SARAH stood in the middle of the room and looked around. Picture a Middle Eastern woman with a striking pair of dark, expressive eyes. Did a trace of sadness show there? If so, it would not be hard to understand why. There was a lot of history in this house. She and her beloved husband, Abraham, had spent countless happy hours here.* Together, they had made it a home.
They lived in Ur, a prosperous city with plenty of artisans, craftsmen, and merchants. So they surely had possessions. But Sarah’s home was more to her than a mere place in which to keep her belongings. Here she and her husband had shared years of joys and disappointments. Here they had prayed countless times to their beloved God, Jehovah. Sarah had ample reason to love this place.
Yet, Sarah was willing to move away from all that was familiar. Though perhaps about 60 years old, she would travel to parts unknown and take up a life fraught with danger and hardship, with no prospect of coming back. What led her to such a sweeping change in her life? And what can we today learn from her faith?
“GO OUT FROM YOUR LAND”
Sarah likely grew up in Ur. Today, all that is left of that city is a desolate ruin. But in Sarah’s day, merchants’ vessels plied the waters and canals of the Euphrates River, bringing precious goods from far and wide to this thriving city. People thronged Ur’s narrow, winding streets, ships jostled one another along its wharves, and goods overflowed in its bazaars. Imagine Sarah growing up in that bustling city, coming to know many of its people by name. They surely remembered her too, for she was an extraordinarily beautiful woman. She also had a large family there.
Sarah is known in the Bible for her great faith—but it was not faith in the moon-god widely worshipped in Ur, where a tower to that god loomed over the city. Rather, Sarah worshipped the true God, Jehovah. The inspired record does not say how she gained that faith. Her father, for a time at least, was an idolater. At any rate, she married Abraham, a man ten years her senior.* (Genesis 17:17) He later became known as “the father of all those having faith.” (Romans 4:11) Together they built a fine, strong marriage, one that was marked by respect, good communication, and a mutual willingness to work through difficult problems together. Above all, though, their union was marked by their love for their God.
Sarah loved her husband dearly, and the two set up their home among their relatives in Ur. Before long, though, they faced a disappointment. The Bible tells us that Sarah “was barren; she had no child.” (Genesis 11:30) In that culture and time, Sarah’s condition was particularly trying. But Sarah stayed true to her God and to her husband. Their fatherless nephew Lot evidently became like a son to them. Life went on—until the day when everything changed.
Abraham came to Sarah brimming with excitement. He could hardly believe what had just happened. The God they worshipped had just spoken to him—had even appeared to him, no doubt by means of an angel! Imagine Sarah, her lovely eyes intent on her husband, breathlessly asking: “What did he say to you? Please tell me!” Perhaps Abraham first sat down to collect his thoughts; then he told her what Jehovah had said: “Go out from your land and from your relatives and come into the land that I will show you.” (Acts 7:2, 3) After the initial excitement abated, they contemplated the assignment Jehovah was putting before them. They were to leave their stable, comfortable life and live as nomads! How would Sarah respond? No doubt Abraham watched her keenly. Would she willingly support him in such a great change in their life?
The choice facing Sarah may sound foreign to us. We might think, ‘Well, God has never asked me or my spouse to do anything like that!’ Nonetheless, do we not all face a similar choice? We live in a materialistic world, one that may urge us to put first in life our own comforts, our possessions, or our sense of security. But the Bible urges us to make another choice—to seek spiritual things first, to put pleasing God ahead of pleasing ourselves. (Matthew 6:33) As we contemplate what Sarah did, we might ask ourselves, ‘What choice will I make in life?’
THEY “WENT OUT OF THE LAND”
As Sarah packed her things, she faced the dilemma of what to keep and what to leave behind. She could keep no item that was too big for a caravan of donkeys and camels to carry, nothing that would be impractical in a nomadic life. No doubt many of their possessions would have to be sold or given away. Gone, too, would be the conveniences of city living—the ready access to markets or bazaars where she could shop for grain, meats, fruit, clothing, and other necessities and comforts.
Perhaps it was harder still for Sarah to give up her home itself. If it was like many of the houses that archaeologists have uncovered in Ur, Sarah faced the loss of some very real comforts. Some of those houses had over a dozen rooms, as well as freshwater fountains and plumbing. Even a humble house might offer a solid roof, walls, and a door that could be bolted shut. Could a tent offer similar protection against thieves? Or against lions, leopards, bears, and wolves—all of which were common in the Bible lands in those times?
And what of family? Whom would Sarah be leaving behind? God’s command to “go out from your land and from your relatives” may have been especially challenging for her. A warm, affectionate woman, she may well have had brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and aunts and uncles to whom she was very attached and whom she might never see again. Yet, Sarah bravely went forward, day by day, getting ready for departure.
Despite the challenges, Sarah was packed and ready to go on the appointed day. Terah, as family patriarch, was to accompany Abraham and Sarah, though he was about two centuries old. (Genesis 11:31) Sarah would no doubt have much to do with caring for this elderly parent. Lot too would join them as they obeyed Jehovah and “went out of the land of the Chaldeans.”—Acts 7:4.
The caravan journeyed first to Haran, some 600 miles (960 km) to the northwest, following the course of the Euphrates. At Haran, the family settled for a time. Terah may have been ailing at this point, unable to travel farther. The family stayed until he died at 205 years of age. At some point before the next phase of their journey, Jehovah spoke again to Abraham, telling him once more to leave this land and go to the land that Jehovah would show him. In this instance, though, God added a thrilling promise: “I will make you a great nation.” (Genesis 12:2-4) But when they left Haran, Abraham was 75 and Sarah 65, and they were childless. How could a nation come from Abraham? Would he take another wife? Polygamy was a common practice in those days, so Sarah may well have wondered about that.
At any rate, they left Haran and pressed onward. Note, though, who was now with them. The account tells us that Abraham’s family left with the wealth they had gained as well as “the people whom they had acquired in Haran.” (Genesis 12:5) Who were those people? Servants, most likely. However, Abraham and Sarah doubtless shared their faith with those who were willing to listen. Some ancient Jewish paraphrases thus say that the people referred to in this verse were also proselytes, people who had joined Abraham and Sarah in worshipping Jehovah. If so, Sarah’s deep faith no doubt made her very convincing when she spoke to others about her God and her hope. That is useful for us to contemplate, for we live in an age when faith and hope are in desperately short supply. When you learn something good from the Bible, could you share it with someone?
“DOWN TOWARD EGYPT”
After they crossed the Euphrates, likely on Nisan 14, 1943 B.C.E., they made their way south into the land Jehovah had promised them. (Exodus 12:40, 41) Picture Sarah turning to look this way and that, taken by the beauty, the variety, and the pleasant climate of the land. Near the big trees of Moreh, near Shechem, Jehovah appeared to Abraham again, this time saying: “To your offspring I am going to give this land.” Ah, this expression, “offspring,” would have rich meaning for Abraham! It surely made him think back to the garden of Eden, where Jehovah had foretold that an offspring would one day destroy Satan. Jehovah had already told Abraham that the nation that came from him would open the way for blessings to people of all the earth.—Genesis 3:15; 12:2, 3, 6, 7.
Still, the family was not immune to the troubles of this world. A famine struck the land of Canaan, and Abraham decided to lead his family south toward Egypt. However, he sensed a particular danger in that region. So he spoke to Sarah: “Please listen! I know what a beautiful woman you are. So when the Egyptians see you, they will surely say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but keep you alive. Please say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and my life will be spared.” (Genesis 12:10-13) Why did Abraham make such an unusual request?
Abraham was neither a liar nor a coward, as some critics have charged. Sarah was, in truth, his half sister. And Abraham’s caution was well-founded. Abraham and Sarah knew that nothing was more important than God’s purpose to produce a special offspring and nation through Abraham, so Abraham’s safety became of paramount importance. What is more, archaeological evidence has shown that it was not unheard of for men of power in Egypt to abduct a man’s wife and kill the husband. So Abraham acted wisely, and Sarah humbly cooperated with his decision.
Before long, events proved that Abraham’s fears were well-founded; some of Pharaoh’s princes noticed Sarah’s stunning beauty—a remarkable trait at her age. They reported on her to Pharaoh, and he ordered that the woman be taken! It is hard to imagine the anguish of Abraham or the fears that must have afflicted Sarah. However, it seems that she was treated, not as a hostage, but as an honored guest. Perhaps Pharaoh planned to woo her and impress her with his wealth and then negotiate with her “brother” to obtain her as a wife.—Genesis 12:14-16.
Think of Sarah, looking out over the Egyptian landscape from a palace window or balcony. How did she feel, living within walls again, with a roof over her head, with fine foods put before her? Was she tempted by a life of luxury—perhaps a life even more opulent than anything she had known back in Ur? Imagine how pleased Satan would have been if she had sought to abandon Abraham and become the wife of this Pharaoh! But Sarah did nothing of the kind. She was loyal to her husband, to her marriage, and to her God. If only every married person in today’s immoral world would show such loyalty! Can you imitate Sarah’s loyalty in your dealings with your own loved ones and friends?
Jehovah intervened to protect this beloved woman, sending plagues against Pharaoh and his household. When Pharaoh somehow learned that Sarah was Abraham’s wife, he sent her back to her husband and asked the whole family group to leave Egypt. (Genesis 12:17-20) How delighted Abraham was to get his dear wife back! Remember that he had lovingly said to her: “I know what a beautiful woman you are.” But he appreciated another kind of beauty in Sarah far more—a beauty that ran deeper than her mere appearance. Sarah had true inner beauty, the kind that Jehovah values. (1 Peter 3:1-5) That is a kind of beauty that all of us can cultivate. If we put spiritual things ahead of material things, try to share our knowledge of God with others, and loyally uphold God’s moral standards in the face of temptations, we will imitate the faith of Sarah.
Sarah was the half sister of Abraham. Terah was father to both of them, but they had different mothers. (Genesis 20:12) While such a marriage is improper today, it is important to keep in mind how different things were back then. Humans were closer to the perfection that Adam and Eve had enjoyed but lost. For such robust people, marriage between close relatives evidently did not present genetic dangers to offspring. Some 400 years later, though, life spans were similar to ours. At that time, the Mosaic Law outlawed all sexual unions between close relatives.—Leviticus 18:6.