By Faith Sarah Herself
(NIV) “And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she.”
(ESV) “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.”
It’s not often that we have a chance to speak of the faith of women in the Bible. For the most part that’s understandable since God in his wisdom has instituted the family and appointed the man to be the head and shepherd of the family. This is neither an offensive statement nor an outdated viewpoint in regards to women or wives in general— as any woman born to Lord Jesus Christ would gladly testify. In truth it is the way God set order to the family which he himself established and ordained. For the most part, the Bible, or God’s history in general speaks of men more than it does of women. This doesn’t mean that women are unimportant; in fact they are vital to the spiritual health of a family as well as to God’s history of faith. But more men are mentioned because the responsibility largely falls on them to lead and direct the family as well as other godly events in history. We can be certain that women are not only equal to men according to God’s creation design having been created in the image of God, but they are also created with the purpose of being men’s suitable helpers, created to share in the same purpose and meaning to their existence as men, and that is— to help the man in fulfill God’s mission in his life. It is equally true that unless a man fulfills God’s purpose in life, he is useless to the divine agenda. This goes for the woman as well! Unless she fulfills God’s purpose in her life, she too is useless to the divine plan. At times, the man can end up serving God’s purpose apart from his wife. But the end result is not the same as when she fulfills her purpose together with him as his suitable helper working together towards their God-given life purpose.
Not many women are mentioned in the Biblical narrative. But when they are mentioned, it’s worth contemplating their lives because they are uniquely qualified to be models of true womanhood and bearers of everything that is holy and pleasing to God. Sarah is one of those few women mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11. The author made sure her faith was recorded here for all godly men and women to see and to marvel at. Outwardly, when you examine her life from the day she left for Canaan with her husband Abraham until she bore the promised son Isaac, her life seems totally ordinary, uneventful and unimpressive. But when we read what the Bible has to say about her, there is no doubt that there could be no salvation history apart from her. We all owe gratitude to Sarah’s faith of which we Christians are her descendents and greatly indebted to her. So we need to reflect on her life.
Sarah’s character. First of all, what kind of woman was Sarah? Peter describes her like this when giving advice to Christian women. He says: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.” (1 Peter 3:3-6)
So what was Sarah’s character like? Peter tells us that Sarah was submissive and obedient to her husband Abraham, even calling him her Lord. This simply means that she respected him as the Head of the family and followed his lead, especially in spiritual matters that required serious decisions of faith. When Abraham first heard God’s call to leave everything behind in his old secure life and go to an unknown place, it seemed like a crazy decision to follow. I suppose Sarah could have made it very difficult for Abraham to obey God and insisted on talking things over with others first, or even to see a doctor for his mental stability. But Sarah simply followed his lead and went with him in accordance with God’s call in his life. This is remarkable, considering that life and travel in those days was difficult and dangerous. This was the seed of her own faith in God. I suppose Sarah could have resisted his decision to go to Egypt during the famine based on her woman’s intuition. But Sarah followed Abraham’s lead and it almost cost her her dignity as a woman. But God protected Sarah’s honor when they were in Egypt and dragged Abraham back to the land of promise. After her painful and frightening experience in Egypt, Sarah could have put her foot down. But she continued being submissive and obedient in spite of everything. That too was a mark of her amazing faith. Faith isn’t just believing in God. Faith is the character we show in trusting God and those whom God places in positions of authority in our lives. Sarah had a hundred and one reasons not to trust Abraham’s decisions throughout her life journey. But she trusted God and submitted to her head Abraham whom God placed over her. Indeed, faith is in God’s sovereignty to oversee and manage whatever difficulties we have in life. There are those who claim faith in God. But practically they have more faith in their own human wisdom and life plans.
What else does Peter tell us about Sarah’s character? We know she was a beautiful woman because two kings wanted her for themselves. And she wasn’t without means. But Sarah neither flaunted her outward beauty nor embellished or advertised it with adornments of paint and jewelry. Rather Peter tells us that she had a far more impressive beauty than anything outward that she could display. She had an inner beauty of character. She radiated from the inside with gentleness and with a quiet spirit. Peter also tells us why Sarah preferred inner spiritual beauty over outward physical beauty. He says it was because her hope was in God. In other words Sarah preferred to impress and live before God rather than men, even her husband. That too was at the core of her faith. A gentle quiet spirit doesn’t necessarily mean that Sarah didn’t argue or speak her mind. It means that Sarah wasn’t an inwardly anxious or fearful woman. Rather she had the peace of God ruling her heart. She trusted God in all things. Peter tells Christian women: “You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear”. (1 Peter 3:6b) This tells us more clearly of her faith, because doing what is right is in essence living by faith. Fear and anxiety makes even the most beautiful of women look ugly and they act out their fear and anxiety in anger and frustration in an ugly way. Sarah had quiet faith. She was beautiful on the inside. Peter encourages Christian women to be her daughters in the faith. He encourages them to have Sarah’s character.
Which brings us to what the author of Hebrews tells us of her. Read verse 11. “And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.” Let’s read the same verse in the ESV version. “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” The author of Hebrews expounds in a glorious way on Sarah’s faith. It tells us so much about Sarah and her faith that we need to take a look very closely.
Sarah herself! The emphasis here is on the word “herself”. And this brings us back to what we were talking about earlier regarding the importance of a woman’s faith in the work of God, especially as it affects her husband. It was Abraham’s faith that the author commended, because God himself commended Abraham’s faith. But it wasn’t Abraham’s faith alone that worked the wonders of God’s glory. It was Sarah’s faith as well. The author tells us that it was “by faith” that “Sarah herself” had, that accomplished this great thing in her family and in the world. It wasn’t by the faith of Abraham that Sarah received the blessing. It was by her own faith! It was her faith that began as a seed, and in spite of very real and insurmountable obstacles and difficulties, her faith grew until she could conceive the child of promise. She had been barren for more years than anyone could count. Usually no one ever imagines a woman bearing children after a certain age. In her case, Sarah was an elderly woman of 90 by the time God finally brought about his work in and through her. And we cannot possible underestimate the power of unbelief working throughout all these years to dissuade her from even a hint of hope. For Sarah it was hopeless. It was contrary to nature and contrary to reason that a woman in her circumstances should birth a child.
To help you fully appreciate the power of unbelief working against her, we need to go back to the time and place where God announced that she would bear a child this time next year, at the Lord’s appearing. Here is what happened. One day while Abraham was sitting in the shade God visited him. After the Lord had let Abraham serve the heavenly company, God first asked him where his wife Sarah was. Sarah was right there listening at the entrance to the tent. So God in the full hearing of Sarah told Abraham that his wife Sarah would soon bear him a son. When Sarah heard this, “Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my Lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?’” (Genesis 18:12) First of all, why did God intend for Sarah to hear? Because regardless of how great Abraham’s faith had become by now, as he grew to believe God’s impossible promise, Sarah herself also needed to believe. But she hadn’t! She had remarkable faith in other areas of her relationship with God, but Sarah just couldn’t believe that in her own situation she could bear children any more. Yet God wouldn’t fulfill the promise to Abraham unless Sarah believed as well.
Now why is that? As we said before, because God created the woman as a helper to the man. She must be in agreement with his faith, especially in the purpose for which God called both of them. And he had called them both to bear the child of promise to the world. Even if Abraham’s faith was impeccable, be himself couldn’t bear a child. And she couldn’t bear Abraham a child until she had faith. Now you have to understand that from a spiritual perspective as well! This is a picture of how God works in all things for his own purpose, not only in child bearing. Sarah herself needed faith to believe the impossible! Sarah herself needed to believe so that this family could fulfill God’s plan for them. People wonder why the Lord calls us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers! (2 Corinthians 6:14) Because unless the man or the woman share the same faith, neither of them could fulfill their God given purpose. Sarah herself needed to believe. The fulfillment of God’s history didn’t hinge on Abraham’s faith alone. It hinted also on Sarah’s faith. In our generation many Christians never consider how much the work of God depends on them being yoked with a man or woman of faith. They seem to care more about what they like and don’t like— how they feel or don’t feel— how they look or don’t look— rather than on fulfilling God’s purpose in their lives. Sarah herself needed faith to believe the impossible, even against what nature dictated. She absolutely needed that faith, otherwise nothing would happen. It’s the way God works!
Regardless of her nervous laughter which looked as if she were scorning what the Lord said, God was gracious enough to her. When Sarah laughed to herself and thought these unbelieving thoughts, what did God do? He didn’t abandon her for her lack of faith. Rather God gently and indirectly rebuked her so that she might believe. “The Lord said to Abraham, ‘why did Sarah laugh and say, “will I really have a child, now that I am old? Is anything too hard for the Lord’”… “Sarah will have a son.” (Genesis 18:13-14) How precious are these words of rebuke and encouragement, words of hope and blessing! God should be angry with Sarah but he was gracious and understanding of Sarah’s long time struggle with a painful and impossible issue. But Sarah, in her embarrassment denied having laughed, and God asserted that she had. It was at this point that Sarah now herself believed. What made her believe the impossible? It was God’s simple words of truth, “is anything too hard for the Lord?” These words worked impossible faith in her heart.
All these years of growing faith, Sarah had believed many things about the Lord. She had witnessed the Lord’s hand in everything in Abraham’s and her life. She knew God is the almighty Creator God, the God who could do anything. But Sarah doubted that God would reverse the ravages of time on her old warn out body to enable it to conceive. We are the same in many ways as well. We believe God is the Creator God who could do anything. But we doubt if he would— not could, but if he would— do something against nature in our own lives. That’s the difference. He could! But would he! We laugh at the thought that God would accomplish something fantastic and unusual in our lives. We doubt God would use us for great things. Why would God even do that! Yet this is exactly the faith that God wanted Sarah (and you and I) to have. Abraham believed. But Sarah herself needed to believe. At God’s words however, somehow, something stirred inside her to make her believe the impossible for herself. Now she took his words to heart, personally. She heard, repented and believed! That’s not so strange. Actually Jesus constantly talked to us about not doubting but believing the impossible. We don’t doubt God’s power. But we surely doubt God’s desire to work something miraculous and impossible in and through us. But that’s the faith God demands. It’s the faith he wants us to have so that he himself may be glorified. So the author says “By faith Sarah herself” conceived the blessing.
Sarah’s Power and strength. Read verse 11 again. “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” The next thing crucial to understand is Sarah’s power and strength. The author tells us that by faith Sarah received power. Power to what? He tells us she received power to conceive. When we think about it, her conception was exactly what God in his grace had destined her for. Perhaps she hadn’t fully seen or realize the purpose of her life in God till the moment she conceived. All these years she had thought herself no more than Abraham’s wife and companion, a humble helper. But the moment she conceived, her eyes were opened to see the full measure of her worth in God’s salvation history. Like Joseph who didn’t know the full purpose of all his suffering (at the hands of his brothers, in slavery and in prison) until the day he stood before pharaoh to receive his commission. Many people fail to see their worth and purpose in God until the Lord makes it clear. Many drop out of the race long before they discover their purpose. And all because most of us hate to wait. Yet waiting faith is crucial to our spiritual existence and health.
It was Sarah’s faith that brought about this wonderful moment in her life where she could see who she really was and the extent of God’s grace and mercy in her life. But not before she believed. According to the author it was faith that empowered her to conceive. She needed the strength or power from above to fulfill her purpose. Why is this so significant in our own lives? Because we too cannot do anything on our own, and need God’s power and strength to fulfill our purpose. Because in this world people think that real power or strength is in their character or behavior— something they have to work on— something they need to show. So many women today think that they need to be strong in a world of brutal men. But real strength has nothing you do with your own character or behavior, inwardly or outwardly. Real strength or power is in God and from God. And God gives it to those who have faith— those who exercise faith— so that they might serve God’s purpose.
How can a woman like Sarah have strength? How can she become powerful? What kind of power and strength are we talking about? The answer is simple. It’s the strength needed for a woman to do the work of God— powerful enough to serve God’s purpose in her life— strong enough to do something that the heavens notice— something that fulfills God’s divine and holy plan? The author tells us that it was faith that empowered Sarah. By faith she had the power and strength to conceive, to accomplish what God intended for her to accomplish. I wonder how many Christians are interested in showing off their own strength, whether in character or in the stubbornness of heart or in the arrogance of their spirit. That’s neither strength nor power. That’s the sinful-self showing itself off. And it’s useless to heaven, and it hinders from what’s important. What we need is spiritual power to conceive God’s purpose in our lives. And that comes only from the strength of faith we have in the Lord. You can fool people to make them think you’re strong. But no one can fool heaven. Strength is something God gives to those who have faith, the strength of faith to fulfill his own purpose. Sarah was strong and powerful in the sight of God not because she could have her way or because she could outshout others or because she could command respect or obedience, but because she had faith by which God strengthened her to serve his purpose in her life. Nothing else matters!
Sarah’s influence. Read verse 11 again. “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” She was past age. She was weak on account of her gender and position in that society, and weak on account of her decaying body. As such she was a burden on others. Those who saw her pitied her. She was always the woman who couldn’t bear children to Abraham. She also had her many mistakes and shortcomings. One of her biggest mistakes in life was that in the moment of her desperation, she suggested to Abraham that he conceive a child for her through her slave girl. But Sarah also had her moment of glory. When she finally believed and trusted God, she became the woman God had called her to be, the bearer of God’s promise, our mother of faith. She became a woman of influence. The whole Christian world looks up to her.
There are Christian women who lead other women astray with their corrupt character and lewd behavior. There are women who in their immaturity and lack of respect for the work of God discourage other women from doing what is right. They seem religious but they are useless to the work of God and to God’s holy purpose in the churches. They don’t understand God, nor the character of his work. God cannot use such women on account of their disruptive influence. Their mouths always speak gossip and unbelief. But those who want to be used by God should have good influence. Their lives should inspire other women to live for God, to live by faith, to do as the Lord would have them do. Sarah’s influence was her faith. No one ever saw her as an old warn out woman any longer. But she became a mother to those who have faith, the woman whose faith inspires us, and a herald to those who are empowered by faith to do serve God and his kingdom.
Sarah’s faith. Look at verse 11 again. “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” Sarah considered God faithful to keep his promise. That’s at the core of Sarah’s faith. She trusted that God who had always been faithful to her and to he husband would be ever faithful in keeping his promise. She believed that it’s God’s character to be faithful. And she believed that his faithfulness is more sure and secure than her own impossible human situation. And she wasn’t only believing the promise to bear a son, but also the promise to see his own salvation history through to the end— to the coming of the Christ and his kingdom. God is indeed faithful. It’s what our faith rests on. And we have to believe this in everything. Sarah was indeed a unique woman of faith, a woman of influence, and a woman of character. So I say to all of the young men who are in the Lord, to those who would like to see God’s purpose fulfilled in their lives, pray for a woman of faith like Sarah, in character, in influence and in faith. For without this kind of faith, they will drag you down and away from God’s purpose in your life. May god raise up many Sarahs of faith in our midst. Amen.