Imagine yourself the wife of a great man. You are a beautiful woman and in all likelihood are chosen for that reason. You enter the union with anticipation, hoping for the joy and the honor of many children. Oddly, the months pass without the pleasure of pregnancy. Your heart breaks as those months turn into years. Your family and neighbors end their questions as they come to realize what you dare not voice: you are infertile, a barren woman!
Such is the story of Sarai when we meet her in Genesis 11:29. She is introduced to us as the wife of Abram and the daughter-in-law of Terah. A mere verse later, this added description is provided of her: “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.” Imagine the grief, the shame and the longing contained for one woman in that single verse.
And if Genesis 11:30 holds heartache for Sarai, what of Genesis 12:1-3? Of all the men in Haran, the God of Heaven and Earth had visited her husband. God was separating Abram from his family and from his home for a land yet unknown. God would make Abram great, he would be a vast nation – a blessing to all who blessed him, a curse to all who cursed him.
What thoughts crept into Sarai’s mind as she first pondered this news? Did she wonder how a man without a child might become an entire nation? Did the promise bring a slither of expectation? Would she at last know the joy of bearing a child? Or would God increase Abram without Sarai? Was there fear instead of hope?
We're left to wonder, yet not without a guide. Scripture chronicles the journey of Abram and Sarai in detail. We are given some 13 chapters between the introduction of Sarai in Genesis 11 and her death in Genesis 23, the span of which is 62 years.
The story told within those years is the picture of God’s gracious strength made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). After ten years in Canaan, God visits Abram and reaffirms His promise of a child--even guaranteeing that promise with a covenant (Genesis 15:1-21). All the while, we witness Sarai’s inability to reconcile God’s covenant promise to Abram with her own barrenness. She offers her maidservant Hagar to Abram as her surrogate. The move brings further difficulty, not joy, for the wife (Genesis 16:1-16). Hagar conceives and contention divides the two women. In the end, Abram receives his firstborn son--Ishmael, the son of Hagar.
But the Word of God remains. Thirteen years after Ishmael’s birth, God lavishly displays His grace by changing 99-year-old Abram’s name to Abraham and 89-year-old Sarai’s name to Sarah. And for the first time since the 24 year journey began, Sarah is directly mentioned as the mother of great nation (Genesis 17:15-21). She listens as God promises to bring life through her lifeless womb. How laughable! After she was worn out and her husband was old, would she now enjoy the pleasure of a child (Genesis 18:1-12)?
Yet "is anything too hard for the LORD" (Genesis 18:14)? "His plan all along was for Sarah to have her first child in her old age...after every earthly reason for hope was dead. Thus [God] would put His power on display."
Within a year, Sarah conceives and embraces a son, Isaac (a name meaning laughter). Can you hear the ringing of her laughter in Genesis 21:6-7? One can't help but rejoice with her as she exclaims: “God has made laughter for me…Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son.”
Much more, who would have said to the infertile woman in Haran that her son would begin the genealogy of the Christ in Matthew 1:2? Who would have said that God’s Messiah would be called Abraham’s Son, born of Sarah – a woman whose womb was considered as good a dead (Romans 4:19)?
Yet the barren Sarah is made the mother of a great nation. I am among her daughters (1 Peter 3:4-6) and I often resemble my mother--a weak woman preserved by the Spirit through faith. Sarah's image hangs in the Hall of Faith as one who considered God faithful to His promise (Hebrews 11:11). Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Sarah too was made righteous through faith.
George Whitfield, is credited with the saying: “God loves to do great things by weak instruments that the power may be of God, and not of man.” Sarah’s story is not unique to Scripture. Her narrative, like others, reveals our God. He makes alive--whether a dead womb or a dead spirit given solely to sin (Ephesians 2:5). The power is of God and not of man
*Thanks for reading! This post is part of my Mothers in the Bible Series; we are looking for glimpses of the gospel in the lives of biblical women--from Eve to Mary, the mother of Christ. Click here to see other writings. And please let me know your thoughts!
 MacArthur, John. The Extraordinary Mother (Nashville, TN, Thomas Nelson, 2007) 24.