“Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement” (1 Peter 3:6).
One of the great women of grace in the Bible is the lady named Sarah. Sarah is a sacramental name, for it was given by God Himself. The Lord actually renamed Sarah from Sarai because he wanted to reflect a change of inner character. Sarai suggests a spirit of being “contentious” or “quarrelsome”, while Sarah means “princess.” It was as Sarah, that God would bless. Sarah was to be the mother of many nations. Historically, this is the case. In Genesis 36:31 we read of Sarah’s grandson, Esau, and the many kings of Edom. Then there are the many tribal kings of Israel and Judah, all of whom recognize Sarah as their mother, and Abraham as their father.
As Sarah was the mother of many nations literally, so she was the mother of a spiritual nation as well. From her would come Christ, the Messiah, who established a new nation, called the Church. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9). Little did Sarah realize how far reaching her influence in world history would be. Her life’s story started in Ur of the Chaldees, Babylon (modern day Iraq). She was the daughter of Terah and the half-sister of Abraham, who was ten years older (Genesis 17:17). Abraham and Sarah had the same father, but different mothers (Gen. 20:12). In time, Abraham and Sarah would live as husband and wife. While we feel uncomfortable with this concept today, it was according to Divine design, and common custom for that culture.
Sarah is unique in that she is the first female Hebrew in human history. It is strange talk, but the first Jewish man was a Gentile, Abraham. He was called a Hebrew (Genesis 14:13) by his contemporaries who recognized him as “the immigrant,” or “the one who crosses the river.”
Therefore, Sarah was also, “one who crossed the [Euphrates] river,” and thus a Hebrewess.
It was not easy for Sarah to cross that river. In Ur of the Chaldees, she was at home in a familiar culture. She did not know what lay beyond the borders of her territory, in a faraway place called Palestine. But, by faith, Sarah went on the journey of a lifetime. Her first step towards the Land Of Promise was also her first step toward immortality.
There is a belief among the Orientals, that the test of woman’s beauty is how she endures the ordeal of travel. Despite the harshness of travel through the dusty deserts, under a scorching sun, the beauty of Sarah was preserved. She had loveliness, which was legendary in her own day.
This is understandable, for we have known of women whose physical attraction transcend time. People still talk about the loveliness of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Rita Heyworth, and Betty Grable, the most famous pin up girl of World War II. Of course, physical beauty fades.
“Beauty is but skin deep,
And ugly to the bone,
Beauty soon fades away,
But ugly holds its own.”
Unlike other women of great beauty, Sarah was different. Even in the midst of advancing years, she was lovely to look at. Unfortunately, her good looks would cause Abraham to become concerned. As Abraham traveled in a foreign land, he came to believe that the citizens of the new culture would look at Sarah and desire her as wife. He was not wrong. When circumstances forced Abraham to enter into Egypt, the Pharaoh immediately sought to add Sarah to his harem.
Anticipating such a move, Abraham had already instructed Sarah to pretend to be only a sister. While this was a half-truth, it was a whole lie (Gen. 12:10-20). “Sarah should have resisted this dangerous plan of exposing herself for the sexual gratification of other men, and Abraham should never have suggested it for ‘a lie that is half a truth, is ever the worst of lies'” (Matthew Henry).
Having escaped the episode with the Egyptians, Abraham and Sarah continued on their desert journeys. Through it all, Sarah carried a heavy burden in her heart. She had no children. A woman who did not have a child was considered by many to be a social disgrace. Sarah had no child. She had not given birth while living in Babylon (Gen. 11:30; 16:1-8), and she had not given birth in Palestine. Sarah watched other women with children, and grew envious. Somewhere, in the dark recesses of her soul, a plan began to take shape. It was an ugly plan, full of fleshly thoughts. A scheme was conceived in sin how Sarah could have a child. It was a legal scheme, though it was not ethical. According to accepted social standards, a woman who could not bear a child, could instruct her bondservant to sleep with her husband. A child produced from the union was considered to be a legitimate heir. And so it was that Sarah instructed Hagar to sleep with her husband so that she might have a child through a surrogate mother. In this unholy way,
Sarah placed herself “on the cruelest altar on which any woman ever laid herself down; but the cords of the sacrifice were all the time the cords of a suicidal pride; till the sacrifice was both a great sin in the sight of God, a fatal injury to herself, to her husband, and to innocent generations yet unborn.” Little did Sarah think when she persuaded Abraham to take Hagar, that she was originating a rivalry which has run in the keenest animosity through the ages, and which oceans of blood have not quenched. A child was born named Ishmael. He and his descendants have hated and fought with Isaac and his descendants ever since.
Despite this scheming sin, God was still going to give Sarah a child of her own, even after Abraham pleaded with God to love Ishmael and honor him. Genesis 17:18 “And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee! 19 And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.”
The child Ishmael, born to Hagar and Abraham, would not receive the family blessing. Rather, God would give Sarah and Abraham a child of their own. Unfortunately, Sarah did not believe that this could happen. The Bible says that she laughed at the idea, initially (Gen. 18:13 cp. 21:6; 24:36). But the time came when Sarah stopped laughing and started thinking. With God all things are possible. After all, the creation of one soul in the body of an elderly woman would be no more miraculous than the creation of the universe itself. If God can make the sun, and moon, and stars, then surely, He can cause the reproductive system to function past the normal time.
A seed of faith began to grow in Sarah’s soul. Finally, Sarah had enough faith to conceive a child. Hebrews 11:11 “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.” When the child was born, his name was called “Isaac” which means, “laughter.” Every time Sarah looked at Isaac, she was reminded of her own initial unbelief, and the power of a sovereign God. To her dying day, Sarah received pleasure from her gift from God. The end of Sarah’s life came when she was 127. It is interesting that Sarah is the only woman in Scripture, whose specific age is stated. In Genesis 18:12, we discover that Sarah is 87. At age ninety, she became the mother of Isaac. At age 127, she died. To honor his wife, and to preserve her body from the vultures of the desert, Abraham purchased a sepulcher for Sarah. There, he buried the woman he loved.
In the New Testament, Sarah is remembered as the “mother of us all” [who believe]. She is presented as a model of Christian obedience. She enjoys a lasting legacy. The concept of obedience is the last theme that is associated with Sarah in the Scripture: beautiful, strong willed, clever and determined,
Sarah still found the inner strength to obey her husband. Martin Luther once quipped that if he wanted an obedient wife, he would have to carve her out of marble. Sarah was not carved out of marble, but she was a dutiful wife, reflected in the fact that she called Abraham, “lord.” Despite the thinking of the modern age, the Christian message is still that holy women are to emulate Sarah, and thereby transform the world. By doing this, Christian women find themselves absolutely indispensable. Longfellow wrote,
“As unto the bow the cord is,
So unto the man is the woman.
Though she bends him, she obeys him,
Though she draws him, yet she follows,
Useless each without the other.”
Holy women are the daughters of Sarah in as far as they do well, and are unafraid. “If ye do well.” In context, doing well is defined as cultivating the inward personality of the heart, which is to be characterized by the unfading loveliness of a gentle and quiet spirit. Such a spirit is declared to be very precious in the sight of God. Unfortunately, women in the ancient world were prone to emphasize their outward beauty, rather than their inward personality. There was a great deal of interest in dress and adornments, or accessories. The Christian concept is that women have more important things to do in life than to pay undue interest in self-adornment.
What constitutes undue interest is something that each person must consider in their own heart. What is important to understand is the principle that Peter is establishing. Christianity came into a world of luxury and decadence combined. It needed to be said that the graces which adorns the heart are more precious to God than braided hair, ornaments of gold, and wearing of expensive robes.
By saying this, there should be no overreaction so that all costly clothes and jewels and accessories are discarded, unless one is led of the Lord to do something like that. The Divine Creator has obviously given to men and women the gifts of imagination and creativity. There are beautiful designs of decoration that enhance feminine beauty and grace. And, as the Lord provides the resources, there is nothing wrong with purchasing these things. Such is the nature of capitalism. And Mary Kay Cosmetics will thank you very much.
But again, there is principle here, which teaches that our practices need to be guided by, and submitted to the Holy Spirit. And the questions need to be asked.
“Am I pleasing the Lord with the way I live?
Do I adorn my heart as much as I focus upon clothes?
Am I doing good?
Am I a daughter of Sarah?”
“And are not afraid.” There is the second issue, which is to be not afraid. Literally, this means that women are not to be a prey to fluttering fears. There are some things that bring legitimate concerns. But what Peter had in mind, was the fear of being a witness to the world. Again, in context, a Christian wife during these early days in the Church lived in a culture that praised senseless extravagance. For a Christian wife, the temptation might arise to continue in behavior which was socially acceptable but grieved the Holy Spirit. A timid wife might continue to engage in behavior which dishonored the Lord, out of fear of a heathen husband. Such a woman had to learn to live in selfless service, in goodness of heart, and in serene trust in the Saviour. It is always a sad sight to see a woman afraid of a capricious husband. The gospel call to such women is this: stop being afraid; believe God. That would be the best sermon a woman could proclaim to win her husband to Christ.
After studying the life of Sarah, Mary Hollet concluded, “We cannot doubt that, living with Abraham in an atmosphere of reverence and worship, Sarah developed a spiritual loveliness. Perhaps this can serve as a suggestion to girls of modern day to take time for communion with God. For only in quietude, only as we listen, can we hear His unmistakable voice.”
Sarah was not perfect.
She was jealous and selfish.
She could be stubborn and scheming.
She could be temperamental and treacherous to the point of murder, and yet, Sarah is still presented as a model to follow; not her failures, but her faith. With the passing of time, she has become a great lady of grace.