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 1 Peter 3:6Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters you are, as long as you do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.
American King James Version×).
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 Genesis 17:19-21 19 And God said, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son indeed; and you shall call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.
20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: 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.
21 But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear to you at this set time in the next year.
American King James Version×), so this was in keeping with God’s purpose.
Sarah had personally observed 16-year-old Ishmael mock young Isaac. (Comparing Genesis 16:16 Genesis 16:16And Abram was fourscore and six years old, when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.
American King James Version×, and Genesis 21:5 Genesis 21:5And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born to him.
American King James Version×and Genesis 21:8 Genesis 21:8And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.
American King James Version×, 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 Genesis 21:9-11 9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born to Abraham, mocking. 10 Why she said to Abraham, Cast out this female slave and her son: for the son of this female slave shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. 11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son.
American King James Version×).
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 Genesis 21:12And God said to Abraham, Let it not be grievous in your sight because of the lad, and because of your female slave; in all that Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac shall your seed be called.
American King James Version×; Hebrews 11:18 Hebrews 11:18Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall your seed be called:
American King James Version×).
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 Genesis 21:12-13 12 And God said to Abraham, Let it not be grievous in your sight because of the lad, and because of your female slave; in all that Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac shall your seed be called.
13 And also of the son of the female slave will I make a nation, because he is your seed.
American King James Version×).
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 Galatians 3:7Know you therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.
American King James Version×; Romans 4:16 Romans 4:16Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,
American King James Version×). 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 Genesis 16:4-6 4 And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.
5 And Sarai said to Abram, My wrong be on you: I have given my maid into your bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the LORD judge between me and you.
6 But Abram said to Sarai, Behold, your maid is in your hand; do to her as it pleases you. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.
American King James Version×), 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 Genesis 16:10-12 10 And the angel of the LORD said to her, I will multiply your seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.
11 And the angel of the LORD said to her, Behold, you are with child and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Ishmael; because the LORD has heard your affliction.
12 And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brothers.
American King James Version×). 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 Luke 14:26-27 26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27 And whoever does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
American King James Version×). 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 Luke 21:19In your patience possess you your souls.
American King James Version×, 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 Daniel 6:10-23 10 Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled on his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.
11 Then these men assembled, and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God.
12 Then they came near, and spoke before the king concerning the king’s decree; Have you not signed a decree, that every man that shall ask a petition of any God or man within thirty days, save of you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions? The king answered and said, The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which alters not.
13 Then answered they and said before the king, That Daniel, which is of the children of the captivity of Judah, regards not you, O king, nor the decree that you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.
14 Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him: and he labored till the going down of the sun to deliver him.
15 Then these men assembled to the king, and said to the king, Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establishes may be changed.
16 Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spoke and said to Daniel, Your God whom you serve continually, he will deliver you.
17 And a stone was brought, and laid on the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel.
18 Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of music brought before him: and his sleep went from him.
19 Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste to the den of lions.
20 And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice to Daniel: and the king spoke and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is your God, whom you serve continually, able to deliver you from the lions?
21 Then said Daniel to the king, O king, live for ever.
22 My God has sent his angel, and has shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: for as much as before him innocence was found in me; and also before you, O king, have I done no hurt.
23 Then was the king exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found on him, because he believed in his God.
American King James Version×). 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 Hebrews 11:11Through 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.
American King James Version×). 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 Genesis 18:10-15 10 And he said, I will certainly return to you according to the time of life; and, see, Sarah your wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.
11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.
12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?
13 And the LORD said to Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?
14 Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.
15 Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, No; but you did laugh.
American King James Version×).
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 Genesis 21:1-6 1 And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had spoken.
2 For Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.
3 And Abraham called the name of his son that was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac.
4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him.
5 And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born to him.
6 And Sarah said, God has made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me.
American King James Version×).
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 1 Peter 3:6Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters you are, as long as you do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.
American King James Version×).
The implication is clear: Sarah is a shining example of the practice of faith.