Friday, November 12, 2010

Hall of Faith Series - Sarah

Today we continue our series through the "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews 11.  Today's subject is Sarah.
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 of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. Hebrews 11:11-12 NKJV
Most of us are familiar with the history of Abraham and Sarah.  At this point in their lives, Sarah was well beyond the years of bearing children.  Not only that, but she was barren for her whole life up to that point. Sarah was old and infertile and had given up hope of bearing a child.  This led to her first mistake of sending her servant Hagar into Abraham to bear him a child.  Through that union, Ishmael was born.  Sarah did not wait on the Lord and tried to take matters into her own hand and to tragic consequences.  Here is what the angel of the Lord prophesied about Ishmael to Hagar when she fled from Sarah.
Then the Angel of the LORD said to her, "I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude." And the Angel of the LORD said to her: "Behold, you are with child, And you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, Because the LORD has heard your affliction. He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, And every man's hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren."  Genesis 16:10-12 NKJV
Ishmael is the father of the Arab nations that surround Israel today.  He is the father of the nations that brought forth Islam. Sarah's "help" still bears its tragic consequences today for not only the Jewish nation but the entire world as well.  Please do not try to help God.  Our ways are not His ways and we see here a tragic consequence of trusting in our own wisdom rather than the wisdom of God. 
Then God said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her." Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, "Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?" And Abraham said to God, "Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!" Then God said: "No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year."  Genesis 17:15-21 NKJV
Now we just fast forwarded 13 years.  Sarah is even older and more barren.  Abraham is now 99 years old and still living under the hope that Ishmael will be his heir.  God comes to Abraham and tells him that he will bear a son through Sarah about a year from that time.  Abraham is amazed and we see even here that he has a hard time believing God.  Abraham sort of asked God if He realized that He was going to be 100 and Sarah was 90 and questioned whether it would be better to just let Ishmael be the heir.  God told him that His covenant was going to be between the offspring of him and Sarah and not through Ishmael.  He does respect Abraham's request for Ishmael and tells Abraham that he will also become a great nation.  Unfortunately, Abraham did not realize what he was asking for.  Now let us fast forwarded a few more months to pick up in the life of Sarah.
Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, "My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant." They said, "Do as you have said." So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, "Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes." And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.  Genesis 18:1-8 NKJV
The Lord appears to Abraham with 2 of His angels. Abraham was just a tad bit excited in running to meet them and imploring them not to leave and tempting them some water to wash their feet and a home-cooked farm fresh meal.  Note his heart, it was enough for him to just be able to serve.  He told them they were welcome to eat and run because it was so much already they they thought to stop by and see him.  They agree to stay and Abraham hurried and had Sarah make some bread while he served them up some calf with butter and milk.  Wait a minute. A calf with butter and milk?  Don't let that little detail pass you by.  Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, just served God, the God of the Jewish nation, a meal that would be rejected by any even somewhat Orthodox Jewish Rabbi today.  Not only did he serve it, but the angels ate it.  That meal was not Kosher.  You can not go into any certified Kosher deli and order anything involving mixing milk and meat.  The whole idea of a Jewish person not being allowed to eat a cheeseburger is a legalistic interpretation of not cooking a calf in its mother's milk.   That was just an aside, though.  Let's move along.
Then they said to him, "Where is Sarah your wife?" So he said, "Here, in the tent."  Genesis 18:9 NKJV
Sadly, this went right over Abraham's head.  God really did not wonder where Sarah was.  God knew she was eavesdropping and was telling Abraham to note where she was.
And He said, "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 NKJV
See, she was eavesdropping.  Sarah heard God repeat His promise to Abraham.  Sarah is eavesdropping and overhears God telling Abraham that she was going to bear a son.
Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, "After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?"  Genesis 18:11-12 NKJV
Remember, Abraham was about 100 years old at this point. Not only was Sarah past the age of childbearing at 90, but she never had an age of child bearing.  She was barren her whole life.  She laughed in unbelief.  She was laughed the kind of laugh any of us would have when we hear something we think is impossible.  She was still looking at things from a human perspective, not from God's.  Her response was to laugh at what God had said instead of rejoicing in it.  Her commendable faith is not quite there yet. 
And the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?' Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son. Genesis 18:13-14 NKJV
Why would anyone laugh at what God says?  First of all, there is no such thing as laughing within yourself at God.  God hears even your inside laughs.  God chides Sarah through Abraham questioning whether they think that anything is too hard for God.  Despite the chuckle, God affirms His promise to Abraham that a son will be coming very soon.
But Sarah denied it, saying, "I did not laugh," for she was afraid. And He said, "No, but you did laugh!"
Eavesdropping Sarah finally decides to come out of hiding.  She takes the mistake of laughing at God and makes it worse by lying to Him.  She denies to God that she laughed.  She laughed because she thought it was impossible for a child then she thinks that she can lie to God and deny that she laughed.   Even more than laughing at God, why would anyone try to argue with or lie to God?  I am still not seeing that faith spoken of in Hebrews yet! 

For Sarah's change we need to fast forward a couple of chapters.  Skipping past the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and an account of Abraham and Abimelech, we come to the fulfillment of promise.  We see no account of Sarah ever coming to more of a faith, but being chided by God at His last visit may have had effect.  Hearing of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and her sister-in-law turning into a pillar of salt may have had some effect as well.  Maybe Sarah did not have a change yet, but either way things are about to change dramatically for Sarah.
And the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken.  Genesis 21:1 NKJV
I love the emphasis in the verse.  The Lord visited Sarah, just like He said He would.  The Lord did for her, just as He said He would. In other words, the Lord does what He says He will do.  In this case, he visited her and healed her of her infertility. 
For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.  Genesus 21:2 NKJV
Sarah, at 90 years old conceived a son with Abraham who was 100 years old.  Again the emphasis in God not just doing what He said He was going to do, but this time even when He said He would do it. 
And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore to him— Isaac. Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.  Genesis 21:3-5 NKJV
As God commanded, Abraham named his son Isaac, which means "laughter."  Way back in Genesis 17, before Sarah was hiding in a tent, God declared Abraham's son to be Laughter.  This is appropriate considering Abraham and Sarah both laughed when God gave them the news.  Only before Isaac was conceived, that laughter was a laugh of unbelief.  Now things are different.
And Sarah said, "God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me." Genesis 21:6 NKJV
Now Sarah laughs as she rejoices in what God has done for her.  What an amazing change! What caused the change could have been a combination of several things.  Maybe it was when God knew she was laughing even though she did not laugh out loud.  Maybe it was hearing of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Maybe it was hearing that her sister-in-law was turned into a pillar of salt as part of that destruction.  Maybe it was when God visited her again.  We do not know what turned Sarah's faith to believe God can make even her bear a child.  How do we know she had faith?  Well, she had to be with Abraham to conceive a child.  While not trying to conjure up any negative images, we are talking about a 100 year old man and a 90-year old woman.  These are not exactly 2 people in their sexual prime by any stretch of the imagination.  Yet, in faith, they took that step.  Out of that faith came Isaac, the son promised by God to Abraham to whose descendants would be come the nation Israel. 

So what can we learn from Sarah.  First, we learn that we need to wait on God.  Sarah got impatient and instead of waiting on the Lord for direction she gave Hagar to Abraham to produce an heir.  That "heir" became the father of the Arab nations and ultimately Islam itself.  Sarah, by not waiting on God, created her offspring's and even the world's most dangerous enemy.  When we do not wait on God and act in our own strength, there can be terrible consequences.  We need to wait on the Lord and always seek His direction. 

We also learn never to doubt the strength of God.  There is nothing God can not do.  There is nothing beyond His strength.  When God tells us that He is going to do something, our response can not be doubt.  When God says He is going to do something, He will do it as He said He would do it and when He said He will do it.  God keeps His word. 

We all go through times in our life where we think that God is not coming through for us.  Do not lose the lesson in those times.  Those are times of testing and strengthening our faith.  For Sarah, it was 100 years before she bore a son.  She grew impatient and tried to act on her own, she grew doubtful and laughed at God's promise, but in the end she became faithful and bore Isaac, an ancestor of our Lord.  May we not lose faith during those times in our life.  May we learn to be patient and wait on the Lord to fulfill His promises.  God will keep His word, but in His time not ours.  In the meantime, rest in the faith that God knows when and how it is best to fulfill His promises. 
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. James 1:2-6 NKJV

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