“God has made a joke of me” Genesis 21:6
I don’t think we know the people of the Bible very well. We are the victims of years of watered-down teaching. The stories of the lives of our spiritual ancestors have been “sanctified”. We know the triumphs of their faith, but we have little appreciation for the times of humility, disobedience and failure. Of course, there are notable exceptions. We have heard of David’s adultery and Samson’s seduction. But most of the time, our attention is focused on the heroic acts, even if they come about as a result of sin.
This myopia damages our identification with these people. We see them as something special, living beyond our meager spiritual capabilities. But if we really look at the stories of their lives, we will discover something amazing. The Bible never glosses over the failures of people. It never avoids describing their disobedience. It never paints them as anything but completely human. There is a good reason for this. The Bible is not a book about past spiritual heroes. It is a book about God’s faithfulness to His promises in spite of the human beings whom He chose as the messengers of His grace. The Bible is God’s story, not ours. So, there is very little room for hero worship, saints on pedestals or spiritual supermen. The story of Sarah is a perfect example.
We know very little about Sarai, the wife of Abram. When the story opens, we are only told that she was married to Abram and accompanied him when he left home to follow God’s call. As the story unfolds, we discover that she is the half sister of Abram, but other than that, we know nothing of her lineage. However, we soon find out quite a bit about her temperament.
Marriage to Abram was not exactly the epitome of bliss. Sarai dutifully obeys Abram as he determines to leave behind family and possessions, but she soon discovers that Abram is not quite as protective of her position as most wives would like. After a journey from Haran to Negeb, they settle into a life of nomadic existence. Since Abram travels with his nephew and all their possessions, we can be fairly certain that life for Sarai was probably a routine Bedouin existence. The first sign of marital discontent comes after Abram decides to do the commonsense thing in the face of a famine. We find the story in Genesis 12:10-20.
Abram is called by Yahweh to go to a place Yahweh will show him. Yahweh promises that He will make Abram a great nation, that Abram will be famous and that anyone abusing Abram will fall under Yahweh’s curse (Genesis 12:1-3). This promise is not conditional. It is comprehensive in its scope. It does not depend on Abram’s circumstances or obedience. It is God’s doing. But soon after Abram responds to this call and accepts the promise, he runs into a challenging situation. The land is not able to provide food for his group. So, he determines to take matters into his own hands and do the commonsense thing – go to Egypt. After all, what good is a promise from God if Abram dies from starvation. Apparently, Abram did not consider the fact that Yahweh’s promise implied provision of life in spite of circumstances. Abram does the commonsense thing. What we discover is that usually the commonsense thing leads us into problems. Abram’s story is no different.
As Abram approaches Egypt, he fears a potential threat. His wife is beautiful and alluring. He reasons that if Pharaoh should decide that such a woman is worth having in the harem, Pharaoh may conclude that the only way to have Sarai is to dispose of Abram. So, Abram propagates a lie – Sarai is not his wife but his sister. This lie enables Pharaoh to enjoy sexual intimacy with Sarai without any risk to Abram. In fact, Abram is rewarded for arranging Sarai availability. Everyone benefits – except Sarai. Pharaoh gets what he wants – a new woman in bed. Abram gets what he wants – protection and financial gain. But all of this is at the expense of Sarai who is asked to provide sexual intimacy to Pharaoh under the guise that she is a free woman.
It is important to note that this deception not only abuses Sarai but also abuses God. While the commandant “Thou shall not commit adultery” has not been given, Abram had every reason to believe that God’s protection certainly extended to his temporary domicile in Egypt. In fact, Abram summarily ignored God’s direct promise when he decided to take the journey to Egypt. He overturned God’s direction – “to a land that I will show you”, in favor of his own choice based on his reasonable assessment of the situation. As it turned out, it was the beginning of a long and difficult marital disaster.
This was a disaster of Abram’s making. Abram put an impossible moral dilemma on Sarai’s shoulders: lie for me or I might be killed – sleep with Pharaoh and pretend that you are my sister or you might lose your husband and become Pharaoh’s property anyway. So, Sarai went along with the deception. Both men seemed content with the arrangement. But God was not so pleased. The entire episode results in plagues and distress for Pharaoh. Once Pharaoh perceives that God is inflicting punishment on him, he takes steps to expose the lie and then to expel Abram and his entire following. Nothing is mentioned about Sarai’s feelings regarding this event, but it takes little imagination to see that the bond between husband and wife was traumatically damaged. Sarai could no longer trust Abram as her protector. Her life of discontent began with her husband’s disobedience.
Two intervening stories occur before we return to the saga of Sarai. In the first interlude, Abram takes a very different posture with his nephew Lot. He permits Lot’s choice over a dispute about grazing rights, in spite of the fact that custom favored Abram’s priority rights. Lot heads in the direction of Sodom, a choice that eventually leads him to destruction and humiliation. In the second interlude, Abram rescues Lot from captivity and returns a hero, only to acknowledge God’s sovereignty in an encounter with Melchidezek. It appears that Abram has had a change of heart. Immediately following these two events, God visits Abram and establishes the covenant with Abram, a covenant that becomes the foundation of God’s interaction with His elect race (Genesis 15). Abram’s destiny is guaranteed by direct divine proclamation.
But Abram’s turmoil is not finished. Sarai returns to the storyline. And now we see a different kind of woman. Sarai is no longer in the background, dutifully fulfilling the requests of her husband, even if those requests put her in the bed of another man. This time Sarai makes her will very clear. Having lost faith in Abram’s commitment to her, she feels no constraint in front of him. She decides that if life is going to give her what she wants, she must take charge. Sarai knows that God has promised a long line of descendents who will be powerful, influential and very important. She is more than anxious to see this promised fulfilled. But she has no children. One day she conceives a plan to produce the required offspring even if it means using another woman.
Sarai says to Abram, “Look, Yahweh has restrained me from bearing children”. Sarai’s discontent is laid at the feet of God. She considers it God’s fault that she is unhappy with this unfruitful marriage. He has prevented her from conceiving, so she plans another conception to circumvent this problem. Sarai is following the footsteps of her husband. He protected his self-interest by offering her as sexual exchange to Pharaoh. Now she will achieve her self-interest by offering her maidservant as sexual barter for children. She instructs Abram to have intercourse with Hagar. The text says that Abram “listened to the voice of Sarai”. This phrase is reminiscent of the same wording in the Garden when Eve listened to the voice of the serpent. It is pure unadulterated temptation, coming from the mouth of one who was forced to commit adultery. Perhaps Sarai reasoned that if her husband willingly sent her into sexual union with another man, he was not the sort of man who would stand up for fidelity when she pushed him into the bed of another woman. No matter what the psychological reasoning, Abram follows in the footsteps of Adam. He concurs that this fruit (Hagar) is pleasing to the eye and good for consumption. He willingly impregnates Hagar. The woman who was abused now becomes the abuser. The man who perpetrated the abuse is now used to foster another abuse. A family pattern emerges. Sex is used to accomplish selfish ends.
We must notice that in spite of God’s sacred covenant with Abram, a covenant that Sarai surely knew, Abram does not protest this arrangement. He does not insist that obedience outweighs desire and practical commonsense. Sarai wants a child. Abram wants a child. The arrangement seems logical – and desirable. The text indicates Abram did more than ploddingly acquiesce. He engages himself (literally and figuratively) in this plan. Once again, human beings reason that sex will solve their problems. But it never does.
Unfortunately, Sarai’s attempt to usurp God’s plan has the same consequences as Eve’s enticement. Her life becomes much worse. Instead of fulfilling her desires for happiness, Hagar’s pregnancy brings humiliation, envy and anger. Now she must live with a servant whose body shows everyone her husband’s lack of moral integrity. We see her anger in her confrontation with Abram – “Look at the violence you have done to me! It’s your fault”. Sarai tells Abram that she has lost face in this arrangement. Hagar now thinks herself better than Sarai because she carried Abram’s child. Her plan has backfired. Instead of a life of fulfilled promise, she has inherited as life of shame. No one can doubt Abram’s potency. And now it is public knowledge that Sarai is infertile, a devastating position for a woman who is to be the mother of a great nation. The secret is out. Public and private humiliation follows.
We need to pay close attention to the text here. Notice that Sarai acknowledges that it was her plan to provide Hagar as a surrogate mother (“I myself gave my maidservant to you”) but that does not relieve her discontent. Hagar’s pregnancy conceived Sarai’s shame. Sarai makes it very clear that the situation and its consequences are quite serious. She says to Abram, “May Yahweh decide between you and me!”
It’s not obvious what this means. Peterson translates it “May God decide which of us is right”, but that doesn’t help much. Right about what? The context of Sarai’s statement is her complaint about humiliation. She is angry with Abram. In her opinion, he has not safeguarded her status. Abram has let Hagar’s pregnancy affect his emotional attachment. Sarai sees that Abram is pleased that a child will be born to him even though it is not Sarai’s child. This is humiliation beyond enduring. So, she says to her husband, “God will decide if I am right (that I should have been cared for) or if you are right (that you showed favor toward Hagar)”. Sarai’s obvious implication is that there is no question who should come first – she should – and God will judge Abram for his misplaced devotion.
Once more sexual involvement backfires on the family of Abram. Abram’s pattern, repeated by Sarai, is now the source of severe stress and deep emotional conflict. Sarai fares no better as perpetrator of the plan. She still ends up the victim. We must notice that the drama that started out about a child has suddenly turned into a soap opera about the misguided plans of the woman. The child fades completely from the scene. The real story is about Sarai’s self-identity. In her mind, even though she got what she wanted, she lost what was important. She has been disgraced. The Hebrew word she uses to describe the “violence” done to her is hamas. This is the only time in the Old Testament that this word describes an action done by a woman. Sarai has been humiliated by her own gender, and worse, by her own slave. The humiliation is not about the child; it is about the change in two relationships. First, her husband is no longer hers alone. And secondly, her status as the mother of the promised progeny is in doubt. She loses her present and her future.
Sarai appeals to justice. Actually, she wants revenge. But Abram refuses it. After all, it was her plan and it is now his child. Feeling even more slighted, she says that God will decide, throwing the judgment of Yahweh on Abram’s refusal to act on her wishes. When Sarai offered Abram sex with Hagar, he was only too happy to comply. Now that the circumstances have turned against her, Sarai finds that Abram is not so compliant. Nothing seems to be going her way.
Abram is a man caught in the middle. Not standing up for God’s promise in the first place has now landed him on ground filled with rage on one side and affiliation on the other. But Abram knows the power of a woman’s wrath. So, he takes the easy way out. “Do what you want with her”, he tells Sarai. In essence, Abram concedes to another demand from his wife. If it didn’t turn out right the first time, there is no sense trying to make it right now. Just let the chips fall where they may. Sarai can abuse Hagar with his blessing.
Imagine any contemporary history that wished to portray the lives of the founding family of one of the world’s greatest movements. Do you suppose that the lack of moral character, the indiscretions, the sexual barter and abuse of others would be included? Do you think such actions would be the highlights of the story? Yet, here it is. The Bible glosses over nothing. Abram shows the weakest moral fiber, swayed by the ranting of an angry wife. Sarai displays a woman of fluctuating emotions, a pendulum swinging between manipulation and revenge. Sarai’s abuse at the hands of her passive husband is now turned toward vengeance. She knows that the passive Abram will not resist her demands.
So Sarai inflicts her anger on Hagar. Hagar flees, determined to run as far as possible from a mistress who is as unpredictable as an evil wind. But God intervenes, sending Hagar back into the storm. In fact, Hagar is the only person who shows obedience to God in this entire debacle. The Angel of the Lord says to Hagar, “Return to your mistress and accept ill treatment from her hand”. And Hagar complies. What a testimony to obedience she is. Unlike the mother and father of the faith, Hagar shows what undeserved suffering at the command of the Lord really means.
Ishmael is born. And for thirteen years, God does not visit Abram. There is a lot said in this silence. For thirteen years Abram and Sarai must face the consequences of their lack of trust in the promise of God. For thirteen years they watch a child grow who is a constant reminder of their failure. And for thirteen years, Hagar serves God by committing herself to submission under a hateful mistress.
Sarai’s next encounter with God reveals another fatal flaw. God visits Abram and renews His covenant promise. To mark the occasion, God changes the names of both Abram and Sarai. Abraham and Sarah now carry God’s name in their new names. They are known by a new identity – an identity that comes directly from God Himself. God leaves another permanent mark of His covenant – circumcision. This mark is private and intimate. It consecrates the male of the tribe into God’s promise. It cannot be mistaken or reversed. Abraham obediently follows God’s command.
Sarah re-enters the story during God’s next encounter with Abraham. Accompanied by two angels who will soon rescue Lot from the destruction of Sodom, God accepts the hospitality of Abraham and eats a meal near Abraham’s tent. God tell Abraham that he will return in one year and at that time Sarah will have already had a son. Sarah has been listening to the conversation, hidden within the tent. The account (Genesis 18) tells us that when Sarah heard this, she said silently to herself, “Now that I am worn out, shall I experience pleasure even though my husband is old”. The sense of this statement revolves around sexual pleasure. It is not only that her disbelief that she will have a child. This disbelief is contained in the word bala (“worn out”) – a reference to her inability to conceive due to age. Sarah also says that she doubts she will experience “pleasure”. Here the word is edna. This word is directly linked to Eden, the garden of delight, and has strong overtones of sexual pleasure. Sarah reasons that she is too old to conceive and no longer able to have sexual enjoyment with Abraham. Interestingly, she associates the word edna with the fact that Abraham is old. Perhaps Abraham is not so virile either. Her life has once more failed her. She sees nothing wonderful in her future.
As Sarah contemplates this in her mind, she laughs about her impossible situation. God (for who else can hear someone laugh silently) questions her on this disbelief. Sarah responds with a lie, “I did not laugh”. Consider how ludicrous her attempt to cover her disbelief really is. If this stranger can actually hear her thoughts, then it is fairly obvious that he will know when she is not telling the truth. The lie that she utters is not only disobedient, it is impossibly disrespectful. In this middle of this dialogue is one of the most powerful verses in Scripture, uttered as a direct result of Sarah’s disbelief. The visitor says, “Is anything too difficult for Yahweh?” Given the circumstances surrounding this rhetorical question, we could conclude that a change in perspective about life might be evident in both Abraham and Sarah. But old patterns die hard.
Abraham’s household journeys to Gerar. Once again he faces a king who might consider Sarah a prize. Abraham does not wait to measure the morality of the king. He retreats to a strategy that worked in the past. He pawns Sarah off as his sister. This time God intervenes before there is a sexual liaison. God gets the king’s full attention by announcing in a dream that Sarah is the wife of another man and sleeping with her brings the death sentence on the king. In this encounter, the king is the only one who appears to have any moral integrity. He immediately takes action, demanding the truth from Abraham (which he never gets), vindicating Sarah and establishing a weary peace with this foreigner. While the story focuses on the king and Abraham, we should notice that in this case Sarah is also implicated in the lie. The king says to God, “Didn’t she herself say ‘He is my brother’”? Sarah has learned that lying about sexual bonds is an acceptable practice in the household of Abraham. God’s intervention and the king’s reaction overturn the threat and the deception. But at a cost. Both Sarah and Abraham are not to be trusted.
Since Sarah has just received a promise that she will have a son, perhaps she thinks that if she and Abraham cannot produce this child, maybe she and the king can. There may be more to her comment that she expects no pleasure from old Abraham. She has given no credence to God’s ability to do whatever He wishes. God’s intervention prior to sexual union makes it clear that Sarah is to have a child only by Abraham and that the sexual condition of both of these parents has no bearing on the outcome. [If we jump ahead through the centuries, we will find that sometime during this period Sarah actually comes to the point of believing God’s promise, but this fact is not revealed in the story thus far.]
Our last view of Sarah occurs after the birth of Isaac. It is notable that the long awaited birth of the heir of the promise occupies only two short verses, barely mentioning Sarah.
But after the circumcision, when the covenant promise to Isaac is complete, Sarah has this to say:
“God has made a joke of me; whoever hears will laugh at me”.
This is not the usual translation. Most renderings of this verse suggest that Sarah is rejoicing in the birth of Isaac. But this Hebrew word, sahaq, is used in 17:17 and 18:12-15 in the sense of sarcasm (Abraham in 17 and Sarah in 18 both “laugh” at God’s claim that they will have a child). Furthermore, the same root word is used in the final story of Sarah when she observes Ishmael “playing” [“mocking”?] Isaac. Since Sarah’s reaction to Ishmael’s action is anything but joyful, the sense of this word can hardly be one of pleasure.
There is also a pun here in Hebrew. The name Isaac comes from the same root word. So in one sense Sarah is saying that everyone who hears about this incredible tale will “Isaac” at her – will mock the claim that Isaac came from her.
Aside from the etymological data, there is another reason to believe that this word does not express happiness for Sarah. The reason is found in Sarah’s long history of discontent. One of the surprising results of discontent is that an attitude of discontent infects life even when life appears to finally give reason for contentment. Sarah has waited all of her life for this event. And all of her life she has been abused, victimized and humiliated in her relationship with the man attached to her and to the promise. She has been unhappy for a very long time, so unhappy that even when God Himself tells her that the life-long desire for a child will come to pass, her inner personality rejects God’s truth. After all these years of discontent, what could possibly make her believe that her life would be fulfilled? She rejects the thought that she will once again enjoy sex with the hope of conception. She sees herself as a worn out set of clothes.
Then the event arrives. Isaac is born. But instead of praise for the faithfulness of God, Sarah turns toward her humiliation. She complains that even in the fulfillment of the promise, her life has not improved. No one outside the camp is going to believe that this is her son. She will look like a dotting grandmother, not a proud parent. People will see the worn out set of clothes she wears as her body and mock her claims to have borne this baby. Discontentment robs Sarah of joy in God’s triumph. Her victory is still a defeat. She is focused on her identity issues rather than God’s comic purposes.
All of this discontentment waits for the right opportunity to show itself. That moment arrives a few years later. The final extended story regarding Sarah is the account of the culmination of her long hatred for Hagar. It comes in Genesis 21.
Sarah observes Ishmael “playing” with Isaac. The exact sense of this word is difficult to determine. There is some reason to believe that the word connotes sexual abuse but it could mean something as innocent as showing off or mocking. Since Sarah is in no mood (for many years) to have her son become the object of any ridicule by the son of a slave, even if it is only the showing off behavior of a teenager, she explodes with wrath. Notice the carefully chosen language Sarah employs:
“Drive out that slave woman with her son! No son of this slave woman is going to share the inheritance with my son, with Isaac!”
Observe that Sarah will not refer to either Hagar or Ishmael by name. She uses nothing but derogatory titles to describe these two human beings. Put yourself in the camp of Abraham when this occurs. Sarah storms into the presence of her husband. Her eyes are wide and fiery. Her hands are clenched. Anger seethes from her.
“You!” She points an accusing finger at Abraham. “Get rid to that slave woman and her son right now. I won’t tolerate a single minute longer with her in my house. I can’t stand the sight of her or her wretched offspring. I’ve made up my mind. She has to go. I’m not going to risk any issues about inheritance with Isaac. Get her out of here!”
The text reveals a hidden motive. Sarah uses the excuse of the “playing” to press a matter that has been on her mind ever since the birth of Isaac. It is the issue of inheritance. No matter what the promise of God, Ishmael is still the first-born son of Abraham. There is a legal problem. We can see her consternation over the inheritance issue by noticing a shift in the word used to describe the status of Hagar. In chapter 16, Hagar is referred to as a “maid” (sipha), but here Sarah uses the term ama. Hagar’s status has progressed from slave-girl to second wife, even if she is still Sarah’s slave. This change in status represents a real threat to Sarah because it calls into question the right of inheritance. Ancient legal codes confirm that the sons of slave women had legal status in the matter of inheritance. Sarah wants nothing to interfere with the inheritance of Isaac (and consequently, with her own status). So, she uses this opportunity to rid herself of the problem.
The word she uses for “drive out” is the same word that is used to describe the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden. This is not a passive or friendly dismissal. It is a permanent and forceful ejection. In the environment where Sarah lives, it is as good as a death penalty. That, of course, is exactly what she has in mind. Sarah is protecting her son’s interest by insisting that the potential threat be eliminated.
But Abraham is not nearly as compliant this time. Ishmael is still his son. Abraham has had at least fourteen years of enjoyment with Ishmael. The bond is not easily broken. Abraham resists. He has been in this situation before. The last time he gave passive approval of the abuse of Hagar. But God intervened and Hagar returned from her flight to accept Sarah’s wrath. Now Sarah will not be appeased. Abraham knows he will lose Ishmael. The text tells us that God told Abraham to accept this situation and follow Sarah’s wishes. With heavy heart, Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael into the desert. In it interesting to notice that Hagar does not know that God has promised protection and prosperity to her and to Ishmael. Apparently, Abraham did not tell her that God would be with her. She believes quite legitimately that she and her son will die. Even in his compassion, Abraham omits a significant piece of information that would have offered Hagar hope.
We have reached the end of our stories about Sarah. The only remaining mention of her is a short account of her death (she is the only woman in the Bible whose age at death is mentioned, a practice that is otherwise exclusively patriarchal). However, there are two New Testament references that shed light on this woman. The first is 1 Peter 3:6, a verse that proclaims Sarah an example of submission to a husband. Peter calls such women “holy women of former ages who hoped in God”. Here is an insight that is not obvious in the Genesis accounts. We do not see Sarah portrayed as holy and a woman of hope, but Peter certainly considers her to be both. This theme is repeated in Hebrews 11:11 – “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised”. Here is a different Sarah, a woman who trusted in God’s promise. Three characteristics emerge about Sarah. First, she is obedient. Secondly, she is holy. And thirdly, she trusts God’ promise.
We can certainly find the first of these attributes in her relationship to Abraham. She follows him obediently into the desert to a land God will show them. She obeys Abraham even when it requires her to submit her body to another man (twice). In fact, we see a lifetime of obedience punctuated with moment of independent action and demands.
“Holy” is a bit more difficult. Peter uses the word hagios, a word that derives its meaning from the context of ritual purity and ceremonial observance. In Peter’s context, it means “morally upright” or “consecrated”. The problem is that the stories surrounding Sarah do not seem to fit this condition. Peter amplifies his description of “holy women” by adding “who hoped in God”. Here is the connection to Sarah. Obedience and hope. Peter is arguing that a wife with a disobedient husband must take a new approach to revealing God’s truth. She must submit to her husband in a spirit of holiness and hope in God. In this way, the witness of her character will bring the truth of God’s redemption to bear on her husband. Peter uses Sarah as his example because she did submit to unjustified suffering at the hand of her husband during a time when he was being disobedient. On both occasions when Abraham told her to offer sexual relationship with a potential threat, she did so. The results were disastrous, but that does not discredit the obedience. In fact, the only way that Pharaoh knew his action was displeasing to God must have come from the mouth of Sarah. She did not trust her husband’s protection, but she did not stop trusting God’s. In the midst of a very difficult situation, she still proclaimed the authority of Yahweh (even over Pharaoh). Perhaps obedience and hope were not so far from her character after all.
Finally, Hebrews tells us that Sarah demonstrated “faith” since she considered God faithful to the promise. Given our story about her laughter, this may seem hard to reconcile. The Greek word “faith” in this verse is pistei, a derivative of pistis. It means, “a firm conviction or belief in the truth”. In order to understand the example of Sarah, we must see that Hebrews 11:1 focuses our attention on the idea that faith is firm hope in the reality of things not present in observable evidence. The definite article is absent before the word pistis, indicating that this is the general idea of faith, not necessarily the New Testament particular concept of faith. So, the author of Hebrews is telling us what characteristics accompany the broadest definition of faith and those are simply, hope in unseen realities.
In this regard, the author gives Sarah as an example. First, he makes it clear that Sarah herself exemplified hope in unseen reality. The inclusion of the pronoun (herself) emphasizes that this woman who previously did not exemplify faith (the story of her laughter) nevertheless came to the place of putting trust in God. The exact verb is hegeomai, a word that means “to regard, to esteem or to count as”. She put trust in God in that she regarded God’s promise as truth even when the observable evidence seemed contrary. In fact, this must have been the case. Sarah became pregnant. She must have committed herself to the actions required to achieve pregnancy even though she formally said that she was worn out and that her husband was too old. She obeyed the implications of her commitment to hope in God’s promise.
These two New Testament references to Sarah help us see the full picture of this woman. Sarah was a woman of trials. She lived with a man who disappointed her trust in serious breeches of fidelity. She learned to adapt but that adaptation confirmed her to the pattern of abuse rather than release. Her bitterness brought revenge rather than repentance. Sarah’s life displayed the results of discontentment. Even her victorious moment gave her pause for humiliation. If Sarah shows us anything, she shows us how destructive the disobedience of one spouse can be to the other.
But this is not the end of Sarah’s story because the story is Sarah is not really about Sarah at all. It is about God. Sarah is the instrument of God. She is the vehicle through whom God fulfills His covenant plans. If this were not clear enough from the stories, the author of Hebrews presses us to this conclusion when he says, “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive”. The Greek can be read in the sense that her body divinely received the needed ability to accept the deposited sperm – literally “into the throwing down of sperm”. This is the Old Testament story of Mary. A woman who cannot conceive because it is physically impossible for her to become pregnant is empowered by God so that her body becomes fertile. It is God’s work through her. In fact, God deliberately waits so that there is no human claim possible. Sarah’s discontent is directly connected to God’s deliberate intention. This is the reason that the author of Hebrews makes it clear that “even Sarah herself” finally sees God’s prior restraint is divine deliberation.
Sarah is vindicated. But not in the way she hoped. Her life has shaped her into a woman who cannot see the impossible glory of God’s unexpected surprises. The story of Sarah is the story of God working in spite of us. In the end, Sarah can only acknowledge the truth sarcastically, “God has made a joke of me”. God’s joke is the triumph of His faithfulness regardless of human complaint. God’s joke is the announcement of El Shaddai – is anything too difficult for me. God’s joke is verdict that God’s wisdom seems foolishness to us.
Sarah is the foil of God. It is Sarah’s life that shows God’s triumph, not Abraham’s. Abraham is a man on the journey to obedience, a man who must eventually sacrifice his own hopes and dreams for those of His Lord, a man who realizes that there is only one life-giver, El Shaddai. Abraham is the recipient of life’s object lessons, played out in vivid detail in the lives of his wives and his son. Abraham is the beneficiary of Sarah’s sacrifice for it is Sarah who throws her life up against the wages of discontent and despair in order that God may show Abraham that life comes from what cannot be done.
In the end, perhaps it is Sarah who truly fulfills the meaning of “wife” from the Hebrew word ezer (Genesis 2:18). This is a masculine word used to describe a female who is equal (alongside) the male. Moreover, it is the word used to describe Yahweh’s relationship to His chose people, a word of considerable status. The meaning behind this word is “to save from danger” and “to deliver from death”. This is the Sarah we know. Her obedience, even in infidelity, is a saving sacrifice for Abraham and her acceptance of God’s empowered fertility is a deliverance from the death of Abraham’s line. Sarah may have been unaware that her life of discontent became the very ground God used to plant a tree of deliverance.
The end of Sarah’s life is almost unnoticed in the text. But there is one phrase that we should not overlook. Genesis 23:2 tells us something about Sarah that completes the picture. “Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her”. The word for “mourn” is misped. It is the customary grief shown for the dead and we would expect it here. But the text adds, “and to weep for her”. Here is the word baka, a word that shows particularly strong emotions. Most interestingly, this word has five different senses in the Old Testament from weeping for joy to weeping over distress and sorrow. But one sense is unique only to the Old Testament. It is the weeping of repentance. Are we allowed in these circumstances to suggest such a meaning? Abraham has spent his entire life with this woman. She has seen him through struggle and triumph, through disobedience and submission, through loss and gain. She has endured his duplicity and his passivity. She has protected his legacy and provided his heir. And in the end, Abraham may have seen his tragic denial of a woman whose discontent came from his own disobedience to his God.
Sarah lived 127 years on this earth, the mother of children of obedience. When I finally meet her in His kingdom, I will humbly present myself before her and ask her to tell me the secrets she learned at God’s hand so that we can both laugh. God made a joke of me so that His purposes would prevail. That is my life too. I serve a God who turns my expectations into jokes of independence in order that I might become a person of faith.
 Although Jesus makes no reference to this story, it is certainly a Biblical example of his remark, “The one who seeks to save his life shall lose it”.
 Translated by Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50, Eerdmans, 1995, p. 4.
 Contrast this reaction with the response of Mary when she is told that something impossible will happen to her body. Sarah’s response produces a future of anxiety and humiliation. Mary’s response produces obedience and blessing. Both women stand at a crossroads in their lives when they confront El Shaddai but the difference in their reactions demonstrates the results of two opposite choices.
 NASB renders the phrase, “God has made laughter for me, everyone who hear will laugh with me”.
 Once again we are reminded of the polar opposite see in Mary. Her humble obedience sets the stage for the greatest act of faith a woman has ever shown. She is focused on the purposes of her Lord, not on the consequences to her social status. Her obedience in spite of social humiliation leads directly to victorious triumph. Do you suppose that Mary remember the story of Sarah and saw Sarah’s mistake?
 cf. Hamilton, p. 78.
 Sarah is also the foil of Mary. There are many examples of Old Testament figures whose lives are counterbalances to New Testament people. Consider Pharaoh in Exodus and Paul. One refuses God’s command, the other obeys. Both choices change history.