When I think of women in the Bible, few stories impact and inspire me like the story of Sarah, wife of Abraham and mother of God’s promised heir. As we look at her life, we can learn so much about God’s faithfulness to keep His promises, even when they seem impossible.
When we first encounter her in the Bible, Sarah (Sarai) is married to Abram but has thus far been unable to bear him any children. Following the Lord’s call, Abram moves his wife and all their household away from their homeland to a place called Canaan, the land God promises will one day belong to his descendants. A curious promise to make to a childless couple, don’t you think? Yet Abram believes God enough to obey and sets off for this new land.
The story continues in Genesis 15, when God seals His previously spoken promise with a covenant, confirming that He will provide a son to Abram and that his descendants will one day be as numerous as the stars in the sky. I wonder how Sarai felt when her husband told her of this interaction - as his wife, the fulfillment of this gigantic promise hinged on her ability to bear him a child, which seemed next to impossible in her barren state.
Surely these emotions influence what happens next - Sarai takes on the responsibility of fulfilling God’s word and attempts to short-cut His plan by providing her own solution. Believing she will never bear Abram a son, she decides that her servant girl, Hagar, should be the one to do it instead. Abram agrees to this plan and in time Hagar does conceive and give birth to a son, Ishmael, but this attempt to “help” move God’s plan along brings turmoil into their lives and leads to adversity for their ancestors throughout history.
Let’s press pause right there. How often do we try to take control of situations where God has told us to wait on Him? When we are faced with the impossible, do we settle for the next best thing or do we truly believe God can do what He says? I can think of times I’ve acted just like Sarai - when I couldn’t see a way, I took matters into my own hands and ended up making a mess of things. Let’s learn from Sarai and trust that God’s way is always best!
I’m so thankful that my wrong turns don’t signify the end of the story. Our mistakes and lack of faith can certainly complicate things, but God’s faithfulness does not depend on our perfect execution of His plan. In the story of Sarai and Abram, another 13 years have passed since the birth of Ishmael. Abram is 99 years old, and God appears on two separate occasions to rename the couple and remind them that His promise still stands. This time around, He specifically says that Sarah will bear the promised son. The thought is so unbelievable that they both laugh and question God - “you mean Ishmael, right, God? There’s no way Sarah is having a baby...she’s 90 years old!”
I love God’s patience with us when we just can’t see things the way He does. I can imagine Him smiling as He replies, “No - Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you.” Or in other words, "You heard me loud and clear every single time I’ve repeated my promise. Now watch me do exactly what I’ve been saying all along!" One of my favorite moments in this narrative is found in Genesis 18:14 - “Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
Sure enough, the following year, Sarah gives birth to a son in her old age. The LORD kept His word and did for Sarah exactly what He had promised, exactly when He said He would. And this baby whose announcement prompted laughter was accordingly named Isaac, meaning ‘he laughs’. The God who makes crazy promises loves to delight us with His ability to do the impossible, and I can just imagine Sarah grinning and chuckling to herself any time she thought about what He had done through her.