Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. Genesis 16:1
Not only in this verse it is first mentioned that Sarah or previously was named Sarai (Gen. 11:29), barren without childbirth. Genesis 11:30 also mentioned that Sarai was barren, had no children. As if God wanted us to know this clearly that He had closed Sarai’s womb to have children.
Who was Sarai?
Sarai was Abraham’s wife, previously named Abram. Genesis 11:29. Abraham, a patriarch father known for his faith in God. The meaning of Sarai is the king’s daughter. Perhaps because of his beautiful face, she was given this name (Gen. 12:11). But if someone’s name is mentioned in the Bible, it would show more of the person’s character or her destiny, what she would be in the future as God intended her to be. The interesting thing in Genesis 16, the chapter that tells about who Sarai was, tells of a classic quarrel of husband and wife about waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled.
Genesis 16:2 tells Sarai’s words about God did not give her a child. She was upset. We would understand this because Abram and Sarai had been waiting for 10 years since they received the promise of a child the first time. Genesis 12:4, Abram was 75 years old when God called him. In Genesis 16:16 it is mentioned that Abram was 86 years old when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael for him. So Abram was at least 85 years old in verses 1-4 Genesis 16. There was a 10 years passing by in between.
10 years is not 10 minutes, 10 minutes itself could feel a long time especially if what we are waiting is very urgent. 10 years is a very long time. If 1 minute = 60 seconds, then 1 year (or 365 days) equals 31,536,000 seconds. 10 years = 300 million more seconds. Counting the seconds when waiting is not an interesting thing. And especially for us, waiting for something which is promised for a very long time could change our attitude to those who promise.
To wait upon God
Waiting is measured not by how long you could wait but how we would react during the waiting. 10 years is not an easy time. You could probably imagine this, in the first 1-2 years we are all still passionate about God’s promises and prophecies. Year 3, we begin to ponder. Maybe we are strong until the 5th year. 6th year? Many of us would have given up, especially in the case of Abram and Sarai: they don’t get younger and their condition had become very old to be able to give birth. Especially Sarai. She was upset, this was clear from her words: God did not give me a child (Gen. 16:2).
If she was a person of faith, she could have said: Yet God has not given me a child. Or in the King James translation, she said that God has restrained me from having children. As if God was the one to blame in this case. Yes, God has restrained me back from having children, Sarai told Abram.
Besides, here Sarai clearly said God didn’t give me a child. Why wouldn’t she say give us a child? Sarai was putting a lot of implications on herself in her words. Not to us: she and her husband Abram. Aren’t they supposedly one? Genesis 2:24.
Sarai’s 3 mistakes
So in verse 2, we can clearly see Sarai’s 3 mistakes:
- She no longer had faith in believing God would still keep His promise to give them a child. She saw the fact they were experiencing, she had come to the conclusion God did not give her a child.
- She blamed God, as if He had restrained her from having a child. Why didn’t Sarai come to God and introspect herself for this matter? Isn’t it if God closes the womb of a woman, does God mean anything behind it? Are there any characters that need to change?
- She apparently really wanted a child for herself. In those days, not having children was a disgrace. So would have a child not only gives meaning to life, but elevates the degree and worth of a person. Often we forget what we ask to God is only for the prestige of our life. We forget that God is the preserver of our lives, not the keeper (maintain) of our lifestyle! Often we ask for something so we can just prove ourselves to others. A selfish prayer. Not a prayer according to God’s will.
If she would say God had not yet given us children, this story might be different. She would still had faith, still hope in God and really pulled herself on the same level with her husband for God’s promises. Not elevate her ownself. Didn’t Abram just receive a reaffirmation of God’s promise in one chapter earlier? Genesis 15:5, try counting stars in the sky! So many of your descendants will. An illustration to the number of descendants Abram would have at one time. Abram believed in this promise of God, Genesis 15:6. And so he was called the father of truth.
What interesting here was that all this time the Lord only spoke to Abram about His promises. Not to Sarai. Or not even to Abram and Sarai together as a married couple. Only to Abram himself. Not because God did not respect them as husband and wife which are one. But because God highly respected the law in a family, the wife must submit to her husband (Ephesians 5:22-23). Husband is the head of a wive and God is the head of the husband (1 Corinthians 11:3). So God clearly spoke to Abram, not to Sarai. God also spoke to Adam only, not to Eve. To Abram and to Adam, God gave His Word. From them, Sarai and Eve received the Word of God and had to submit to their husbands as priests who accepted the promise. The problem is in the reality of husband and wife’s life which normally opposite to what it should be. Thus in the life of Abram’s family even in Adam’s. But they both fell into sin because they listened to their wives. Abram, Genesis 16:4, followed Sarai’s proposal to accept Hagar and impregnate her. Adam, Genesis 3:6, accepted the offer of forbidden fruit and joined her to eat it.
The responsibility of the husband is not only to accept and deliver the Word unto the wife, but more of every husband must stand firm in their faith in the Word of God however the wife would come against it. If Adam said no, I would not share in the fruit which God forbade us to eat. If Abram said no, I would not accept Hagar because God had promised and He had just confirmed it again. Then what happened next into the world could be different. Probably there would never be Abram’s descendant from the side of Ishmael. But we all know what happened, it was the opposite.
Back to the meaning of the name of Sarai which is the king’s daughter, it is not surprising to see how Sarai became upset in this situation as explained above. When Ishmael was born and Hagar looked down on her, Sarai became even more angry in verse 5 of Genesis 16 to Abram. She admitted that she was the one who gave Hagar to Abram, but the insult she received was Abram’s responsibility? It is clear that Sarai’s desire to get a child was not to see the will of God for the child, but for the prestige of her life. And now she feels so insulted by finding her slave Hagar wanted to replace her position as Abram’s legal wife. So her strong will character as a spoiled king’s daughter actually threw her responsibility to Abram again, she blamed him for her own mistake. If God would be the judge of both of them as she wished, who would suffer the most in this case?
Ishmael, God was silence
Ishmael was born, Genesis 16:5, 15-16, Abram was 86 years old. 11 years had passed since he received the promise of a son in Genesis 12:2. Genesis 17:1 began with this word, when Abram was ninety-nine years old, and the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him: “I am the Lord Almighty, walk before me without blemish.
The question here is, where was God when Ishmael was born (Abraham was 86 years old) and when He spoke again to Abram after (Abraham was 99 years old)? There was 13-14 years passed, even there was 15 years longer until Ishak son of the covenant was born. Genesis 17 tells how God would once repeated again His promise to Abram for a child. One last year before Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old, Genesis 21:2.
God apparently was silent and did not speak to Abram at all since Ishmael was born, due to him listening to his wife and accepted Hagar to give birth to his offspring. In other words, He was sulking! Funny as it sounds, has God ever behaved like this? But to the fact that no verses, not one single one, wrote the story of Abram from 86 to 99 years old shows that God did not speak to him at all. Why is that? Aren’t there 5 chapters: Genesis 12-16 wrote about 5 years of Abram’s life? Since that promise until Ishmael was born? And aren’t there five more chapters in the last 1 year before Isaac was born, Genesis 17-21? Why wasn’t there a single verse about Abram from Genesis 16:16 to Genesis 17:1? There were 13 years of silence, the time of God did not speak to Abram: there was a sin.
Often we don’t like the time when our wives don’t talk to us, especially after a fight. Sulking! This shows that there is still something unfinished on the side of the wife. This attitude of sulking, wife’s anger in the form of silence, would give a woman a better result as she wished from her husband. Normally her husband would become soft and follow the wife’s wishes. But have we ever thought that it is more dangerous if God would be silent to us instead when we follow the wishes (which against His Word) of our wife? Not receiving God’s voice shows us losing God’s guidance in this life. When God stops speaking, His presence is lost from us. When He decides not to give His Word to us, we are in great danger.
What is said here is not when God does not speak to us in difficult times. Or when we experience problems and God doesn’t seem to talk. Is there a teacher talking when his students are going through an exam? The teacher will only expect his students to answer each exam question correctly as the teacher has taught them. Many times does God not speak to us when we are going through difficult times, because all of that is a test we must go through. And like a teacher, God will expect us to give the right answers, reactions and responses as He has taught us before.
To wait longer
But in Abram’s case, there were 13 years gone by and when He spoke again the first time after He said, I am the Almighty God, live before Me blamelessly. In other words, I’m in charge here, not you Abram. And you must live righteously, without blemish. There was a sin there in the life of Abram. What was it? He listened to Sarai’s words so that Ishmael was born. If we look at the time span, the first 10 years were a test of patience fully to the faith of Abram and Sarai. At the end of 10 years, Ishmael was born. This was the mark of Abram’s failure in waiting for God to fulfill His promise. Because of that, Sarai and him had to wait for another 10 years plus 5 extra years. If Abram hadn’t listened to Sarai, had Ishmael never been born, could Abram and Sarai not to wait for another 15 years? Probably. Could be just a little longer, just another 1-2 years. Isn’t it the faster we surrender to Him, the easier the path will be opened to us? But not because our desires to get what we want quicker, then we will give up earlier. Our yield to Him must be full of our sincerity from the deep of our heart. And everyone of us will be truly tested, have we really surrendered?!. In fact, the test of time is the hardest. Clearly here, the 15 years longer in Abram and Sarai’s life had killed something in their lives. Sara found herself menopause. She had become so old that her womb has died. Likewise with her strong will. She was fully aware that her strength had gone and now if it was not God it would not be possible again. She finally yield to Him.
Many of us fail to understand God’s time for us. God’s time is not our time, God’s way is not our way. As high as the heavens above the earth, Isaiah 55:8-9. God does not measure the length of human life with time, He is eternal and He is outside of the human time. He walks in His own time. But it doesn’t mean He doesn’t care about us, only we must understand that He alone who is able to understand bigger image of our lives. Even only him alone who is able to understand the whole picture of all human life throughout history from beginning to end. Only him which is able to connect and interwoven them all in such perfect way. So that He knows exactly when He would show us His grace. It’s not just based on what we see today when we are in need of something urgent. We must dare to let go even to sacrifice what God does not want in our lives when He has not answered our prayers according to our time. Because it is often when we find something not answered, closed, then another thing, a better one would come. Don’t be angry to Him if He intentionally would not answer our prayer according to our time. Learn to believe that God has a better answer in His time for us.
Yes, we all need to die to our own time, to our own agenda. Let God govern our time of life, His time is better for everything of us. And yes, the story of Genesis 16 is a test of time not only for Abram and Sarai but clearly for all of us. The length of time to wait will test each heart to pure it before God.
When God’s time finally arrived, Abram was already 99 years old. Sarai herself is 89 years old. Genesis 17:17, shows that when they later had children Abram was 100 years old and Sarai was 90 years old. God’s time is a mystery to each of us, which is clear that each of us must learn to surrender and not be in a hurry. One sure thing, it is better for us. Not only for our character, but for each of our future, no one knows clearly how it will actually be. Luke 12:16-21 tells of a rich man who built larger barns and thought that tomorrow or his future had been secured just fine. He forgot that it is not his wealth that guarantee whether he would still awake the next day. He forgot to pay attention to God’s time which had arrived for him.
A changed name
There is one thing here that needs to be considered carefully in Genesis 17. The names of Abram and Sarai were changed by God to Abraham and Sarah. Abram means the father who is exalted or glorified. He was a real big boss in his time with so much wealth and slaves. But he apparently had to learn to humble himself all this time until he found God changed his name to Abraham, the father of all nations. Genesis 17:4. Sarai herself means the king’s daughter, now transformed into Sarah, a noble woman (or graceful). Genesis 17:15. What is interesting is that in the Indonesian translation, Sarah’s name does not have the suffix H as in English translation. So that as if God had to erase I (I) in Sarai before He allowed her to conceive a child. Could God mean that she would not get God’s promise unless she died to herself first? After all, in alphabetical order, after I is J. So if we would die to ourselves (I), that’s when (J) Jesus will appear in our lives.
When God’s time arrived, Abraham and Sara had to face an issue that was no less complicated. They both had become very old. Abraham laughed, Genesis 17:17. Similarly Sara laughed to hear this promise repeated, Genesis 18:12. After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure? Sara’s condition is no longer possible to have children, but for God nothing is impossible. He said, is there anything that is impossible for the Lord? At the appointed time, next year, I will return to you; at that time Sarah had a son. Genesis 18:14.
And yes, Genesis 21:2, Isaac was born to Abraham in their old age. Just as it is in the Word of God, at the appointed time.
What is interesting here. there is a story of Abraham and Abimelech the king of the Philistines in Genesis 20. A similar story to the earlier one when Abraham fled to Egypt because of famine in the land of Canaan. And once again because of Sara’s beauty, Abraham had to lie he was her brother so that Abraham would not be killed. But regardless of Abraham’s sin lying about who Sara really was to him, this story is there to show us all that when the time of the Lord arrived, nothing would be impossible for Him.
Abimelech was the Philistine king who lived in two generations: Abraham and Isaac. To Abraham, his name appears in Genesis 20:2. In Isaac, it is in Genesis 26:1. So this king had lived fortunately for a long period of time. If in the generation of Isaac he would had been an old guy but still like to glance at someone’s wife (like to peep into other’s private room, Gen. 26: 7-8), you can imagine how lust and desireful he was when he was still so young at the time of Abraham. He was a king with many wives and concubines, Gen. 20:17. And he also took Sara to be his wife, Gen. 20:2.
Didn’t Sara have menopause? And Abimelech was a young king at that time? Where could we find a young king with a high appetite to a woman got attracted to an old one who had had menopause? Was Sara a real beautiful grandma or did King Abimelekh suffer from cataract eyes?
New wings of an eagle
What happened was the power of God (Gen. 18:14) which descended upon Sara not only gave her strength back to the womb but more that her whole physical condition had been strengthened, revived just as Sara was still a young lady. God’s purpose was simple, so Sara could be strong again in her old age to give birth. Those who wait for God, get new strength, Isaiah 40:31. Even though it’s a long long wait, but when the time of the Lord arrives no one will be able to resist God’s power to work perfectly fulfilling His promise for us all. God’s Word will never fail, Isaiah 55:11.
Like the flying eagle with a new wing soared up to the sky, Isaiah 40:31. When the eagle came in the phase of renewing his life, he experienced a very painful process of transformation for a while. An eagle is a bird that can live up to 70 years. But in the middle of that age, when he reaches 40 years old he must decide to experience the transformation process which would be really painful or to die immediately. Because at the age of 40, the beak had become so long and old which would be difficult to eat and to swallow its prey. The nails were dull, the feathers were very long and thick too. So he had to fly high to the top of a high mountain, to build a new large nest. Where he will poke his beak onto the mountain cliff until it breaks, then wait until the new one appears. With the new beak, it will pull out all of his old nails. And after the new nails appear, it will pull out all of its old wing feathers to grow the new ones. After all this was passed, a long and painful process, the eagle practically would have had a new body that was young again!
So this Genesis 20 is recorded for us to understand that Sara has truly turned strong and young again, ready to give birth to Isaac. Abimelech came here only to show that Sara now because of God’s miracle was as attractive as 24 years ago when God’s promises were first given to Abram and Sarai. The different now was Sarai had been made ready to be Sara, the mother of all nations. A woman who brought fulfilment to God’s promise for Abraham!
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31.