SARAH straightened up from her work and turned toward the horizon. Under her wise guidance, the servants were happily and busily employed. Industrious Sarah did her own part too. Picture her thoughtfully rubbing her hands together, massaging the aches away. Perhaps she had been engrossed in sewing a patch over a tear in the tent that was their home. The coarse goat-hair fabric was faded by years of sun and rain, reminding Sarah of how long they had been living a nomadic life. The afternoon fled by, and now the light was turning golden. She had watched Abraham* leave in the morning, and she gazed expectantly in the same direction. As her husband’s familiar form crested a nearby hill, a smile lit up her lovely face.
A decade had passed since Abraham led his large family group across the Euphrates River and down into Canaan. Sarah had willingly supported her husband in this great journey into the unknown, for she knew that he was to play a vital role in Jehovah’s purpose to produce a highly favored offspring and a nation. What part, though, could Sarah play? She had always been barren, and she was 75 years old now. She might well have wondered, ‘How can Jehovah’s promise come true while I am Abraham’s wife?’ It would certainly be understandable if she felt concern—or even impatience.
We too may at times wonder when God’s promises will come true. Patience rarely comes easily to us, especially when we are awaiting the fulfillment of a hope we cherish. What can we learn from the faith of this remarkable woman?
“JEHOVAH HAS PREVENTED ME”
The family had recently returned from Egypt. (Genesis 13:1-4) They were encamped in the highlands east of Bethel, or Luz, as the Canaanites called it. From this lofty plateau, Sarah could see a great deal of the Promised Land. There were Canaanite villages and roads that led travelers to far-off lands. In all that panorama, though, there was nothing like Sarah’s hometown. She had grown up in Ur, a Mesopotamian city that was a 1,200-mile (1,900 km) journey away. There she had left behind many of her relatives, the conveniences of a thriving city with markets and bazaars, and her comfortable home with a solid roof and walls, perhaps even with running water! Yet, if we imagine Sarah gazing sadly to the east, pining for the comforts of her childhood home, we do not know this godly woman.
Note what the apostle Paul was inspired to write some 2,000 years later. Speaking of the faith of Sarah and Abraham, he said: “If they had kept remembering the place from which they had departed, they would have had opportunity to return.” (Hebrews 11:8, 11, 15) Neither Sarah nor Abraham looked longingly to the past. Had they indulged in such thinking, they might well have decided to return home. Back in Ur, though, they would have missed out on the remarkable privilege Jehovah was offering them. And they would surely have faded from human memory instead of becoming inspiring examples of faith that have touched millions of hearts.
Rather than looking behind, Sarah looked ahead. So she kept supporting her husband in his sojourn in the land, helping to pack up the tents, move with the herds, and set up camp again. She endured further challenges and changes. Jehovah renewed his promise to Abraham—but still no mention of Sarah!—Genesis 13:14-17; 15:5-7.
Finally, Sarah decided that it was time to speak to Abraham of a plan that had been forming in her mind. Picture her face showing conflicting emotions as she said: “Please now! Jehovah has prevented me from bearing children.” Then she asked her husband to become father to children by means of her servant girl, Hagar. Can you imagine Sarah’s anguish in asking that of her husband? It may seem a strange request to us today, but it was not unusual in those times for a man to take a secondary wife, or concubine, in order to produce an heir.* Might Sarah have felt that in this way God’s purpose to produce a nation of descendants through Abraham would be realized? At any rate, she was willing to make a difficult sacrifice. Abraham’s reaction? We read that he “listened to what [Sarah] said.”—Genesis 16:1-3.
Does the account suggest that Jehovah moved Sarah to make such an offer? No. Rather, her proposal reveals a very human outlook. She thought that God was responsible for her troubles, and she could not imagine that he had another solution. Sarah’s own solution would bring her pain and trouble. Still, her proposal showed an admirable lack of selfishness. In a world where people so often put their own personal desires ahead of all else, does not Sarah’s selfless spirit shine through? If we are willing to put God’s purposes ahead of selfish interests, we will imitate Sarah’s faith.
“YOU DID LAUGH”
It was not long afterward that Hagar became pregnant by Abraham. Perhaps convinced that her pregnancy made her more important than Sarah, Hagar began to despise her mistress. What a blow for barren Sarah! With Abraham’s permission and God’s backing, Sarah in some undisclosed way chastised Hagar. A son, Ishmael, was born to Hagar, and then years passed. (Genesis 16:4-9, 16) The next time the record reveals a message from Jehovah, Sarah was 89 years old and her husband 99. And what an amazing message they received!
Again, Jehovah promised his friend Abraham that He would multiply his offspring. God also changed the man’s name. Up to this point, he had been known as Abram. But Jehovah renamed him Abraham, which means “Father of a Multitude.” And now, for the first time, Jehovah showed where Sarah fit into the picture. He changed her name from Sarai, which may have meant something like “Contentious,” to Sarah, the name familiar to us all. What does Sarah mean? “Princess”! Jehovah explained why he chose that name for this beloved woman: “I will bless her and also give you a son by her; I will bless her and she will become nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”—Genesis 17:5, 15, 16.
Jehovah’s covenant to bring forth an offspring who would bless all nations would be fulfilled through Sarah’s son! The name that God chose for the boy, Isaac, means “Laughter.” When Abraham first learned of Jehovah’s purpose to bless Sarah with a child of her own, he “fell facedown and began to laugh.” (Genesis 17:17) He was amazed and overjoyed. (Romans 4:19, 20) And what of Sarah?
Not long afterward three men, strangers, came to Abraham’s tent. It was during the heat of the day, but this elderly couple immediately hurried to welcome these guests. Abraham said to Sarah: “Quick! Get three measures of fine flour, knead the dough, and make loaves of bread.” Hospitality involved a lot of work back then. Abraham did not leave all the work to his wife; he rushed about to slaughter a young bull and prepare more food and drink. (Genesis 18:1-8) Those “men” turned out to be Jehovah’s angels! The apostle Paul likely had this incident in mind when he wrote: “Do not forget hospitality, for through it some unknowingly entertained angels.” (Hebrews 13:2) Can you imitate the splendid example of hospitality set by Abraham and Sarah?
When one of the angels repeated to Abraham God’s promise about Sarah giving birth to a son, she was out of sight, within her tent, listening. The thought of giving birth at her age struck her as being so bizarre that she could not hold back—she laughed to herself, saying: “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I really have this pleasure?” The angel corrected Sarah with the pointed question, “Is anything too extraordinary for Jehovah?” Sarah’s reaction was fearful, defensive, and only too human. She blurted out: “I did not laugh!” The angel replied: “Yes! You did laugh.”—Genesis 18:9-15.
Was Sarah’s laughter evidence that she lacked faith? Not at all. The Bible says: “By faith also Sarah received power to conceive offspring, even when she was past the age, since she considered Him faithful who made the promise.” (Hebrews 11:11) Sarah knew Jehovah; she knew that he could fulfill any promise that he made. Who of us does not need more faith of that kind? We do well to get to know the God of the Bible better. As we do, we will see that Sarah was right to have the faith that she did. Jehovah truly is faithful and carries out his every promise—at times, he might even do so in ways that surprise us into amazed or incredulous laughter!
“LISTEN TO HER”
At 90 years of age, Sarah finally got to relish the moment she had longed for all her adult life. She bore a son to her beloved husband, now a century old! Abraham named the baby Isaac, or “Laughter,” just as God had said. We may picture Sarah’s weary but glowing smile as she explained: “God has brought me laughter; everybody hearing of it will laugh with me.” (Genesis 21:6) This miraculous gift from Jehovah surely delighted her till the end of her days. However, it also brought her great responsibilities.
When Isaac was five years old, the family held a feast to mark the occasion of the weaning of the child. But not all was well. We read that Sarah “kept noticing” a troubling pattern of behavior. Ishmael, the 19-year-old son of Hagar, kept mocking little Isaac. This was not mere playful teasing. The apostle Paul was later inspired to call Ishmael’s behavior persecution. Sarah saw this bullying for what it was: a serious threat to the well-being of her son. Sarah knew well that Isaac was more than just her son; he was assigned a key role in Jehovah’s purpose. So she mustered up courage and spoke forthrightly to Abraham. She asked him to send Hagar and Ishmael away.—Genesis 21:8-10; Galatians 4:22, 23, 29.
How did Abraham respond? We read: “What she said about his son was very displeasing to Abraham.” He was fond of Ishmael, and he could not see past his own fatherly emotions on this issue. However, Jehovah saw the matter clearly, so he intervened. We read: “Then God said to Abraham: ‘Do not be displeased by what Sarah is saying to you about the boy and about your slave girl. Listen to her, for what will be called your offspring will be through Isaac.’” Jehovah assured Abraham that Hagar and the boy would be provided for. Faithful Abraham complied.—Genesis 21:11-14.
Sarah was a true wife to Abraham, a genuine complement. She did not merely tell her husband whatever he wanted to hear. When she saw a problem, one that mattered to the family and their future, she spoke candidly to her husband. Her directness should not be mistaken for disrespect. In fact, the apostle Peter, himself a married man, later referred to her as a sterling example of a wife who showed deep respect for her husband. (1 Corinthians 9:5; 1 Peter 3:5, 6) In truth, if Sarah had kept silent about this matter, she would have failed to respect Abraham, for the cost to him and the whole family might have been great indeed. Sarah lovingly said what needed to be said.
Many wives cherish Sarah’s example. From her they learn to communicate honestly and respectfully with their husbands. Some wives might wish, at times, that Jehovah would intervene as he did in Sarah’s case. Even so, they learn from Sarah’s remarkable faith, love, and patience.
Jehovah called Sarah “Princess,” but she did not expect to be treated like royalty
Though this beloved woman was named “Princess” by Jehovah himself, she did not expect to be treated like royalty. It is small wonder that when she died at 127 years of age, Abraham “began to mourn and to weep over Sarah.”* (Genesis 23:1, 2) He sorely missed his beloved “Princess.” Without a doubt, Jehovah God also misses this faithful woman—and he intends to restore her to life on a paradise earth. An eternal and blissful future awaits Sarah—and all who imitate her faith.—John 5:28, 29.
Technically, the couple were known as Abram and Sarai until God later renamed them, but for the sake of simplicity, we will use the names by which they are most commonly known.
Sarah is the only woman in the Bible whose age at the time of her death is included in the inspired record.