She Was Barren
That is how we are introduced to Sarai or Sarah as she is later named. Is that because her barrenness defined her, or because her story was so important that it was worth mentioning her?
That is a pretty clear promise of children! Abram clearly heard and believed this promise as he built an altar there to worship God in response to this promise. This wasn’t the only time that God spoke to Abram about the promise of descendants – for example he does it again in Genesis 13: 14-16
Abram Still Doubts
Despite these clear promises, Abram still shows doubt and sadness in the way he approaches God in prayer.
“Oh sovereign God, what can you give me since I remain childless, and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” Genesis 15: 2-3
Abram wasn’t asking for children: he was just stating the reality before God.
God responds with his third promise of children to Abram. This is the part of the story where God takes Abram outside and tells him to count all the stars in the sky and promises him that his offspring will be just as numerous.
At this point we are told that Abram believed God, and that God credited this faith as righteousness.
Does this mean that he hadn’t believed God the other two times that God spoke to him? Doubt, or not understanding all of what God is saying to us is OK. After all, Abram is credited with righteousness after he believes God the third time he was told he would have children! Sometimes we don’t understand and we need God to repeat things to us.
Abram even asked God for a sign that all these things would happen (v8).
Doubt and questions are OK!
It is natural to struggle with doubt. God wants us to bring our questions to him, whatever they are! Especially when we are struggling. Abram did, and we can too!
Then things take an unexpected turn! In chapter 16 we read that Sarai suggests or offers her maidservant to Abram so that perhaps Sarai could build a family through her. And Abram agreed to what Sarai had said.
We can easily be critical here and blame Sarai and Abram for not trusting God, and for taking matters into their own hands. Maybe this was the case. It is easy to see how God’s promise felt unrealistic and unachievable. Maybe they initially believed it, but then when nothing changed they started to doubt or have more questions.
Maybe Sarai saw this as a generous act of selflessness by her, but one that was driven by her own doubts? If we put ourselves in her shoes, she could easily have believed that God’s promises were for Abram but not for them as a couple? I assume that Abram had told her of God’s promise. I can image Sarai being excited by this promise – her shame would be removed, her longing for children would be fulfilled.
But then, as often happens, doubt crept in. Maybe the devil tried to twist God’s words so Sarai starting to think “that promise was for Abram, but not for you.” Haven’t we all been there and had these doubts? Maybe for Sarai it felt like an act of love to say “don’t let my barrenness stand in the way of God’s promise, here, take Hagar, and I will be content to consider your family as my family.”
Pain and Jealousy Follows
Sadly both Hagar’s and Sarai’s actions led to division. Pride and jealously destroyed this family before it even had a chance.
I can understand Sarai’s pain. Now she knew that their childlessness was indeed down to her, and the fact that she was barren was being flaunted in her face. She is not alone in being consumed with jealously and bitterness and acting it out. Sarai blamed her husband and ill treated her servant.
These days we don’t tend to “loan out husbands” to build a family, but we can still be jealous when friends and family get pregnant, especially if they flaunt it to us.
It might be understandable, but it is still a sin, and there are painful consequences. Yes, Hagar despised Sarai, yes people may flaunt their pregnancies or say hurtful words, but we are responsible for our actions. There are consequences when we act out our hurt and pain.
In our anger, in our hurt, in our disappointment we need to be careful not to sin – and when we do, we need to quickly seek out repentance.
Just because it is understandable doesn’t make it right!
Doubt And Laughter
Now we hear God’s fourth promise to Abraham, and his first recorded promise of children to Sarah.
And Abraham just laughs! Well, wouldn’t you?
In fact it seems as though Abraham either doesn’t believe this, or doesn’t want it to happen as he actually asks God for the blessing to come through Ishmael. But God is clear – the covenant would come through Sarah, even though she is 90 years old at this point!
Sarah is the next one who laughs! When Sarah overheard the Lord saying that by this time next year Sarah would have a son, she just laughs! We don’t know if this laughter is doubt, because of the absurdity of the situation or joyous laughter. To me the reaction seems completely normal – she was barren and past the age of childbearing, both her and Abraham were old and nothing so far had worked! However, whatever was behind her laughter she was ashamed and afraid of God so she lied. But God knew!
We can’t hide our emotions from God – so it’s not worth trying!
I know I am guilty of feeling that God expects me to either live completely in faith and not doubt, or to give him my desires and stop hoping. But I can’t fool God any more than Sarah could.
Let’s be honest with God about how we feel – even if it’s ugly and full of doubt.
God Fulfills His Promises
“Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what He had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.” Genesis 21: 1-2
And Sarah’s reaction was again laughter and amazement.
Abraham was 75 years old when he set off from Haran and when God first promised that his offspring would be given the land of Canan.
He would have been about 85 in Genesis 15 when God promised him for the second time that he would have children.
He was 86 when Ishmael was born.
And he was 100 when Isaac was born.
That is a LOT of waiting!
God’s promises will be fulfilled in his timing, not ours! And we can’t rush him.
Watch this space for the next in this series of Barren Women in the Bible…