This week I want to look at Sarah, Abraham's wife, as part of my series focusing on women of purpose in the Bible. I have gone back and forth on whether to include Sarah for she is not a woman who has drawn a great deal of attention. I don't believe I have ever heard a message preached or read an article written about the lessons to learn from Sarah's life. Perhaps that is also true for you, but after today, you won't be able to say never, for I am going to write about this woman of purpose and explain why I finally decided to include her in this series.
Because Abraham is a central figure in the book of Genesis, we also get to know a little about Sarai, which was her birth name. There are a few instances where Sarai made decisions the repercussions of which are still being felt in the Middle East today.
- A surrogate mother. Sarai was the one who suggested that Abraham sleep with her maid Hagar so the maid could conceive and give Abraham and Sarai a child. We won't go into the ancient custom that allowed this practice, but it did not work out well for any of those involved:
He [Abraham] slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.” “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her (Genesis 16:4-6).
- Laughter and a lie. After Hagar's son, Ishmael, was born, the Lord appeared to Abram and changed his name to Abraham and Sarai's name to Sarah (see Genesis 17). The Lord promised that a child would be born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age. Then three visitors came to visit Abraham when he was 99 and Sarah was 90 to report that God's promise was to be fulfilled and Sarah would be pregnant. When Sarah overheard this, she found it humorous:
So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh" (Genesis 18:18:12-15).
- Ishmael's eviction. After Isaac was born, Sarah decided that it was time for Hagar and Abraham's son Ishmael to go: "But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, And she said to Abraham, 'Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac'" (Genesis 21:9-10).
Now you understand why I was ambivalent about including Sarah in this series, but then I considered all the evidence that qualified Sarah to be a woman of purpose and found enough to warrant her inclusion. Let's look at that evidence now.
Here is why Sarah is more than worthy to be discussed with other women of purpose.
- She was a woman of faith. We read in Hebrews 11:11-12: "And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore." Sarah is the first woman mentioned in the Hebrews 11 list of faith champions. Even though she laughed and lied about it, she had faith and with faith, it is possible to please God. This 90-year-old woman believed God's word that she would yet give birth.
- She was submissive. Abram heard the Lord and left his homeland of Ur to travel by faith to the land God promised him. Sarah followed him. On two occasions, Abraham lied about who Sarah truly was since he was afraid the locals would kill him and take Sarah since she was beautiful. In truth, Sarah was also Abraham's half-sister, which is how he introduced her, conveniently concealing the fact that she was also his wife. How did Sarah react? Peter told us in his first epistle: "For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear" (1 Peter 3:5-6).
- She had a sense of humor. After she was confronted about her laughter and caught in her lie, Sarah memorialized her faults. She named her son Isaac, which meant laughter, explaining, "'God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.' And she added, 'Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age'” (Genesis 21:6-7).
- She was God's princess. God changed Abram's name, which meant exalted father, to Abraham, faith of a multitude. God changed Sarai's name, which meant my princess, to Sarah, which meant princess: "God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her'" (Genesis 17:15-16). God identified Sarah as His princess, and anyone whom God honors like that deserves to be considered a woman of purpose.
The obvious lesson from Sarah's story is that your flaws do not disqualify you from a life of purpose just as hers did not. They also don't prevent you from exercising faith for your purpose, which always pleases God. Even though she was unkind to Hagar, even though she laughed and lied about it, God saw Sarah as His princess and changed her name so that others would recognize that fact as well.
You have strengths and weaknesses and if you are like most people, you underestimate your strengths and overemphasize your weaknesses, feeling they disqualify you from an effective and purposeful life. I urge you to consider Sarah, God's princess, the next time you think your failures or flaws are sufficient to render you useless where God's purpose for you is concerned. Have a blessed week!