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Thursday Thoughts: Hoping When Hope Seems Gone

on March 27, 2014

ImageLast time, I talked about a woman’s hope in God that leads her to submit. Peter gave the example of Sarah as a woman who hoped in God. I wrote this lesson about Sarah, which was so encouraging. John MacArthur’s chapter on Sarah in his book Twelve Extraordinary Women was very helpful.

Of all the women in the Bible to be used as an example of a hope-driven submitter and a gentle/quiet spirit, I’m not sure Sarah would have been my first choice. But as we learn about her life, we can see how she had great faith in the God of all hope.

Abram & Sarai’s background in Ur: Genesis 11:28-32

Before Sarah’s name was changed, she was Sarai, which means “my princess.” She and her husband Abram (before he was Abraham) were half-siblings, sharing the same father (Terah). Abram was 10 years older than Sarai. They grew up in Ur of the Chaldeans, a powerful and wealthy pagan city; it was a theocracy based upon worship of the Babylonian moon god.

The only description we have of Sarai’s first 65 years is that she “was barren; she had no child” (11:30). This was obviously the greatest point of tension for Sarai personally and within their marriage.

God’s promise (1st mention) to Abram & Move from Haran: Genesis 12:1-8

Abram (age 75) received a call from God to leave his family and country and go to a land He would show him. God promised to make of him a great nation. Abram obeyed God in faith (cf. Heb 11:8).

Sarai (age 65) obeys her husband in following him, living the life of a nomad (after having lived in a wealthy, urban area), and moving somewhere but not knowing where (12:5).

God’s promise to make of Abram a great nation (12:2) and to give his offspring land (12:7) must have placed a great burden on Sarai.

Sarah obviously had a key role to play in this plan. Abraham could never become the patriarch of a great nation if she did not first become mother to his offspring. She was surely aware of the Lord’s promises to Abraham. She certainly would have longed to see those promise fulfilled. As long as she remained childless, however, the sense that everything somehow hinged on her must have pressed on her like a great burden on her shoulders (MacArthur, Twelve Extraordinary Women, 32).

Abram & Sarai’s Deception in Egypt: Genesis 12:9-20

Abram led his family to Abram, due to a famine in Canaan. Sarai was such a beautiful woman (even at age 65!) that he selfishly, cowardly, and faithlessly told Sarai ahead of time to claim that she was only his sister. Sarai obeyed her husband and followed this plan.

Sure enough, Pharaoh’s princes noticed her beauty, pointed her out to Pharaoh, and brought her into his house. Pharaoh gave Abram much livestock, likely planning to marry Sarai. However, plagues in his household resulted in Pharaoh’s finding out that Sarai was Abram’s wife. Sarai was then returned to Abram, untouched and unpunished.

God’s Promise to Abram Reiterated (2nd mention): Genesis 13:14-18

God expands His promise to Abraham, showing how much land would be his offspring and how extensive his offspring would be.

God Reiterates His promise when Abram questions (3rd mention): Genesis 15:1-21

Abram voices his concern about being childless to God. He is afraid that his heir will not be his own flesh and blood, but rather a servant in his household (Eliezer).God reassured Abram that his very own son will be his heir (15:4); God then reiterated His promise, making a one-sided, unconditional covenant with Abram.

Sarai tells Abram to take Hagar to bear a son: Genesis 16:1-16

Likely aware of God’s promise to Abram that he would have a son, Sarai is acutely aware that she had borne him no children. She is now 75 years old. Rather than waiting on God, she comes up with her own solution.

But as she considered her circumstances, Sarah concluded that a kind of surrogate parenting was the only possible solution to her predicament. If God’s promise to Abraham were ever going to be fulfilled, Abraham had to father children by some means. Sarah thus took it upon herself to try to engineer a fulfillment of the divine promise to Abraham. She unwittingly stepped into the role of God (MacArthur, 38).

At Sarai’s urging, Abram took his wife’s maidservant, Hagar, as his concubine. Hagar conceived and began to treat Sarai with disrespect and contempt. Sarai, provoked by Hagar’s disrespect, became angry and blamed Abram. Abram simply told Sarai to deal with Hagar as she wished. Sarai dealt harshly with Hagar, and Hagar fled. The Lord, however, told Hagar to return to her mistress and submit to her.

Hagar bore a son, Ishmael, to Abram when he was 86.

God promises Abraham & Sarah a son (4th mention): Genesis 17:1-21

God here changes Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s to Sarah.

God once more reiterates His promises to Abram, but this time he specifically includes Sarah. He states,

I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her (Gen 17:16).

Abraham asked that God not overlook Ishmael, yet God immediatedly emphasized that Abraham’s heir would be Sarah’s son.

God promises Abraham & Sarah a son in Sarah’s hearing (5th mention): Genesis 18:1-15

God again comes to reiterate His promise, but He specifically does so in Sarah’s hearing.

Sarah was obedient to Abraham’s commands to help prepare an elaborate meal on short notice for these unexpected guests.

Sarah laughed when she heard that she, at 90, and Abraham, at 100, would have a son. The Lord asked why she laughed, asking if anything was too hard for the Lord. Sarah denied laughing.

Abraham & Sarah’s deception of Abimelech, King of Gerar: Genesis 20:1-18

Having not learned from their experience in Egypt, Abraham and Sarah deceive another king, claiming that Sarah was only Abraham’s sister. Once again, Sarah is not violated in any way as God protects them. It is interesting to note that Sarah is specifically mentioned not to have been violated. She is soon to become pregnant, and it is made clear that Abimelech is not the father.

Sarah has a son and tells Abraham to cast out Hagar and Ishmael: Genesis 21:1-14

Just as the Lord had promised, Sarah had a son. Sarah saw humor in God’s dealings with her. Just as she and Abraham had laughed when they heard God’s promise, she realized that others will also laugh at the thought of such an old woman nursing a child. She named her son Isaac, which means “laughter.”

One person’s “laughter,” however, did not amuse Sarah. She saw Ishmael mocking Isaac and demanded that Abraham cast Hagar and Ishmael out. While Abraham did not want to cast out Ishmael, because he likely loved his firstborn son, God told Abraham not to be displeased but rather to follow Sarah’s request. God emphasized that it was through Isaac that God’s promises would be fulfilled.

Sarah’s death & burial: Genesis 23:1-2

Sarah died at age 127, when Isaac was 37 years old. She is the only woman in Scripture whose age and place of burial are mentioned.

NT references to Sarah

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore” (Heb 11:11-12, emphasis added).

Sarah’s faith had. . . been well tested. She. . . demonstrated her absolute trust in God’s promises. And the stamp of God’s approval on her is contained in those New Testament passages that recognize her for her steadfast faithfulness” (MacArthur, 50).

For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:5-6, emphasis added)

Lessons to take home

Despite her many failures, Sarah was praised as a holy woman with a gentle and quiet spirit who obeyed her husband

We also can follow in her example and have faith that God will always remain faithful to His promises, for nothing is too hard for the Lord.

**The above is part of First Baptist Church of Rockford’s Ladies Bible Study on Biblical Womanhood.**

{On Thursdays, I share some thoughts about what God is teaching me in my various roles as a Christian, a woman, a wife, a mother, and a pastor’s wife.}

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