Alright today we are continuing our study of people of the Bible. Who did we talk about last week? [Abraham] And what did we learn about Abraham? [Let them answer.]
That’s right. We learned Abraham was a man who followed God and importantly made a covenant with God. Remember a covenant is a contract or promise, in this case between God and Abraham. Does anyone remember what was agreed upon in the covenant?
[Let them answer. In our class our memory verse Genesis 17:7 is literally written on the board, so some of them may just pick out the answer from that verse.]
That’s right. God promised Abraham to be the God of him and all his descendants. But at this point as far as we know does Abraham have any descendants? Nope. He does not.
The reason we are re-capping all of this is because it’s important to the person we’re going to be discussing today. Today we are discussing Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
Now when we first met Sarah, it was Abraham got his call to move, and back before either of them had their new names. Back then Sarah was called Sarai. Like Abraham, Sarah was very old. And she and Abraham had no children.
God had promised Abraham a child, particularly a son, many times in the sections we read last week. But we don’t know if Sarah was there when God spoke to Abraham, or what Abraham told her. In light of that, let’s read Genesis 16:1-3.
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, 2 and Sarai said to Abram, “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.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife.
Alright so here Sarah is like “I have no kids, and my husband needs kids, and obviously I can’t help him with that” so she gives one of her slaves to Abram. From Sarah’s perspective, she’s just looking out for her husband, trying to ensure his line. Like I said earlier, we don’t know that Abraham actually shared God’s promise with her, so I want to be clear, right here Sarah is not necessarily showing that she doesn’t trust in God. She may or may not know what God promised Abraham. She’s just trying to do what’s best for her family by her husband.
Now you may be concerned by this whole, giving a slave to your husband so he can have a baby with her thing. And yes, definitely to our modern sensibilities this is very disturbing. But back then, this wasn’t an uncommon practice. During this time period, if a woman couldn’t have children it was a huge shame. She was a failure not just to herself but her husband and her whole family. She was failing to do the one thing a wife back then was really 100% required to do, and that was continue the family line. In cases like this, it was not uncommon for wealthy women to have their husbands have children with their slave instead, and then the child of that slave would basically be considered the wealthy woman’s child.
I don’t think I can underscore to you guys enough how badly Sarah would have been looked down upon for being unable to conceive. Of course Abraham would still love and respect her, but society as a whole would have treated her very poorly and said some not nice things about her. It was considered disgraceful to not be able to have a child, for a woman back then—it still is a little in our modern society, though that’s only a fraction of the taste of what it would be like back then. In modern society people more look at you with pity. Back then you would have been looked down upon with scorn.
So Sarah was just acting in custom of the land, and so was Abraham. But the key difference between Sarah and Abraham here is that Abraham, by agreeing to going along with the plan, was showing a lack of faith in God. The Bible points out in verse three that they had lived in this land for 10 years. That means it’s been ten years since God made the promise that Abraham’s descendants would get all this land. Abraham is probably thinking, “Hey God, it’s been ten years. You promised me a son.” But God hasn’t delivered that on the time scale Abraham was thinking was appropriate. Abraham wanted a son now. So he probably thought to himself, “Well God didn’t necessarily say a son by my wife, maybe this is the way he meant.” So Abraham goes along with it.
Can someone read verses 4 through 6?
He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.
So what’s happening here? Hagar, the slave gets pregnant. And because of that, she basically thinks she’s better than Sarah, which at least in this context she kind of is. Sarah couldn’t get pregnant and yet Hagar could. Remember what I said back then a woman who couldn’t have children was a huge shame, like practically a scarlet letter type situation. So Hagar feels like she is better than Sarah now and despite the fact Sarah is her mistress, she starts treating Sarah with contempt. Do you all know what contempt means? [If they don’t define it. Contempt: the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving of scorn.]
Sarah goes to Abraham to point out this situation, hoping I imagine for Abraham to intercede on her behalf, because Abraham is still the head of the household despite whoever is pregnant. But Abraham is basically like “Whatever, it’s your slave. Technically you own her. Do whatever you will.” Abraham completely washes his hands in this situation, which is not a good thing. And then Sarah does something worse. She responds to Hagar’s contempt with harshness. Instead of being kind and dealing with her well—because Hagar is only pregnant because that was Sarah's plan—Sarah is so mean to Hagar that Hagar does what? That’s right. She runs away.
Running away back then also wasn't as easy as going to the next village. It would have been practically a death sentence for Hagar. At best people would have viewed her as a pregnant widow, at worst they would have viewed her as a pregnant adulterer. None of these situations ended in her being wealthy or happy, but rather poor and destitute. So the situation would have to have been very very bad for Hagar to not just consider but actually run away.
I want to be clear that everyone in this story comes off poorly. Sometimes this story is told in a way where it’s just about women being “catty” and Abraham is not culpable at all. This is not the case. Sarah was doing what was best for her family. Hagar was doing what her mistress asked of her. Abraham was the one who didn’t trust God thus allowing all the bad behavior to follow. But yes, Hagar let her new position as the bearer of the child of Abraham get to her head. And yes, Sarah was very harsh with her because of that. No one comes off well in this story. It’s quite the family drama.
Alright now can someone read verses 7 – 16, this section is a little bit longer, but can someone read it?
The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.” 11 And the angel of the Lord said to her,
“Now you have conceived and shall bear a son;
you shall call him Ishmael,
for the Lord has given heed to your affliction.
12 He shall be a wild ass of a man,
with his hand against everyone,
and everyone’s hand against him;
and he shall live at odds with all his kin.”
13 So she named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El-roi”; for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.
15 Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.
So Hagar runs away. And you would think since Hagar having a baby wasn’t necessarily what God promised Abram, and wasn’t exactly part of the plan, this is the part where she goes out in the desert and just mysteriously disappears and is never heard from again. God just let’s her silently die in the desert so things can go perfectly according to his plan. But is that what he does? NEWP. Cuz God doesn’t work like that, does he?
So what does God do? He sends an angel after Hagar to provide her water and to tell her to go home, but also to make a promise to her. Her descendants would also be greatly multiplied and she too would have a son and his name would be Ishmael. Ishmael by the way means God hears. God heard Hagar’s cry and he came to them and saved them. So Hagar goes back to Sarah, but that is not the end of this story.
Alright let’s skip ahead to chapter 18. Remember how I said that God had promised Abraham a son but it was not clear if God had made that clear to Sarah? Well in Chapter 18, God appeared to Abraham in the form of three visitors. They were probably angels of God. But Abraham didn’t necessarily know that and I definitely don’t think Sarah did. Alright can someone read verses 9-14.
9 They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10 Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”
So these strangers, who Sarah doesn’t necessarily know are angels of God, predict she is going to have a son and she laughs. Keep in mind she is like ninety years old or so here. So do you think it was crazy of her to laugh?
This is the Sarah who had given up so much on having a child of her own that she gave her slave to Abraham, so he could still have a child, just not with her. She’s old. Too old. After a certain age, women just can’t have babies, biologically. It was probably just as crazy for Sarah to get pregnant as it would be for a virgin.
Yet, as we studied at Christmas, a pregnant virgin is not impossible with God. Neither was a pregnant old Sarah.
Of course during Sarah’s time there was no story of Mary. She was the first—the first!!!—woman in the whole Bible that is talked about being unable to have a child who God gives a child too. She had none of the stories we had. All she had was the word of these men who she didn’t necessarily know were angels of God.
Even the Sarah wasn’t in the tent, God heard Sarah’s laughter and he commented on it. And reprimands them that basically all things are possible through God and then he doubles down on his promise. Not just that they will have a child, but basically soon.
So even though Sarah didn’t believe it, God reiterated his promise. And let’s see if God kept that promise, shall we? Please turn to Genesis 21:1-8
The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. 2 Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. 4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” 7 And she said, “Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
God upheld his promise and Sarah had a son. Now let’s talk a moment about what Sarah says in verse six. ”God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” These words have meanings on multiple layers. The name Isaac literally means laughter. So of course God brought her Isaac—he brought her laughter. And everyone who heard would know his name meant that. But whereas before Sarah was laughing with disbelief—how could a woman her age have a child—now she could laugh with joy. She finally did have a child. But maybe she was also a little laughing at herself, for having disbelieved before and now she knew better for God had given her a son.
I think one of the most important lessons of this story is perhaps that God doesn’t count on our good faith or necessarily even good behavior to bear out his promises. If God promises you something, he will not revoke it. Whether that is a child or salvation. God promised Abraham a son, and Abraham didn’t trust God to do it in the right time so he did his own thing. However, God didn’t punish him and not give him Isaac. God still gave him Isaac. Sarah treated Hagar—a slave Sarah had pulled into the family drama—so abominably that Hagar ran away. Sarah practically laughed in the face of the angels of the Lord when they told her she would have a son. And yet despite her bad behavior and disbelief, God still blessed her.
Because God doesn’t back down from his promises.