Monday, August 2, 2010

Day 8: Genesis 21,22,23

Adriaen van der Werff Sarah presenting Hagar t...Image via Wikipedia
Later in life, I remarried.  By that time I knew that I wanted to start a family immediately.    Nothing happened.  Month after agonizing month, I despaired.  The suddenly, year and a half later, I  got pregnant.  I was overjoyed -

In some ways, because my pregnancy didn't happen so quickly, I've been able to identify a bit with Sarah, Abraham's wife.

So, what about Sarah?  Yes, you may ask, what about Sarah?  In Genesis 23, we read that Sarah dies at the age of 127 in the land of Canaan, the Promised Land.

In Genesis 11, as  Abraham's family was preparing for their big move, Sarah was first introduced as his "barren wife who had no children".  The Genesis account underscores and emphasizes her  deficit as a wife.  It's interesting to note that in this society where concubines were not unheard of, Abraham did not take on another wife so that he could have children.

Throughout her life, Sarah was by Abraham's side - effectively the co-recipient of God's promises.  When God promised Abraham that he would be a great nation, it is likely that they understood  God's plan for marriage - that they were one flesh and united in God.

As they continued to move throughout the region due to wars, famine, and a growing household, they may have come  to doubt God's promises; Sarah remained barren.  God's promises were real but somehow confusing.

On two occasions in which he was facing kings and possible extinction, Abraham showed that he was afraid. In one instance, when traveling through Egypt, Abraham was afraid of the Egyptians so he asked Sarah to say  that he was her brother (and not her husband).  From the narrative, we are led to understand that Sarah did as she was asked.   Perhaps, here Sarah simply acquiesced to a poorly thought out scheme while praying and trusting  God for all of the promises he made to her and Abraham.  She understood that Abraham was afraid and hid behind her, exposing her to the dangers of the palace.

 God supernaturally rescued Sarah from Pharoh's harem.  Some time later, after Abraham and Lot split up, after Abraham defeats four powerful kings  and rescues Lot and all his possessions who were seized  as part of the kings' booty, God spoke to Abraham again. In this case, maybe Abraham was too angry to be afraid.   After this battle, twice God affirmed to Abraham that he rescued him from his enemies and that God himself is Abraham's shield.  God also told Abraham not to be afraid.

Again, God  affirmed again that Abraham's descendants would be as numerous as the stars and that they would inhabit the land of Canaan.

Sarah knew God's promises; she knew that she was one with Abraham; no doubt, she knew that God intended for her to bear the children of Abraham.   In Genesis 16, we read that Sarah has not yet borne any children.  As she saw her body age and wither,  she must have been agonizing about the prophesies Abraham was hearing from God.  How could he father a nation, if she was still barren.   She was now in her eighties, well past child-bearing years, and she began to trust in her own understanding of God's promise.  She felt that God was delaying or maybe forgot or maybe, she thought that she misunderstood the way in which it would happen.

When Sarah's faith in God's ability to bring give Abraham numerous descendants faltered, no-one was strong enough to counter her.  She convinced Abraham to take Hagar.

Genesis 16:3 says that Sarah gave Abraham Hagar, her Egyptian servant, to be his wife.  Sarah hoped that she could build a family through Hagar.  Once Hagar conceived,  her relationship with Sarah deteriorated so much that Hagar eventually fled from Sarah's presence.  Though God brought Hagar back, he did not bless her son with an everlasting covenant.

Another thirteen years passed.  Both Sarah and Abraham had a lot of time to ponder God's promise to them and to speculate about how it would come about.  Abraham was now  ninety-nine years old and Sarah was ninety.  This was a period of God's silence somewhat like the darkness beneath the soil where  a seed germinates, out of view, and bursts through the soil formed and beautiful.

When God appeared to this ninety-nine year old man,  God again told him of his promise to Abraham to give him numerous descendants and to give the land to his progeny.  This time, Abraham had to accept this covenant by circumcising every male in his household, which he did immediately.  Then God specifically addressed Sarah and told Abraham that she will be blessed; that she will bear him a son; that she will be the mother of nations; that kings will come from her.

Abraham laughed, as though God said a joke.  He actually asked if Ishmael, his son by Hagar, could live  under God's blessing.  While the blessing was granted, the everlasting covenant was reserved for Isaac, the son Sarah would bear Abraham.

After Abraham circumcised his household, the Lord again appeared to him and told Abraham that, this time next year, Sarah would be holding her son.  Sarah listened to God speaking with Abraham, heard the proclamation, and laughed to herself (Genesis 18:11).  She couldn't understand how, now that both she and her husband were worn out, they could  experience the joy of having a child.  Maybe Sarah, looking at her wasted body, couldn't see through God's eyes.  Maybe she could no longer believe that her body could work like that - she lost all hope.

It is interesting that in Genesis 17:17, when Abraham laughed and asked about Ishmael to be blessed, God didn't reprimand him for it.  Yet, when Sarah laughed, God called her on it and asked "Is anything too hard for the Lord."  But Sarah's response was to be afraid and then to lie to God, to tell him that she didn't laugh.  God corrected her by saying that she did laugh.

This is the only account in which Sarah directly speaks with God.  Up until this point, it's only Abraham and God.  Maybe, while being zealous for the fulfillment of the prophecies, she lost sight of God as Sovereign, as Creator, as One with whom all things are possible.  Perhaps she never quite understood the significance of God's choosing one line of people over another, of Abel not Cain, etc.  While she trusted God to protect her from Pharoh, she didn't fully trust him to give her a child.  Maybe, because she was barren and no doubt prayed for children until she was hoarse, she gave up on the idea that she could bear a child.

In Genesis 21, it is written that the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.  Sarah bore Isaac and glorified God about the joy, laughter, this brought her.

Another interesting aspect of Sarah is how observant she was.  When Isaac was weaned,  there was a great celebration.  But Sarah noticed Ishmael mocking the festivities.  She told Abraham to send Hagar and her son away immediately because Ishmael will not share in Isaac's inheritance.  Though Abraham was distressed by this, God counseled him to do as Sarah told him to.

With Sarah's death, Abraham lost a partner with whom he grew in the knowledge of God.  She knew and accepted how fearful a person Abraham was, and trusted God for deliverance the two times he presented her as a sister rather than as his wife.  God rushed to her rescue and protected her from sin.

In her death, Sarah  was instrumental in bringing about the second of God's promises.  Abraham wanted to buy a cave in which to bury her.  But, the owner wasn't willing to sell the cave alone, because he would still have to pay duties on the entire tract of land.  Abraham finally, to buy the cave, had to buy the entire field around the cave.  Thus he acquired an anchor in the land of Canaan.

Sarah was the conduit through which God's promises came to Abraham - she supported him in his faith in God and didn't let him give up
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