Genesis 11:29-23:20

Sarah is an amazing woman of great spiritual strength. There is more written about her in the Old and New Testaments than any other woman. Yet, because of her husband being known as the "Father of Faith", our attention is not fixed on her and we do not appreciate how strong she was.

It is said that behind every successful man there is a good woman and this is so true of Abram (later called Abraham) and Sarai (later called Sarah). She must have loved her husband very deeply in order to leave her family and friends in Ur of the Chaldeans - a wealthy and prosperous port - to live a nomadic life. At the young age of sixty-five, she was prepared to move to a new and unknown land. God had appeared to her husband and told him to get up and go to a place that He would show him. He promised that He was going to make Abram great and that, through him, the whole earth would be blessed. Their forefathers had worshipped the moon god (Allah) but Sarai knew that her husband had found the "One True God", so it was not difficult for her to obey.

They left their extended family but got side-tracked at Harran and initially settled there. (Genesis 11:31) After the death of Terah (her father-in-law), they moved on to Canaan. (Genesis 12:5) During their journey, Abraham put a lot of emphasis on worship. At every important stopping-place, he built an altar (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:4) as a point of communication with his heavenly Father. He was really grateful to God for safe travel, but he also required direction for the next step. He was also reminding himself of the covenant promises that God had made to him, showing God that He was at the centre of his life and the chief priority in every situation.

The couple then had to go down to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan. Isn’t it amazing that, when we follow God’s direction to do something new, everything seems to go wrong? We then begin to wonder if we heard correctly or if we listened to the wrong voice. All the enthusiasm seems to drain away. We are not sure whether we can continue and many of us even turn back when the going gets too tough.

We have to learn to:

  • Keep focused on what God has said; (Psalm 119:105)
  • Guard our joy; (Nehemiah 8:10)
  • Give thanks in all circumstances; (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  • Guard our mouths at all times; (Psalm 141:3)
  • Recognise where the problems have come from; (Ephesians 6:12)
  • See ourselves pressing on to victory. (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Danger abroad

When they arrived in Egypt, the locals saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman and Abram became worried that some Egyptian might kill him in order to take his wife for himself. So he asked Sarai to say that she was his sister. This was partly true, because she was actually his half-sister. (Genesis 20:12) However, Abram looked at the situation through eyes born from the "tree of knowledge" and he panicked. He feared that he would not prosper but would die there in Egypt. (Genesis 12:11-13) By contrast, Sarai’s response was total obedience. She trusted in Abram's God and was at peace about the situation. (This undoubtedly contributed to her radiant beauty.) As Abram continued to live in fear, she was taken into Pharaoh’s harem. (Genesis 12:15)

At the same time, it's interesting to speculate about what Sarai might have been thinking. For example, did she, perhaps, feel let down by Abram, thinking to herself:

  • Why did he not believe the promise about me having a child?
  • Why has he put me in such danger?
  • Does he really love me?
  • How can I respect a man that says one thing and does another?
  • Where is my security?

But the God in whom she has decided to put her full trust (not any person or possessions), intervenes and sends a plague. (Genesis 12:17) As a result, she is restored to her husband. You can imagine the remorse Abraham feels as they come back together, but also the amazing excitement Sarai has as they share experiences of how God had protected her. Sarai does not condemn Abram. Instead, she finds her God totally dependable and her marriage is strengthened because of her relationship with God. The self-same situation is repeated by Abram when Sarai is eighty-nine years old. This was the enemy‘s "last-ditch effort" to bring God’s word to nothing, one year before the birth of Isaac, their son. They had moved to Gerar and Abraham told everyone: "Sarah is my sister." (Genesis 20:2) He didn’t even ask her this time but, again, God protects Sarah from King Abimelech by warning him - in a dream - that she is actually a married woman and not freely available to him. (Genesis 20:6)

What is this woman’s beauty secret?

From the age of sixty-five until ninety years of age she is desirable enough to be noticed by kings and to be called into their harems, winning beauty contests over teenagers! The "tree of life" gives us a clue to the answer and the apostle, Peter, spells it out in his first letter where he says: "what matters is not your outer appearance... but instead... the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit which is of great worth in God’s sight". (1 Peter 3:1-7) Let us cultivate this inner beauty: the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God in that way and were good, loyal wives to their husbands. Sarah, for instance, taking care of Abraham, would address him as: "my dear husband". We shall be true daughters of Sarah if we "do right and let nothing terrify us" (not giving way to hysterical fears or letting anxieties unnerve us). Sarah concentrated on her relationship with God. We should not forget that she didn’t know Jesus, or have God's word as her guide. But, as her inner person grew in trust and obedience and love for God, she had a quiet confidence that she was valuable to Him. This caused her outward appearance to radiate the gentleness and peace of her inner person. (Psalm 131:1-2)

Sarah had one key that we need to note: she did not idolise her husband. (1 Corinthians 10:14) She knew that he had faults, but loved him deeply anyway and accepted him (figuratively speaking) - "warts and all". (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) So, those of us who are married, should not make our husbands objects of worship. By all means, we should give them love, honour, acceptance and even admiration, but let's not put them on a pedestal. They will inevitably fall off it one day! We can also become very possessive and critical if we idolise our children. We need to give them also the freedom to walk in self-control, just as God gives us the same freedom. They learn from their own experiences, rather than when we control them through our own fears. If we take an example from Sarah, we shall see God protect us, even when what our husband decides to do may put not only us, but our children too, at risk.

Waiting... waiting... waiting!

Sarah accepted the promise that God had given to Abraham about the two of them having a son of their own but, as time went on, the mechanics of how God was actually going to do it baffled Sarah, so she decided that God needed help. In doing so, she repeated the same mistake as Eve: she relied on her own knowledge and experience and chose to interfere, instead of waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham. Abraham was drawn into the plan very easily and so Ishmael was born to Hagar, her servant girl. (Genesis 16:2-4) Immediately, Sarah became jealous and upset. Discontent reigned and peace evaporated. She blamed Abraham instead of recognising and repenting of her own mistake. She humiliated Hagar, treating her very badly, and was certainly not grateful for the son who had been born. Like all decisions stemming from our fallen, human nature, this action caused Sarah and Abraham great heartache. It even continues to have far-reaching effects in the world today, with the Arab-Israeli conflict still needing to be resolved. This just shows what destructive power can be unleashed when we walk away from God and work things out in our own strength.

“Is there anything too hard for God?” (Genesis 18:14)

Sarah learned that a life of faith in God also meant a life of patience. Indeed, these are the "power twins" that bring things to pass on the earth. Faith has to be anchored on the solid foundation of God's word and His precious promises. Sarah looked too closely at her own aged body and the apparent impossibility of the situation and she made a rash decision. We must learn from Sarah to come to the place of not baulking at the promises of God. Then God can do what He has said He will do. (Genesis 21:1) Faith is "the victory that overcomes the world" (1 John 5:4) and it is "impossible to please God without it". (Hebrews 11:6) Therefore, it is vital for our growth in God to walk by faith and not by sight. There is no shortcut to growing our faith; it comes by hearing His word. We must keep speaking aloud the word of God, "giving praise and glory to God" until faith comes and we receive His promise. (Romans 4:18-24)

The A-B-C of faith is:

A - Agree with the word of God,

B - Believe (cling to, rely on and trust in) the word of God and

C - Confess the word of God - speak His promises out loud. (Romans 10:17)

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