Wonder Women - Sarah
by Pastor Mike Fortune
July 17, 2010
YouTube: Snickers 'Road Trip'
- Divas' beauty for good [Genesis 12:10-20; 20:14-16; 1 Peter 3:5-6]
- Divas who doubt and yell [Genesis 18:10-12; 21:9-10; Proverbs 30:21-23]
- Divas who love well [Genesis 21:6-7; Genesis 23:1-2; Hebrews 11:9-11]
Did you know God can use divas too? You all know what divas are right? Prima donnas? Stars? That’s what that hilarious Snickers commercial featuring Aretha Franklin and Liza Minnelli reminded me of recently. And the wonder woman we’re studying this morning as we continue our summer series entitled Wonder Women was definitely a diva. We know this is true not only from the episodes we’ll read today from Scripture which clearly reveal her behaving badly, like a diva, but also because for most of her life she was known as Sarai which means in Hebrew “my princess.” Genesis 17:15 describes how nearly 90 years elapsed before God changed her name to Sarah meaning simply “Princess” since she would eventually become the mother of all nations married to a guy whose name would also be changed from Abram—Exalted Father—to Abraham—the Father of Many Nations [cf. Genesis 17:5].
But this diva couldn’t help it. She was born and raised a city slicker from Ur of the Chaldeans. Ur was in Sumeria, lower Mesopotamia, about halfway between modern day Baghdad and the Persian Gulf near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It was a city as famous for its massive terraced towers as it was for its pagan worship of the moon god. Houses were well constructed and usually two stories high. The city had an efficient sewage system. In the schools, reading, writing, math, and geography were taught as the archaeological evidence makes evident. And for years, this was her home. Traipsing around the desert later living like a nomad or Bedouin was not how she was raised. She was used to the finer things in life. She was used to city life.
Scripture doesn’t say how long she lived in Ur, or in Haran some 650 miles northwest of Ur, where Genesis 11:31 says Terah took his nephew Lot and son Abram and daughter-in-law Sarai. Nor does it say how long they lived there, but we do know it was quite some time since Genesis 11:31-32 says they all settled there and that Terah died in Haran at the ripe old age of 205. Can you imagine living that long? Which always made me wonder why Hebrews 11:8 says “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”
Did the writer of Hebrews not read Genesis 11 and 12? Sure, God called. And Abraham went. Eventually. But by no means did he go immediately which is the way it sounds. The Bible clearly says he settled in Haran, probably for many years, so that his father could celebrate his 205th birthday. Haran was some 350 miles from Canaan. Stephen confirms this early settling in his sermon found in Acts 7:2-4. “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. 3'Leave your country and your people,' God said, 'and go to the land I will show you.' 4"So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living.”
I guess it all depends on when in Acts 7 you believe God gave him the Genesis 12 call. While he was in Ur or after he was in Haran or both. Regardless, the call was eventually answered even though Abram initially conveniently settled at the last place water was easily assessable beside the Euphrates River. Nobody ever crossed the desert going to Canaan. The wise men in Jesus’ day wouldn’t either. Everyone traveled beside the banks of the Euphrates River northwest as far as they could go and then near Haran they turned southwest for the relatively short six to eight week trek to Canaan. You died going any other way.
At any rate, revisionist history aside, Abram finally leaves Haran and when he does, he brings all his wife’s junk with him. Yes, that’s what I said! Okay, the Bible says in Genesis 12:5 that it was “their” possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran and they set for the land of Canaan. But let’s be honest ladies, you know most of that stuff would be yours! Guys can go to Family Camp for a week with one duffle bag and one zip lock bag. Ladies bring three or four of each! Genesis 12:4 says Abraham was 75 years old at this time. And since Genesis 17:17 says Sarah was 10 years younger than Abraham, that means she was 65 when they hit the road again traveling the last 350 miles to Canaan.
Many American ladies hit 65 and jump in an RV and start driving all over the country with their husbands. To her credit, this diva walked! And didn’t complain about it! [That we know of]. So we should give her some credit for that. But the Bible does say they brought a ton of stuff and possessions before they arrived in the hills east of Bethel [cf. Genesis 12:8-9]. But before they get too comfy, Abram sets out again and continues south toward the Negev. And when he gets there he realizes there’s a famine in the land so he continues on to Egypt. Can you imagine the earful he got from his wife?! We just traveled over 1k miles and now you want to walk to Egypt? All told, by the time they got back from Egypt and settled in Hebron, they will have traveled about 1500 miles.
But she goes anyway. Willing to follow her husband and the promise of His God to provide for them in a new country, with a new climate and strange customs of a foreign people. The first episode about our next Wonder Woman begins in Genesis 12 and we’ll be reading verses 10-20. Genesis 12:10-20 “10Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, "I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you." 14When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman. 15And when Pharaoh's officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels. 17But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai. 18So Pharaoh summoned Abram. "What have you done to me?" he said. "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? 19Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!" 20Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.”
It’s true. Sarah was half-sister to her huband [cf. Genesis 20:12]. Terah was father to both of them. And that wasn’t weird back then. Abraham’s brother, Nahor, married a niece. Both Isaac and Jacob married cousins. Such marriages were not unusual or scandalous since the time of creation. I remember realizing as a teenager that since Adam and Eve were the only humans God created, Cain and Seth had to have married their sisters! And until well after Abraham’s time, Scripture made no prohibition against consanguine marriages between close relatives. No legal prohibition against incest even existed until the time of Moses. Then Leviticus 18:6-18 and 20:17-21 forbid it including marriage between half-siblings. Perhaps the accumulation of genetic mutations caught up to them many generations later. But in Abraham’s time, it was no sin.
What was sinful then, as it is now, is lying or giving false testimony. And that’s what Abram does to Pharaoh in Genesis 12:13 to save his life. Which is tough a situation to be in. As we’ll see next time, Rahab was in a similar situation. But she is commended in Scripture for lying to save the lives of the spies. Here in Genesis 12, Scripture also seems to commend it. Did you read anywhere in this passage where it says that what Abram did was wrong?
I don’t. Instead, it says in verse 16 that Pharaoh treated Abram well for her sake and he got even richer acquiring even more sheep and cattle, donkeys, and servants, and camels [horses wouldn’t be introduced to Egypt until the Asiatic Hyksos]. Yes, after Pharaoh finds out somehow, Scripture doesn’t say how, he gets upset and sends them away. But when they go, he gets to take Sarai and all the stuff she dragged down to Egypt in addition to even more stuff they picked up in Egypt! Abram’s fears were not unfounded. The Pharaoh did have a fetish for the fairer complexion of foreign women. Even 65 year old women like Sarai.
To be fair, life expectancy back then was about 150 years old, so Sarai at 65 wasn’t too old to be on the cover of a magazine. It’s not creepy that Pharoah wanted her as a wife. But unless Sarah was uncommonly stunning, as apparently she was, don’t you think it would have been creepy for King Abimelech to want her as his wife 25 years later when she was 90?! I mean seriously, you don’t see Betty White on the cover of Sports Illustrated right? [Though she has a hilarious Snickers commercial too by the way.]. But the same thing happens again in Genesis 20. Let’s look at verses 14-16.
Genesis 20:14-16 “14Then Abimelech brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. 15And Abimelech said, "My land is before you; live wherever you like." 16To Sarah he said, "I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.”
Abraham again tried to pass Sarah off as his sister and Abimelech, smitten by her beauty, pursues her. But God warns this pagan king in a dream that she was Abraham’s wife. And more importantly to God, she was to be the mother of the promise to all nations and we can’t have any humans assuming the promised child is anyone’s providence but God’s. So Abimelech condemns the lying scheming ways of Abraham but again Abraham—the prophet by the way according to Genesis 20:7 which is the first time the word prophet occurs in Scripture—benefits from his deceit. Genesis 20:14 says the king brings even more sheep and cattle and servants gives them to Abraham. Additionally, he gives him a 1k shekels and a bunch of land saying live wherever you want!
What on earth is going on here? What kind of crazy sermon is Pastor Mike preaching where prophets can be liars and rewarded for being bad? I don’t know. But that’s what Scripture says. And if you don’t believe me, come back next time when we study Rahab. That will really blow your bumper sticker ethics to smithereens! Apparently, God really does love us like crazy! Especially when we’re put in nearly impossible places. Making decisions about life and death. 2 Timothy 2:13 says, “13If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.”
It should say, not “if”, but when we are faithless, He will remain faithful. Even after we lie through our teeth. Repeatedly. About the same dumb stuff. He still loves us! And remains faithful to us! Often blessing us with life and health and apparently, sometimes even wealth. It happened for Abraham. And Sarah. And it may come as surprise to you, but it also even happened to their son Isaac. Who believe it or not, did the same thing in Genesis 26:7 with his wife Rebekah to the same king [unless there was another one named Abimelech in the same area of Gerar!] many years later. How twisted is that? Hollywood couldn’t write a script like this!
Nonetheless, there are too many verses clearly condemning lying and bearing false witness for us to conclude that God condones it. But when we fail, trusting our abilities to provide and protect instead of God’s, isn’t it encouraging to know that God doesn’t give up on us? Even prophets in the Bible make some startling and very human mistakes. Surprisingly, that doesn’t disqualify them for service to God and man! God can even use divas married to prophets. We know this is true because 1 Peter 3:5-6 “5For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, 6like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”
Point number one: God uses divas’ beauty for good. And as we discovered last time, true beauty comes from the inside. Which means regardless of what Hollywood or Madison Avenue says, we’re all beautiful. And as I tell Lydia all the time, we must use our beauty for good and not evil. Moving on, Genesis 18:10-12 says, “10Then the LORD said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son." Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
By this time, the famine is over and Abram and Sarai have fled Egypt and returned to Hebron in Canaan. Sarah does some dumb stuff too, suggesting to Abraham to have sex with her servant Hagar. We’ll be back to that in a minute. But even after they both do dumb stuff, God renews his promises to them even adding Sarah by name in Genesis 17:15-17. By this time, Sarah is 89 years old. She has lived in Canaan 24 years. Her husband is about to have his 100th birthday. Though still beautiful inside and out, even in her day, she was post-menopausal. And as Genesis 11:30 said, she was barren; she still had no children of her own. Romans 4:20-21 says even then Abraham didn’t doubt. But Paul doesn’t say the same about Sarah! So I think she begins to doubt. I mean, who wouldn’t?
Genesis 18:11 straight out says she was old. Way past the age of childbearing. So when God shows up with a couple of angels to tell them they’re going to conceive and specifically asks if Sarah is close enough to hear Him, and then proceeds to straight out tell them that she is going to have a baby, she busts out laughing. Probably not the out loud rude kind that would have disrespected their guests. But on the inside. But since this guest knows the heart, he catches her and asks why did Sarah laugh? Verse 15 says then Sarah lies too saying, “I did not laugh” but God says, “Yes you did.”
Can you believe this stuff? God is willing to use lying prophets and doubting divas! He wants us to tell the truth. To depend on Him to provide. But he doesn’t give up on us when we don’t. Amazing. Even after we freak out or straight out lie, God still works with us. Proof of this can be seen in Genesis 21:9-10 “9But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10and she said to Abraham, ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.’”
God is even willing to use doubting divas that yell. This is point number two. Now that she has finally had her child and named him Isaac, which means laughter and couldn’t be a more appropriate name for him given the circumstances, she sees him years later being mocked by his older brother Ishmael. And at that moment, she freaks out and starts yelling. I’m sure all you parents can’t relate to this. Why your children probably never tease one another since they’re from good Christian homes right? Wrong! Come to my house if you don’t believe me. Have mercy! I grew up with two brothers and later a sister and let me tell you, we had our rumbles. So much so that when we were visiting my grandparent’s house, I remember being told more than once that yelling should be fires.
And yet, especially in her culture, Sarah had a point. It confused things beyond measure for Ishmael, now 13, to be in a position to claim the right of the firstborn over the one true heir appointed by God to succeed Abraham. It wasn’t the specific mocking of Isaac that bothered her [although it probably bothered Isaac!]. It was the legitimate threat to the promise Ishmael represented. And to her credit, she recognized it and said something about it. Perhaps she could have said it a little more kindly. But again, aren’t we all learning how to speak truth in love [cf. Ephesians 4:15]? Sarah was no different.
God apparently agreed with her because he told Abraham to in Genesis 21:12 to do whatever Sarah says. Why? Because Isaac shall be your seed. The good news is when our parents have problems, even if they separate, God doesn’t blame the kids. In fact, no matter what our parents say, especially when they’re angry and upset and yelling, separation and divorce is never the children’s fault. Isn’t it sad though that psychologists all agree that in every single example of separation and divorce, whether it occurs when you’re a child or even as an adult, isn’t it amazing that they we all say whatever our age it must have been my fault?
God is trying to put a stop to that twisted logic by providing for Hagar and Ishmael. But much of Protestant Christianity is still grappling with this and the fact that before the blessing of Isaac in Genesis 18:10 comes the blessing of Ishmael in Genesis 16:11. Before Sarah and Isaac’s blessing comes Hagar and Ishmael’s. The first recorded naming in Scripture by God goes to Ishmael—the father of what would become Islam. We cannot avoid it: Our Heavenly Father is Allah and God loves Muslims too. They trace their origins to the same chapter in the Bible! Maybe that’s why the same 99 names for Allah in the Koran also occur in the Bible about God. Bryan Gallant was great on this a couple years ago when we had him come speak. Remember that?
So what’s the point? The point is God uses Divas' beauty for good. Even after they doubt and yell. Maybe that’s why the writer of Proverbs says in Proverbs 30:21-23 “21Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up: 22a servant who becomes king, a fool who is full of food, 23an unloved woman who is married, and a maidservant who displaces her mistress.” Yes, the earth may tremble. Our relationships may not be able to bear it. But God can. He will help us learn to love well. And this is point number three: God uses divas who love well.
Genesis 21:6-7 “6Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.’ 7 And she added, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” Genesis 23:1-2 adds “1Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. 2She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.”
Obviously, Sarah in spite of her temper tantrums and willingness to lie and participate in her husbands lies learned to love well. Her life on the whole was characterized by humility and hospitality. Who else would be willing to leave their comfy city life and wander in the wilderness for years? Who else would be willing to cook a huge meal for guests at the drop of a hat like that in Genesis 18? She obviously had a deep love for her husband. And he obviously had a deep love for her as well. Weeping at her death. And though God never removed the consequences of her sins, resulting in broken relationships between Abraham and Ishmael, God never gave up on her and most importantly, she never gave up on God. According to Hebrews 11, she kept believing that God would fulfill His promise. And eventually, He did!
Hebrews 11:9-11 says, “9By faith he [Abraham] made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father and by faith even Sarah, who was past age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.”
Her faithfulness to her husband was rivaled only by her faithfulness to God. She was beautiful on the inside and the outside. Flaws and all. But she wasn’t perfect. And neither are we. But if God can use a divas' beauty for good, who lies and doubts and yells, can’t He help us love well as well? Is that your desire? If it is, would you please read out loud with me in closing 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 from off the screen? “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Amen. For more info, read John MacArthur’s book Twelve Extraordinary Women pp. 27 - 50.