The story of Sarah is scattered among the narrative in Genesis 11 through 23. Not only was she the first wife of Abraham, she was also his half-sister. Before we get too weirded out by this, recall that at this time, marrying your half-sister wasn’t prohibited.
Sarah, whose name means princess, was a looker, and Abraham worried would-be suitors would kill him to take her, so he asked her to just say she was his sister. He even said this would be an act of love (Genesis 20:13). She agreed and did so twice, with other men taking her as their wife. Both times God worked things out, but I can’t imagine what she went through when they took her and Abraham did nothing to stop them.
Although God promised Abraham children, Sarah grew tired of waiting. In her old age she concocted a plan where Abraham could have his promised child through her servant. It was a boneheaded idea, and Abraham was even more stupid for going along with it. Heartache resulted.
Later God confirmed Abraham’s chosen child would come from Sarah. She laughed and was criticized for it. (Interestingly, Abraham also laughed but wasn’t chastised.) A year later, the child was born; Sarah was ninety and Abraham was 100. They named him Isaac. Ironically, Isaac means laughter or he laughs. I think God’s still laughing now about a ninety-year old woman giving birth.
Sarah lived another thirty-seven years and died at 127.
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In the book of Genesis, God gives new names to three people.
In doing so, God is effectively saying, I’m giving you a new identity. You may see yourself according to your old name, but I see you differently. I’m giving you a new name and a new future.
Abram becomes Abraham
Sarai becomes Sarah
Jacob becomes Israel
The Amplified Bible tells us the meaning for five of these names:
Abram means “high, exalted father,” whereas Abraham means “father of a multitude” (Genesis 17:5).
The meaning of Sarai is not given, but Sarah means “Princess” (Genesis 17:15).
Jacob means “supplanter” (one who usurps or replaces another), whereas Israel means “contender with God” (Genesis 32:28).
Would you like God to give you a new name? Just ask.
Abraham, the great man of faith, did not always act that way. Once, when fearing for his safety, he lied to king Abimelech, claiming that Sarah was his sister and hiding the fact that they were married.
Assured by Abraham’s lie, Abimelech felt free to take Sarah into his harem. Fortunately, God intervened before anything happened to her, revealing the truth of the situation to Abimelech in a dream. God’s instructions to Abimelech were simple: return Sarah to Abraham and then Abraham would pray for Abimelech.
Abimelech quickly returned Sarah as instructed. He also gave many gifts to Abraham, as well as to Sarah. Then Abraham prayed for Abimelech and everything was made right.
What is interesting is that God never told Abimelech to give gifts to Abraham and Sarah. Abimelech did that on his own; God did not require that.
I wonder how many times we act in the same way, doing things that God didn’t ask us to do and that he didn’t require.
In Genesis 18:10-15 we read the amazing story of Sarah being promised a son in her old age. When she hears this, she laughs—I would to; it seems preposterous (but for an all-powerful God, nothing is impossible). In fact God rhetorically asks Abraham (Sarah’s even older husband) “Is anything too hard for [me]?”
Sarah’s laughter at God’s promise may have been delight, but more probable, it was doubt. Even so, God did as he promised and Isaac was born to Sarah and Abraham within the year.
Despite Sarah’s laughter over what was humanly impossible, God later commends her for having faith, Hebrews 11:11. Although she doubted, she apparently had enough belief so that God would later esteem her for her faith.
We may not have immense faith, but a little faith, even with some doubt sprinkled in, is enough for God.