Categories: Women in the Old Testament
- Sarah’s story is found in Genesis.
- Initially, her name is Sarai. It probably means “princess.”
- She is included in the genealogy of Terah, Abraham’s father. It also states that she is barren.
- She marries Abraham in Ur, located in southern Mesopotamia, and travels with Abraham and his family to Haran. She and Abraham then go to Canaan, as directed by God.
- She is ten years younger than Abraham.
- After they arrive, there is a severe famine. Abraham, Sarai, and his entourage go down to Egypt.
- Abraham asks Sarai to say that she is his sister because he is fearful that Pharaoh will kill him so he can take Sarai into his palace.
- Sarai means “beautiful in appearance.”
- As soon as the Egyptians see Sarai, they tell Pharaoh about her beauty.
- Pharaoh takes her into his palace and gives many gifts to Abraham.
- Then the Lord afflicts Pharaoh and his house with great plagues.
- Somehow Pharaoh figures out Sarai is married to Abraham, so he sends her back and escorts them out of his country.
- Ten years pass by without Sarai getting pregnant.
- Apparently she knows about the promise to Abraham that he will be the father of many descendants because she says, “You see that the LORD has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.”
- Sarai lives in a world where God is understood to be the cause behind all of life’s experiences.
- Being barren is a cause for shame; it is an affront to her husband and a chastisement from God.
- Convinced that it is her barrenness that is preventing God's promise from being fulfilled, Sarai tries to assist God out of His dilemma.
- As Sarai’s handmaiden, Hagar is bound to perform whatever is asked of her.
- Sarai, then, takes Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gives her to her husband Abraham as a wife.
- Under this arrangement, Sarai can legally adopt the child at the outset.
- But when Hagar becomes pregnant, her mistress is “slight in her eyes.” Some scholars say she treats Sarai with contempt.
- Sarai blames Abraham for “the wrong done to me…May the LORD judge between you and me!”
- Abraham tells her to do whatever she wants with Hagar.
- Sarai “afflicts her.” And Hagar runs away; but an angel of the LORD tells her to return.
- When Ishmael is born, Sarai isn’t even mentioned.
- Her hope of being “built up” by Hagar is not realized.
- Thirteen years later, the LORD tells Abraham that Sarai will have a son. Abraham falls down laughing and says, “Shall one be born to a 100 year old man? Or Sarai—shall a 90 year old woman give birth?”
- The son will be named Isaac, meaning, “he laughs.”
- The LORD also changes Sarai’s name to Sarah. Sarah also means “princess,” but a new name signifies a new life.
- Twice God states, “I will bless her.” He says that not only will she have a son, but also that nations and kings of nations will come through her.
- Ishmael will be blessed as well, but the covenant will come through Isaac.
- Shortly thereafter, visitors appear at their tent.
- Abraham prepares a meal and while they are eating, they ask, “Where is your wife, Sarah?”
- She is in the tent but hears them say, “I will return in due season and your wife will have a son.”
- Apparently, Abraham has neglected to tell her this, because she laughs to herself saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?”
- The prospect overwhelms her. She laughs to herself, laughter edged with irony, joy, and disbelief. Even at this moment, however, she does it silently, respectfully.
- The visitors ask why Sarah laughed; she denies it, probably out of fear.
- But they say, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”
- They also ask, “Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”
- After the destruction of Sodom, Abraham and Sarah go over to Gerar.
- When Abraham says of Sarah, “She is my sister,” King Abimelech takes her into his palace.
- God comes to Abimelech in a dream by night and says to him, “You are about to die because of the woman whom you have taken; for she is a married woman.”
- Abimelech is very upset with Abraham and returns Sarah to him without ever touching her, thereby making sure there is no question as to who is the real father of Isaac.
- As it turns out, Sarah is the half-sister of Abraham. They have the same father but different mothers.
- As promised, Sarah conceives and bears a son. Her perceived curse is lifted, and she is laughing with everyone.
- Sarah is able to nurse and raise Isaac even though she is 90 years old; Abraham is 100.
- Perhaps part of her blessing includes rejuvenation, a complete physical transformation. (Because after all, is anything really too hard for God?)
- There is a big celebration on the day that Isaac is weaned.
- Sarah sees Isaac and Ishmael playing together.
- She says to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”
- It is true that laws dating back to that time gave sons of slave wives an equal inheritance to those sons of free wives. There were also laws, however, which indicated that those inheritance rights were to be relinquished if the slave family members were given their freedom. Perhaps this is what Sarah had in mind, though she doesn’t add that.
- Initially, Abraham is very upset, but God tells him to “do whatever Sarah tells you to do.”
- He sends Hagar and Ishmael off with a few supplies, and God cares for their needs.
- Sarah lives 127 years; she is the only matriarch whose age is recorded at her death, an indication of her importance.
- She dies in Hebron in the land of Canaan.
- Apparently Abraham is in Beersheba at that time, but comes to mourn for her. He also has to arrange for a proper burial place.
- Initially, he asks for permission from the Hittites to have a burial plot. They agree with a great show of sympathy and goodwill. They offer to let him choose a plot wherever he wishes.
- Abraham asks for the cave of Machpelah so that he can bury her out of sight.
- The landowner offers to give him the land, but that would be a temporary arrangement.
- Abraham insists on buying it and does so for 400 shekels of silver. (Centuries later, David will pay the Jebusites 50 shekels for the site of the Jerusalem Temple.)
- The land is legally transferred, and for the first time, Abraham has legal ownership of a piece of the Promised Land for perpetuity.
- Sarah will be forever remembered as the ancestress of her people.