoffing [literally, "laughing"]. Therefore she said to Abraham, 'Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac.' And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham's sight because of his son [Ishmael]" (Genesis 21:9-11).
Sarah's jealousy for Isaac as their only heir complemented God's design and promise to Abraham and Sarah: "For in Isaac your seed shall be called" (Genesis 21:12; Hebrews 11:18).
Resolving family problem
Put yourself in Sarah's place and ask what you would have done in similar circumstances. Sarah was 90 years old when God fulfilled His promise that she would bear a son. Hagar was but a handmaid to Sarah and one she had mistakenly given to Abraham in hopes of helping God along in His promise to her. Now this son of her handmaid was mocking young Isaac, her very own flesh, blood and bone.
To her, the only peace her family could enjoy would be from the removal of her handmaid Hagar and her son Ishmael. As well, having Hagar and Ishmael around continually reminded Sarah of the mistake she had made by giving Hagar to Abraham in hopes of fulfilling God's promise of providing them a son. This was a situation Sarah found untenable.
Abraham too was grieved. Ishmael was also his son, flesh of his flesh. It hurt him deeply to part with his son, now growing into a young man. Abraham had grown to love Ishmael, spent long hours with him and taught him many basic skills he would need when he would be on his own.
Resolution in God's hands
The best resolution to this traumatic matter was in God's hands. "But God said to Abraham, 'Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed'" (Genesis 21:12-13).
So it was that Abraham rose up early in the morning and provided Hagar and Ishmael with bread and water and sent them on their way into the Wilderness of Beersheba. Again, Abraham trusted in God. Little wonder he was labeled as the father of the faithful (Galatians 3:7; Romans 4:16). Still, it must have been heartrending for Abraham to watch his son Ishmael disappear into the wilderness, wondering whether he would ever see him again.
And what of Hagar? She probably asked herself what she had done to deserve such treatment. There had been hard feelings between her and Sarah since she had conceived Ishmael (Genesis 16:4-6), but she had been obedient to Sarah and to Abraham. Now they were sending her into the wilderness with only bread and water. As she set off with her son across a hot and barren wilderness, she wondered what lay ahead for her and Ishmael.
God had not forgotten Abraham's first son, so, thankfully, there was hope for Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 16:10-12). At the time, however, she could only imagine that suffering and death lay ahead of them.
Hagar did not understand that God would watch over her and Ishmael, and she was not privy to God's design to bless Israel through Isaac, the seed of promise.
Beyond childbearing age
Abraham was 99 years old and Sarah 90 when Isaac was conceived. Sarah apparently was well beyond menopause, so God would necessarily have had to perform a miracle for conception to occur.
God had promised, and He was easily able to fulfill His promise. But though God had given His word, both Sarah and Abraham had a lesson to learn about faith and patience.
First, they tried to work things out their own way. Abraham and Sarah attempted to improve on God's timetable. Rather than waiting on God to perform what He had promised, though they were beyond the age of procreation, they decided that perhaps God meant for them to help Him perform His miracle for them.
Let's see now, Sarah may have thought, I have this faithful handmaiden and maybe, just maybe, God wants us to have a son through her. Hagar is young enough to bear a child, so I think I'll suggest that Abraham have our child, the one God promised us, through Hagar.
This sounded reasonable, and it was perhaps a common practice in surrounding cultures, but it wasn't what God had in mind. What we have here is an attempt to work things out through human reasoning and effort. Not all was lost, however. God allowed natural, human reasoning to rule for the moment. Ishmael was conceived and born to Hagar and Abraham.
Difference between human effort and faith
In all of this, God provided us with an understanding of the difference between human effort and faith in God. Although we may know the will of God, we often try to improve on God's timing by working out His promises through our own efforts.
What God expects, however, is for us to know His will. Then with continued patience and faith, we wait on Him to answer according to His promise. Certainly there are things we can do for ourselves. But when it comes to faith, we are dealing with spiritual thought processes which connect, seamlessly, with patience.
God is not opposed to our caring for ourselves; He is opposed to our caring more for ourselves than for Him and His will (Luke 14:26-27). All of this and more Sarah learned, along with her husband Abraham. And such principles weren't all learned in a day or a week. It took Abraham and Sarah years to grasp them. But at all times, they received God's truth with a humility of mind and a readiness to act on what they heard. They became convicted (which is more than being merely convinced) of God's instruction. This all translated into belief, faith.
Believing God's promise
Patience is one of the most crucial lessons any Christian must learn. The New Testament writer Luke records Jesus' words: "By your steadfastness and patient endurance you shall win the true life of your souls" (Luke 21:19, Amplified Bible).
Saving our spiritual lives is what is most important to God. This is not to say that faith and patience do not play a role in protecting our physical lives. They do. The example of Daniel proves this true! He patiently waited on God to deliver Him from the lions (Daniel 6:10-23). God heard his prayers, observed his faith and spared his physical life. God saves our spiritual lives and often our physical lives, too.
Sarah too was patient and faithful. She waited on God and "judged Him faithful who had promised" (Hebrews 11:11). The entire miraculous event was reduced to patient waiting on God to answer.
A laughing matter
We should not conclude our profile of Sarah without noting the fact that when the Lord promised Sarah she would bear a son in her advanced age, she privately laughed about such an apparent absurdity.
According to the account in the book of Genesis, God said to Abraham: "'I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.' (Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.) Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, 'After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord [Abraham] being old also?' And the Lord said to Abraham, 'Why did Sarah laugh?...But Sarah denied it, saying, 'I did not laugh,' for she was afraid. And He said, 'No, but you did laugh!'" (Genesis 18:10-15).
Read in isolation, this dialogue between God and Sarah appears to have little significance. But the narrative continues and is also mentioned in the New Testament, where it takes on deeper meaning.
Moses shows us how the nature of Sarah's laughter changed: "And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age...And Sarah said, 'God has made me laugh ['made laughter for me' or 'granted me the ability to laugh and rejoice'], and all who hear will laugh [and rejoice] with me'" (Genesis 21:1-6).
Originally, 90-year-old Sarah laughed at the apparent absurdity of delivering a son. Her reaction was the laughter of doubt, but after she actually gave birth to Isaac, her skeptical laughter changed to laughter of pure joy.
Now she enjoyed the laughter of faith. What satisfaction she must have felt, what satisfaction, what peace, what comfort.
Sarah's remarkable example is in the book of Hebrews, chapter 11, which recounts many inspiring stories of faith. Though her story is only briefly explored here, she ranks with the Bible's faithful. Rightly did Peter also commend all faithful women of all ages when he wrote: "As Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid..." (1 Peter 3:6).
The implication is clear: Sarah is a shining example of the practice of faith.