Sarah, the wife of Abraham, became a mother of nations, and kings came from her. Who was this unique woman of faith, and what can we learn from her?
Sarah is the only woman in the Bible whose name was changed by God. She was first called Sarai—meaning “my princess”—but God changed her name to Sarah—signifying “princess” to all (Soncino Commentary, comments on Genesis 17:15).
Why did this name change occur? God reveals that answer in verse 16: “And I will bless her and also give you [Abraham] a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.”
Sarah was blessed by God to become a royal princess. She would be a mother of nations to come. She would also be a mother of kings of peoples. Royal lineages would come from her. She would be the mother of the royal line of King David from which the Savior would come.
Sarah was promised a son, and his name was to be called Isaac (verse 19). God would establish His covenant with him (as He did with Abraham) for an everlasting covenant, and God would also establish His covenant with the descendants of Isaac.
Notice what God said to Isaac in Genesis 26:3-4: “Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
That promised Seed was Jesus Christ!
Sarah had been unable to have children for many years. She decided to give her handmaid, Hagar, to her husband in order to obtain children by her. This was not how God intended to give Abraham and Sarah an heir, but was a mistake from which they learned to more fully trust in God.
Once Hagar had Ishmael, Abraham’s first son, Hagar despised Sarah. In return, Sarah dealt harshly with her handmaid.
Years passed. Ishmael grew and had a relationship with his father. And still Sarah remained childless. Finally, when Sarah was 90 years old, God again promised her a son.
At first, she laughed! God told Abraham: “‘I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.’ (Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him)” (Genesis 18:10).
Notice verses 12-13: “Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’ And the LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?’”
The next sentence is most profound: “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (emphasis added throughout).
God can do anything! God is not hindered by physical limits. He transcends all things, and that is why He dogmatically stated, “At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son” (verse 14).
In spite of the initial laugh, Sarah came to truly believe God could and would do what He said.
“By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is on the seashore” (Hebrews 11:11-12).
One act of believing faith can have long-lasting ramifications: From Sarah’s son Isaac came countless multitudes and nations and kings.
Sarah: a symbol of the New Covenant
The apostle Paul refers to Sarah as the “freewoman” in Galatians 4. What did he mean by that?
In the early years of Isaac’s life, he was scoffed at by Hagar’s son Ishmael. “Therefore she [Sarah] said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this bondwoman [Hagar] and her son [Ishmael]; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac” (Genesis 21:10). God told Abraham to listen to Sarah (verse 12). Paul used this situation as symbolic of the spiritual inheritance God offers.
God’s promise was not fulfilled by Abraham and Sarah’s efforts or their plan to have a child through Hagar. By a miracle God gave Abraham his promised heir through Sarah.
Sarah’s prophetic words were quoted again by Paul to teach an important lesson regarding the New Covenant:
“For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:22-26).
Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid, was a bondwoman and symbolized Jerusalem “which now is, and is in bondage with her children.” Sarah, on the other hand, was “the freewoman,” the true wife of Abraham, and she was a symbol of heavenly Jerusalem above. Jerusalem above is the mother of all of us who are born of God, children of faith and promise.
This is further explained in verses 28-31: “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.’ So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.”
We are children of promise as Isaac was. And Sarah and Abraham are now counted as our ancestors in the faith, if we have faith. They will be counted as the parents of many believing nations. “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).
As a brief summary: Through faith, Sarah received the miracle of being able to conceive a child in her old age, and she bore to Abraham a son of promise, Isaac. She became the mother of many nations and the mother of a royal line of kings. Sarah became a symbolic type of Jerusalem above. Sarah was a freewoman, a symbolic mother of the child of promise, a mother of heirs of the promises given by God to Abraham, and a mother of children who would enter into the New Covenant with God.
As a wife and mother, Sarah set an example that Christian women are admonished to follow:
“Do not let your adornment be merely outward … rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror” (1 Peter 3:3-6).
The holy women of God adorned themselves with a meek and quiet spirit, and were submissive to their husbands—as Sarah obeyed and respected Abraham with honor. The emphasis of this example is that women of God are to honor their husbands. As children of faith, we are all the children of Abraham and Sarah; and as they did, we are to be submitting to one another in the fear of God (Ephesians 5:21).
The prophet Isaiah was inspired to write the following: “Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness, you who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the hole of the pit from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you; for I called him alone, and blessed him and increased him” (Isaiah 51:1-2).
First and foremost we look to Jesus Christ as our example. But we can also learn from the lives of Abraham and Sarah. What were their minds focused on? How did they live their lives in faith? What was their vision?
The answer is found in Hebrews 11:13-16: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. … But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”
We are to live all our lives in faith, eagerly awaiting the city of God, the New Jerusalem. New Jerusalem will be prepared for us and come to the earth (Revelation 21:1-4). We are to follow in the faith of Abraham and Sarah. We need to “imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12).
Sarah once laughed when told that she would have a son. But her laugh was turned into a laugh of amazement, triumph and delight when Isaac was born: “Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, ‘God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.’ She also said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age’” (Genesis 21:5-7).
Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would have a child at an advanced age? Only God could have said so and also brought it to pass. And all of Sarah’s children will hear her story and laugh with her through all the ages—a laugh of the triumph of faith in the mighty power of God.
Sarah is truly one of the women of faith. She came to know that no obstacle is too hard for God to overcome. Nothing is too hard for God to accomplish. That is the faith she had. Is that the faith you have?
For more information on how you can have faith, please read the accompanying articles found in this “Faith” section of the website.