Wife of Abraham, Sarah is a woman whose hope endured. Originally Sarai (meaning ‘my princess’), she was extremely beautiful and extremely barren. Sarah’s beauty tempted most men, kings and lowborn alike. Scripture does not introduce us to Sarah until her 65th year, and Abraham still feared that Egyptian pharaohs would injure him to take Sarah for their own. MacArthur calls her self-centered, unreasonable, whiny, pouty and temperamental…among other things. It’s possible that she may have become vain and spoiled, knowing her tremendous beauty.
However, Sarah’s first 65 years are summed up in one single statement: “Sarai was barren; she had no child.” (Gen. 11:30) I cannot claim what Sarah may have been like, or pretend to know who she was, but it’s possible she became bitter or ill-tempered over her barren-ness, not just because of her beauty. MacArthur also said she was “obviously tortured by her childlessness.” I wondered to myself, “What made it so obvious?”
As for her husband, Abraham was called to serve the Lord in a time when true believers were scattered in a world of paganism. God promised Abraham that he would father a great nation to be His witness to the world. That sounds like a lot pressure for a woman, certainly for one who was barren. As God made promises with Abraham, he was called into a land reserved for himself and his descendants. Along the way, at Abraham’s suggestion, Sarah and Abraham posed as siblings (a half-truth), to prevent the pharaoh from hurting Abraham (mentioned earlier). Sarah was extremely devoted to her husband, and is recognized for her commitment, as she stood by him even in his mistakes. God found this devotion commendable.
Despite desperate efforts to conceive, Sarah did not become pregnant. God continued to renew his promise for children to Abraham. In fact, Abraham laughed when God promised him a child by Sarah (Gen. 17:17), as they were both pushing 100. But we are told that we should not mistake Abraham’s laughter for disbelief (Rom. 4:20-21). My first thought was to want proof that those who lived to be 200+ years old aged the same as we do now. But Abraham’s humor must mean something. By this time, Sarah has proven faith I’m not so sure I could match. Were I to keep faith and have a child at such an age, I would fear of dying during childbirth. After all, Abraham would have an heir, the prophecy fulfilled – for what would I still be needed? God knows better…to quote MacArthur, “His plan all along was for Sarah to have her first child in her own age, after every prospect of a natural fulfillment of the prophecy was exhausted and after every earthly reason for hope was completely dead.”
Alas, I am not Sarah. What did she do? Take matters into her own hands by bringing Abraham to her maid, Hagar. According to the author, tensions in the Middle East that are seen today can be traced to Sarah’s “foolhardy ploy to try to concoct a man-made solution to her dilemma.” This was the first recorded case of polygamy in Scripture involving a righteous man, but neither was it the last. MacArthur lists several examples throughout the Bible, and each situation exacts its own consequences. Soon, Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Yet, God renewed His promise with Abraham and Sarah once more, providing a timeline and a name for their promised son: Isaac (Gen. 17:15-21). Sarah is present when God verbalizes His covenant this time, and at the assurance of Isaac, she laughs within herself. “Despite her temper and struggles with discouragement, Sarah remained an essentially good-humored woman.” Wow.
A couple years down the road, Ishmael ridicules Isaac, for some unknown reason. Nevertheless, it was enough to set Sarah off and she banishes Ishmael and Hagar. Abraham loved his firstborn son, but God reaffirmed Sarah’s demand. Paul further explains in Galatians 4:24-30.
Personally, I should have guessed that this book would be pages of hard truths, as I am learning through each extraordinary woman. I am not necessarily a feminist, but do not subscribe to the traditional ‘roles’ of my sex. I’ll stop rambling, and leave you to ponder the questions – which become a bit more personal this chapter…
1. What are your first thoughts about Sarai (or Sarah)?
2. We first discover Sarah when she was 65 years old. At that time she was beautiful but had no children. Why was it so important that a woman have children?
3. Review the material on pages 28-29. List Sarah’s strengths and weaknesses. Now list your strengths and weaknesses. In what ways are you and Sarah similar? In what ways are you different?
4. Because she was childless, Sarah is characterized as frustrated and resentful. When you don’t get what you expect, what words can be used to characterize the way you act? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Explain your response.
5. Sarah’s actions reveal that she was totally devoted to her husband. Your life reveals the people and/or things to which you are totally devoted. What does your life say is important to you?
6. In spite of her years of childlessness, Sarah remained confident that God would do what He promised to do. Your life is characterized by hope. For what are you hoping? How confident are you that God will do what you expect?
7. Read Genesis 17:20-21. How do you think Sarah felt when she heard these words?
8. What was significant about Sarah’s laughter in Genesis 18:15? How important is it that we be honest with God?
9. What life principles did you learn from the study of Sarah’s life? How will you apply these principles to your life?
The study questions are from MacArthur’s Twelve Extraordinary Women, as the post summarizes my views of the second chapter. Photo from Jonathan Enns: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonathanenns/