Holy Mothers (and One Unholy Grandmother) –

Sarah: Named by God

Genesis 11:27-12:20, Introduction to Abram and Sarai.
Genesis 16, Sarai gets impatient
Genesis 17, God changes Sarai’s name and promises her a child.
Genesis 18:1-15, Sarah laughs; 20:1-18, Sarah is protected.
Genesis 21:1-21, Sarah laughs again.
Genesis 23:1-20, Death of Sarah.

Other Mothers

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Genesis 11:27-12:20, Introduction to Abram and Sarai. (5/26/08)

I've always been puzzled that Christians and Jews tend to dismiss women as having been unimportant in the development of the faith, which is an unscriptural view (that means, "wrong").  This topical study will show you that women have held every important position available in Judeo-Christian history, with the exception of Messiah and Apostle.
If all goes as planned, my hubby and I will leave soon on vacation.  We will visit libraries, courthouses, and cemeteries.  Why?  Because we are going to places some of our ancestors used to live.  We are almost as interested in genealogy as the writers of the Old Testament.  Today we read about the ancestors of Abram and Sarai.  This family is going to be important for the next three thousand years, so I'm including a chart of the family relationships.  Some of this genealogy gives away the plot of what we will read later, but oh well.

Sarai was a beautiful and cultured woman who belonged to a wealthy family in Ur of the Chaldees.  The location of Ur is not known for sure, but many people for a couple of millennia have identified Ur with the modern-day city of Urfa in southeastern Turkey.  Another proposed site is in the Euphrates delta near the Persian Gulf, southeast of Baghdad.  Wherever; it's not important.
Sarai's husband Abram told Pharaoh that Sarai was his sister.  Later, he told someone else that she was his half-sister.  Now, this offends both Jewish and Christian sensibilities.  Either we whisper that Abram and Sarai were violating a Judeo-Christian sexual taboo (which didn't exist yet, by the way), or we sneer that  Abram was lying to save his own skin.  There is a third possibility, however.  According to National Geographic, Dec.1966, scholar E. A. Speiser discovered that sisters had rights in Ur that wives did not.  A favored wife could be adopted as a sister to her husband in order to give her additional rights and prestige.  So Sarai probably was Terah's daughter and Abram's sister, either by another wife than Abram's mother, or by adoption.
Genesis 16, Sarai gets impatient. (5/27/08)

Infertility is a terrible grief to a woman who wants a child.  Not only did Sarai want a child, but God had promised (vss. 12:2, 7) that Abram would have descendants.  Naturally Sarai assumed, as his only wife, that she would bear these children, although up until this time she was barren.  Now she's getting old, and she's getting impatient.  She decides to adopt.  She gives her own slave girl, Hagar, to Abram.  This was an ancient form of surrogate motherhood (I am not making this up).  Hagar conceives and gets to feeling real superior to her mistress Sarai - a high-born, beautiful, wealthy woman and the wife of Abram.  Sarai won't put up with this, and she beats Hagar, who runs away but later returns.  The child, Ishmael, is thus Abram's first-born son.  Remember his name.  He's on the chart
Genesis 17, God changes Sarai’s name and promises her a child. (528/08)

Sometimes life-changing events are accompanied by a change in name.  My nephew, at about age 6, was adopted by my sister's second husband.  He realized, even in his child's mind, that he needed a completely new name.  Before, he had been called by his first name.  When he was adopted, he changed his name to his middle name, and he has been called by it ever since.
God has a plan for your life.  God's plan for Sarai was that she was going to be the mother of the great nation, the descendants as numerous as stars, and the kings that were promised to Abram.  Abram is skeptical (vss. 17-18) and suggests that the Covenant could go to Ishmael, but in fact, the Covenant was not promised just to Abram, it was promised to Abram and Sarai (vss. 15-16, 19; see also Romans 9:6-9, Galatians 4:22-31).  God's plan for Abram and Sarai was so vast that their old names were no longer suitable.  God changed their names to Abraham, "Father of Nations," and Sarah, "Princess."  Only a few people have had their names changed by God - in every case in conjunction with a life-changing event - and Sarah is one of them. 
Genesis 18:1-15, Sarah laughs; 20:1-18, Sarah is protected. (5/29/08)

Abraham and Sarah are now well along in years.  One day, some men visit Abraham and tell him that Sarah is going to have a baby.  Yesterday we saw that Abraham was skeptical of this promise; today it is Sarah who laughs at the idea that she will conceive in spite of her life-long barrenness and her husband's great age.  Notice how gentle the LORD is with Abraham in reporting only that Sarah laughed because she was old! 
Apparently Sarah was still quite a woman, because when they visit the town of Gerar, King Abimelech decides to put her into his harem.  Abraham unwittingly contributes to this decision by describing her again as his sister.  In Abraham's eyes, this gives Sarah prestige, but in Abimelech's eyes, it makes her available.  God still has big plans for Sarah, however, and they don't include being a harem-girl for a petty king.  He protects Sarah and Abimelech, who gives Abraham a huge amount of money to show that Sarah has done nothing wrong. 
Genesis 21:1-21, Sarah laughs again. (5/30/08)

Send out the birth announcements!  Sarah has a baby boy!  She and Abraham name him "He laughs" (Isaac), either because everyone is happy for Sarah, or to remind themselves of their initial response to God's promise.  Or both. 
Now, the law was that either the children of a slave girl and the master had to inherit along with the children of the wife and the master, or the slave girl and her children had to be set free.  Sarah wants no part of dividing the promises of God between Isaac and Ishmael, so she tells Abraham to set them free.  Abraham feels bad about this, because after all, Ishmael is his son, too.  God tells him that He will take care of Ishmael, and to give Sarah her way so that Isaac can inherit the promised blessings.
Genesis 23:1-20, Death of Sarah. (6/2/08)

Back in 1972, I was in Florence, Italy, on vacation.  I only spoke 3 words of Italian, "Non parlo Italiano," i.e., I don't speak Italian, but after a few days I had picked up "How much?" and numbers for prices and conversions.  In the marketplace I saw some beautiful skeins of angora yarn.  I asked how much and, told that it was 300 lira, agreed to buy it.  Apparently this was not acceptable, because I immediately got a tirade of Italian, almost none of which I understood.  I kept hearing numbers.  As near as I could tell, the vendor was doing both sides of the bargaining - his and mine - because I eventually got the angora for 180 lira.  It was very strange.
We know more about Sarah's death, funeral, and burial place than we do for all but a handful of the people in the Bible.  All his life, Abraham was a wanderer who owned no property.  When Sarah died, he wanted to buy a permanent place to bury her.  His bargaining with Ephron the Hittite looks a little strange to us.  Our bargaining starts with a seller's price that's too high and a buyer's price that's too low, and the two prices meet in the middle.  When Abraham bargains with Ephron, the seller's price starts out too low (free), and Abraham's price starts out too high ("whatever you want").  Like our bargains, eventually the price meets in the middle.   
Sarah was an important, beautiful, God-fearing woman, and it is no surprise that we name girls after her until this very day.

Other Mothers
Rachel and Leah
The Four Most Important Women Who Never Lived
Women Who Expected Miracles
Mary and Elizabeth
UMW in Bible Times

Copyright 2008, 2011 by Regina L. Hunter.  All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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